Japanese Cinema Finally Goes To The Oscars

Japanese Cinema Finally Goes To The Oscars

Last year 9.8 million people watched the American Academy Awards on television. This prestigious ceremony celebrates the hard work and dedication that actors, directors, writers and film crews put into the movies they create together. However, it has taken a very long time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to begin to recognize movies outside of Hollywood. This year is the 94th year of the awards, and finally a Japanese movie, Drive My Car, has been nominated in the Best Picture category. The academy is also taking the movie seriously enough to have also nominated it for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. Drive My Car is definitely one to watch, and of course watching movies in Japanese is a great way to learn the language.

Drive My Car

Drive My Car, which is written and directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, was loved by critics. It is based on the story by Haruki Murakami. The movie is about a renowned stage actor and director who, following his wife’s unexpected death, travels to Hiroshima to direct a production of Uncle Vanya. His journey finds him unraveling some of the mysteries that his wife left behind. It wasn’t just the acting that impressed the Academy panel, but also the impressive filmography. The logistics of making a movie is challenging and requires a professional crew to deal with the ever-changing sets and scenery. The transportation is intrinsic to the success of the movie. In Drive My Car, the filming locations were constantly changing, and this was beautifully portrayed.

Previous Nominations

There have been a few Japanese movies that have been nominated for an Oscar in recent years, but never for the main category of Best Picture. In 2018, Shoplifters, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda was nominated for Best International Feature Film, and in 2008 Departures, directed by Yōjirō Takita, won the category. Japan also has a strong tradition of animation. Mirai was nominated in 2018 for Best Animated Feature, Boss Baby in 2017 and The Red Turtle in 2016. A Japanese movie has only once won the category though, back in 2002 for the classic Spirited Away. In 93 years of the Academy Awards, Japan, which has one of the oldest movie industries in the world, producing a quarter of all movies made, has only won an Oscar 14 times.

A Changing Industry

The Academy Awards have really diversified in the last few years, with Korean movies like Parasite and Minari leading the way. The Oscars are paying more attention to movies in other languages, and this is opening up the incredible world of Japanese cinema to a far wider audience. This will also help Japan become more recognized not just for a strong tradition of anime and horror movies, but also for outstanding storytelling.

A Japanese movie being nominated for an Oscar is very exciting. This shows how important the Japanese movie industry is to the world.

Want to experience Japanese Cinema in it’s original form without subtitles? Sign up for a subscription to Nihongo Master today and start your journey to Japanese fluency!

We tried Sakuraco’s authentic Sakura Festival snack box!

We tried Sakuraco’s authentic Sakura Festival snack box!

We at Nihongo Master understand that learning Japanese is much more than just understanding words and grammar. It’s also getting a knowledge and appreciation for the culture and a part of any culture is its food! We tried Sakuraco’s Cherry Blossom event subscription box and we were blown away! So many authentic and locally produced snacks, straight from Japan. It’s a great opportunity to learn about each small company and learn some new Japanese food words as you go! Here are just a few of our favorites! Check out our instagram for more pictures and video of this gorgeous box and check out Sakuraco for monthly Japanese snack boxes delivered right to your door!

Sakura Wafer

These sakura cookies were almost too beautiful to eat! These gorgeous cookies had sakura designs printed on the outer wafer. Inside was a filling made of a sweet and smooth cherry blossom flavored cream. These cookies were sweet but not overly so, with a taste like a sugar cookie. The outer wafers were crisp and broke with a satisfying snap commonly found in Japan’s senbei. The cream inside was a perfect addition!

Sakura Daifuku

What would a Japanese treat box be without some daifuku or mochi? In this month’s box, we received a bag filled with individually wrapped daifuku. Daifuku are small mochi with a center filling, usually a bean paste. The daifuku included in this box were small, pink and white, and bore a striking resemblance to cherry blossom petals! They were flavored with cherry blossom and had a soft anki bean paste filling. They were sweet with just a hint of floral flavor. They were one of my favorite snacks included in the box!

Sakura Green Tea

Every Sakuraco box includes tea! Appropriately, this month’s tea was a sakura green tea. Cherry blossom green tea is one of my all-time favorite tea flavors, so I was ecstatic to see it included in this box. And the tea did not disappoint! It had a light, floral taste with a natural sweetness commonly found in sakura flavored tea.

Sakura Kanten

(vegan) This light jelly block has a delicate flavor that blends so well with the incredible sakura green tea in the box! It’s light pink color is lovely to look at as it reminds you of the sakura cherries it’s made from!

Sakura Kuzumochi

Kuzumochi is a Japanese wagashi made from kuzu or wheat starch. It often comes in the shape of a little mochi cake. The kuzumochi featured in this month’s sakura-themed box included a whole pickled cherry blossom within the kuzumochi. The jelly itself was sweet, similar to a jam, with a decadent flavor like a syrup. The blossom was a nice touch to help me feel closer to the sakura festivities going on in Japan!

Sakura Jelly

(vegan) Another delicious jelly offering, but this time a lighter, spoonable dessert! IU also tried it on some wonderful crusted bread from our local bakery. A light and smooth treat, also pairs excellently with the tea. The jelly also has apple in it to give it more a sweeter taste.

Milk Manju

Manjus are a traditional Japanese sweet with a cake-like outside and a bean paste or jam filling. The manju included in the sakura box was sweet and dense like any good manju should be with a slight hint of spices.

Apple Cookie

The box included a couple apple-flavored snacks because their light and crisp flavor pairs well with the floral cherry blossoms. These apple cookies were made with apple pulp from Nagano’s famous apples boiled in honey. The result was a delicious, crisp cookie with a slight apple flavor and a bit of spice, similar to an apple muffin.

Nagano Apple Jam Bun

Japan offers some of the best sweet buns and pastries out there! The one included in this month’s box was a soft pillowy bun filled with a sweet apple jam made from Nagano apples! According to the box’s brochure, these buns were made with a technique used by Italian bakers for soft, moist dough. This treat was the largest snack found in the box, and it was satisfying, but not too filling.

Sakura Side Plate

In each box comes a delightful souvenir. This side plate was one of three possible designs and holds the snacks provided in such a beautiful way! A lovely addition to any tea time set up.

Senbei Boat

This is one of the more unique treats featured in this box! Senbei are a type of Japanese rice cracker that are crispy but light and airy. These senbei came in their own edible boat, which evoked images of boat rides down canals to view cherry blossoms. These senbei come in a variety of flavors, many of which are commonly found in sushi, such as shrimp, crab, and wasabi.

Sakura Senbei

These thin, little cookies have a beautiful cherry blossom design printed on each. These cookies are classified as senbei, and they have a texture like a waffle cone or a fortune cookie. They are crisp, light, and go excellent with the sakura tea included!

Chili Arare

With all the sweets included in this month’s box, a savory snack is a nice respite. Included in this box was the chili arare. Arare are a type of Japanese cracker, usually with a puffy texture. These arare were made with hot chili oil from Okinawa and chopped spring onions. The brochure advertises these crackers as being spicy. While they did have a bit of heat to them, they weren’t too spicy, even for those with a low spice tolerance such as myself. I worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy these due to their spice, but that wasn’t an issue. I was surprised how much I enjoyed them!

Delicious traditional Japanese treats with your gorgeous Sakuraco Box Subscription

Delicious traditional Japanese treats with your gorgeous Sakuraco Box Subscription

Amazing Beauty & Incredible Quality

There are many Japanese snack boxes on the market, but not many like the Sakuraco box. If you want a taste of traditional Japanese foods, straight from Japan, Sakuraco. box is the way to go! Experience Japan’s unique and beautiful culture with a wide variety of goodies every month! Each box includes an informative packet about the snacks and tea inside, including the local businesses that have helped prepare the foods, so you can learn about lesser-known parts of Japan’s culture as you snack! This box is truly worth it if you want to learn about Japan and its culture on a personal level. See more about all your box possibilities here!

Each box is themed around a certain region, season, etc., and they are packed with snacks that will keep you filled until the next box arrives! Below are some of the highlights from the box I received, which was all about Mount Fuji and its surrounding areas.

Awase Fruit Jelly. I have never gotten jelly in a subscription box before, so this was quite a surprise! This jelly has a delicious, light apple taste. The fruit in it–including a cherry from Yamanashi–were still fresh.

Red Fuji Cookies. These cookies pay homage to the Mount Fuji with their shape. These adorable little chocolate cookies are in the shape of Fuji-san, with strawberry icing on top to mimic the snow. They are very similar to the famous Apollo chocolates in Japan–and they were one of my favorites in the box!

The Kyoho Grape Chocolate Crunch snacks tasted like nothing I’ve had before. These treats are made of toasted corn flakes covered in chocolate. The chocolate is infused with grapes from Kyoho, which are famous for their rich flavor. They certainly made for a delicious and unique treat!

The White Peach Milk Manju was another favorite of mine. This little treat is dense and filling. Made with a white peach puree from the Yamanashi prefecture, this milk manju bun was a satisfying treat.

The Sakuraco Box also included mochi! This was a wonderful surprise. What was even better about this surprise was that these mochi were hidden under a small Mt. Fuji Owan Bowl. This bowl, upside down, looks just like Fuji-san and can be used for decor. Or it can be turned upright to be used as a bowl!

The Kinako Mochi were so delicately wrapped, I almost didn’t want to open them and ruin the wrapping! These mochi are more on the savory side. They are made with roasted soybean and go well with tea.

If you are interested in more savory snacks, Sakuraco Includes those as well. In this box, we received Miso Arare, a crispy rice snack with soybean sauce and red miso seasoning. The box also included Ototo Soy Sauce chips. These chips are flavored with iwashi sardine shavings from Mizutani Shoten, a century-old company in Shizuoka.

This month’s tea was Sencha with Matcha Tea. It wasn’t too bitter as matcha can sometimes be, and I really enjoyed the flavors and fragrance of this tea. It is perfect for cooler weather!

The box also included multiple types of crackers, or Senbei, to enjoy with tea. My favorite of which were the Almond Mochi Four Seasons Senbei. These crackers were light and had a great flavor made from almonds. The other crackers included aji shirabe, edamame, and soy sauce flavors. The Kokeshi Doll senbei were my favorite in terms of packaging. These treats look like little Kokeshi dolls. The wrapper of each features a kimono, face, and hair. The head is made from a roasted peanut and the body is a soy sauce flavored senbei.

Lastly, what would a tea-subscription box be without a few tea-flavored treats? Green tea is one of my favorite flavors when it comes to sweets, so I was happy to see multiple in this box! One of my favorites was the Green Tea Leaf cookies. These are tiny butter cookies made from tea leaves from the Shizuoka prefecture. They are the perfect little sweet to have along with tea. Another favorite was the Green Tea Dacquoise. This is made from two green tea infused meringues with a matcha cream center. Both green tea treats were sourced from Takayanagi Seicha. This is company located just outside Mount Fuji that is known for its tea. The booklet included in every Sakuraco Box included information about Takayanagi Seicha, their history and what they do. It helped me feel really connected to the food I was eating and made me appreciate the snacks even more!

I am very grateful I got to try Sakuraco’s Mount Fuji inspired box! This box was like no other snack-related subscription services I’ve tried. There is so much to explore within these small boxes. Try unique treats you won’t find outside of Japan, and learn about the lesser-known but equally important parts of Japan. This box is for anyone who wants to feel closer to Japan and its culture–and get some great snacks while they’re at it!

It’s Tasty and Educational Learning Japanese with Japan Candy Box!

It’s Tasty and Educational Learning Japanese with Japan Candy Box!

I recently received the October box from our friends over at Japan Candy Box. I’m happy to share my thoughts on this fun experience with you!

For those that don’t know, Japan Candy Box is part of the Kawaii Group’s subscription box service. Each month, customers will receive a unique box with a monthly theme. October’s theme was, of course, all things Halloween! Inside, there are ten snacks you can only get in Japan. These snacks range from savory to sweet, gum to chocolate, so there is something for everyone in each box! The treats come in individually-wrapped sample sizes so you aren’t getting too much of one thing, and so you get to try as many snacks as possible each month! If there is a particular snack you loved in one of the boxes, you can find everything available at their store, Japan Candy Store.

Along with each box of snacks, you will also get an adorable little guide that will teach you about each snack while you munch! The snacks are labeled “Savory Snack,” “Chocolate Snack,” “Assorted Gum,” “Dagashi,” etc,  so you know what they are before tasting.

The guide also comes with a word of the month! October’s word of the month is こわい (Kowai) meaning scary, which was very fitting for the box’s theme! It also includes “Event of the Month” and gives details about a special event going on in Japan each month. October’s Event of the Month is Kurana no Hi Matsuri (or the Kurama Fire Festival). I loved these little tidbits added so you can learn about Japanese culture while getting to experience it through snacks!

Japan Candy Box has included many popular brands in previous boxes, including Meiji, KitKat, Hi-Chew, Glico, and Milky. So you know you are going to get some high quality and delicious treats! You can even see sneak peeks of the upcoming box–see the theme and some of the brands included to get you excited!

Now onto my experience!

The boxes ship before the first of each month so that they will arrive on time. Because they are coming from far away, it can take one to four weeks for customers to receive their boxes. It took about two weeks for mine to arrive after receiving the shipping email. All the snacks were still fresh and delicious and definitely worth the wait! The box came and I was thrilled!

It looks so cute and everything was packed very well inside–no fears of crushed chips for me!

1. Baby Star Halloween Chicken Noodle Snacks

The first snack I pulled out of the box was chicken flavored noodle snacks by Baby Star. I don’t know where these have been all my life but I am so glad I got to try them now! This is a popular savory snack in Japan, made from crispy ramen noodles. The noodles included were chicken flavored. However, they come in a variety of ramen-related flavors that I’m eager to try sometime! Something I love about Japan Candy Box is getting to try snack foods that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise! It’s great to try new things and see what else is out there!

2. Koris Monster Gum

Next was Koris’s Monster Gum. As explained in Japan Candy Box’s guide, there are three pieces of gum included. Two have a sweet center and one is super sour–so these treats definitely have a trick! They fit the Halloween theme perfectly and are so fun!

3. Umaibo Halloween Corn Potage Puff Stick

This Umaibo (corn puff stick) is classified as だがし (dagashi). Dagashi are inexpensive and individually-wrapped snacks. They often feature mascots on the packages and colorful wrappings that kids love. This dagashi pays homage to a classic Japanese meal: コーンポタージュ (otherwise known as corn potage or Japanese corn soup). It really did taste just like corn, I was in awe! Corn potage is definitely a unique flavor that I had never seen in a snack before. That’s one of the fun things about Japan Candy Box; discovering one-of-a-kind snacks from Japan, a country filled with unique foods.

4. Sanritsu Genji-Pie Crispy Pumpkin Snack

The next snack is a classic in Japan: genji pie. These little treats are made of a flaky soft crust and come in adorable heart shapes! After tasting the previous snacks, this genji pie was a nice little respite. The pumpkin flavor is fitting for the box, but it’s not overpowering. Like many snacks in Japan, the flavor is subtle and the consistency is very light.

5. Tahato Halloween Caramel Corn

This next treat is a classic for fall–caramel corn! However, this snack is not the common caramel corn you are thinking of, but corn pops with light caramel! They weren’t too dense or too filling as caramel corn can be. I enjoyed the light airy quality of these that isn’t common in our American version. There are even a few ghost-shaped pieces included for an added bit of fun and spookiness!

6. Fettuccine Mickey & Minnie Halloween Gummies

Next are the Fettuccine Gummies. These get their name from their shape: short, flat strips, like small pieces of fettuccine! As you can read from the label, these are オレンジ (orange) flavor. They taste like the Orange Slices gummies we have here in the US, but more sour tang to them.

7. Kajyu Halloween Fruit Juice Gummies

The next treat is a small pack of grape flavored gummies by Kajyu. Kajyu is owned by Meiji, one of the biggest candy companies in Japan. Kajyu comes from the Japanese word for fruit juice kajū (果汁 or かじゅう) and is a fitting name for these gummies. Kajyu’s gummies are made from concentrated fruit juice to really pack in the flavor. These gummies smelled exactly like grape juice–and they were delicious! I’ve never been a fan of grape-flavored candies, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these! I think I might be a grape-flavored fan now–so long as it’s Kajyu!

8. Apollo Halloween Chocolates

Japan Candy Box’s guide has this next treat labeled under “Popular Candy” and they are correct! If you are a fan of Japanese candy, you have seen these before: Apollo Strawberry Chocolate Candies. I learned from the guide that these delicious strawberry and chocolate candies got their unique shape from the Apollo 11–the spaceship that brought us to the moon! The candies came in an awesome pyramid-shaped wrapper that I loved almost as much as the chocolates inside!

9. Furukawa Mysterious!? Witch Gum

Next is our second gum treat. I can see Japanese children having fun with this Halloween candy. The package features a spooky witch on the front, and she has mixed all the gum flavors together into one bag! There is orange, apple, soda, yogurt, and a mystery prank flavor! The back comes with guide on what flavors to mix to make new flavors. And if you eat every flavor together, the prank flavor will disappear! Definitely a fun Halloween candy! Something else I love about  Japan Candy Box is being able to practice my Japanese by reading the wrappers. This one was especially fun to read as there was so much included!

10. Black Thunder Halloween Chocolate Bar

Last, but definitely not least, is the Black Thunder chocolate bar! The bar is a small piece of chocolate shortbread cookie with rice puffs, all covered in a layer of chocolate. As a bit of a chocoholic, I’m always happy to try new chocolate bars, and Black Thunder did not disappoint. It’s light but chocolaty and had a delicious flavor from the cookie. It was a wonderful way to end my box tasting!

Favorite Snack Included?

Baby Star chicken noodle snacks! They were delicious and I was so glad they were included so I could try them for the first time! They are flavorful and crunchy and feel like a better alternative to potato chips.

Most Unique/Memorable?

Umaibo Halloween Corn Potage Puff Stick, no doubt! I’ve never had a snack that tasted like this but really enjoyed it!

So the verdict?

Japan Candy Box is awesome and exceeded all expectations! It was a wonderful way to practice my Japanese and experience Japanese culture, while also getting to try some new treats! There was a great mix of snacks, from sweet to savory, so anyone would love this box, regardless of their preference. The box is packed full of snacks, not too many that they will go to waste, but not too few that they will be gone too quickly. It is the perfect amount to keep customers happy until the next box arrives!

This box has been especially welcome since travel to Japan is currently restricted. It’s like getting to experience the country from home and getting to have a little piece of it with you. I recommend Japan Candy box to anyone who loves Japan, who wants to try new things, or anyone interested in a unique way to practice their Japanese.

Japan Candy Box was a fun and one-of-a-kind experience! There wasn’t a single treat I didn’t like. Getting to learn more about Japan and the kind of snacks eaten over there was so fun! Plans range from $24.90 to $29.90. No matter what plan you choose, you will be receiving plenty of high quality and delicious snacks!

Now please excuse me while I go to Japan Candy Store and buy more Baby Star noodle snacks.

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

 Having lived almost a decade in Tokyo, the best phrase I’ve heard so far for describing this vast city is, “A Disney remake of Blade Runner.” 

When you arrive you’ll see what I mean – over 35 million people, skyscrapers towering over small wooden houses, spaghetti junction freeways running above and deep below the city, trains weaving in and out of the ground and through department stores, all with friendly animated characters guiding you at every turn. 

It’s uniquely safe for such a large metropolis, spotlessly clean despite an abject lack of trash cans, everything works and is on time. As a newcomer you’ll find it deliciously confusing with the massive cultural differences, language barrier – it’s guaranteed to be unlike any city you’ve ever seen before. 

Closed Borders – Covid Disclaimer – Visas 

At the time of writing, the borders to Japan are closed to almost all non-residents. There’s progress towards the borders reopening, with domestic restrictions and re-entry requirements easing, plus the influential business lobby working the government to open up again. But there’s no clear timeline for opening up yet – so keep checking for updates and always be prepared for disruption when planning any international travel.  

Visa Duration 

Pre-pandemic, most westerners and many other countries could just turn up and receive a 90-day tourist visa under the visa waiver program – here’s a full list of countries.  Some nationalities (Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the UK) can apply to have the 90-day visa extended for up to 6 months after arrival. This requires a trip to the immigration bureau, filling out a form and waiting in a queue for a few hours. 

Again, at time of writing the borders are closed and the visa waiver program is suspended, so check your local government’s travel advice for Japan (or brave the confusion of Japan’s Ministry of Foregin Affairs website). 

Getting Connected Sim Cards, WiFi, Roaming 

You might find your mobile provider’s roaming charges to be prohibitively expensive in Japan, but there are a few exceptions in the US/UK/EU and South East Asia. Either way you’ll probably find it cheaper to pick up a data SIM card, or rent a mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay.  

Prepaid Sim Cards in Japan 

As long as you have an unlocked smartphone, you’ll be able to order a prepaid SIM, pop it in your phone and get online. The most cost effective and sensible option is to pre-order a SIM card to your hotel/accommodation for when you arrive. Alternatively if you’re not so price sensitive there are kiosks and vending machines at the airport where you can buy a SIM just after you land. 

There’s quite a few providers offering different plans, ranging from ¥2,880 – ¥7,490 (about $25 – $70 USD)  a month for 10GB – unlimited data. Check out the Tokyo Cheapo comparison article on buying prepaid SIM cards in Japan for the latest prices and recommendations. 

Free Wifi 

If you’re a super cheapo, you’ll know the old phrase, “Nothing is cheaper than free… wifi”, and the good news is that free wifi is now abundant in Japan. 

You can reliably connect to the internet at almost all convenience stores, many cafes, most train and subway stations, most department stores, many shops, many public buildings like museums, galleries, and sightseeing spots… the list goes on. 

For a more exhaustive list, check the Tokyo Cheapo article on getting connected

Pocket Wifi 

The other option worth a mention is renting a pocket wifi/mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay. This is a great option if you’re travelling as a group/family and want to share a connection between multiple laptops and phones. Prices are similar to SIM cards and are typically from ¥900/day to ¥7,000/month, with discounted longer term monthly plans available too. Once again check out our article for the best deals and some discount codes on pocket wifi in Japan. 

Getting Around 


Suica card – buy one as soon as you arrive

First up buy a suica (or pasmo – which works exactly the same) card at the train station at the airport as soon as you arrive. This is a credit card-sized IC card that you can easily top up with credit, buy the cheapest one and just top up 1000yen every time it runs out. Don’t bother fiddling with point-to-point tickets, it’s not worth the hassle. Buy a Suica card and simply tap to enter and leave at the train station barrier.  

The metro system in Tokyo is the biggest and most efficient in the world. You’ll barely be waiting on the platform more than 2 mins for your next train, which is almost always on time, accurate to a few seconds. 

Use this English website to plan your journeys through the city. Unfortunately none of the English language train apps are as comprehensive, but some like trains.jp give you train routes without having internet access. 

Beware of the last train, don’t have your carriage turn into a pumpkin. Trains stop early, often before midnight after which you’ll be stranded at the mercy of cabs whose fare’s increase dramatically at night as trains stop running. (see notes below about where to stay in Tokyo). 

Best Neighborhoods To Stay In 

The best area of Tokyo by far is the southwest central part of central Tokyo, roughly centred around Shibuya. A good rule of thumb would be anywhere within 2 to 3 train stops from Shibuya. Most of the interesting events, nightlife, people and culture are usually found in this zone, plus it’s still easy to get to all the various sight-seeing spots on Tokyo’s excellent transport system. Unfortunately it’s also one of the more expensive areas and it can be difficult to find places to stay.  

Because there’s no public transport except for taxis after about 23:30 you’ll want to be based near where the nightlife is. Otherwise if you miss your train you have the wonderful choice of a 3 hour trudge home, $100 taxi or pulling an all-nighter. So it makes sense to be based somewhere southwest central. 

There are other pleasant neighborhoods in Tokyo a little bit further out, so if you don’t mind getting your carriage before midnight also consider:  

  • Shimokitazawa – just outside of Shibuya, hip and friendly hood 
  • Hatsudai, Nakano, Sasaka – fairly close to Shinjuku and quite cheap 
  • Yotsuya, Kagurazaka, Jimbocho – still fairly central and not too pricey 
  • Asakusa – lots of budget and foreigner friendly accommodation 
  • Anywhere on the south side of the Yamanote line 

Airbnb, Agoda, Booking – all the usual international booking sites have Tokyo pretty well covered. One thing to know if you’re booking hotels from a Japanese website or hotel directly, the charge is sometimes per person, and not per room. 

Shibuya – a halloween mayhem 

What To Do In Tokyo 

If it’s your first time, then I always say just simply being anywhere in Tokyo is half the sightseeing done. With all the many differences, from the subtle (bizarre background music in super markets) to the conspicuous (train staff pushing commuters into an already full train carriage in order to close the doors), there’s so many sights to see without even visiting a tourist spot. 

That being said, here’s a list of 101 cheap and free things to do in Tokyo. Highlights include 

  • A free view from the top floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Skyscraper in Shinjuku. 
  • A taste of the old at Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, in Koganei park. 
  • Checking out some contemporary art at The National Art Center, in Nogizaka. 
  • Enjoy one of Tokyo’s oldest and most beautiful parks, Koishikawa Korakuen – especially good in Autumn. 
  • See the vanguard of Japanese girls’ fashion at culture by exploring the 109 department store in Shibuya 
  • Cower before the Gundam Statue in Odaiba 
  • Escape from the crowds of Harajuku, walk through forest and visit an oasis of calm at Meiji Shrine 
  • Drink with the locals at one of the many old-fashioned miniature bars at a “Yokocho check” – Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya, Sankaku Chitai in Sangenjaya, Sanchoku Yokocho in Yurakucho, Ebisu Yokocho, Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku etc. 
  • Eat all the things – the food is so good in Tokyo eat as much of it as possible! 

Gyms and Fitness 

Surprisingly there are lots of cheap community gyms around the city, typically with entrance fees of 200 – 400yen per pop. 

Here’s one in Shinjuku with a squat rack – website 

And in Shibuya – website 

And yet more options here 

If you want to go a bit more high end, Gold’s Gym (of international fame) has visitor passes, a single month membership for around 18000yen, and ongoing monthly plans from about 8000yen. 

There’s also a surprising amount of chin up bars in small parks dotted throughout the city, if you can make do with body weight exercise. 

The Emperor’s Palace is a popular spot for jogging, one lap is about 5km – NOTE: everyone usually runs round counterclockwise, but you won’t be arrested for going against the grain (I’ve battle tested that). There’s a nice public bath (sento) just here to shower off and soak in afterwards. 

Also at the edge of the city you’ll find mountains with numerous hiking trails for all abilities. 

Cheap Eats In Tokyo 

You can’t really go wrong with food in Tokyo, so don’t be afraid to try places without any recommendations. English menus are fairly common now-a-days, but even without, you’ll find many menus come with pictures of almost every dish. The only specific recommendation I need to give is to avoid places that have touts – if they have staff out and about trying to pull in customers then that’s not a good sign! 


You can literally eat sushi anywhere – even from 7-Eleven and it’ll be good. For the best cost performance, go to a standing sushi bar, you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with busy salarymen and women – true professional Tokyo cheapos. NOTE: Don’t bother trying to get a reservation at Jiro or stand in line for hours at one of the “best” Tsukiji Market sushi restaurants, there are countless restaurants that are really good that get overlooked from tourist guidebooks, just check the price suits your budget and enjoy – no need to queue. 

Ramen, Soba, Udon 

Student prices don’t necessarily mean student food, but you’ll usually find any of the ubiquitous noodle eateries –  Ramen, Soba or Udon – filled with students. Look for restaurants that have you pay at a vending machine (you then give the ticket to the chef), that’s a clue that is good and cheap.  

Izakaya – The Japanese Pub 

Somewhere between a tapas bar and a pub, an Izakaya is about drinking as much as it is about eating. Still they are usually a great place to sample a wide variety of Japanese cuisine. Normally they will have a speciality – Yakitori (chicken BBQ skewers), Nabe (hot pot), Seafood etc. but likely the menu will have a little bit of everything. Which is how you should order – try as many different dishes as you can, and share just like tapas.  

For a good Tokyo foodie website, have a look at https://bento.com/ 

Language Tips 

Hopefully you’ll have at least a few words of spoken Japanese ready to put to the test when you arrive, but If not then Nihongo Master can get you up to speed. You’ll find the majority of people in Tokyo won’t be comfortable with speaking English, so they’ll be very pleased to hear you (at least try to) speak Japanese. Also most people will have studied English for several years at school, so by hook or by crook you should be able to get by. 

Lots of words in modern Japanese are borrowed from English (or French, German etc). Unfortunately they may be tricky to recognise as they are pronounced with a Japanese accent, and often vowel sounds get lost in translation. So a handy trick is that if you don’t know a word in Japanese, you can try saying the English word with a Japanese accent – like meeting -> meeting, suitcase -> suitcase, beer -> beeru. But be warned, if you have a very good Japanese accent, people might then assume you are fully fluent and will talk to you at full speed! 

You’ll find a lot of spoken Japanese in Tokyo is either Keigo (the super polite and honorific speech), or informal Japanese. This can be quite confusing for new-comers, as you may not have advanced enough to branch into learning the very polite or informal speech. On the other hand, spoken Japanese is often very abbreviated and unnecessary words are often dropped from sentences. So less is more when trying to communicate – if you’re not sure of all the grammar yet and just want to be understood, try leaving it out and keep sentences short and simple. 

Finally, Tokyo after dark is a great place to improve your language skills – in contrast to the day when most people seem quite introverted, everyone opens up after a few drinks. If you’re out and about in bars and izakayas it probably won’t be too long before you end up in conversation of some sort.  

One of the best blogs to follow to learn Japanese culture facts!

One of the best blogs to follow to learn Japanese culture facts!

Japan is a country of rich and unique culture. Many of us have fallen in love with Japan from learning about its special culture, both traditional and modern. If you love to learn about Japan and its way of life, Japan Australia is a blog you need to check out!

Japan Australia was created in 2009 by an Australia-born blogger and travel writer named John. John has been living in Gifu, in the heart of Japan, for 16 years now, and has had the pleasure of traversing this beautiful country. He channeled his love for Japan, Japanese language, and culture into the Japan Australia blog. On this blog, he writes all about his travels and Japan’s amazing culture.

John’s blog focuses on his life in Gifu and central Japan, but he has written about his travels all over Japan. This blog is great for finding some truly unique experiences, food, and sights to see on your next trip to Japan! You can even search through the blog for what interests you most. On the blog you can find many articles on a variety of topics such as Japanese festivals, things you will only find in Japan, food, and much more!

On Japan Australia you will find articles on Japanese culture that you won’t find anywhere else! One of their most recent articles was on Japan’s 47 Jimoto Frappuccino. I hadn’t heard about this until I read Japan Australia’s article! These Frappuccinos were available for only a limited time. There were 47 flavors available based on the 47 prefectures of Japan. The flavors ranged from edamame paste and matcha green tea for the Miyagi prefecture to red bean sauce and chocolate chips for the Aichi prefecture. This promotion is something I never would have heard of if it wasn’t for Japan Australia!

From Japan Australia’s blog

John writes plenty about his own experiences in Japan, especially Gifu. It is great to read about firsthand experiences in Japan, especially when planning your own trip. It’s a great way to find ideas depending on what you enjoy. Plus, you get trusted advice from John, someone who has already experienced it!

For instance, if you are a coffee lover, John recently did an interesting article on charcoal roasted coffee–who knew that existed? John goes through his experience of trying Sumiyaki’s charcoal roasted coffee. He explains the process for making this unique cup of joe and even gives his opinion on the taste. It’s great for coffee lovers who are heading to Japan and want recommendations!

John’s experience as written on Japan Australia

In his 16 years as a resident of Japan, John has seen plenty of Japan’s culture, and this includes holidays and festivals. On Japan Australia, you will learn not only about Japan’s holidays, but how they are celebrated! Spend some time on Japan Australia’s Festivals section to learn about celebrations going on in Japan year round!

John has had the honor of attending many Japanese festivals through the years, and we readers get to read his personal accounts. It is great for truly understanding Japanese culture and what it is like to attend matsuri. John has articles on famous festivals such as the Sapporo Snow Festival, which is one of Hokkaido’s biggest attractions occurring every February; and Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day), one of Japan’s largest celebrations, taking place during Golden Week. In these articles you will learn the history and culture surrounding these celebrations. You will also read about John’s experiences attending these festivals. See pictures of the parades, festivities, and festival goers. John helpfully includes a map of where to find the festival and schedules too! Definitely check out his articles if you are interested in participating in a matsuri when you’re in Japan!

Japan Australia’s Blog Categories

Having lived and worked in Japan for so long, John has been in the country year round. Because of this, you will also find articles on Japan Australia of activities to do each season! Japan Australia has an entire section devoted to articles about cherry blossom season in Japan–one of the most popular times to visit. He has also written articles on unique things to see and do during other seasons. This includes viewing fall foliage at Gujo Hachiman Castle in the Gifu prefecture, where John resides. Autumn is a popular time to travel to Japan as the fall foliage is gorgeous! He has also written about his experiences during Tanabata. Tanabata is Japan’s “Star Festival” which takes place every July. It is a must-do if you visit Japan during the summer!

Japan Australia’s beautiful photography by John

No matter what time of year you travel to Japan, Japan Australia has you covered. This is one of the major reasons why we recommend visiting Japan Australia. If you are planning a trip to Japan, Japan Australia is a great resource for beginning to plan your trip. On the site, you will find activities available only in Japan. Plus, you will get firsthand accounts and recommendations from an expert!

Even if you are not planning a trip to Japan any time soon and just enjoy learning more about Japan and its culture, Japan Australia is still a great blog to read. Learn  Japanese culture facts and what is going on in Japan now from someone who is living there. See what it is like living in Japan without leaving your home. Japan Australia has been a delight to read the past year, when traveling to Japan has been nearly impossible. Reading Japan Australia’s articles has been a nice retreat from daily life. It allows readers to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and daily life!

Japan Australia’s list of resources

In addition to John’s own experiences, Japan Australia offers resources for those interested in learning more about Japan. You will find John’s recommended books for traveling Japan and learning Japanese culture. You can also find textbooks to help you learn Japanese. It’s no wonder why Japan Australia was rated one of the best Japan Expat blogs! You can read all about John, his travels, and Japanese culture facts on his blog japan-australia.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

If you’re excited to plan your next trip to Japan (and who isn’t dreaming of visiting once visitors are allowed again?) then japan-guide.com should be an integral part of your planning process. This site is an amazing resource for those hoping to visit Japan. Use the interactive map on their homepage to see some of the most popular locations Japan has to offer. Once you click on your desired destination, you will be taken to a page filled with information on the topic. From there, you will find out about the culture and history of your destination. You will also learn the most popular activities, transportation methods, and more! What else could a traveler need to plan the best trip ever?

We’ve compiled a list of five popular destinations in Japan and used the resources in Japan Guide to learn more about them!

Japan Guide’s Interactive Map

5. Sapporo

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Sapporo is known for its beer, winter activities, and ramen–which was created in Hokkaido! The top rated activity in Sapporo, according to Japan Guide, is the Sapporo Snow Festival or さっぽろ雪まつり (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). Japan Guide also has a great feature that tells you which activities are most recommended using a point system, and Sapporo’s Snow Festival made the list!

Japan Guide’s Point System

The Snow Festival is held annually for one week in February. Its main site is located at the Odori Site, which Japan Guide helpfully links information to. It also gives a history of the Snow Festival and information on Sapporo.

Like many other matsuri (Japanese festivals), the Snow Festival has delicious food. Hokkaido is well known for its seafood, especially crab, so its most popular matsuri food is crab miso soup. Cooked potatoes, takoyaki, and ramen are also common. These treats keep festival-goers warm during the cold Hokkaido winters.

In Japanese etiquette, it is frowned upon to eat while walking in public. Matsuri are an exception to this rule. You will often see people walking through the festival while enjoying a warm snack. Even so, miso soup or ramen may be difficult to enjoy while walking. You will find many places at the Snow Festival to stop, eat, and marvel at the amazing snow sculptures!

4. Osaka

Next, I used Japan-Guide’s interactive map to “travel” to Osaka and learn more about the beautiful city! Japan Guide has a helpful tool that will list the area’s highest rated activities. Osaka’s top attractions are the Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios– I didn’t know this existed! It’s so great to explore the destination you are interested in and learn more about them too!

One of Osaka’s most iconic landmarks is the Osaka Castle. Through Japan Guide I was able to learn the history of the castle and what it is like to visit today. There are even ticket prices listed and recommendations for cherry blossom season! The castle–like much of Japan–becomes very popular and crowded during cherry blossom season. Remember to be respectful of others and to stand in an orderly queue as you wait to enter. Orderly lines are very important in Japanese etiquette. They show respect, patience, and organization.

If you plan to be around the castle for the cherry blossom season, you will want more than just a day trip to Osaka! Japan Guide can help you out. You can easily find recommended hotels listed on the site. If you plan to stay long, use Japan Guide’s feature to find nearby day trips to make sure your visit never has a dull moment!

And if you are visiting Japan to witness the cherry blossoms, Japan Guide has you covered there too! You can search destinations by season, and specifically find cherry blossom related activities!

3. Kyoto

According to Japan Guide’s rating system, Kyoto rates as one of the “Bests of Japan!” Also rated as one of the “Bests” is the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the famous Shinto shrine made from thousands of 鳥居 (torii) gates which line the pathways. It’s not surprising that this destination is so highly recommended. It is beautiful and lets visitors truly immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

There is plenty of etiquette to follow when visiting a shrine like the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Most shrines, like Fushimi Inari, have a water basin outside where visitors should wash each hand. It is also common etiquette to bow before entering the shrine to show your respect.

If you have any questions about visiting the shrine or anything related to your trip to Japan, you will find a list of common questions on the side of Japan Guide’s pages. They also have a very helpful forum where you may go to ask your specific questions.

2. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, known as Fuji-san in Japan, is also rated one of the best destinations in Japan. In fact, it is within the top 25 most visited locations! Hiking and climbing are very popular activities in Japan. This is due to the country’s mountainous terrain. Many visitors flock to Mount Fuji just for that! That is what the mountain is known for–but it definitely isn’t the only thing you can do there! You can learn more with the commentated animation Japan Guide provides on what to do near or on Mount Fuji and what to expect! You can find equally helpful videos for most of their destinations!

If you do enjoy the outdoors, you can search Japan Guide for similar activities to add to your itinerary. Go to Interests on the top header and you can find outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, hot springs, nature walks, and more in Japan! You can also search for other interests like history, art, food, and entertainment!

  1. Tokyo

Japan Guide’s number one most visited destination is, unsurprisingly, Tokyo! Who doesn’t want to visit the bustling capital of Japan? By filtering Japan Guide’s most popular destinations, I found that the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts are Tokyo’s most visited locations. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo, it may be hard to narrow it down. Luckily, Japan Guide makes it easy. You can find local events, or even search by your interests!

Tokyo, like many cities, can be daunting when it comes to getting around and not getting lost. With Japan Guide, you can learn about how to get to and from airports, which trains to take, and how to get passes. They also provide helpful links and resources too. Just make sure you know public and travel etiquette in Japan! Check out our recent post on Japanese etiquette for train travel!

We’re sure you are now even more excited to plan your next Japan trip. Japan Guide is an invaluable resource that will guide you along every step of your journey. From finding destinations that fit your interests, to researching destinations, even helping you book hotels and find transportation. On top of all that, they can even help you prepare for traveling abroad! Traveling to Japan has never been easier–or more exciting!

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

For those looking to explore as much of Japan as possible, the country’s efficient and extensive rail network can’t be beat. Traveling around Japan by train is the perfect way for visitors to quickly and comfortably see the different sides of the country. However, the cost of lots of train travel really starts to add up in a country like Japan.

The good news is that there is a way to take as many trains as you like while in Japan without blowing up your budget. Rather than purchase tickets for each and every journey, a Japan Rail Pass allows passengers to travel as much as they like within the duration of their pass.

The Japan rail pas pamphlet and a mobile site of the JR Pass.
Travel freedom at it’s finest!

Introducing the Japan Rail Pass

With 7-day, 14-day and 21-day passes available to tourists, JR Passes can not only save people money but also give them the freedom to take train trips whenever the mood strikes. This one pass gives passengers access to train services all over Japan, ranging from local and regional trains to the country’s iconic shinkansen.

The Japan Rail Pass can be the key to unlocking everything Japan has to offer for tourists and may well be the second-best decision you make, after deciding to come in the first place.

A Shinkansen or a "bullet train."
A Shinkansen or a “bullet train.”

What Does the Japan Rail Pass Include?

To really appreciate the value of traveling with the Japan Rail Pass, it’s important that you understand what it covers. The last thing you want, now or later, is confusion about what is included by the pass.

It’s crucial straight away to make it clear that the JR Pass does not cover all train travel in Japan. Instead, the pass allows passengers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local train services operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group. This means that for the duration of your rail pass, you can travel as much as you want on eligible train services around Japan, including Japan’s famous bullet trains known as shinkansen

Unfortunately, there are a few rare exceptions to the rail pass that are worth being aware of. The most important are the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen services, which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu shinkansen lines. While this may seem inconvenient, there are other shinkansen services on these routes that are covered under the JR Pass, so it shouldn’t really affect your travels.

Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay
Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay!

On the other hand, there’s also a nice assortment of public transport services included in the JR Pass beyond the many regular JR train services. Many of these inclusions are specifically useful for tourists, such as the Narita Express between Narita Airport and Tokyo, the Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Tokyo, the Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay, and the extremely useful Yamanote loop line around Tokyo.

Who Can Use the Pass?

Because the Japan Rail Pass is such a useful and convenient option for traveling by train, it comes with quite strict restrictions on who can use it. The rail pass was designed to be mainly used by international tourists and the eligibility requirements reflect that. Only non-Japanese nationals on short tourism visits or Japanese nationals who meet specific conditions are able to purchase and use this rail pass.

While you can read up on the detailed eligibility requirements, the main one for tourists is that they enter the country on a single-entry temporary sightseeing visitor visa of 15 or 90 days duration.

The JR Ticket Office in the airport.
The place to get your pass!

Planning Your Rail Pass Trip

Now that you understand what the Japan Rail Pass covers and whether you can use it, it’s time to see whether it’s right for your trip. Every trip to Japan is different, so you need to check whether the rail pass makes sense for what you have planned.

One essential tool for deciding to get a rail pass is the JR Pass Fare Calculator. This invaluable resource allows you to input your travel plans, see whether a rail pass would work out cheaper than buying individual tickets and if so how much it could save you. We’re not talking about small savings potentially either; the cost of a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto is only marginally cheaper than a 7-day Japan Rail Pass.

man seeing mt. fuji out a shinkansen window.
This could be you!

Another vital resource you’ll want to consult when considering a rail pass is the JR Pass Map. This fantastic interactive map lets you see the entire JR railway network across the country, allowing you to visually see where the JR Pass can take you. But the map doesn’t just highlight JR lines and the shinkansen routes, it also helps you identify networks like private railways, trams and ropeways that won’t be covered.

How to Order a JR Pass

Since a Japan Rail Pass works differently to regular train tickets, the process for getting it is slightly different. In fact, it’s best if it actually begins before you even leave for Japan. While it is possible to buy a JR Pass in Japan, it’s actually cheaper if you buy it through an authorised vendor before you leave.

Train station master in Japan.
Making sure everything on your trip runs as smooth as the trains in Japan!

Once your pass is purchased, you will receive a slip of paper in the mail called an “Exchange Order”. Keep this order somewhere safe, as you will need to bring it with you to Japan to get your pass. Upon arriving in Japan, visit an Exchange Office found at major airports or in large cities, with your Exchange Order and passport. Following some paperwork at the office you will receive your official Japan Rail Pass with its activation day declared on it. The activation day is the day that you tell the office you would like to begin using your pass. From that day onwards, you’ll be able to travel on the pass, showing it to attendants at the turnstiles within stations bearing the JR symbol.

Traveling in Japan with a Japan Rail Pass can be an excellent move if it lines up with your travel plans. Rail passes can not only save you money, but also provide you with the chance to freely explore this wonderful destination to your heart’s content.

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