JAPOW! Part5

Just Another Morning of Commute, Part 2

Another morning with a foot of snow fell overnight, a local snow clearer getting busy from before-dawn for us to be able to drive through these roads.

It is quite a common sight to see in the morning in snowy regions of Japan.

In case you have not seen anything like this, here’s a video of just another morning for us.


JAPOW! Part3

It’s not unusual for you to see locals clearing snow in front of their properties using this type of small snow prowlers in the snowy region of Japan.

I do want one if I ever live in a place like Yamanouchi.

So cool, aye!

Enjoy the video.

JAPOW! Part 2

Just another morning in Yamanouchi, Nagano, Japan.

The key to the survival in this kind of snowy region in Japan,

Clear snow off your car the night before when you know it’s gonna snow overnight!

Otherwise you’ll end up spending looooong time the morning digging your car out of snow and get it going. You’ll be late for work!!

Enjoy the video.

Different Colours on Number Plates

What are all these vehicles with yellow number plates?


A friend of mine from New Zealand once described these as “A trolley (shopping cart) with an engine“.

You see them everywhere in Japan, especially once you are out of cities, in rural region.

They are usually quite tiny vehicles, square-ish, either 5 doors or pick-up style.

What are they?

They are called Kei Jidosha 軽自動車, that translates as “Light Vehicle

I’m pretty sure in any countries Vehicle Classification comes in various ways.

In Japan, basically passenger vehicles are classed in 2 categories by its size and the engine displacement, roughly.

Hutsu Joyosha 普通乗用車 and Kei Jidosha 軽自動車.

Hutsu Joyosha = Normal Passenger Vehicles – White Number Plate

Kei Jidosha = Light (Weight?) Vehicles – Yellow Number Plate

2 Different Classes

This is a Subaru Legacy, buried in snow. Got a white, Hutsu plate
  • Hutsu Joyosha – The length up to 4.7m, the width up to 1.7m, the height up to 2.0m and the engine up to 2000cc.
  • Kei Jidosha – (L) up to 3.4m, (W) up to 1.48m, (H) up to 2.0m and the engine up to 660cc
This is an old school Kei ute, or pick up truck, with a cool snow prowler on

So Kei 軽 vehicles are a lot smaller, you can see that by the photos I suppose.

Why so many in rural areas?

Basically because it’s cheaper to own.

  • Cheaper to buy
  • Cheaper tax
  • Cheaper petrol (gasoline)
  • Cheaper insurance
  • Actually these square box shape gives you a lot of room inside, surprisingly

Then, again, it must be same everywhere in the world but, a simple truth in life,

“The further away from cities, the more reliant on cars in everyday life”

In rural areas, one household needs to own multiple cars for everyone in the family to live a daily life, that’s why a lot of people to choose Kei Vehicles to keep the running cost down.

On the other hand, I’m born and bled in Tokyo, never needed a car, never owned nor drove until I moved to New Zealand.

Cities in Japan has such a fantastic public transport system so I never needed it. If I had to go away, I could always find someone who has a car.

So now, you have one mystery solved that has been lingering in the corner of your mind.

If you have a chance, I reccomend to give it a go for driving one of these, as long as you can actually fit your body inside, if you are like 190cm tall!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Kono Kuruma Wo UNten Shite Mitai この車を運転してみたい = I wan to try to drive this car

Keep listening to this until you’ve nailed it!

Please don’t do this while in Japan

Nor even at Japanese restaurants near you…

A story of Japanese Curry


They look gross, frankly, but once you’ve tried it, you wouldn’t mind because you’ve been hooked.

Hooke by its spiciness, flavour, smell.

Oh and with its toppings/additions you can have with it.

It seems either “Deep Fried Pork”=トンカツ or “Deep Fried Chicken”=チキンカツ to be very popular as your choice, after having spent quite some time with mainly NZ friends in Japan over multiple trips to Japan.

What’s even more amazing is that each region, each household seem to have own recipe for curry. I even have a secret recipe for this dish.

And now into the main subject

I know where you come from, how you feel, but, no… That’s not right…

You may not understand what I’m talking about.

This is about “Eating Japanese Curry with chopsticks“.

Now you have a better idea with this photo.


To protect their privacy, I put dots over their faces.

But you see what I mean?

No, you need to use a spoon for this!

As I said at the beginning, I know where you come from, being in Japan you are so keen to show off your chopstick skill, like Mr Miyagi caught a fly with them.

But, save that skill for other occasions…

Use a spoon when you’ve ordered a curry.

I’m pretty sure it even either sit right in front of you on the table, or brought to you when you get the plate.

I’m watching you…


Today’s Phrase

Kareh Wo Hitotsu Onegai Shimasu カレーを一つお願いします = Can I have one curry, please

That’ll be cool if you can place an order in a restaurant! Keep trying!

A nightmare of renting a car in Japan

This could be the hardest challenge you face while travelling in Japan


Or even before setting your foot on the soil, over the internet while organising your trip. You may even forget about hiring a car when you can travel around the whole country by trains and buses.

Why is it so hard? I just want to hire a car. But it’s not that easy.

I hope in a way this is happening only to me.

At the same time, to be fair, I’ve rented a car only in small-mid sized towns and never in cities or at airports. The situation can be quite different and easier if you are picking up your car at those places.

The reasons that make it so hard are

  • You can’t choose a vehicle like you normally do shopping online, choosing an item with a photo and click and so on
  • You have to contact companies by sending emails and wait
  • Often those reply emails are not helpful if your request/order is not suited to their situation and, in this particular case, I have to go through all the process all over again through their website and by emailing and waiting
  • You can’t find too many options for 4WD vehicles although you want to drive in snowy regions during winter
  • You can’t make credit card payments
  • Sometimes you don’t even know exactly what kind of a car you are hiring until you actually get to the rent-a-car place


I can only imagine your nightmare to go through without being able to read or speak Japanese.


This time there isn’t a single thing I can do for you to help out or ease your situation. The enemy is so huge, I’m just a tiny dot on a map.

Actually, at least I’ve raised your awareness of this renting a car situation in Japan, so that’s something, a bit of contribution to the travellers’ world, I want to believe.

I just have a tinge of doubt in my mind, that there is something I don’t know but you know, about renting a car in Japan. It could be in fact very easy and I’m just missing something.

If so, please tell me what I can do to make my life easier!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Kuruma Wo Mikka Kan Karitai Desu 車を3日間借りたいです = I want to rent a car for 3 days

Listen multiple times and you’ll get this!


Foreign Currency Exchange in Yudanaka

The Only Place in Yudanaka to exchange to Yen


Japan is such a “Cash Society”

Like many other Asian countries where you need to carry a wad of cash in your wallet or pocket.

Credit Card payments are not as readily available as other Western countries.

Like New Zealand, that I live, all the payments can be made by simply tapping my credit cards on EFYPOS (or DEBIT in most countries?) terminal.

I seriously do not carry cash with me these days in daily life in NZ. So this cash-carrying culture is something I’m not used to (anymore) either.

Anything can happen

Still, you can always do some research in advance and get prepared for it.

However, some unforeseen circumstances can put you in a difficult situation where you need lots of cash, like your hotel actually don’t take credit card payment and you were not aware of it until the last minute!

Solution For You

So I introduced this place when I talked about the coin lockers at Yudanaka Station. It’s in the same place, right across the station.


Here’s the aerial map to show you where.


Their money-exchange machine takes 9 different currencies as below.

  • Euro
  • Chinese Yuan
  • US Dollar
  • Hong Kong Dollar
  • Taiwanese Dollar]
  • Korean Won
  • Thai Baht
  • Singaporean Dollar
  • Australian Dollar


Basically, you just follow the instruction on the screen.

  • Choose the currency you have
  • Confirm the exchange rate that gets calculated daily by the machine
  • feed the notes (No coins obviously)


Their shop is open from 8am till 5:30pm.

So, hopefully, now you know at least a place to rush to when you get caught short in Yudanaka!

Remember, preparations is the best prevention!

See you next time

Today’s Phrase

Ryougae Ga Dekimasuka? 両替ができますか? = Can I exchange money?

This is an useful phrase to know!

Shiga Kogen Beer 志賀高原ビール

A local craft beer brewery in Yamanouchi Area



So Shiga Kogen has once won a prestigious status amongst all the domestic ski resorts because,

  1. It hosted some of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics races
  2. Being one of the largest area for skiing with 19 resorts combined
  3. The location was used for filming a hugely popular movie in the 80s, when skiing was so popular

With that prestigious name as the brand, Shiga Kogen Beer has been around for quite many years.

Tamamura Honten 玉村本店 is the brewer of that legendary beer, based in this region, Kutsuno right across Shibu Onsen.


Duration: 2 hours round trip on foot from Yudanaka Station, including the time to enjoy a pint of beer

Tamamura Honten

Tamaura Honten is originally a Sake maker, founded in 1805, and have been producing Sake for more than 200 years at the same location!

Then in 2005, they have started brewing beer and selling those, which became “Shiga Kogen Beer”.

Also, apparently this region once produced hops to make beer until 1950s.

So using local pure water, locally grown hops with the knowledge and Sake making kind of started this beer.

Tamamura Honten Website (Unfortunately available only in Japanese)


The Location 

It’s only 10 min walk from Shibu Onsen, up on the hill of Kutsuno, you can get to their main store.

First you will come across this brewery after walking a gentle uphill.


You keep turn left on the street and go further 30m or so then you’ll find their main office/store/gallery on your right.

Once inside, you’ll find retail section, a bar counter, and the gallery upstairs.


They have Sake and Beer tasting. When I went there a pint of beer on tap was ¥648.

I tried their IPA, Indian Pale Ale, on tap and that was beautiful.

Where else do you find their beer?

As far as I have seen, there are numerous local restaurants and liquor stores around Yudanaka who stock this brand. It shouldn’t be too hard for you to find.

usually the bottle is for ¥600, which is reasonable for a craft beer I think.

They do have an online store too. However, they seem to have the Japanese site only and it will be a good challenge to navigate through for purchase if you don’t read the language.

Give me a private mail if you need help. See what I can do.

If you like fresh beer and the smell of brewery, 2 hours well spent!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Biru Wa Oisii Desu ビールは美味しいです = Beer tastes good!

Who can argue with that! A Killer phrase to learn!



English Signs in Japan

A Good Source of Entertainment

I came across this one actually in Incheon, South Korea. So cool, aye!?

I, for one, am guilty of sometimes struggling to not say things properly in English.

For those non-native speakers, I know you know how it feels like.

While travelling in Japan, you will come across signs that will intrigue you and keep you guessing as to what they actually mean.

At the same time it shouldn’t be too unusual when travelling in non-English-speaking countries nowadays…

Anyway, like this one.

English Sign in Japan 1.jpg

Pasting it on? Is it something gooey, slimy thing that you kind of spread it out on your skin with a spatula or a table knife that generates some sort of heat? But, wait, it’s a plaster. so it must be sticky. Hmm…

Then what about this one?


Uncommon Clothes….?

  1. I don’t see any clothing items, rather looking like sleeping bags…
  2. What is an “Uncommon Cloth”, how do they look like
  3. What’s the appeal to “Uncommon Clothes”…?

It’s pretty deep, isn’t it?

Then this.

I just like it. “Dan, Dan&Dan!!!!”

It says this is an patent office.

So if I ever coma across any kind of new ideas or an invention that I want registered in Japan, I know where I’m going to.


Then the last out of my collection, for now, is…

“Walkin’ Store”!


Whatever that means, or whatever that was originally thought to have meant….

I know this sort of entertainment is not for everyone but if you are one of those who gets amused by anything small and subtle, this country is amazing.

See you next time!

Today’s Phrase

Eigo Ga Hanase Masuka? 英語がはなせますか?= Do you speak English?

It’s pretty useful if you can say this word when you need some assistance.

Behind the mask

The Mystery of Masked People in Japan

There once was a Japanese band called YMO, one of their hit songs in Early 80’s is called, “Behind The Mask”, which later was covered by the likes of Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton.

This post is NOT actually about the song though…

How many people can you spot in this photo wearing masks? Taken in Shinjuku, Tokyo

If you have visited Japan you may already have wondered:

“Why are there so many people wearing masks on?”

You may have also thought to yourself

“There are so many sick people in this country!”

Well… You are not too right but not too wrong either.

Basically there are 2 reasons in Japan why they wear masks in public.

  1. When they are getting sick that they don’t want to spread the germ
  2. When there are so many other people being sick that you don’t want that to be passed on

In my impression I think the first reason is way stronger a reason why they do it.

You will be frowned upon if you cough or sneeze without covering you nose and mouth in public place in winter when the illness has got stronger hold of people with dry air and cold temps.

Particularly a place like at your workplace or in your class at school, you are expected to wear them when you’ve started having a cold with coughs.

For the second reason, especially in cities where the crowd is so dense, you’ll never know what you’ll get from it.

So as a prevention to get something passed on, there are people wearing this masks.

In the end, I think it comes down to,

  • A fact that this country is densely populated
  • Plus, a fact that there is a strong social code as to how to behave in public

I hope now you have a better understanding to what you see when you visit Japan.

Today’s Phrase

Kaze Wo Hiki Mashita 風邪をひきました = I’ve got a cold

It’s not ideal but it will be useful to learn just in case…