Japanese chocolate

With less than 1% of Japan being Christian, the Japanese people generally, do not tend celebrate Easter, they do however love chocolate – so we thought we’d take this opportunity to take a look at a few of the countries most popular chocy treats!

Although not a Japanese brand, the country is famed for its multitude of “interesting” KitKat flavourings. “Red Bean Sandwich, Green Tea, Purple Sweet Potato and Cherry Blossom flavours are all available….

KitKat Japan KitKat Japan

You can now even cook KitKat and there has even bee a KitKat Pizza developed…

Another favourite is Crunky, (surely they could have called it Crunchy!), which, amongst many others comes in Green Tea, Chestnut and Roasted Potato flavours!

Crunky Chocolate

Crunky Chocolate

 Royce Chocolate World can be found in Sapporo, where visitors are free to visit the factory and watch the famed chocolate crisp take form.

Royce Chocolate

There is even a hotel in Tokyo (The Lotte City Hotel) that has a whole room dedicated to Koala’s Marches -  a bite-size cookie with a chocolate filling.

Koalas Marches

Koalas Marches

If staying in a chocolate hotel is not enough for you, how about taking a bath in it?

As well as green tea baths and red wine hot springs, Hakone’s Yunessun ‘onsen theme park’ has a bath full of hot chocolate! You literally wallow in chocolate.

Japanese chocolate is a lot more imaginative when it comes to shapes – one of the most popular snacks are Mushroom Mountains, followed by Every Burger, Pucca (fish shaped chocolate snacks) and even chocolate monkey poo drops..

Mushroom Mountains

Every Burger

Pucca Chocolate

Monkey Poo Chocolate Drops

So Japan is not just about sushi and umami falvours.. if Easter was celebrated I wonder what they’d come up with?!

Japanese Fast Food

A great food and travel programme aired last night on the BBC called, “Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure”. The programme delved into the food of traditional Japan looking at sushi, Buddhist Shyojin style food and good ole Okonomiyaki. Great to hear the bikers mention that Japan had exceeded their expectations that had been set over twenty years of wanting to visit Japan. After this great episode which included lots of sights and good food,  our tour leader Steve takes it down another notch and gives us his tips on the cheap Japanese food that is available across to country…

The Famous Yoshinoya
Seaweed burgers? Sushi nuggets? Not quite, but the Japanese fast food experience is, bar the obvious imported, “feeding centres” , quite a different affair from the high streets of the UK/US. Eating at one of these establishments can be a very cheap and reasonably healthy option to anyone living out here or on their travels.

Feast for a (poor) king!
In metropolitan areas, you are sure to come across an ubiquitous fast food joint by the name of Yoshinoya (which delightfully translates to something like “House in Fields of Fortune”). This chain diner could arguably be labeled Japan’s equivalent of McDonalds but with an edible advantage – that is, you can eat the fare on offer and feel reasonably healthy in doing so. Just look out for Yoshinoya’s bright orange and green sign and drop in for a swift bite. Its focus is largely on beef – stewed in onion and sweet soy sauce, which comes with steaming rice and optional extras such as salad and miso soup. For under £3, you can therefore fill up on a relatively balanced meal and dine salaryman style. Need some omega 3? Well they even do a grilled salmon set here so that one is covered, too!

Matsuya

Another favourite and probably number 2 in popularity – let’s say, Japan’s Burger King but again, with edible advantages, is Matsuya (Pine Shop). This popular eatery for the hurried puts a little more effort into pig on plate – for instance, hotplate pork belly with soup and salad weighing in at a (hardly) hefty 700 yen (still under a fiver!). Here, you also have the added fun of purchasing your meal via a ticket vending machine that always works and always has change, for coins and notes. Highly recommended and the array of salad dressings and sauces for your meat is an added bonus!

Let's Play Buy Dinner

There is also Sukiya, with its Japanese name (すきや) emblazoned in white across a red bowl.  This shop, although like Yoshinoya – a specialist stewed beef restaurant, also delves into the world of burgers (minus the bun and served with rice), Japanese curry and even eel, if you are not so big on digging on pig.

So why are these places so popular? Well, given that three quarters of single metropolitanos in urban Japan are likely to be living in single room apartments of 20-square metres or so, cooking space is not really available. You may be lucky to have to one or (gasp!) even 2 gas rings, but with the preparation space of a table mat cooking becomes a jolly rotten encumbrance. Add that to your heavy salaryman/OL (office lady) white-collar work schedule and bone-crushing commutes to and from the office, and time becomes similarly just as tight.

Typical Japanese DinerHence the important role played out by these great establishments of convenience. Between the hours of 6 and 9pm any of the above are guaranteed to be full of slurping workers, refueling directly before or after their harrowing commute home.

Next time you are in Japan, be sure to walk past the infamous golden arches and give one of Japan’s fast food gems a try – you might just get hooked!! Oh and you are likely to get your food quicker than at a Japanese McDonalds too.

Outside the Green Bubble

Shinjuku

The Chuō Line, or central line, cuts through the circular Yamanote Line from Tokyo to Shinjuku, and continues west to the nearby mountains, with some trains even going on as far as Nagoya.  The first few stops, from Nakano to Kichijōji, top many Tokyoites’ list of most desired places to live, and are spaced about a 15-minute walk apart.

Only 4 minutes from Shinjuku on the rapid trains, Nakano can make you feel nostalgic for a time you may or may not have been a part of. Just north of the station is Sun Mall, a covered shopping arcade leading to one of Nakano’s most unique destinations: Nakano Broadway.

Nakano Broadway

If you walk through the first floor, you’ll find yourself back outside wondering what all the fuss is about. The second floor and up are an otaku’s paradise, and certainly worth a visit even if you aren’t a manga or anime fanatic. Mandarake, a world-famous vendor of rare memorabilia, has its headquarters here; with about a dozen different stores spread over three floors.

Nakano Broadway 2

Nakano Broadway 3

Nakano Broadway 4

Nakano Broadway 5

There is an eclectic assortment of other shops as well; such as a chic art café, a small gallery selling large prints of celebrated contemporary artwork, a maid café, a massage parlor, used camera and video shops, and a few army surplus-themed tactical gear and airsoft stores, such as Warriors, which has some pretty serious-looking equipment.

Nakano Broadway 6

Nakano Broadway 7

Nakano Broadway 8

Just a short walk north of Nakano Broadway, is the quiet neighborhood of Arai, where you can find a charming little restaurant called ChoiChoi (焼や ちょいちょい〒165-0026東京都中野区新井1-31-9).

ChoiChoi

They serve many unique and delicious vegetable dishes and have a selection of savory grilled fish. It’s tight seating on the first floor, but if you don’t mind, you can sit at the bar and watch the master at work in front of you. Up a steep set of stairs, there are more seating options with a cozy atmosphere and a ladder leading up to the living quarters.

ChoiChoi 2

You have a choice between an old-fashioned bulb horn and a dinner bell to signal for attention on the second floor, of course the classic “sumimase~n” works as well, but just knowing these options exist adds a curious quality to the meal.

ChoiChoi 3

If you prefer a more lively scene, the alleyways of Sanbangai (三番街), adjacent to Sun Mall, are packed with bars and restaurants, each with their own style.

Sanbangai

If you like unagi, or grilled eel, Miharu (味治) has been around for a while and featured in “Oishinbo”, a long-running manga about culinary adventures.

Miharu

One stop west of Nakano is Kōenji, a hip and trendy neighborhood known for its used clothing stores and live music scene. Central Road, just to the north and west of the tracks, has an abundance of izakaya, or Japanese-style pubs. Although it’s a chain, I liked the friendly staff, offerings, and décor of Himonoya (ひもの屋). If you walk under the tracks from the entrance of Central Road, you’ll find Look Street (ルック商店街), which is a good place to find inexpensive threads.

Koenji

Covered shopping arcades, or shōtengai, are ubiquitous in Japan, but Asagaya’s has more of a lived-in, community feel to it than most. One stop west of Kōenji, the town is renowned for its theater and jazz, and Star Road (スターロード), just northwest of the station, offers ample eating and drinking options.

Asagaya

Star Road

Yorunohirune (よるのひるね〒166-0001杉並区阿佐ヶ谷北2-13-4) is an interesting, and relatively famous café you might miss across from a local market.

Yorunohirune

Even when you’re inside, you’re still unsure if you’ve just walked into a stranger’s house uninvited, which temporarily sapped some of the confidence out of my ordering voice, but it’s also part of the experience. The proprietor, Kadota-san, is originally from Shikoku. He’s very friendly and makes you feel right at home. You’re welcome to peruse his huge library of books, while you sip or nibble from the menu, and he plays host and DJ.

Yorunohirune 2

He also has an interesting manga for sale about his relationship with his wife, which she illustrated.

Manga

Just off of Star Road is Laputa, which is a theater well known among cinephiles for showing independent and experimental films (Japanese language). Asagaya Anime Street is due to open sometime in the middle of this month, stretching for a hundred meters or so under the Chuō line tracks between Asagaya and Kōenji train stations.

Ramen lovers owe themselves a visit to Ogikubo, one stop west of Asagaya, where Tokyo style ramen originated.  Perhaps the most famous shop is Harukiya (春木屋), which has a fish bone-based ramen recipe that has remained a guarded secret for over half a century. Unless you don’t mind a line putting an hour or more between your empty stomach and prize, try to time your visit between the lunch and dinner rushes.

Ogikubo

Many artists, authors and other creative professionals call Kichijōji home, and it has a palpable bohemian atmosphere about it. It’s located just a couple stops to the west of Ogikubo. On the north side of the station, just to the left, you’ll see Harmonica Yokochō (ハーモニカ横丁), which is a collection of narrow winding alleys, and cramped eateries and watering holes with an old town feel. Continuing west, you’ll come across Nakamichi, and its many small craft and antique stores. Beautiful Inokashira Park is south of the tracks, and a popular place to see cherry blossoms in spring, or just stroll any time of year. The streets to the north of the lake lead you back to the station, passing by international restaurants and more modern shops.

Door

So, if you feel like experiencing something a little different from the well-trampled inner loop, why not hop on the Chuō line for a few minutes and discover your new favorite haunt? You’ll feel like you traveled much further in space and time, and I think you’ll like the quick escape.

Chuo Line

Japanese Food Favourites

Japanese food, or ‘Washoku’ is the latest addition to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. Japan is of course a food nation with local specialties everywhere you travel. As anyone who has ever been to Japan will know, Japan is a food lovers must. One recent customer, Andrew Hung ate his way across Japan on the ‘Gastronomic Adventure’ taking in the local ‘meibutsu’ specialties and produced this fantastic travel blog.

Our tours are full of good affordable and delicious food experiences and our tour leaders know where to sniff out the best dishes. Our Tour leader Andrew, gives us his favourite food tips covering his favourite food destinations and dishes in Japan.

We don’t have a “Gourmet tour” per say, but that’s because all our tours are full of foodie experiences and treats. We are lucky enough to eat an amazing array of food on tour from back street ramen bars to beautiful Kaiseki meals. Although I would love to write about my favourite food and restaurant in each city I visit, I want to focus on some of my personal tour  favourites…Bear in mind that the food I eat on tour and the food I eat when not on tour are very different.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima
I’m gonna start this off right with Hiroshima - Hands down one of my favorite types of food in Japan, is Hiroshimayaki!

Hiroshimayaki

Hiroshimayaki

Hiroshimayaki is Hiroshima style Okonimiyaki, which is kind of like a Japanese pancake. The reason I love Hiroshimayki and not Osaka style Okonomiyaki (which is probably the more famous of the two) is because of the noodles that are added, as well as the way in which it is cooked. Hiroshimayaki has a bottom layer of crust and a top layer of crust and all the meat and noodles and everything are inbetween. Hiroshima is also famous for its oysters, so I like to have oysters on top of my okonomiyaki – it is the definition of perfection!

Matsumoto castle

Matsumoto
Matsumoto is famous for its original castle, the black crow, but they also have spectacular ramen! It’s a miso based ramen, as opposed to Soy sauce (Tokyo), or Tonkotsu (Fukuoka) and it is delicious!

Matsumoto ramen

Matsumoto ramen

My personal favorite place to eat it is at the ramen place Sakura. With the option for extra meat, delicious miso, and bamboo shoots it’s a specialty not to be missed!

Takayama

Takayama
Takayama is famous for its Hida beef, and nowhere does this amazing beef go better than in their amazing Hida beef burgers! It’s a bit on the pricey side, around ¥2000 but most definitely worth it!

Hida Burger

Hida Burger

It comes with fries, but the burger itself is so filling I doubt you’ll need the fries! I say this as a Texan too, famous for its beef and steaks, if you are ever in Takayama do not miss this! The meat is so delicate it melts in your mouth, for an extra treat I recommend adding cheese, you won’t regret it!

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Tokyo
Last but not least is Tokyo. While Tokyo is famous for many things and many famous restaurants, my favorite thing to eat on tour in Tokyo is the Tsukiji fish market sushi!

Tsukiji Sushi

Tsukiji Sushi

While Japan is of course famous for its sushi, and anywhere you go will of course be amazing, the sushi served at Tsukiji is just melt-in-your-mouth, the best. All fresh, on top quality rice, it is a treat for the senses!

Okinawa 101: The Top 10 Okinawan Foods You Must Try

Violet has been living in Okinawa for the last couple of months and is getting into her subtropical island specialities. Here are 10 of Okinawa’s most famous foods…

GOYA

If there’s one thing that Okinawans define themselves by, it’s this knobbly green vegetable known in English as “bitter melon.” Okinawa boasts the highest life expectancy in the world – even higher than that of mainland Japan – and popular belief credits the islanders’ longevity to their consumption of goya. With a texture like cucumber and an extremely bitter flavour comparable to that of green bell pepper, goya can be hard for some foreigners to get used to! Nevertheless, you should give it a go in Chanpuru (Okinawan stir-fry) or raw in a salad.

Goya salad with a side of wasabi octopus

Goya salad with a side of wasabi octopus

BENIMO

Benimo is the name for Okinawa’s native bright purple sweet potato. This root vegetable is almost as ubiquitous as the goya, and many would say much more palatable! It can be eaten boiled, but it’s much more common to find it as a flavouring for pretty much every kind of sweet thing – including ice cream, drinks, kitkats – even spaghetti!

Benimo-flavoured KitKat

Benimo-flavoured KitKat

TACO RICE

Taco rice is one of the results of American influence in Okinawa, and has become an island specialty. Consisting of minced meat, cheese, tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, rice and lettuce – it’s basically all the components of a taco without the taco itself. Delicious Okinawan ‘fusion’ cuisine!

Taco Rice

Taco Rice in Onna-Son

SHIKUASA

Shikuasa is a native Okinawan citrus fruit that resembles a green mandarin, and is used to make fruit juice and to flavour various sweets and cakes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

UMI BUDOU

Umi Budou is a special type of Okinawa seaweed whose name literally means “sea grapes.” It is also sometimes known as “green caviar” due to its tiny, bubble-like sacs and distinctive texture. Best eaten fresh, with rice and salmon roe.

Umi Budou (the green stuff) with set menu

Umi Budou (the green stuff) with side dishes

CHANPURU (& SPAM!)

Chanpuru is the Okinawan version of stir-fry and can include a variety of ingredients – but perhaps surprisingly, the most common component is Spam or some other type of “luncheon meat.” A love of Spam is another result of the American military presence in Okinawa, and souvenir shops proudly display tins of processed meat beside traditional Ryukyuan souvenirs. Perhaps it is this mystery ingredient, and not goya, that is responsible for the islanders’ long lives…

Varieties of luncheon meat for sale

Varieties of luncheon meat

PORK

Okinawans are crazy about pork, and particularly proud of the fact that they eat every part of the pig – from its ears to its toes (literally). “Mimiga” is a dish consisting of strips of pig’s ear, which has a crunchy, cartilege-y texture, whilst “Tonsoku” means pig’s trotters, and you can sample these in a noodle broth, or “don.” Another traditional dish is “Rafute”, which consists of thick cuts of boiled pig’s belly. You can also find vaccuum-packed pig’s faces in many souvenir and grocery shops, which most foreigners find somewhat disconcerting.

Pig parts

Various pig parts

YAGI SASHIMI

 Yagi sashimi is the only dish mentioned here that I have yet to try, but it’s next on the list! Simply put, it consists of raw goat’s meat. This island speciality is less popular than other Okinawan favourites, perhaps due to its strong smell and chewy texture. Not for the faint-hearted!

Hello, little goat

Hello, little goat

CHINSUKO

Chinsuko is a variation on shortbread, and comes in many different, delicious flavours. (Not to be confused with “chinko”, which is Japanese slang for penis.)

Chinsuko

Chinsuko

KOKUTO

Finally, if you’re in Okinawa, you should get your hands on some Okinawan black sugar, or “kokuto.” With a flavour reminiscent of liquorice, kokuto is added to many Japanese dishes, but can also be eaten as a sweet on its own. Goodbye teeth.

Kokuto

Kokuto

Alternative guide to Japanese food – What they don’t tell you

Tour leader Richard, gets to eat a lot of food travelling around Japan. Japan is rightly famous for its delicious food and drink with a lot more on offer than sushi.There is something for everyone…and there there are other ‘interesting’ dishes.

Here are a few of my alternative favourites and, ummm, not so favourites! Are you feeling adventurous? If your answer is yes, come to Japan and get your chops around these special treats!

1) Natto-uzura sushi

Natto

Natto-Uzura

Of course we have to include natto when talking about strange Japanese food! However, this dish comes with a little extra something… a raw quail’s egg!!  Natto, made from fermented soy beans, is infamous amongst foreigners living in Japan. Japanese people often ask foreigners if they can stomach it, or will even run out to buy some before watching on with a kind of morbid fascination as the foreigner (generally) struggles to deal with the pungent smell, snot like consistency and strong flavour. This spectacle sometimes attracts a crowd.

Natto has been eaten by the Japanese for centuries and was once an important source of protein. It is largly eaten as a breakfast food and is believed to have many (almost miraculous and often exaggerated) benefits to health. Natto is to the Japanese what kimchi is to the Koreans. Likewise, quail eggs are believed to be a dietary food, high in vitamins and even linked with restoring sexual potency in men.

Personal verdict:
When I first came to Japan, I wasn’t a big fan of natto. It didn’t repulse me, but neither did it thrill me. However, as time has gone by I have grown to like the stinky stuff, especially when mixed with a generous dollop of karashi (Japanese mustard). I was feeling adventurous one day and decided to order natto-uzura and… I loved it!! It’s one of the first items I order every time I head to a sushi joint.

Where to buy it?
Natto-uzura sushi is available at most conveyor belt sushi restaurants. It’s particulary good at Musashi in Kyoto.

2) Deep fried, battered Hachinoko

Hachinoko

Hachinoko

By breaking down the kanji (Chinese characters) of Hachinoko (蜂の子), you can get an idea of what it is. Literally translated it means “young of wasps”, and that pretty much sums it up. The young are actually larvae, although there are normally a few fully grown wasps thrown in for good measure! Traditionally, the larvae are cooked in soy sauce with a little added sugar. My favourite restaurant, Rinku in Kurayoshi, serves them deep fried in a delicious batter.

Insects have traditionally been a source of protein for inland Japan. Wasps are said to have the highest percentage of edible protein of all insects – a whopping 81 percent! Insects are seen as many as the meat of the future, and there is no place on Earth quite like Japan at combining the traditional with the futuristic!

Personal verdict:    
I like the crunchy texture and slightly oily taste of the battered variety. I’ll be having them again when I get the chance.

Where to buy it?         
Rinku in Kurayoshi-shi, Tottori-ken is my fave insect joint! Hachinoko is also widely sold in the Nagano prefecture. Served at some rural ryokan in the Nagano region.

3. Shirako

Shirako

Shirako

Hmmm… this one is rather “special”. Shirako is fish millet served raw, as tempura or in nabe (a hot pot). Fish millet doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, it does when you consider the fact that millet refers to the male genitalia of fish filled with sperm!!! Shirako is usually derived from cod and is considered a delicacy. It has a strange similarity in appearance to intestines.

Personal verdict:
I tried the nabe (hotpot) variety and found it to be strangely creamy in taste. The problem I had was that I kept thinking about how I was chewing on fish sperm. I’m in no rush to have it again.

Where to buy it?
Shirako is available in a number of supermarkets.

4) Horumon

Horumon

Horumon

Horumon has made a bit of a comeback in recent years with small restaurants seemingly popping up just about everywhere. I, for one, am happy about that! Horumon is the name given to grilled or barbequed offal (the parts of an animal usually discarded in the West). Stomach lining, lung, tongue and my personal favourite, intestine pipe, are popular dishes. To the surprise of many foreigners, horumon is not actually any cheaper than “normal” meat. The name “horumon” comes from the greek word “hormone” which means stimulation. Apparently. However, it is also similar to the Japanese word “hōrumon” which means “discarded goods” in the regional Kansai dialect.

Personal verdict:
Horumon is one of my favourite foods! Intestine pipe needs to be cooked well, but is well worth the wait.

Where to buy it?
Horumonyaki are very common. Jonsetsu Horumon is a reasonably priced chain. Can be bought at traditional Izakaya (Japanese pub)

5) Mamushi-shu

Mamushi-shu

Mamushi-shu

This last one is a drink with a twist, and I don’t mean lemon or lime. Simply get one venomous pit viper snake (mamushi), a big bottle of alcoholic sake, mix (alive), leave for several months and serve over ice!!

Sometimes called ‘snake wine’, mamushi-shu is believed to have medicinal properties, including helping overcome sexual dysfunction in men. The mamushi in the mamushi-shu in my favourite restaurant, Rinku, is reused and is now in its 18th year! That’s the same dead snake, put back in the jar. I wonder if it is losing its power?!

Personal verdict:
Well, as they say, ignorance is bliss. However, sadly I have a little bit of experience which renders that saying redundant. Let me explain… During time spent in Madagascar doing research, it was necessary for me to catch and handle a number of wild snakes. Invariably, the snakes would be stressed and would pee on my hands, with some making its way onto my clothes (which weren’t exactly getting regular washing). I became very familiar with the smell of snake urine. Seventy to seventy-five percent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell And that’s what mamushi-shu tastes like to me – snake pee!!! Is it strange that I’ve had it more than once??!! However, I often tend to opt for hachi-shu these days… alcohol with killer wasps in it!

Where to buy it:
Throughout Japan at traditional bars and restaurants.

20 Best Sake You Can Get in Japan

Best sake in Japan Any visitor to Japan should be sure to sample to the country’s most famous beverage, sake. There are a number of brands and styles available. Some are sweet, some more dry. Some sakes are best consumed heated, as you most often see in America. Others have subtle notes that are best suited to sipping chilled.

Top Sakes:

  1. Kira is a very crisp and dry honjozo sake that pairs well with food.
  2. Ozeki is a dry sake that is usually served chilled.
  3. Harushika has a sweet and floral bouquet.
  4. Kubota is extremely dry and a good pick for those who do not like sweet drinks.
  5. Koshi no Kanbai is a ginjo style sake with a subtle and complex flavor.
  6. Shirataki offers both pink and white sakes which are made with mineral water.
  7. Maboroshi has a clean flavor with notes of crisp green apple.
  8. Miyasaka is mild and has notes of ripe plum.
  9. Otokoyama is a junmai sake with sharp, dry flavor.
  10. Dewazakura has a refreshing acidity that is good with spicy food.
  11. Miyasaka is full-flavored, with plum and woodsy notes.
  12. Tedorigawa is complex with fruity flavors of apple and plum.
  13. Kamotsuru offers crisp flavors of citrus and apple.
  14. Hanahato Kijoshu is an aged sake that is similar to sherry.
  15. Harushika Tokimeki is a fruity sparkling sake perfect for celebrations.
  16. Kamoizumi Shusen is served warm to bring out its soothing and floral scent.
  17. Miyasaka Yawaraka is an affordable option that is best served warm.
  18. Awa no Kaori has a light and woodsy flavor.
  19. Konteki is prized for its rich, deep flavor.
  20. Towari has a soft, sweet, well-rounded taste.

These are just a few of the excellent sakes brewed in Japan. Tour guides or servers in Japanese restaurants can guide diners to the best pairings for food and the best sakes for an evening of celebration on the town.

Do you Tip in Japan? Japanese Tipping Etiquette

do you tip in japanIt’s customary in many countries to tip your waiters, cab drivers, hair dressers, doormen, luggage handlers and more as a token of extra appreciation. But tipping isn’t customary everywhere. So with that being said, do you tip in Japan?

The answer: As a rule, no!

Tipping is not customary in Japan. In fact, it can be considered rude and insulting in many situations. Most Japanese restaurants require customers to pay for their meals at the front register, rather than leave money with the waiter or waitress. Tipping also isn’t required for cab or bus rides and many hotel services. You will probably receive some of the best service in the world here…but this about people doing their job with pride rather than hoping for a tip.

However, while tipping is, for the most part, not customary in Japan, that’s not to say there may not be a few exceptions on your trip. The first exception is nothing more than a service provider who accepts your tip, either in an effort to not offend you by refusing it or because they want some extra cash (just because tipping isn’t customary doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur). Another tipping exception in Japan is when you’ve just taken a tour or received a special service. You may wish to tip on these occasions, but you certainly don’t have to.

If you do tip a guide, don’t just hand the service provider a few bills and be on your way. Be sure to put the tipping money inside of a decorative envelope and seal it before handing it to the recipient with a slight bow. Pulling money out of your wallet to use as a tip is generally frowned upon in Japan.

For more information about tipping customs, and food culture in Japan, contact Inside Japan Tours today.

Lucky 7 reasons to Visit Japan in the Autumn

1. Witness the koyo:
Whilst the springtime cherry blossom season (sakura) has become a famous symbol of Japan, the blazing autumnal foliage is an often overlooked spectacle. The turning of the leaves paints the scenery a flaming red and gold, and ‘koyo’- the viewing of the changing leaves- takes the place of sakura as an event to be celebrated.

2. Jidai and Daimyo:
Both of these festivals celebrate Japan’s feudal ancestry with an enchanting display of historical re-enactments and traditional clothing. The Jidai festival or ‘Festival of Ages’ takes place in Kyoto in October and the Hakone Daimyo festival in early November.

3. Watch a sumo match:
Fukuoka plays host the November sumo tournament, where you can see the various divisions compete – A great day out and a rare chance to see the big guns of this sport do their thing….Why not sample the favoured dish of sumo wrestlers; chanko nabe – Oishii!….in fact….

Sumo practice

4. Autumn Food and autumn beer:
Japanese food often reflects the seasons. Chanko nabe, or nabemono is a delicious one-pot dish that is served in the cooler seasons. Many people will hold nabe parties to welcome in the season with friends. There are also plenty of ‘autumn flavoured ‘ (Aki aji) beers avaialble to refesh and accompany the food too!

5. Take in some art and culture:
The Setouchi Art Festival this year celebrates the seasons of the 12 islands of the Sento Inland Sea. Each season of the festival is unique, and in autumn only you can explore the Honjima, Takamijima, Awashima, and Ibukijima islands. Activities and exhibitions are held to highlight each island’s uniqueness and preserve it against modern homogenization. In short – A great festival in a beautiful setting at a lovely time of year.

Naoshima Pumpkin

6.  Enjoy the temperate climes:
After the sticky hot summer, autumn provides a comfortable respite before winter sets in. Warm and dry, it’s an ideal season for walks and seeing Japan at its best.

Kyoto in Autumn

7. Have a soak under the sky:
The temperate weather makes it all the better to enjoy an outdoor Onsen, the traditional hot steam bath. Bathe whilst admiring the stunning koyo.

Zao Onsen hot spring

So!  Just 7 reasons here as to why Japan is a great place to travel in the Autumn months. There are many more where that came from….

Top 5 Japanese Combini Snacks

One of the best things about Japan is the delicious food on offer, from kaiseki cuisine to fast food. However, Japanese convenience stores have some really good food too!

Here are my top 5 convenience store buys which I’ve been enjoying on my recent trip:

1. Onigiri

Rice balls in all their shapes and sizes are the perfect snack on the go and you won’t get get bored trying all the flavours. My favourites are inari zushi (rice wrapped in sweet tofu) and sea chicken mayo (aka tuna).

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2. Bento boxes

The different lunch boxes on offer always include a mixture of Japanese foods with rice and noodles – good for trying a few different things.

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3. Snacks/Otsumame

Cheeza (snacks containing varying delicious amounts of cheesy goodness) are a big hit with the IJT UK team.
‘Otsumame’ is the Japanese word for a snack.

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4. Cookies

Nothing like these chocolate covered mushroom shaped biscuits, or Country Maam cookies!

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5. Coffee!

Often served in a hot can, there are so many different coffees, it’s tough to choose. Matcha (green tea) latte is my favourite at the moment.

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The Japanese convenience store (or ‘Combini’ in Japanese) can be found everywhere and really are…well convenient. Here’s a little song about them -

 

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