Friday, June 29, 2012

The Japan Traffic Safety Association

If you have operated a vehicle in Japan, there is a good chance that you have had some dealings with the Japan Traffic Safety Association (zenkoku kotsu anzen kyokai 全国交通安全協会) or some of its member groups. Since there aren't many English language resources available, let's take a closer look at this mysterious organization.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Vending Machines Don't Accept Old 500 Yen Coins

You have probably seen this sticker or some variant of it--though you may not have properly noticed it or read what it said--on a vending machine in Japan. It is almost ubiquitous these days.

It tells you that the vending machine will accept new 500 yen coins, but not old ones. That's because old 500 coins were susceptible to easy counterfeiting, especially in vending machines.

Today, as a follow-up to Dom's wonderful guide to Japanese coins, let's learn a bit about the history of counterfeit 500 yen coins in Japan.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Local Brews: Umeshu

Along with sake and shochu, Japanese plum wine, or umeshu (梅酒) is one of Japan's iconic liquors. Now that we have covered local beers, local sake, and local shochu, lets take a look at how to find a quality bottle of umeshu.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Japanese Money: Coins

All you ever wanted to know (and probably a little more) about Japanese coins currently in use.

Monday, June 18, 2012

5 Salad Dressings to Try in Japan

Cutting the crap and going straight to the list:

5. Baisen Goma (Roasted Sesame)
by Kewpie, etc.

A number of companies put out creamy roasted sesame dressings in Japan. I like all of them quite a bit, and usually the store's generic brand just as much as the well-known Kewpie brand. This is also one of the few flavors your grocery store is likely to stock in a large container, by which I mean a container that will last for more than just five or six salads. If you are interested in other flavors of dressing in larger containers, quite a variety is available on

Friday, June 15, 2012

Find Your Local Fireworks Displays

We're in the midst of summer now, and any long-term visitor of Japan knows what summer here means: Weekend after weekend of crepuscular booming in your neighborhood!

Event news and entertainment site WalkerPlus just listed its annual Fireworks Display Calendar, with a cute (and highly distorted) little map of Japan you can click on to find dates and locations for fireworks and summer festivals going on wherever you live or are visiting in the country.

Once you pick an event, take care to arrange your method of travel and accommodations beforehand. Large displays in Japan are well-known for their massive crowds, blocking off whole segments of cities from vehicular traffic, tying up mass transit lines for hours following the grade finale, and booking their city's hotels solid.


Local Brews: Shochu

Spend enough time in Japan and you will likely develop a healthy love-hate relation with shochu (焼酎). As any seasoned ex-pat knows, when the sochu bottle comes out, you are almost certainly on a one way trip to Hangoverville, population: you and the toilet.

But if you are one of those people who actually likes to savor their sochu as opposed to using it as a cheap binge drinking accessory, then you are in luck as there are tons of local varieties avaliable to please your pallet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Japanese Giant Hornet - Look Out

大スズメバチ (oosuzumebachi)
Perhaps the most terrifying (and statistically the most lethal) insect here is the Japanese Giant Hornet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kanji Mixup? Natto and Tofu

Ever looked closely at the kanji for natto (納豆) and tofu (豆腐)?
Both appropriately use the kanji 豆 (mame), which means "beans." And the other two kanji in question here are 腐, which is used in words like "to spoil" (腐る, kusaru), and 納, which refers to something fitting neatly into a designated space. (Yes, seriously. That's a meaning of 納まる, osamaru).

So, we've got tofu, all packed into its neat little white squares, and natto, rancid and fermenting, but the kanji don't line up. Sure seems like somebody screwed these two words up, doesn't it?

Turns out there's an urban legend in Japan to just that effect:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

WS: Alphabet Maze 1st G JHS

Here is a nice activity for 中1 students (or even elementary students) once they've finished learning their minuscules and majuscules.

The alphabet letters are laid out in a grid pattern. Each student begins with his or her pencil at "START" and draws a line through the grid as the teacher says letters aloud. As an easy and fun way to check everyone's answers at the end of the activity, this pattern and answer set is designed to form a picture: Have the students color in all the boxes through which they drew a line while solving the "maze". The resulting picture should be of a Space Invader.

By the way, some students of this age group probably won't have heard of the actual 70s arcade game, but they may still know this character if there is a Taito Station video game arcade in your town.

Get the file (with answers) here:
OpenOffice Document
PDF Document

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Local Brews: Sake

Now that we have covered finding local beer in Japan, it is only appropriate that we pay some attention to Japan's iconic alcohol, sake (酒).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

5 Types of Poisonous Japanese Wild Mushroom

A short while ago I wrote about 5 delicious edible mushrooms in Japan.

Predictably, not all mushrooms are quite so delicious, or even safe to eat. Here are 5 baddies.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Hard or Soft Tofu: Momen and Kinu

At your local supermarket in Japan, tofu is divided up into two main categories, called もめん (momen) and きぬ (kinu). In Western grocery stores, the same distinction is made as "hard" tofu and "soft" tofu, although the actual difference goes a little beyond simple firmness.

Today we'll learn a bit about what sets もめん and きぬ apart!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Local Brews: Beer

Japan is not what most experts would call a beer lover's paradise. If you are the type who frequents after-hours work parties or simply spends enough time at the local watering hole, you will learn to loathe Asahi Super Dry or one of its few equally bland counterparts.

While local beer is not easy to come by (or cheap, for that mater), it does in fact exist for those with a sharp eye and discerning pallet.