Private Japanese Lessons in Tokyo

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Just plugging my Japanese teacher’s website: JapaneseLessonsTokyo, which was released a couple of days ago. We call him Taka-sensei.

(Actually, I developed his website. You might have noticed that the background image looks very similar to my blog’s header picture.)

I’d say Taka-sensei’s rates for one-on-one lessons are probably the best I’ve ever seen in Tokyo, and I’ve looked around a lot. If you take a 2-hour lesson with him, he charges only 5,000 yen (about $47). That comes out to 2,500 yen per hour. And he also will do lessons anywhere. Your house, a cafe, at McDonald’s, wherever is fine, and he doesn’t charge for his transportation fees or food/drinks, which most other teachers do.

So, if you live in Tokyo and are looking for a private Japanese tutor, he’s the guy to go to!

 

Homemade Umeshu with Don Papa Rum

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Last weekend, a client told me about how she recently made her own umeshu (plum wine). It seemed pretty easy make, and it’s now the season for ume (plums), so I figured I should give it a go.

Around this time of the year, most supermarkets have a section with all the materials and ingredients needed to make umeshu. The stuff you see above (minus the rum), were actually all on the same aisle. Very convenient.

The only thing I didn’t get from the supermarket was the alcohol that people usually use for plum wine, which is this:

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Why not? Well, because I had a better idea. I was going to make it with rum! And not just any rum, but Don Papa Rum. Check out the reviews.

Now before actually buying the ingredients, I wanted to be absolutely sure that it was fine to use rum to make umeshu.

Googled it. Read it was okay. Great! Went to the grocery and bought all the stuff you see on the photo at the top of the post.

Okay, I’ll post the picture again here…

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That’s a 5 liter jar, a 1 liter bag of ume, a bottle of Don Papa Rum, and rock sugar. The ume, as you can see, aren’t all exactly green anymore. But that’s alright. I read that it was all good.

Making it is fairly simple. You put in a layer of ume, then a layer of sugar, then repeat till you run out of plums. After that you pour in the alcohol.

I ran into a bit of a problem though. The rum wasn’t enough. I needed the rum to cover the topmost layer of plums. And so it was with a heavy heart that I had to sacrifice my other bottle of rum, which was actually a more expensive one. It was a bottle of Don Papa Rum 10 years.

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A sad day indeed. Just look at how awesome that bottle looks!

So, I poured the rum into the jar. Luckily, it was exactly the amount I needed.

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And now all I have to do is wait! You need to let it sit for at least 3 months before you can drink it. The best time to drink it is after 2 years, but who the hell can wait that long, right? I’m going to bust this open after 3 months and just have a shot of it now and then.

In the meantime, it’ll be sitting under the kitchen sink…

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Navitime Japan Travel Instagram Competition

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Mt. Rausu from the trail to Lake Rausu

A friend of mine who works on the NAVITIME for Japan Travel website has an on-going Instagram competition. Hit the link for more details. You can win “special prize packs” and a chance to have your photo displayed at the Haneda International Airport station.

I have no idea what’s in those “special prize packs”. Hopefully massive wads of money (probably not).

The above photo is one of my entries. It’s a photo of Mt. Rausu (Rausu-dake 羅臼岳) I took 2 years ago on my first trip to the Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園), a World Natural Heritage in Hokkaido. I had actually summited the mountain the day before the picture was taken. And in September last year, I climbed Mt. Rausu again with some friends, then continued on to the next 6 mountains on a 3-day trek called the Shiretoko Traverse.

Shiretoko place is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to in Japan!

If you have any good photographs from your trips to Japan, you might want to join the contest. Or don’t so my odds of winning get better.

Green Tea Beer (Matcha Beer)

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Quick post!

This is “Japanese Green Tea with Fresh Beer”, or Matcha Beer (抹茶ビール). Had dinner and a couple of drinks with an old friend who just moved to Tokyo. We were at a small restaurant in Tokyo station called Japanese Wine Kitchen Tika Tika (国産ワインキッチン Tikatika), saw this on the menu…

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…and ordered it. Because weird.

Fresh beer? As opposed to old beer? Actually, that’s probably just the wrong translation for what should have been “Draft Beer”

It looks like this when served:

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Then you stir the drink and it’ll look like the the odd green brew on the top of this post.

It’s basically just local beer mixed with some green tea powder/leaves concoction. Not terrible, not that good either. Just a novelty drink you try once and likely never order again.

Sorry for the picture quality. I was using an old smartphone in low light.

Shitaya Jinja Festival

(Not my video)

Every year on the weekend after Golden Week, the shrine I live next to, Shitaya Jinja (下谷神社), has a major festival. Unfortunately, I work weekends, so I never really get to see much of it.

In the morning of last Saturday, I left for work at around 10:30 am. Stepped out of my apartment building and was met with this:

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Literally, that’s what it looked like outside my doorstep. These are food stalls. They sell the usual overpriced festival food like Takoyaki, Yakisoba, Sasebo Burger, Anzu Ame, etc.

This guy has nice photos of the festival from 2 years ago.

Speaking of festival food, I heard that these food stalls, even though they look pretty scruffy and the quality of the food is often questionable, make a ton of money. An old client of mine, her dad was a police officer back in Osaka, and had arrested a Takoyaki vendor at a festival. The reason for the arrest was child labor. The vendor had two stalls, and he asked one of his very young sons to manage one of the stalls. During the investigation, my client’s dad asked the vendor how much they make per day. Apparently, one Takoyaki stall makes about 2 Million Yen a day. That’s about $20,000! Damn.

In case you were wondering, what exactly are these festivals for? Well, as you may have guessed, one reason is likely economic in nature. But basically, shrine festivals are the few days in a year that the god/s who live in the shrine get to go out.

Before the festival weekend, there is a ceremony that symbolizes the transfer of the deity into a portable shrine, called mikoshi (神輿) in Japanese, which you probably saw on the video above. This is then carried by people around town. It’s believed that if you don’t take the shrine god out for a walk once a year, they get pretty cranky and will cause all sorts of misfortune to the people in the neighborhood.

Uramyougi-san hike

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Last Monday, a friend invited me to go hiking with her and some friends up Uramyougi-san (裏妙義山), a mountain in Gunma prefecture. It wasn’t a particularly long hike at only about 6 hours to the top and back to the car.

The highlight of the hike was Chousu no Kashira (丁須の頭), pictured below. It sits at about 1,100 meters. Also, the photo above was actually taken from the top of that interesting looking rock.

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Chousu no Kashira: I don’t know what the name means. I’ve also seen it referred to as Hammer Rock and The Mushroom

It looks pretty small in the picture, but it’s actually about 5 meters high. There’s a chain attached to the top and hanging down one side so you can climb up to the top, but you’ll need a climbing harness… Unless you don’t mind the possibility of a 15-ish meter fall!

Here’s another picture (stolen) from someone else’s blog (sorry!) for a better frame of reference:

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Stolen from: ameblo.jp/snow521/entry-11101909201.html

More photos from the hike:

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Roland at the top of Hammer Rock
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Viviana and Roland at the base of The Mushroom
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Map of the area at the trail entrance
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Map close up
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Start of the hike
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Several locations had chains going up (and down) the mountain. Definitely not a hike you’d want to go on if it’s even a little bit wet.

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Lots of sketchy places on the way down, like this one…
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And this one…
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AND this one, called “The Chimney”, which I’d say is about a 10 meter vertical climb.

If you do plan to go on this hike I will reiterate that, depending on your route, you’ll likely want to have a climbing harness/carabiners. And as I mentioned, be sure it’s a dry day.

Safe climbing!

A Night Out at Kabukicho – Tokyo’s Red Light District

 

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First of all, we didn’t do go to any stripclubs or any places like that, so if you’re here to look for some racy stories, then sorry, you’ll be disappointed. My friend and I had a (mostly) wholesome night in Kabukicho. Although the area is known as a red light district, it does offer a lot of non-sex related activities.

Kabukicho, a district of Shinjuku, is one of my favorite places in Tokyo. This is the only place in that Japan that feels a little dangerous, and I like having a bit of danger in my life. Puts a little excitement in my boring life. But take note that I said it “feels” dangerous because in reality, it isn’t. Unless you do something stupid or go into the more suspicious looking dens of entertainment. This is, after all, yakuza and triad territory.

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Kabukicho sign at the entrance of the district

There’s an interesting audio tour (in English) you can buy that takes you around Kabukicho. Through the tour, I learned that the area is called Kabukicho because one of the first mayors of that district actually wanted to turn it into a center for culture and the arts. Kabukicho, or in Japanese, 歌舞伎町, is basically made up of two words… Kabuki (歌舞伎), a form of Japanese theater, and Cho(町), which means district or city. To his chagrin, his plan never really worked out and today it is still a place known for strip clubs, love hotels, and the Japanese mafia. But as I mentioned, there are some areas that are pretty wholesome. There’s a bowling alley, a batting center, arcades, a movie theater, and other family-oriented recreational establishments.

A friend of mine visited Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, and I took him to Kabukicho to go drinking. We first dropped by Wataminchi (わたみん家), a well-known chain of izakaya (Japanese pubs). They had 90-minute all-you-can drink for only 800 yen, which is dirt cheap. That’s why that place was our first stop.

The next joint we visited was another izakaya called Kabaya (九州料理かば屋), which serves dishes and drinks from Kyushu. I wanted my friend to try raw horse, or basashi (馬刺し). There’s a prefecture in Kyushu called Kumamoto (which was hit by a major earthquake a few weeks ago), and they’re known for good basashi among other things. However, I wouldn’t come here to try it. It wasn’t that good, the slices were very thin, and it was quite expensive.


If you’re a guy walking around Kabukicho at night, there is no escape from the dozens of men standing around trying to get people to watch a peepshop or visit a whorehouse. I’ve been here several times and am quite used to it. Usually I just smile and say “No thanks” and that’d be the end of it. Occasionally though you’ll get people who just won’t give up.

That night we had some very interesting encounters with these guys.

The first was an old Japanese lady, who was maybe in her 70s. She looked like an ordinary sweet-looking elderly woman… only she was trying to pimp her girls to us. Wow.

Next was an African guy who followed us for an entire block trying to convince us to go check out his girls. I tried to make a joke and said “Sorry, but my friend is a good Christian”, and to this he stopped in his tracks, looked at me with a confused/offended look on his face and said “I’m a Christian too!” He then continued with, “There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun!”

Finally there was a Japanese dude who approached us and said just one word.

“SEX”

Well, that was pretty direct, I thought. It wasn’t even a question. He just looked at us, emotionless, and said “SEX”. We replied, “No thanks”, and respecting our decision, he turned around and walked away.


Before I go, here’s a random picture from Golden-gai, a section of Kabukicho with lots of tiny 5 to 6-seat bars famous for being visited by artists, especially from the movie world. They say Quentin Tarantino frequents the place when he’s in Japan.

Incidentally, there was a fire here the very next day. It wasn’t us.

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“Life is a bitch, but I love bitch and bitch love me” – words to live be.

This is the door to a bar in Golden-gai. I can’t tell if the name of the bar is Love & Peace Bar or Mother Fucker.