Random interesting and weird Japanese things

Japan is full of weird and wacky things that I have been accumulating notes about so I figured I’d write about all of them in one big post!

Food Stuff!

Everyone knows that Japan has a lot of great food like sushi, ramen and kobe steak, but they also have a lot of very strange snack foods and candy! One well known candy that Japan is known for having a lot of unusual flavors of are KitKats. You can find a lot of crazy flavors such as Purple Sweet Potato flavor, Red Bean Sandwich flavor, Flan flavored, Green Tea flavored (which I tried in Thailand last year, super gross), and even Japanese Sake flavored (fermented rice wine). We bought a bag of the flan and sake flavored ones and they are ALRIGHT but definitely strange tasting and I probably would not buy agin. The only one that I would buy again is one that has nuts and berries pressed into the tops of the KitKat bars. Those ones are actually really tasty. I have included photos of all the weird flavors in the slideshow at the end of the post.


Red Bean Sandwich Flavored KitKats

Sweet Potato Ice Cream is a thing here as well that I see quite often.  I can’t even begin to imagine what sweet potato would taste like as an ice cream flavor and I’m not sure I want to find out. Green tea ice cream is also quite common in Japan. While I enjoy drinking green tea, I have never had any green tea flavored food that I thought tasted good.


Vending Machines!

Japan has over 5 and a half million vending machines, and it’s not hard to believe once you’ve had a walk around any city. They are on almost every corner, and sometimes there will be a row of like, 10 of them. Our airbnb in Tokyo had about 12 vending machines within 50 feet of the front door of our building, which was awesome. There are some with snacks and ice cream, etc, but the most common vending machine are just drinks, both hot and cold. Most have a variety of different kinds of teas, juices, and a lot of coffee, not a lot of soda or carbonated drinks. Most are around 100-150 Yen (so around $1 USD more or less). One of my favorites is hot lemon tea which comes in a bottle. Really yummy and doubles as a hand warmer when walking around outside when it’s really cold! There is also an iced apple tea by Lipton which is delicious.


contents of a drink vending machine. the first two rows have a blue label underneath noting that they are cold, and the bottom row is red, noting that they are hot drinks.


corn drink in a vending machine

                                                                                                                                                                  Another thing I see quite often in vending machines that is super weird are things like a can of hot corn…juice..stuff? As well as a hot red bean drink, and I even saw one that was some kind of hot onion drink. I’m thinking they are some kind of a soup more than a beverage, but they are definitely in a beverage type drinking can. Maybe I’ll try one some day and find out.

Beer and sake vending machines are also a thing, as well as dry ice vending machines – there’s one at our local supermarket.

Oh – one other thing – many restaurants, especially fast food type restaurants, work in a strange way. They have a vending machine out front with a lot of different selections. You put your money in and make your selection, and it spits out a ticket with your order on it, which you take inside and hand to someone who brings you your food. Pretty good idea I think.

Capsule Toy Machines

“Capsule toy” machines are very common and plentiful. These are similar to quarter machines in the US where you get a small toy in a plastic bubble but these cost on average 200-300 Yen each ($2-ish dollars). The toys in the machines are mostly small plastic figurines, one common one I see are figures of a lady in different positions, which is for hanging on the side of a drink cup. I don’t get it. But I got one. Haha.


These capsule toy machines aren’t ever just in a group of 4 or so like you’d see in other countries, ohh no, here there are at least 50 or more of them in each place. I think the best/most funny capsule toy machines I’ve seen yet had hats for small dogs, and another one had miniature toilet paper fixtures (photos of those in slideshow).


capsule toy vending machines

Arcades and Pachinko

Arcades are everywhere here too. The Japanese love their arcades. Some are even open 24 hours. Most arcades have a lot of the normal video games, and they also have dozens of claw machines, which contain of course a lot of stuffed animals – some have a single, huge stuffed animal which is hanging by just the tag which is wedged between two parallel bars, and all you have to do is use the claw to unhook the tag and the whole thing falls down. It looks easy but we have never seen anyone actually get one. Many claw machines also contain all kinds of food items.


claw machines

There is an EXTREMELY popular game here called Pachinko. This game is for adults and usually in a casino type place. These places are also VERY smoky because everyone is just sitting playing this game like zombies while chain smoking. We went and played one day thinking it must be pretty exciting because pachinko parlors are always packed full. But disappointingly it turned out to be a really lame and boring game. Basically all you do is turn a knob on the right side of the machine which controls the speed at which small metal balls are launched from the bottom to the top of the machine thru a channel on the left side, at which point they fall down through a series of metal pins. The objective is to get them to go into a single hole in the bottom center of the machine. The thing is, there is no way that the velocity at which the balls are launched at all affects whether or not they are going to fall into the hole at the bottom, once they make it there. So it is a completely skill-less game. But I guess the same could be said about slot machines. I suppose people play pachinko to possibly win money, but with any casino game most people are probably just losing it.


Ran playing pachinko in Tokyo for the first and last time

Our favorite arcade game here so far is what we call the “coin pusher” game. I don’t know what it’s actually called. But it DOES involve some level of skill. One day we got sucked into playing this game for over an hour and put about $20 into it, which we eventually lost but we still had an exciting time. Most of you have probably seen or played this game before. You have to put coins into a slot which roll down the arms onto the upper platform, and there is a vertical wall thing that goes back and forth pushing the coins forward. The idea is to strategically place the coins so that a lot more coins get pushed over the edge in the front and fall out to you. Pretty fun game.


the “coin pusher” game that I love


Most people know that Japan has some pretty high tech toilets. And if you don’t, you are about to learn about them! One thing I was pleasantly surprised to find out about many Japanese toilets is that they have HEATED SEATS! Which as you can imagine is a wonderful thing to sit down onto in the winter. Even most public toilets have heated seats. Most toilets in Japan also have a control panel which is either on the side of the seat, or on the wall beside the toilet. The control panel has many functions including various water sprayers, water pressure, water temperature, a button to make a flushing sound without actually flushing, all kinds of fun stuff. I’ve heard that some even talk to you, but I’ve not used one of those yet. All I know is I’m definitely going to miss the hot toilet seats when I leave here! Not sure why the heated toilet seat hasn’t caught on in the rest of the world, especially the Arctic!


example of a Japanese toilet control panel 

Well I think that about sums it up for this post. I still have a lot more to write about so I will continue later this week! For now you can enjoy the slideshow of randomness.

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The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani were a big highlight of our time in Japan so far. It’s a place I have been wanting to go for years since monkeys are one of my favorite animals, and it did not disappoint. It was quite a trek to get there from Tokyo and so we decided to spend a night there instead of doing a really long rushed exhausting day trip.

bullet train

the bullet train has an interesting design

We set out from Tokyo in the early afternoon on our way to Nagano which is about 200 miles northwest of Tokyo, takes about an hour and a half on the bullet train, and costs 8200 Yen, or about $70 USD. When we arrived at Nagano station we actually met up with a really nice Japanese couple – Mariko and Taichi – who are friends of my friend Dustin and just happen to now live in Nagano. He put me in touch with them since they are super nice and big world travelers themselves and they were happy to spend the afternoon with us since it was Sunday. They drove us to a nearby village called Obuse which was super cute and famous for ‘marron’ which are sweet chestnuts. There were lots of shops selling lots of different sweets and things made from the chestnuts, which were really delicious! It was a really cool little side trip and we had a really nice time with them.


Mariko, Taichi, Ran, and me

After our stroll around Obuse we said goodbye to our new friends and took a local train for about 30 minutes to the town of Yamanouchi which is famous for its several hot springs bath houses.  It’s very close to the Snow Monkey park and also to some ski resorts so there are many hotels there, but not much else except beautiful scenery – lots of huge snow covered mountains. We stayed in a hotel with traditional tatami style rooms – the kind with the straw floor mats and paper walls where you sit and sleep on the floor. These types of rooms can be extremely expensive and luxurious but since we were not going to be spending much time there we opted for a less expensive one that was a bit dated, but it was still cool. We arrived in the evening and pretty much just fell asleep when we got there due to our jetlag and screwy sleep schedule so we didn’t go in the hot springs unfortunately.


our tatami room in Yamanouchi town

The next morning, we woke up early and went to the snow monkey park to get there when it opened because that’s when you are more likely to see more monkeys sitting in the onsen (the hot spring). Cars can’t go very far so you get dropped off at a certain point and then have to walk for 30-40 minutes to get to where the monkeys are. It’s a nice walk on a path through a forest with lots of snow but the walkway was covered in ice most of the way which made things a bit tricky.


the long icy path through the forest to the snow monkeys

When we arrived to the hot spring area, there were monkeys everywhere! There were only a couple of them actually sitting in the hot spring, most of them (there were at least 100), were foraging around in the snow for food. The monkeys are fed daily by the park rangers. The feeding has the purpose of prolonging observation by making the monkeys come to Jigokudani for the food. If there was no feeding, the monkeys would just go to random places in the forest and that would make it difficult to keep track of them. It also keeps the monkeys away up to a certain extent from the farmlands, thus it also keeps the monkeys a bit safer from angry farmers. To give extra incentive to coming to Jigokudani, the food given to the monkeys is just a little bit nicer than the food they generally find in the forest, but not nice enough to pull them away from nature completely. They are fed soy beans, barley, or apples depending on the weather and season. (source)


the snow monkeys having their breakfast

Tourists are not allowed to feed the monkeys but the monkeys are very sneaky and if they catch a glimpse of any food in someone’s bag, they will definitely grab it. We saw a guy open his backpack which was sitting on the ground, and one of the monkeys spotted a banana in a plastic bag and quickly grabbed it. The guy was quick and also grabbed it and they had a tug of war for a moment before he let the monkey have it probably in fear of being bitten, and the monkey ran up a hill and enjoyed the banana. It was pretty funny.


the banana thief!

We hung out for about 3 hours and I took over 600 photos of the monkeys! They were so cute sitting in the water, and sitting on the side of the pool grooming each other, hugging, just hanging out relaxing and not caring that dozens of people had cameras pointed at them. They were completely indifferent to all the people around, it was really cool. I only wish I was there  earlier in the season when there are dozens of monkeys all sitting in the hot spring together. On this day there were only 2 or 3 in the water at any given time. It was still a pretty amazing day and we were so glad we went, it was definitely worth the long trip to get there. I will leave you with a slideshow of some of my favorite photos of the monkeys!

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I’ve decided to start travel blogging again and what better place to begin than Japan! We are currently on the Shinkansen – more commonly known as the bullet train, which travels at speeds of up to 200MPH – heading north from Tokyo to Nagano prefecture to see the famous snow monkeys, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. You’ve probably seen photos of them sitting in the hot springs with snow on their heads. So you’ll have to wait until my next post to get a report on that!

We arrived to Tokyo a couple of days ago after a long and exhausting journey crossing 15 time zones in a week which involved me sleeping in a different place every night for 8 nights including 2 overnight flights, a hotel in London and a hotel – more like a tiny room – in the Moscow airport. Needless to say we are still completely dazed from that and have been sleeping 3 to 5 hours at a time at completely random times. Last night we woke up and went out at 3am for sushi and arcade games because we couldn’t sleep. Good thing Tokyo has lots of things open at all hours! We even tried to go bowling at 330am but all 16 lanes were full.


Shinjuku at night – so bright!

The city of Tokyo is pretty amazing and we are really loving it. You could never get bored here because there is just so much to see and do. It’s so big and shiny and bright and even the people are interesting looking and have a type of fashion not really seen anywhere else. The only downside of Tokyo is that it is extremely expensive (for example this train we are on right now which is only a 1 hour and a half journey, cost 8,200 Yen, or $71 USD). It is also extremely crowded, being a city of 13 million. You can see just how crowded it is here from this photo I took yesterday after walking down this street in the neighborhood of Harajuku.


Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Tokyo


20170305_134006-01Another interesting thing about Tokyo is that smoking is NOT allowed OUTSIDE. Which is great right? This means no one throwing cigarette butts on the street – in fact, it is SO incredibly clean here that I’ve never seen as much as a single piece of trash on the street in Tokyo, which is pretty amazing for such a huge and crowded city. What happens though when you can’t smoke outside?  That’s right – everyone smokes INSIDE. Even in restaurants. Which is of course really, really gross. This is the one thing that I seriously dislike about this city, but, what can you do. Everywhere has its positives and negatives.


dsc01524The Japanese also love animals! Since most people can not have pets of their own due to tiny living spaces, there are a LOT of cat cafes! I think we have seen about 5 in just the two days we have been here so far. We have not yet been into one yet – but we are planning on it! Aside from cat cafes there are also dog cafes, and believe it or not – even hedgehog cafes, OWL cafes, snake cafes, bunny cafes, and more. You pay a fixed amount for a fixed amount of time and there are usually drinks available as well. I’m not sure how I feel about these exotic animal cafes though, I kinda 17017113_10158171657915062_1435465356067753644_ofeel bad for the animals being handled constantly and I don’t think owls of all things should be kept in a damn cafe so I don’t really want to go there. We did go to the hedgehog cafe though, which was 1630 Yen per person (about $14) for 30 minutes including a little container of live worms to feed to the hedgehogs. They sit you  down at stools with a big sawed in half barrel with 4 hedgehogs in it. You get a pair of gloves to wear so you can pick them up without being poked – you are allowed to pick them up without the gloves if you want, but you risk being poked or bitten. They really loved the live worms and it was funny to watch them eat them. I felt bad picking them up because I am sure they are tired of  so we didn’t pick them up too much. Other than that stuff there are many other animal experiences in Japan such as the snow monkeys that I mentioned that we will be seeing tomorrow, there is a place called Fox Village up north near Fukushima that looks really cute that I’d love to visit, as well as bunny island, and a few capybara petting zoos. I will eventually get around to all of those places!

I am really looking forward to the next month here and all the wacky things we are going to do like sit in a bowl of ramen – yes, really! Haha