Everything about Japan!

Hi!

Since I have been to Japan a couple of times and since the country is becoming more and more popular, I decided to make a magazine where you can find many Japan-related blogs to guide you through your travel plans. :)

Enjoy!

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7 tips for enjoying cherry blossom season in Japan

7 tips for enjoying cherry blossom season in Japan

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Japan changes, the temperature rises, a sweet smell is in the air and flocks of people are gathering in places all over Japan. Somehow the rules change, people eat in the streets and drink outside, not everywhere, but under the charm of beautiful pink flowers; it's sakura season. 

Japan is nearing one of it's most popular times of the year; cherry blossom, or sakura, season. It's a big thing in Japan, drawing tremendous amounts of both local as well as international tourists. While cherry blossoms can be seen in any part of the world, in Japan it is not just the cherry blossom, but the whole atmosphere that comes with it which makes it special. 

Sakura season is one of the best times of the year to visit Japan. The weather is comfortable, there's lots to do and temples and shrines are even more beautiful than usual. But how do you plan a trip around cherry blossom time? Here are some tips to have a maximum chance of success. 

Check the cherry blossom forecast
Cherry blossom in Okinawa blooms as early as the beginning of january due to the warmer temperatures. However, the season lasts until around the end of April/the beginning of May, so there's plenty of time to plan your trip if you don't care where in Japan you'll go. However, if you do have a specific area you want to visit, say Kyoto for example, check out the more detailed and regularly updates forecast on the Japan National Tourism website. Blooming of cherry blossom lasts for about two weeks, with the full bloom (mankai) being reached after about 1 week after the firts blossoms open up.  

Decide where you want to see cherry blossom
There are many places to enjoy sakura. Depending on what you like, it can be good to decide on where to see the sakura beforehand. I personally enjoy Kyoto, due to the large variety of places to see the cherry blossom (both in the city as well as in more natural settings), the beautiful Kamo river and because it's still so traditional. However, there are many, MANY more beautiful places to watch sakura. Here you can find some recommendations on where to go. 

BOOK! 
Since cherry blossom season is so popular in Japan, not only foreigners fill up the hostels and hotels, but also national tourists. Therefore accommodation can fill up fast, especially in the most popular cities like Kyoto and Tokyo. Also, be prepared for higher fares at this time due to the large influx of tourists. 

Participate in Hanami
Hanami is the Japanese word for 'flower viewing' and is the most important word when referring to the Japanese sakura celebrations. It is usually done during the peak of cherry blossom bloom and while you can participate by just walking around and watching the flowers, the most common way is to have a picnic under the beautiful cherry blossom trees. It is truely amazing to participate and sit between celebrating Japanese people eating from their Bento's and drinking their (alcoholic) drinks. However, it is important to keep in mind some unwritten rules.

- Respect the trees!! The cherry blossom trees should not be damaged in whichever way. I remember when I studied in Kyoto, someone broke a branch off of a cherry blossom tree. This was big news in both Kyoto and I even believe in other parts of Japan. Here in the Netherlands we wouldn't care to much if a tree branch was broken off, but in Japan the police became involved and it seemed very important to catch the culprit. 

- Don't leave your garbage. The Japanese are very clean. They never leave their garbage, and definitely not underneath the beautiful cherry blossom trees. So be sure to bring a garbage bag and clean up after yourself so you can truely experience the Japanese ways of hanami

- Bring food (bento boxes for example) and drinks (but be sure to check the rules of the park you're going too, since some don't allow alcohol or barbecues). Also, hanami is about sharing food as well, so bring some paper cups and plates so everyone can join. 

Find a festival
Seek out a cherry blossom festival to get the most out of your experience. If you're in town at the top-bloom of cherry blossoms, it is likely that there will be a festival, somewhere. It can sometimes be difficult to find out where, but local hostel/hotel staff can probably help you with that and show you the way to the best festivals in, for example, parks or temples. 

Eat the seasonal specials
All kinds of special food and drink items can be found during sakura season. In the konbini you can find special rice balls (onigiri), red-bean treats and sakura-mochi, which are sticky rice cakes. Furthermore, in some places you will be able to find special sakura bento boxes filled with all kinds of food perfect for celebrating hanami

Stay up after nightfall
In both cherry-blossom season and autumn-leave season in Japan, nightfall doesn't mean the end of the festivities. At this time, with cherry blossom in full bloom, a lot of places light up the beautiful trees. You can find these places outside in the city, but also many temples, shrines and castles will open their doors at night to the general public. One of my most favorite places in Kyoto are Maruyama park, where you can see a huge, old and beautiful cherry blossom tree, and Toji temple, where you can see the five-storied pagoda amidst the lit up trees. 

Let me know if you were able to experience the cherry blossoms this year and whether you liked it in the comments below! :) 

 

 

5 vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Kyoto

5 vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Kyoto

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If you're a vegetarian and have been to Japan, you'll probably know that finding vegetarian, let alone vegan, food is quite a challenge. If you haven't been to Japan, now you know... Most dishes contain meat or fish, and even if they seem vegetarian, they often hide some fish stock, bonito flakes or other type of broth that was used to cook something in. However, it is not impossible to eat vegan or vegetarian when in Japan (I did it for 7 months), but you'll have to be up for a challenge. 

For this blog edition I'll write about my experience with vegetarian food options in Kyoto, however, these places will often also contain vegan options. I will list some of my favorite food options and places in Kyoto below. 

1. Mumokuteki
Mumokuteki was definitely my number 1 vegetarian restaurant in Kyoto. They serve healthy traditional Japanese dishes and it all looks amazing. Furthermore, the atmosphere is great in the restaurant too. Keep in mind that not all options might be vegetarian (or vegan), but despite of that, you won't have a problem finding something that suits your taste here. Also, don't hesitate to ask about they ingredients, they will help you out! For desert I can highly recommend the dandelion 'coffee', it's made from dandelion roots and tastes amazing.

Price: 700-1400 yen for a main dish 

https://mumokuteki.com/cafe

2. Ain Soph
This used to be restaurant Matsuontoko, but they recently changed the name to Ain Soph. While they were previously a hamburger place, nowadays they serve all kinds of healthy dishes and everything is vegan, so it's perfect if you don't want to worry about that. If you're up for some good-looking, healthy food, definitely check this place out! Fortunately their website is partly in English if you want to check the menu before you go!

Price: 1300-1500 yen for a main dish

http://ain-soph.jp/kyoto/

3. Miyakoyasai Kamo
Miyakoyasai Kamo is a great restaurant if you're into Japanese style veggies. The restaurant offers a buffet with dishes made from all kinds of local vegetables. It is therefore also sustainable, since the veggies come from local farmers. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a variety of fresh, healthy dishes. Since it is not clear which dishes are vegetarian or vegan (not all of them are), I recommend bringing a Japanese speaking person or to bring a little note like this: http://justhungry.com/japan-dining-out-cards

Price: 1370-1500 for dinner

https://nasukamo.net/information.html

4. Veg Out
Veg Out is a restaurant that combines both a great view of the Kamogawa river and a relaxing atmosphere. They work with local farmers who put great care into their products. The food here is a mix of all kinds of dishes from nachos to buddha bowls. 

Price: 1000-1200 yen for a main dish

http://vegout.jp/

5. 千丸屋 〜京湯葉老舗〜
This place is the best to eat the most amazing local kyoto tofu. Kyoto is known for its tofu traditions and there are lots of places that offer tofu/buddhist cuisine. This restaurant is a good place to try yuba, really thin tofu sheets. They are so so so delicious and I would really recommend you try it out if you want to try some local tofu. If you want to try more types of tofu (which I would really recommend as well), check out this page for example: https://stevejobko.com/6224.html

Price: not sure about the price for a proper meal

http://www.senmaruya.co.jp/#recipe

 

14 things to know before visiting Japan!

14 things to know before visiting Japan!

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Japan, the land of traditions. So you're visiting Japan and are ready for an amazing trip, but after all the stories about polite Japanese people you become a bit worried.... What is okay to do and what isn't? What should you avoid doing when eating? In this blog I will tell you about the most important things to take into account when visiting Japan. I've asked my Japanese friends for advice so that I wouldn't miss a thing, so here we go!

Eating

1. Don't stick your chopsticks (straight) in a bowl of rice while taking a break from eating
This is one of the most common things foreigners do (and I do it myself at home sometimes as well). Although it is very easy to just stick your chopstick into the rice, please try to avoid it! The name for this is tsukitate-bashi. At funerals a bowl of rice is placed at an altar with chopsticks in the standing up straight in the center. Therefore it's very impolite to do this at any other occasion since it will remind Japanese people of funerals. 

2. Don't pass on food from chopsticks to chopsticks
This is another funeral related tradition. However, at funerals it is not the food which is passed on, but the bones of the cremated deceased person. 

3. Tips are not necessary
Although things are changing in Japan, giving tips is still an uncommon practice. At some smaller bars and where young people work (for example at hostels), tipping sometimes happens, but usually at the normal Japanese bars and restaurants tipping is absolutely not necessary. People simply just don't do it, so by not tipping you can avoid uncomfortable situations. 

4. Paying the bill at the counter
Not really something that has to do with impoliteness, but more of a tip I'd like to give you. Often when going for dinner somewhere, you'll get the receipt at the table. Since in the Netherlands you almost always pay at the table I made the mistake of waiting or asking if you can pay but then being directed to the counter at the entrance. In Japan, you just take your receipt and walk to the counter to pay. Nowadays it's a practice I try to do in the Netherlands as well. It saves time waiting and is quite convenient actually!  

Of course, these are only the most important things. If you want to know more about dining etiquette, check out this page for example: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2005.html

In public

1. Don't be loud!
Japanese are very calm and quiet people. They generally talk in this way too. Even though we, the Dutch, and many other cultures are used to speaking more loudly, it can be considered very rude in Japan. Of course it is difficult to talk in a more quiet way, especially if you're enthusiastic about all the awesome things you're experiencing, but try to be aware of the way you and your friends are talking, especially in public places like the subway, restaurants, etc. 

2. Don't eat or call while in public transport
Eating or calling over the cellphone should definitely be avoided when in public transport. While eating is generally alright on the shinkansen or long bus rides (try to avoid smelly food or food that makes a lot of noise though), it is not okay to eat on the subway. The same is true for making phonecalls, although I feel like these should be avoided in all kinds of public transport. 

3. Wearing a (surgical) mask 
Although it might feel weird to you, it is very normal and considered polite to wear a mask in Japan when you're feeling sick. In the hard-working society this can be a way to still come to work without putting co-workers at risk of becoming sick too. However, the mask can also be used to prevent yourself from becoming sick. If you want to know more about these surgical masks and why people wear them, check out this article: https://japantoday.com/category/features/lifestyle/why-do-japanese-people-wear-surgical-masks-its-not-always-for-health-reasons . 

4. Responding to irrashaimase
Okay, to be fair, this doesn't really have to do with politeness or etiquette I believe, it's more of a funny addittion. When I was in Japan I went shopping sometimes (doh...!) and I was always greeted by several shop employees calling irrashaimaseeeee, which means something like "can I help you" although it is just meant in a welcoming way. It took me weeks to figure out how to respond to this. Although I'm a bit ashamed to say this, the first couple of times I just responded by saying Irrashaimase back to the shop employees which means that I was responding to a loud "Welcomeeeee" by saying "Welcomeeee" haha. Then I thought maybe to say Arigatou, which means thank you. But after observing other people in the shop I realised it is perfectly normal to say nothing at all! Just let the people welcome you like they welcome everyone and continue your shopping like nothing has happened :) 

Conversations/Visiting a Japanese person

1. Take off your shoes before entering someone´s house
This is very important. Keeping on your shoes is a definite no-go. Houses are kept very clean, so shoes don´t belong there. This rule is also important for temples, in many changing rooms in shops, or in more traditional restaurants. A way to know whether you should take off your shoes is buy looking around. If you see a small elevation in the floor with for example tatami, you should definitely take off your shoes, if you see pairs of shoes without there owners, that could be an indicator too ;) but usually the elevation in the floor is the main cue. 

2. Use "name"-san when talking to someone
When you meet someone and adress this person, or adress another person when talking about him/her, use the honorific -san. This is the most commonly used, so also the most safe one to use. There are other ones like -chan and -kun for close friends or family, or -senpai/-kohai for colleagues or fellow students. However, -san is used in a way like Sir/Madam and therefore a polite way to address anyone new. Using -san is also the easiest way since it's used for both men and women. Therefore, really try to use it. The Japanese have many many honorifics for all kinds of relationships, so not using one is quite strange and I think kind of implies that you both are totally equal. -san provides the safest option for avoiding this. Never introduce yourself with the honorific -san though! To use -san, you simply put it behind someones last name, however once you get a little bit more familiar, it is fine to use it with the first name as well. So, for example, Löwenhardt-san or Hannah-san are both fine. 

3. Try to avoid sarcasm
This is really something I experienced first-hand. I'm used to being sarcastic since it's quite a common practice in the Netherlands, however in Japan being sarcastic can totally be taken the wrong way. Japanese friends please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there is not such a thing as sarcasm in Japanese language. Therefore really be careful with making sarcastic jokes for example. I have offended people in this way because they took it seriously, which really wasn't my intention. Luckily I was able to explain it, but it's better to avoid these situations in any case. 

Onsen etiquette

1. Always wash yourself properly
The most important things when visiting an onsen is to really really wash yourself before going in. These bath houses are kept as clean as possible, by the owners and the visitors. When you go into a bath house, it is obligatory I would say to first spend some time washing yourself. Not just 2 or 3 minutes, but really for at least 5-10 minutes. Wash every part of your body and if you have long hair, tie it up. It is perfectly normal to bring soap, towels, shampoo, a toothbrush or other things with you to clean yourself. 

2. Be aware of the rules for tattoos
Tattoos are still a taboo in Japan unfortunately, do to their association with the Yakuza (Japanese maffia). Onsen are one of the most traditional places and I think especially because of that and because of the nakedness still very strict in their tattoo rules. Nowadays there are some onsen which you can enter with tattoos, however, be aware that in most you can't so you'll probably have to ask or read the signs before going in to avoid any uncomfortable situations. 

3. Go in naked
Yes, just do it! It's an onsen, and the best way to experience this, and probably even the only way, is to go in naked! Nothing to worry about, the (wo)men there are used to being there and seeing each other naked. It maybe takes some time to get used to, but just focus on the bath and on being there, not on possible thoughts in your head. Going in with bathing clothes really doesn't happen, maybe at some very big 'onsen' or spa houses, but there you won't get the proper traditional experience.

Well, these are in my opinion and my friend Yusuke's (see picture below!) opinion the most important things you should no when visiting Japan. Don't stress, however, people are super nice and friendly and if you do make a little mistake you always have you foreign looks to make up for them so you will be forgiven!

Cheers, 
Hannah 

 

The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan

The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan

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Hey! 

So I've been a little bit absent lately... Well that was because I was finishing my studies (omg!! after 6 years of university it's suddenly over.....) and preparing for and having my job interview in.. JAPAN! However, in this blog I will tell you something about the place where I had the interview, namely Picchio (pronounced as pikio) Wildlife Research Center, a place of beauty and wonder. 

Picchio is a conservation and eco-tour center located only one hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen, in the beautiful resort town of Karuizawa. Karuizawa is a small town with around 20.000 residents, however depending on the season the numbers can drastically increase. In the late 1800s it was introduced as a summer resort by Bishop Alexander Croft Shaw and it started to attract an increasing amount of expats living in Tokyo. From around the 20th century the resort life in Karuizawa really started to increase. Many (rich) people choose the town as a getaway from the busy life and hot climate in Tokyo, exchanging it for a much cooler and quieter area. Since then it has hosted many famous writers and other people such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Nowadays it's still a getaway for the rich such as politicians and celebrities, and while driving around town you can see many beautiful second houses hidden all throughout the hills surrounding the city center.

Another thing Karuizawa is famous for is that they are the only city in the world that hosted the olympic games twice, once in 1964 when it hosted the horseback riding event and once again in 1998 when it hosted the curling event. Furthermore, it's simply a beautiful town as well and truely shows Japanese countryside if you're in the outskirts. The town is surrounded by forest and mountains, with the most famous one being Mount Asama, the most active volcano of Honshu. 

So, what is Picchio and what do they do in Karuizawa? The center has operated since 1992 and focusses on (bear) conservation and education through eco-tours and kids activities. They also do research (for example, following the bear's migratory paths) and surveys of the animals in the area. The bear conservation programme they conduct is a unique one in its field. The town of Karuizawa, with its increasing size and tourism, has had an increasing problem with the Asian Black Bears. The bears often came down to the urban area, looking for garbage or crops to eat, which concerned the local people. Karuizawa has been working on ways to reduce this problem, to protect both the 

bears and the people. They have educated the people about how to keep the bears away, introduced special bear-proof garbage bins and they continue to keep track of the whereabouts of the bears 24/7. Every day and night one of the bear-team specialists goes out with a huge antenna to check where the bears are through their radio collar signals. Furthermore, when the center gets a call that a bear was accidentally caught in a wildlife trap, or when a bear has entered a bear trap (a harmless cage), the team heads out to identify, measure and release the bears. In the case of a bear trap capture, the bear-dog specialists head out with their dogs to scare the bears away. These dogs are amazing and have been trained for years to chase the bears, but not attack them so that they are only chased away from human settlements without being harmed. Furthermore, the staff makes a lot of noise by shouting and sometimes even fireworks, so that the bears will also be more scared of people in the future. 

 

Next to this big conservation programme, the center offers a wide variety of tours. At the main visitor center at Hoshino resorts, some of the tours offered are: a flying squirrel watching tour (CUTE and so much fun), a wildlife night drive, a nature watching tour, a bird watching tour, a mountainbike tour and in winter even an amazing stargazing tour.  At the visitor center in Prince Resort, in addition to some of these tours, a lot of kids activities are offered as well. While I was there, I was able to join the flying squirrel watching tour, something I'll never forget. We had a short lecture about these animals, during which you could see the passion and enthusiasm of the guides about these animals. The lecture was interesting and fun at the same time. After that we went out to check one of the sleeping spots of the squirrels, where we watched with binoculars until the cute little animals came out and we were able to see them float in the sky. What an amazing experience! :) 

 

The staff of Picchio are people with a huge passion for nature and wildlife. They work night and day to try to build a bridge between the people and their surrounding nature. They aim to connect Japanese and foreign people with their environment more and to make them see the natural wonders as well. Therefore the tours are an amazing way to get to know the lower Japanese alps and all its beautiful plants and wildlife. Takign a tour also supports the center financially, and since the center needs a lot of employees to sustain all this hard work, they are always happy to receive donations to help with their bear conservation project. I would definitely recommend visiting this place to walk around by yourself on one of the beautiful trails surrounding the visitor center, but also to take an additional tour and learn more about the plants and wildlife. If you don't have a chance to visit Japan, help them out with their conservation efforts in other ways. 

To learn more about Picchio check out their website https://www.wildlife-picchio.com/, or if you have any questions just ask below!

Cheers,
Hannah

 

Volunteering in Japan

Volunteering in Japan

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When looking for volunteering opportunities you can find an overload on the web, from free to paid. In this blog I will try to give an overview of free volunteering opportunities in Japan. Of course there might be many other opportunities, but this blog can be a first step in finding the best options for you and you can use it as a starting point for further research. 

1. WWOOF
WWOOF offers worldwide opportunities for organic farming, so as well in Japan. The farmers can list the opportunities themselves so it can be really small-scale, but farms can also be huge. You have to pay around 55 euros to join the community for a year, but then you can apply for all the opportunities on there. Often you will get free accommodation and food, sometimes you even get paid (probably not in Japan though). I have never done it myself, but I have heard many good stories. It's a great way to get to know the local culture, lands and food! So if you're into farming, definitely try it out!

Website: https://www.wwoofjapan.com/main/index.php?lang=en

2. WorkAway
WorkAway is something similar to WWOOF, however, it is a platform not just for farming, but for all kinds of work. Offers range from working in a hostel to teaching English to children of just one family. The range of job types is huge, which can make it really fun. However, it can be important to check reviews since some jobs or environments might not suit you. Sometimes you get free accommodation, sometimes free food, but getting paid never really happens I think. I have found some great opportunities in Japan so I would definitely recommend you to check it :). You have to pay a fee of 32 euros a year for a single person and 42 euros a year as a couple. You can even buy workaway as a gift for someone going to japan and wanting to volunteer. 

Website: https://www.workaway.info/

3. Volunteering at an animal shelter
The first time I went to Japan, I was looking for cheap volunteering opportunities. Since I love animals I decided to look for animal shelters in Japan and ask them whether volunteering there was possible. I ended up volunteering for a week at Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK). It was an amazing, rewarding experience. Animal care is not that big in Japan. While many Japanese people love (dressing up) animals, especially when they are young, when the animals get bigger, they often are abandoned since they don't fit in the house anymore, are not cute anymore or are too dirty. Of course, this only counts for a part of japanese people (I also know many Japanese that would never ever do this), it does happen and the couple of animal shelters present have to take care of all these abandoned animals. ARK animal shelter is owned by an English lady who has a passion for animals and who works together with an almost all Japanese staff. When I was there (7 years ago already) she lived in the middle of the shelter and I stayed with her. However, usually you will stay at the volunteering house for free if you work every day. The work consists of walking the dogs, cleaning and socialising the animals. I truely enjoyed it! This is also a good opportunity if you just want to volunteer for one day! They won't let you stay, but if you have a car you can visit them in the morning and walk the dogs or play with the cats I believe. They also have an office in Tokyo, but I think they won't offer you free accommodation if you volunteer there. Sometimes they also need volunteers for translating, social media promotion etc. 

p.s. they have some beautiful animals in the shelter and they are up for adoption, even if you live on the other side of the world. 

Website: http://www.arkbark.net/en/

Another place where you can volunteer is Japan Cat Network. They need help at their two animal shelters, with the events in Japan and you can even help out from home through social media. Even though their name suggests that they only have cats, they also have dogs at their shelter that need help. The animals are truely beautiful and working with them would certainly be fun. 

Website: https://japancatnetwork.org/volunteer

4. Disaster relief volunteering
I don't know so much about this topic. What I did read is that giving money to local organisations working on disaster relief is still one of the most important things. But if you do want to help out on the ground I would like to refer you to this blog: https://disasterjapan.wordpress.com/volunteering-in-japan/
They know a lot more about this topic and the website is regularly updated I believe. So check it out if you're interested in this type of volunteering. 

Well, I hope you have enough options now to start with! Volunteering in Japan is a unique experience. However, do keep in mind the behavioural code and politeness a bit to make sure that you have the best volunteering opportunity! 

Any questions? Let me know!

Volunteering in Japan

Volunteering in Japan

Image

When looking for volunteering opportunities you can find an overload on the web, from free to paid. In this blog I will try to give an overview of free volunteering opportunities in Japan. Of course there might be many other opportunities, but this blog can be a first step in finding the best options for you and you can use it as a starting point for further research. 

1. WWOOF
WWOOF offers worldwide opportunities for organic farming, so as well in Japan. The farmers can list the opportunities themselves so it can be really small-scale, but farms can also be huge. You have to pay around 55 euros to join the community for a year, but then you can apply for all the opportunities on there. Often you will get free accommodation and food, sometimes you even get paid (probably not in Japan though). I have never done it myself, but I have heard many good stories. It's a great way to get to know the local culture, lands and food! So if you're into farming, definitely try it out!

Website: https://www.wwoofjapan.com/main/index.php?lang=en

2. WorkAway
WorkAway is something similar to WWOOF, however, it is a platform not just for farming, but for all kinds of work. Offers range from working in a hostel to teaching English to children of just one family. The range of job types is huge, which can make it really fun. However, it can be important to check reviews since some jobs or environments might not suit you. Sometimes you get free accommodation, sometimes free food, but getting paid never really happens I think. I have found some great opportunities in Japan so I would definitely recommend you to check it :). You have to pay a fee of 32 euros a year for a single person and 42 euros a year as a couple. You can even buy workaway as a gift for someone going to japan and wanting to volunteer. 

Website: https://www.workaway.info/

3. Volunteering at an animal shelter
The first time I went to Japan, I was looking for cheap volunteering opportunities. Since I love animals I decided to look for animal shelters in Japan and ask them whether volunteering there was possible. I ended up volunteering for a week at Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK). It was an amazing, rewarding experience. Animal care is not that big in Japan. While many Japanese people love (dressing up) animals, especially when they are young, when the animals get bigger, they often are abandoned since they don't fit in the house anymore, are not cute anymore or are too dirty. Of course, this only counts for a part of japanese people (I also know many Japanese that would never ever do this), it does happen and the couple of animal shelters present have to take care of all these abandoned animals. ARK animal shelter is owned by an English lady who has a passion for animals and who works together with an almost all Japanese staff. When I was there (7 years ago already) she lived in the middle of the shelter and I stayed with her. However, usually you will stay at the volunteering house for free if you work every day. The work consists of walking the dogs, cleaning and socialising the animals. I truely enjoyed it! This is also a good opportunity if you just want to volunteer for one day! They won't let you stay, but if you have a car you can visit them in the morning and walk the dogs or play with the cats I believe. They also have an office in Tokyo, but I think they won't offer you free accommodation if you volunteer there. Sometimes they also need volunteers for translating, social media promotion etc. 

p.s. they have some beautiful animals in the shelter and they are up for adoption, even if you live on the other side of the world. 

Website: http://www.arkbark.net/en/

Another place where you can volunteer is Japan Cat Network. They need help at their two animal shelters, with the events in Japan and you can even help out from home through social media. Even though their name suggests that they only have cats, they also have dogs at their shelter that need help. The animals are truely beautiful and working with them would certainly be fun. 

Website: https://japancatnetwork.org/volunteer

4. Disaster relief volunteering
I don't know so much about this topic. What I did read is that giving money to local organisations working on disaster relief is still one of the most important things. But if you do want to help out on the ground I would like to refer you to this blog: https://disasterjapan.wordpress.com/volunteering-in-japan/
They know a lot more about this topic and the website is regularly updated I believe. So check it out if you're interested in this type of volunteering. 

Well, I hope you have enough options now to start with! Volunteering in Japan is a unique experience. However, do keep in mind the behavioural code and politeness a bit to make sure that you have the best volunteering opportunity! 

Any questions? Let me know!

The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan

The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan

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Hey! 

So I've been a little bit absent lately... Well that was because I was finishing my studies (omg!! after 6 years of university it's suddenly over.....) and preparing for and having my job interview in.. JAPAN! However, in this blog I will tell you something about the place where I had the interview, namely Picchio (pronounced as pikio) Wildlife Research Center, a place of beauty and wonder. 

Picchio is a conservation and eco-tour center located only one hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen, in the beautiful resort town of Karuizawa. Karuizawa is a small town with around 20.000 residents, however depending on the season the numbers can drastically increase. In the late 1800s it was introduced as a summer resort by Bishop Alexander Croft Shaw and it started to attract an increasing amount of expats living in Tokyo. From around the 20th century the resort life in Karuizawa really started to increase. Many (rich) people choose the town as a getaway from the busy life and hot climate in Tokyo, exchanging it for a much cooler and quieter area. Since then it has hosted many famous writers and other people such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Nowadays it's still a getaway for the rich such as politicians and celebrities, and while driving around town you can see many beautiful second houses hidden all throughout the hills surrounding the city center.

Another thing Karuizawa is famous for is that they are the only city in the world that hosted the olympic games twice, once in 1964 when it hosted the horseback riding event and once again in 1998 when it hosted the curling event. Furthermore, it's simply a beautiful town as well and truely shows Japanese countryside if you're in the outskirts. The town is surrounded by forest and mountains, with the most famous one being Mount Asama, the most active volcano of Honshu. 

So, what is Picchio and what do they do in Karuizawa? The center has operated since 1992 and focusses on (bear) conservation and education through eco-tours and kids activities. They also do research (for example, following the bear's migratory paths) and surveys of the animals in the area. The bear conservation programme they conduct is a unique one in its field. The town of Karuizawa, with its increasing size and tourism, has had an increasing problem with the Asian Black Bears. The bears often came down to the urban area, looking for garbage or crops to eat, which concerned the local people. Karuizawa has been working on ways to reduce this problem, to protect both the 

bears and the people. They have educated the people about how to keep the bears away, introduced special bear-proof garbage bins and they continue to keep track of the whereabouts of the bears 24/7. Every day and night one of the bear-team specialists goes out with a huge antenna to check where the bears are through their radio collar signals. Furthermore, when the center gets a call that a bear was accidentally caught in a wildlife trap, or when a bear has entered a bear trap (a harmless cage), the team heads out to identify, measure and release the bears. In the case of a bear trap capture, the bear-dog specialists head out with their dogs to scare the bears away. These dogs are amazing and have been trained for years to chase the bears, but not attack them so that they are only chased away from human settlements without being harmed. Furthermore, the staff makes a lot of noise by shouting and sometimes even fireworks, so that the bears will also be more scared of people in the future. 

 

Next to this big conservation programme, the center offers a wide variety of tours. At the main visitor center at Hoshino resorts, some of the tours offered are: a flying squirrel watching tour (CUTE and so much fun), a wildlife night drive, a nature watching tour, a bird watching tour, a mountainbike tour and in winter even an amazing stargazing tour.  At the visitor center in Prince Resort, in addition to some of these tours, a lot of kids activities are offered as well. While I was there, I was able to join the flying squirrel watching tour, something I'll never forget. We had a short lecture about these animals, during which you could see the passion and enthusiasm of the guides about these animals. The lecture was interesting and fun at the same time. After that we went out to check one of the sleeping spots of the squirrels, where we watched with binoculars until the cute little animals came out and we were able to see them float in the sky. What an amazing experience! :) 

 

The staff of Picchio are people with a huge passion for nature and wildlife. They work night and day to try to build a bridge between the people and their surrounding nature. They aim to connect Japanese and foreign people with their environment more and to make them see the natural wonders as well. Therefore the tours are an amazing way to get to know the lower Japanese alps and all its beautiful plants and wildlife. Takign a tour also supports the center financially, and since the center needs a lot of employees to sustain all this hard work, they are always happy to receive donations to help with their bear conservation project. I would definitely recommend visiting this place to walk around by yourself on one of the beautiful trails surrounding the visitor center, but also to take an additional tour and learn more about the plants and wildlife. If you don't have a chance to visit Japan, help them out with their conservation efforts in other ways. 

To learn more about Picchio check out their website https://www.wildlife-picchio.com/, or if you have any questions just ask below!

Cheers,
Hannah

 

Travelling in Japan

Travelling in Japan

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~This blog comes from my personal blog "Hannah-chan's travels" for more blog check out this blog page ~

Finding the best way to travel in a country is always a bit tricky. In some countries it can be cheaper to take the bus, in other countries to take a train of flight. What is always cheaper is hitchhiking of course, but not everyone feels comfortable about getting in the car with a stranger.

I’ve travelled quite a bit in Japan and in my experience, the way you travel depends on your budget, the time you have and on how you want to experience the country. In this blog I’ll try to inform you on ways to travel in Japan and what could be best for your personal trip. I’ve listed four types of travelling (bus, train, airplane, car) and the pros and cons. Just to have said it, I also want to dedicate a few sentences to hitchhiking since it is the cheapest and in my experience a really fun way of travelling.

Hitchhiking

While hitchhiking always comes with a little bit of a risk, the chance something happens to you in Japan is quite low in my opinion. People are friendly, polite and it’s one of the safest countries in the world. If you hitchhike with someone else, it shouldn’t really be a problem. I hitchhiked on Yakushima Island and it was one of the best things I’ve done since I met one really cool guy and we had a free ride. The cons however are that Japanese people often speak little English. They will want to make conversation, but it can be a bit of a struggle sometimes. It always helps if you know some Japanese and they will love it. Another thing is that hitchhiking takes a lot of time and patience. While it is usually an amazing experience, there might also be days that you have to wait for multiple hours, just to get a ride of 30 minutes. If you decide to do it, just make sure you keep this in mind and don’t expect to be at your destination soon.

By bus

The bus is usually the cheapest way of travelling. There are several bus companies operating throughout Japan and the most foreigner-friendly one is definitely Willer Express. This company operates bus routes mostly in central Honshu, but where exactly you can find on their English (!!) webpage. If you want to go to multiple cities and prefer the Willer Expressbecause their webpage is in English I would recommend getting a bus pass. There are three options; a 3 day bus pass, a 5 day bus pass and a 7 day bus pass, so just figure out which one you would need!

Apart from Willer Express there are also other, cheaper bus companies. While Willer Express gives you quite some comfort options (unless you get the cheapest bus), the other companies I’ve travelled with usually have little or less leg room but they are way cheaper. The downside is that their websites are in Japanese so you might want to ask someone at the hotel/hostel to help you. Another thing is that their departure stations can sometimes be hard to find, so make sure you have a map of where you have to go printed out so you won’t miss the bus. The webpage I usually use is busbookmark.jp and for busses around Nagano I use the alpico bus http://www.alpico.co.jp/access/english/ .

By train

A way to avoid this extra time for check-in etcetera is to take the train. There are local/express/limited express/etc trains and there is the famous bullet train or shinkansen. The first trains are way cheaper, however, it will take a lot longer to get to your destination if you’re going long distances. For example Kyoto-Tokyo by shinkansen is about 2.5 hours by shinkansen, but 20 hours by local trains. If you travel where there is not shinkansen line or just short distances, I recommend to take local trains. It is easy and cheap!

The shinkansen is quite expensive. For a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto you pay around 12000 yen. It is however super-fast and if you have little time, a much recommended way of travelling. If you only have 1 or 2 weeks in Japan and you want to see a lot, you don’t want to spend too much time in transit so hopping in and out of a train in the city centre of where you want to be is just AWESOME. Next to that I think that being on a bullet train is also quite a cool experience and maybe even something you have to do if you want to feel the real Japan. Tickets can be bought on the main stations from machines or at the shinkansen ticket centres. Another option is to buy a rail pass. More information about the rail pass can be found on http://www.japanrailpass.net/ . There are different types of rail passes available for different areas so make sure you pick the right one for your trip. Another important thing is that this pass can not be purchased in Japan, so plan your trip ahead and buy a rail pass in time if this is your prefered way of travelling!

By air

A (sometimes) cheap way of travelling in Japan is by air. Even though I don’t like airplanes because of the pollution, I would recommend this way of travelling if you want to see multiple places all spread out over the country and you don’t need to see what’s in between. There are several cheap domestic airlines like Skymark Airlines, Jetstar, Vanilla Air, Spring Airlines and with one of the cheapest being Peach. If you sign up for their newsletter before you head to Japan, you can get updates on their frequent sales and might be able to book a ticket from Osaka-Tokyo for 2000 yen (check-in luggage is not included!). The flights are short, but do remember you’ll spend at least 2-3 hours extra at airports doing check/in and liggage drop-off.

By car

Travelling by car is one of the easiest ways if you want to visit multiple places mostly on the country side. Renting a car in Japan means you’ll need an international drivers’ license and you probably must have had it for 5 years. The cost for renting a car depends on where you rent it and what kind of car it is. The price for gasoline is in the middle range of gas prices. It’s usually cheaper than in Europe, but it’s still on the expensive side.

For finding rental cars in Japan (or actually anywhere in the world), you can use rentalcars.com . However, I’d recommend to ask for rental cars at your hotel/hostel. They will probably know cheaper places to go to.

Well, hopefully this was helpfull! If you have any questions, just comment and I’ll try to reply! Also, if you know more about this and want to share it with other readers, please leave a comment too! Thanks for reading!

Cheers,
Hannah

Japanese food: 1

Japanese food: 1

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Let's talk about FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD :D Last week I posted a blog about Ecuadorian Fruits :D which described all kinds of super delicous Frutas, this week I will tell you about Japanese food. Japan is famous for it's elaborate and delicious kitchen. The food is fresh, beautiful, tasty and usually healthy, but if you don't know the names of dishes it's hard to figure out what to get and where to get it. 

So, let me tell you about some general dishes you can find everywhere, and some specific dishes found in specific regions: 

Onigiri
Onigiri are riceballs often wrapped in seaweed and filled with things like umeboshi (pickled plum), salmon, tuna, seaweed. They are great as a snack and cheap as well. You can basically find them at every conbini. 

Inari Sushi
Inari sushi is rice wrapped in sweet tofusheets. This you can also often find at conbinis, where you can buy them as a snack for a small price. A good place to get them for example is the 100yen lawson. While the normal Lawson is blue, the 100yen Lawson is green in colour. 

Shabu Shabu
Shabu shabu is basically a full dinner. It's a Japanese hotpot dish, in which you dip your meat and vegetables. I have often eaten the vegetarian version, which basically means you only dip in the veggies and ask the others to dip the meat into the other (half of the) pot. For a good place to eat Shabu shabu in Kyoto, check out the building of this restaurant, on one of the top floors there is a 1500 all you can eat shabu shabu place https://goo.gl/maps/whKnp2rCodM2 (there is also a yakiniku place on one of the floors for the meat lovers). 

100yen sushi 
100 yen sushi is basically better sushi than we get in Europe, for a better price as well. It's also a fun experience which often means sitting at a sushi conveyer belt. Sometimes the ordered sushi even comes on a sushi train. You just take as many plates as you want and at the end of the meal, the dishes are counted and you pay for the amount with the added tax. If you want to find a 100yen sushi place, check out kappa sushi, they are all over Japan. But there are many more cheap sushi places. 

Tempura
Tempura is basically fried anything. It is amazingly delicous, but not very healthy haha. While you can buy it at the supermarket, there are also some great places to eat out. In the supermarket it is usually not very crispy. One great place to eat tempura is here: https://goo.gl/maps/EpBHu2KmNHy . It is cheap and you can just choose seperate dishes like with the 100yen sushi. 

Local dishes: 
Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is an amazing dish which you can get in two different styles; Osaka style and Hiroshima style. Which are also the best places to eat this dish. It is a type of cabbage pancake with all kinds of extra ingredients like cheese, ham, octopus, and a lot more. The dish is topped with bonito flakes, seaweed, amazing okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. As a vegetarian this is a great Japanese dish to try, just make sure you avoid the bonito flakes and ask whether the sauce is vegetarian, but I believe it usually is. For vegans and If you want to be sure about the ingredients, go to this place in Hiroshima: http://nagataya-okonomi.com/ they truly have amazing food! :D It's is often crowded though, so you might have to wait in line. 

Takoyaki
Takoyaki are doughballs with as the main ingredient octopus coming from Osaka. I've never had them, but according to other people they are either delicious or strange haha. If you want to eat them, you can find them on the streets in Osaka, or sometimes at temple markets. 

Miso-katsu & Miso nikomi udon
This first famous dish is for the meat eaters, Miso-katsu specifically stands for pork cutlets with miso sauce. The second dish is Udon in a broth of miso. Whether this is a vegetarian dish I can't say, but you can probably ask (although I doubt the answer the people at the restaurant will give you). Both are dishes Nagoya is famous for, specifically because of the miso-part. So if you pay Nagoya a visit, you should definitely get a miso-dish to try the best of the best.

Yudofu
It sounds like a martial arts type, but yudofu is a tofu dish found in Kyoto. It is a very simple dish, containing tofu, kelp and water, but that doesn't make it less delicious! The tofu bits are then dipped in sauce or just eaten like that. Here you can find more about tofu in Kyoto: https://favy-jp.com/topics/1471
I personally had the fanciest meal I ever had in Kyoto in a tofu restaurant and it was really amazing and such a great experience! Pure flavours, amazing textures and just super pretty food. I would definitely recommend it! 

Well, that's it for now! More dishes will follow in the future, but for now... Enjoy :D 

Cheers, 
Hannah

Delicious vegan ramen recipe

Delicious vegan ramen recipe

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It's RAMEN TIME! :D 

This is a Japanese ramen recipe that is delicious and suitable for everyone, also vegans. It is easy to make and you can create a different dish every time if you change the toppings. This recipe will give you the ramen stock, and some toppings I really like. In case you make the stock with mushrooms, add 1 hour to your cooking time. However, it's also delicious without the mushrooms! 

1. cut the tempe/tofu and put it in a bowl with a bit of soy sauce and garlic.

2. cut the garlic and ginger into small pieces and heat it in sesame or sunflower oil for about five minutes on low heating. 

3. now add the stock, soy sauce, mirin and if you use them, the dried shiitake or different type of mushrooms. Let it cook for about 5-10 minutes (the longer the tastier though), but in case you added dried mushrooms, let it boil for one hour before you continue with step 4. 

4. prepare the toppings (cut them into smaller pieces if necessary).

- heat some oil in a separate pan and bake the tempe/tofu. 

- boil some water in a separate pot, add the spinach for about two minutes, then drain the spinach with cold water. 

5. add the noodles and cook as long as necessary, then turn down the heat, add the miso paste and stirr well (don't boil when the miso paste is in). 

6. divide the stock and noodles over two bowls and add the toppings. I only use a little bit of pickled ginger in the middle because it looks very pretty but has a strong flavour. And you can sprinkle with sesame seeds. 

7. Enjoy

 

Ready In: 45 min.

Ingredients:

  • sesame oil (or sunflower will do too)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch ginger
  • Vegetable stock (i used two blocks), so about 1L
  • Two tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste (usually white, but I used red and it was tasty anyway :))
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • about 150 gram ramen (depending on how hungrgy you are)
  • Optional: dehydrated mushrooms (shiitake)
  • Toppings such as:
  • tempe/tofu marinated and baked in a bit of soy sauce
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1 can of corn (200gram)
  • spinach (150-200 gram)
  • mushrooms
  • pickled ginger
  • sesame seeds
Summer Sonic Japan

Summer Sonic Japan

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Summer Sonic is one of the biggest music festivals in Japan, if not the biggest. It is held every year, this year on the 18th and 19th of August. I don't know why, possibly because Japan is quite big, but it is held at the same time in two of the major cities; Osaka and Tokyo. It is outdoor and usually has a pretty great line-up! So if you're in Japan for the summer and you still have some money to spend, check out this festival :)!

http://www.summersonic.com/2018/info/

Super Easy Cold Tomato Ramen

Super Easy Cold Tomato Ramen

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Heya! 

This is a recipe I received from my japanese friend Yusuke. He said it's a great summer dish. I haven't made it yet, but I'm passing it on to you so everyone can try it!

Step 1: 

Mix the tomato sauce, miso, olive oil, salt, pepper and water and put it in the fridge, or add ice blocks. 

Step 2: 

Mix the basil paste and the vinegar for the garnish

Step 3: 

Boil the ramen and when finished, rinse them in cold water so they become cold

Step 4: 

Put on the garnish and then finish of by cutting the tomato and putting it on top. 

ENJOY! :D 

Ingredients:

  • 100 gr tomato sauce
  • 10 gr miso
  • 10 cc olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 250 cc water
  • Table spoon basil paste
  • vinegar 20 cc
  • Ramen
  • 1 tomato
Experience Japan like a local

Experience Japan like a local

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Everyone knows Japan is a special country with many, many things to do. Since experiencing new things is one of the most exciting things while travelling, I want to give you some recommendations on things you absolutely shouldn't miss while travelling through Japan. Since most things are easy to google, like temples and festivals, I will go into other things I experienced as fun and local. This time these recommendations are more city-related, some other time I will write a blog about which places to visit to see some stunning nature. 

1. EAT THE LOCAL FOOD!!
Absolute number one for me (even though I was vegetarian while in Japan). Almost every region/city has a local dish, which makes Japan a Walhalla for food lovers. From okonomiyaki in Hiroshima (or Osaka as some people there claim) to miso paste in Nagoya, snakes in the southern islands of Japan and tofu in Kyoto. Some things might sound strange and not so delicious maybe, but you should definitely try it out. The Japanese really know what to do with their ingredients and are for example one of the best in making delicious fermented food. The best way to find out what the local dish is, is to ask locals of course. So get in touch with them, or ask at your hotel/hostel. Often you can just find it at restaurants in the streets, or at markets. Temple markets are often a great place to find delicious local dishes. 

* One thing I do want to say is that you shouldn't eat everything in my opinion. On Okinawa (one of the southern islands) they sell whale meat, which is absolutely terrible in terms of animal wellbeing. There are more of these examples so please don't just eat anything :). 

2. Try Purikura with your friends
In my opinion, purikura is disturbing but amazing. While in Europe, we can take pictures in a small photobooth with at most black and white or sepia colouring, in Japan there is a variety I can't even explain. These purikura machines are often found in arcades, where sometimes there is even a whole floor dedicated to them. You can choose themes ranging from model style photos, to cute photos, to gothic photos and so on. But what do the machines do then? Well, they don't just change the theme colour, like we are used too. They actually change your whole appearance. How they change you depends on the theme, but the main things are that they create huge anime-like eyes and silky-smooth skin.

When choosing a machinge, you put in 200-400 yen, depending on the theme, you go in alone or with friends and some pictures are taken. The real fun comes afterwards when you have about 15 minutes to edit the photos. Usually two people can edit at the same time and different photos. Backgrounds can be changed, make-up can be added, extra icons, text, eyes can be made bigger or smaller, it really is disturbingly funny. However, do take some time to do this since finding your way through all the options (which are shown in Japanese) can be quite a challenge as well. In the end you can pick a sheet type and the photo's will come out of the machine. 

BUT, THERE IS MORE! Sometimes, in certain arcades, you can even borrow clothes to wear in the purikura, like pokemon onesies, school-girl outfits, or proper anime clothes. Often it is free, but sometimes you have to pay for it. They provide dressingrooms and there are sometimes even mirrors to sit in front of so you can really make the most out of it. I don't understand why though, since you can add all the make-up afterwards. One thing to keep in mind however, is that if you are only boys, you can't enter. You need to have a girl with you, I have no idea why. 

3. Go to an arcade and play some games (or watch people play)
Similar to number 2, I would suggest to go to an arcade. Japan is known for its gaming industry, which is also illustrated by the high amount of game-addicted people. While it is rather a problem, I would still suggest to go to an arcade an try out as many games as you want. The prices are quite fair; last time I paid 100yen and played left4dead on a huge screen for 40 minutes. But it's also just really fun to try out all the amazing games they have. Taiko no Tatsujin for example, is one of the most popular games in Japan, and people are even waiting in line to play it sometimes. You can choose all kinds of songs and drum on the beat, so a kind of guitar hero for the drums. Here you can see a video of an amazingly good Japanese person playing it (watch from around 1:00): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6ujTE_GbB4

Don't worry, there are always different levels, so everyone can play :)

4. Join a tea ceremony
One of the more traditional cultural things is experiencing a tea ceremony. This tea ceremony is all about the preparing of matcha, a japanese type of green tea and is often accompanied with food. In Japan these ceremonies were first performed in buddhist monastries. Nowadays they also take place in people's houses on special occassions and in formal and informal settings. Experiencing such a ceremony, however, is hard since you will often have to be invited by someone. What you can do if you're just visiting Japan briefly, is join a more touristy type of tea ceremony. A woman dresses in Kimono can explain you everything about the ritual and about the making of the tea, you can try it yourself, drink it and eat some sweets on the side. It is really fun to experience and learn about it. One of the best cities to join a tea ceremony is Kyoto, where they often happen.

5. Visit a second hand store 
 Japan really really is amazing for their second hand shops. They have so many and also so many types. You can find second hand electronics stores, second hand clothes stores, second hand book stores, second hand home appliance stores, second hand CD stores and so on. There are really so many that you just have to look around a bit, or google and you can find one. However, I want to tell you about my favorite, the -OFF chain. The most famous one is BOOK-OFF where you can find many great books for great prices, sometimes they also have CD's, clothes and other things, but this one is mainly about books. For hardware they have HARD-OFF. I bought my IPod here for around 35 euro's and it still works great. They also have camera's, CD's and many other things. Nowadays they also have a special name for the clothes shops, called MODE-OFF. I have bought many great clothes here, like shirts, dresses, skirts, all for around 100-200 yen (make sure you find the 100yen corner where the amazing treasures are often found). And then there is HOBBY-OFF, GARAGE-OFF and HOUSE-OFF. Well, these are my favorites but there are many more so just google and check it out! 

6. Visit at least one of these three: Izakaya, Maid Cafe or a Cat Cafe
I would suggest you to visit all of them, but if you don't have a lot of time, at least visit one. Izakaya's are amazing places to visit with friends and again, they come in all types and shapes. They are kind of pubs where you can go drinking and have some nice small dishes for a good price. Sometimes they even offer all you can drink I believe. In the modern ones you get a kind of booth with your friends and you can press a button so the waiter comes to get your order. You can order typical japanese dishes and drinks, which are truly great. In a more traditional izakaya you either get a booth with tamatim where you sit on the ground or on small pillows, or you just sit at a bar or table in a bar. These are also really fun, but often don't have a menu except for on the wall and it is always in Japanese writing, which makes it hard to order if you don't speak Japanese or don't have a Japanese person with you. Izakayas are a great option for a night out if you like your late-night snacks or if you want to try some small dishes :). 

Maid Cafes are quite a special thing. As the name already suggests, they are cafes in which girls dressed at maids are at your service. Throughout the time you are there, they serve you your special drinks and food (usually ice-cream). However, they don't do this in a normal way. The cafes are often themed which means that you can order and do all kinds of funny things. In the cafe I went to with a group of guy friends, we had to make the noise of a cat when we wanted to order. When we got our drinks the girl would perform somekind of special love-spell on the drinks so it would be ready for the person. We were also able to take a picture with the girls for a certain price. Well, it's a weird concept, but if you want to find out about the weirder side of Japan, this is a good way to go. I have seen all types of people in these cafes, even business men. However, do pay attention that you go to one where the woman seem to be treated nicely. This is hard to find out but there might be some info available on the internet about it. 

Cat cafes also speak for themselves. Here you pay a price to enter which often includes a drink and then you can sit with the cats for a certain amount of time. You can pet them, play with them and feed them sweets. They are really popular in Japan and therefore easy to find. Make sure that if you find one, you check whether the cats are treated well and have enough space before you decide to put money into the business.. 

7. Do KARAOKE with JAPANESE FRIEND!
Also something Japan is known for; karaoke. This especially is amazing with Japanese friends. Some love it, some don't, but if they do you'll have an amazing night. You'll get a booth with your friends and often this is accompanied with unlimited drinks for around 3500 yen, and then....... it's just another great night of singing! Make sure you try your hardest, since your Japanese friends probably will :). 

8. Last, but DEFINITELY not least, visit a SUMO MATCH!
This is truly one of the best best best ways to experience the local sports culture. Sumo competitions are super interesting and fun to watch. However, it can be hard to get tickets. There are only several big competitions a year and the best tickets can sell out really fast. Don't let this discourage you though, it's really possible to visit these matches, just make sure you check in advance when to be where and where to buy the tickets. 

Well, if you have any more off-the-beaten-track recommendations, let me know! I'm really curious :). And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask! 

Sayonaraaaaa,
Hannah

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