Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New 100 yen coin March 2015, Japanese Ministry of Finance announces

Commemorating the 50th year of service for the Japanese high-speed rail system (the famous Japanese bullet train), the Ministry of Finance announced today that several coins will be minted and circulated starting from March 2015.

I like the design of the coin, especially that of the famously shaped Tokaido train with its "団子っ鼻" (Dango-hana) or lit. "(sweet) dumpling nose" (its more fun to say in Japanese, right?!).

What do you think? Leave your comments below. And thanks for reading!!!

Monday, March 24, 2014


Oh what a glorious season it is. Spring in Japan is the start of all things new. Entry into new jobs, beginning of a fresh school year, trees budding, and a major wardrobe change. Incidentally, this change is very well coordinated among women. Everyone switches from black stockings to the flesh-toned ones and of course black winter jackets are exchanged for the tan, light overcoats. You won't hear any  complaints from guys who are into women's legs ;-D especially since there isn't a single kankle (or tankle of you prefer) in the greater metropolitan area. Since the transformation is virtually overnight you have to wonder if it is the fashion magazines which are coordinated or if in fact (as I fear most) the Japanese female species is able to carry out a synchronous metamorphosis, built into their DNA like the homing instinct of certain predatory mammalian species, i.e. the giant python which can swallow whole man alive. J/K...or am I?

In any case, there is lots to do in Spring in Tokyo. Here is my personal top 5. 

5. Drinking in the harbor (or as damn close as one can get without getting your feet wet)

TY Harbor Brewery brews their own selection of fantastically delicious seasonal and mainstay beers. And the food is even better. Grab a table inside or better yet enjoy the moonlight shimmering on a still harbor by sitting out on the deck. They've even got seating in a dining boat moored right next to the restaurant. Let's just say its a pretty awesome place. And solid for celebrating a loved one's birthday. My ex took me there and had a phenomenal birthday cake brought out as a surprise. Best night of my life. 3 months later she tried to eat me alive, but that's another story. Still top notch restaurant in my book ;-D 

4. Go for a run and join The COLOR RUN 5K event
"RUN FOR FUN!! What the HELL kind of fun is that!?" #backtothefuture
Sponsored by NEW BALANCE and LUSH among many others,  this lived up to the hype
as it was truly "the happiest run on the planet". 5K with thousands of others all simply living it up. No time record, and tons of colored, Lush powder to be playfully thrown at runners. Held at various times and locations around Japan, 
this was the perfect way to usher in the new Spring season. An expensive 5K at 7,000 yen plus transportation, it may be hugely limited to those with time and connections with the ever-elusive "Nativus Withakurumas" but if you can pull it off, truly exhilarating and totally worth it. Train access also available

3. Azaleas at Nezu Temple

Quite spectacular bloom of azaleas at a historical temple with excellent views and walking courses. 
Highly recommended. I want there with a girlfriend and we had a blast, well a series of comical mishaps that added to the fun day of walking around the temple. Check out the temple website to find out what days this year the azaleas will be in bloom. 

SCHEDULE FOR AZALEAS usually last week of April/first week of May

2. Hiking and drinking on top of Mt. Takao

As a college student, I made this trip for the first time and have tried to do it every spring since coming back to Japan as a shakaijin or working man. Other hiking options are plentiful. But my personal favorite is Takao-san. A cable car gets you part-way up the mountain and you can hike the rest in 25 minutes (says long stride McGee) or 45~50 for those of the shorter-stride liberation persuasion. As there are over 2.5 million visitors to Takao-san annually, cold vending machine beer and delicious snacks are readily available for purchase at the top. 

1. Cherry blossom Binge! 1-day challenge! 
Drink beer and sake outside somewhere, anywhere, everywhere!

In Japan you never need a special reason to drink outside (legal or otherwise) but Spring definitely calls for it. 
Outdoor drinking at cherry-blossom picnics, next to Sumida river or Ueno park are definitely a Japanesque experience. 
THE IDEAL COURSE. (Usually last week of March/First week of April) (but you don't need cherry blossoms to make this a fun event!!)  
Start at 11am at ASAKUSA STATION→head to the river and walk along Sumida river → walk back and see Asakusa temple → train to UENO and picnick with locals under the cherry trees (UENO PARK EXIT) eating and drinking from food carts or convenient stores (don't forget your plastic tarp)→ finally head to Tokyo Midtown near Roppongi station, walk the streets lined with cherry trees before you bounce into a club. Have YOU got what it takes? 


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Motorcycles and Riding Cheap in Japan

Just got back from my first motorcycle ride of 2014. Had a blast. Traffic was tough going both from Tokyo to the Izu peninsula (Higashi Izu city) and back again. I am riding a blue Yamaha SRV250 (1991) which I picked up on Craigslist Japan for about 100,000 yen ($1000).
The trip was to visit a friend who has his mountain cabin there. It is very green with mountain forest everywhere, tons of citrus fruit trees, the ever popular strawberry greenhouses available all-year-round, and hot spring spas around just about every corner. Compared to Tokyo at this time of year, it is relatively mild in Higashi-izu which explains the availability of all the citrus and strawberries. If you decide to ride out to the Izu Peninsula I would suggest riding highway 135 and avoid the toll roads. That is, if you want to enjoy a few thrilling hairpin turns between a vertical cliff on one-side and shear drop-off on the other. It was fun and I look forward to taking that route again in the future as I venture farther south from Tokyo.
Unfortunately traffic was terrible due to the New Year's season. Distance-wise it was only 140km tops from my Tokyo apartment and my buddies cabin in HigashiIzu.
But it took about 7 hours going, and 6 on the way back. Yeah, pretty slow going. But it only cost me about 7 USD in gas, and by avoiding tolls, I saved another 60 USD or so. Lane-splitting is another thrill and skill one can hone along the way.

Oh and I learned of a great place to buy cheap but sturdy backpacks, full rain gear, thermal socks and whatever else you might need for the brisk journey. The store is called Workman, and this is where all the construction guys who work outdoors, go to buy their work gear. I got a full, heavy-duty rain suit to go over my winter jacket and it only cost about 2000 yen (20 USD). Workman website is only in Japanese but you should be able to Google map the location of one near you. Worth checking out if you want to gear up on the cheap.

 Me and my buddies granddaughters visiting an oceanside Narcissus 水仙garden (cousin of the daffodil) in full-bloom in January.

Never know where your journey will take you but always Live For The Ride and eyes to the horizon.
Happy New Year.