New Video, View From My Window

Watching the seasons changing

I was fortunate enough to see the seasons change, from late Autumn to winter here in Nagano.

I captured a bit of “A different day, A different weather” from my window during my stay at Ryuoo Ski Park so let me share those moments with you here.

Hope you’ll enjoy this video!

Bargaining in Japan

You’ll never get it unless you ask, right?

Everyone loves bargain or discounts. So do I.

store-shelves-in-japan

In Japan, however, asking for discounts or bargain hardly works, unlike in some other countries.

You will see all the products with prices written/tagged/on stickers and that’s pretty much what you get.

You have a very slim chance to get discounts by asking over the counter.

Why?

I don’t really know. It’s just what it is.

From the perspective on the other end, as a business owner, you wouldn’t just give random discounts only because you were asked for it, right? otherwise you’ll keep losing your profit.

In saying that, there is a part of Japan that is common, generally speaking or stereo-typically (I don’t even know if that’s a word but you know what I mean).

That’s Osaka 大阪

Osaka

It’s widely known in Japan that people in Osaka do bargain or ask for discounts whenever they can.

It’s considered a part of their culture. However, I’m from Tokyo and I’ve never lived in Osaka so I have not seen this side of their culture first hand.

But, at the same time, if you ask any Japanese this question if what I’m saying is true or not, I’m certain you’ll get principally the same answer as mine.

So, if you ever happen to visit that part of Japan, I would recommend to try to ask for some discounts, as a part of the game to enhance your experience while in Japan.

Regional Cultural Differences in Japan

Japan is not a big country.

But at the same time there are so much differences amongst it.

  • Cultural
  • Generational
  • Language-wise

For example, I’m from Tokyo and have been in Nagano for a while now.

I live at a staff accomodation where maybe 50 people at least live.

As a part of Japanese life, we have a public bath.

One time in it while having a bath, there were 2 people from Aomori 青森, which is at the top of the main island, one guy in his 60-70s, the other in his 20s.

At the beginning of their conversation, I could understand that the younger one asked the older one about what happened to his car.

I believe something went wrong with the older guy’s car.

But after that, I had no idea of what was said.

I couldn’t even tell if the car was ok or scrapped, God only knows.

I am not kidding but I quite often struggle even in Nagano, which is not far away from Tokyo, when I speak to mainly local male in his 60s or 70s.

I simply can not understand what they are saying.

So, when you visit Japan, it will make your stay more exciting and memorable if you do some homework on the regional differences within Japan.

It’ll sure give you the deeper insight as well as enhancing your experience.

Good luck and see you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Sukosi Makete Kuremasenka? 少しまけてくれませんか? = Can I have a bit of discount? (In a sort of Osaka way of speaking)

 

 

 

 

When to visit Japan in winter?

El Nino or La Nina, or which month?

img_4987

El Nino or La Nina?

Global Warming. The affect of human activities on the ocean currents and the atmosphere. It’s controversial. I know some agree with these theories and some others don’t.

But in this post, I go along with the idea that this is true, solely based on my time in ski industry observing the weather over many years.

Anyway, so this is widely believed that when La Nina hits this part of the world, it’s meant to be a good winter in Japan.

This website, Western Pacific Weather, has a really easy-to-understand explanation with a video how La Nina affects Japanese climate.

This website, Ski Asia, has an interesting chart of snowfall record each year up to 2016 winter, in association with either El Nino or La Nina year.

It shows that each La Nina year, Japan had a huge amount of snowfall.

So generally speaking, I’d say (if you have a choice) La Nina year has a better chance of having a lot of good snow.

Which month?

I need to make clear that I’m talking about winter months here for the purpose of skiing or snowboarding.

This is another question frequently asked by so many people who are after a good snow in Japan.

These graphs were borrowed from: https://en.climate-data.org/location/5320/

temperature-graph

climate-graph.png

So as you can see from the graphs above, generally January and February are the coldest months in Nagano.

Once March comes, again generally speaking, the coldest chill in the air gets replaced by blue skies and a slightly warmer temps during the day.

At the same time, if you’ve chosen to come over here during those months, a couple of other things to be aware of.

  1. Normally, from the 1st of Jan through to the 9th or so, this is the time japanese have holiday and gets busy with them.
  2. After the period, you start seeing the flock of Japanese school groups in lessons, mainly on beginner slopes because this is the time for Japanese schools to have school trips.
  3. 26 of Jan is Australia Day and you normally see lots of Aussies, particularly around Hakuba on holiday.
  4. Chinese New Year. It changes every year but you definitely will see heaps more of them than other time during this period. They normally have a different pattern of behaviour that it gets busy around more of a snow activity side of the things like, tubing, tobogganing so you want to check with this fact especially if you have little kids who are into these things.

Hopefully this helps your planning of your next trip to Japan in winter.

Make sure to include visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkeys if you ever come Yudanaka way!

See you next time.

JAPOW! Part4

This is a video of just another morning of commute by a car, through the walls of snow on sides.

I’m in a van so my viewpoint is slightly higher than a normal car.

These walls of snow are just getting higher and higher…

Trust me, there used to be a bamboo bush all around!

Hope you’ll enjoy!

ATMs in Yudanaka

Another important piece of information that may save your life

So I showed you where to go to for exchanging your money if you ever get caught short of Yen when you really need them while in Yudanaka.

Please read this in Foreign Currency Exchange in Yudanaka

But what if you don’t have a cash but need to withdraw some off an ATM?

There is 1 commercial bank in Yudanaka

As far as I’m aware, there are 2 options for you.

ATMs in Yudanaka

1, Lawson


There is a convenience store called “Lawson” ローソン, a few minutes walk from Yudanaka Station.

Inside this store, on your left once you walk in, there is an ATM.

Normally most of those convenience stores are open 24/7, year-round.

2, Post Office


In Japan, Post Offices (which is run by the government) also does banking service therefore they have ATMs.

Their symbol is shown in the first photo above. It’s in red, “T” with another bar above, quite a common sight in Japan. You see this symbol everywhere on streets, maps and so on.

It’s 5 min walk from the station.

And you’ll see it right there through the first glass door.

They are open between,

Weekdays: 9am – 5pm.

Closed on Saturdays and Sundays

3, Hachijuni Bank 八十二銀行

Please be aware that it’ll take longer than what this google maps says because you can’t actually walk across the station but you have to walk around it!

Their Opening Hours are,

Weekdays: 8:45am – 9pm

Saturdays and Sundays: 9am – 7pm

Things to be aware

It is quite common for Convenience Stores, Japanese banks and Post Office to charge you commissions (normally around ¥100) for transactions.

That charge could be even higher if the transaction gets made after normal business hours or over the weekend.

So as I mentioned in “Exchanging Money In Yudanaka” post,

Preparation is the best protection

So as long as the money goes in Japan, always carry them, lots of them with you just in case.

Credit Card payments are not as readily available as you would think.

Hope this will save some of your lives!

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Genkin Wo Michi Aruku 現金を持ち歩く = Carry cash with (you)

I can’t stress enough to do this! Keep trying and practising!

Different Colours on Number Plates

What are all these vehicles with yellow number plates?

cars-in-japan-yellow-numberplate-1

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

cras-in-japan-white-numberplate1
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
cars-in-japan-yellow-numberplates-2
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!

Yudanaka before and after snow

Right now the very strong cold front has been over the majority of the main island as well as Hokkaido, the northern island for the last few days that has been bringing lots and lots of snow. (This post was written in Mid-January, 2017)

I have been lucky enough to have spent some time in this area since Mid-November, 2016. That time has allowed me to see the seasons change from Autumn to Winter in this beautiful part of Japan.

Here I just want to share with you some of my photo collection to show you how different it looks with and without snow.

These changes have occurred between November and January.

1, This is a rental shop up on Ryuoo Ski Park

ryuoo-nov-16ryuoo-jan-17

2, Just outside Yudanaka Station when you look to your right

yudanaka-nov-16yudanaka-jan-17

3, Yudanaka Station from the front

yudanaka-station-nov-16yudanaka-station-jan-17

4, A street with no name just outside Yudanaka Station

yudanaka-street-nov-16yudanaka-street-jan-17

5, A restaurant outside Yudanaka Station

img_4536img_5158

I’m not saying that you can always see the snow and scenery like this with snow but one thing for sure.

In this part of Japan, when it snows, it really snows.

I’m pretty sure Snow Monkeys must be staying hot water for your viewing pleasure to stay warm on a day like this.

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Nagano Dewa Yukiga Takusan Hurimasu 長野では雪がたくさん降ります = It snows a lot in Nagano

Listen and keep practising so you can have a chat with locals!

Shiga Kogen Beer 志賀高原ビール

A local craft beer brewery in Yamanouchi Area

shiga-kogen-beer-on-tap

shiga-kogen-beer-3

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.

shiga-kogen-beer-logo-1

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)

tamamura-honten-1tamamura-honten-2

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.

shiga-kogen-beer-brewery-1shiga-kogen-beer-brewery-2shiga-kogen-beer-brewery-3

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.

tamamura-honten-bar-counter

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!

 

 

Obuse town 小布施

A little excursion away from Yudanaka

obuse-do

In my opinion, you need half day (2-4 hours) for this.

Where is it?

Obuse 小布施 is a very small town, 10km Southwest of Yudanaka.

How to get there?

It’s 20min train ride on an Express Train from Yudanaka.

Fare= ¥690 (¥590 Normal Fare + ¥100 Express Train Fee)

There is an express train, either Snow Monkey スノーモンキー or Yukemuri ゆけむり pretty much every hour from Yudanaka Station.

Here’s the Link to Nagaden Timetable

Things To Do

This is a very small town with many traditionally-built wooden houses confined in a small area.

Also famous as a region to produce chestnut, Kuri くり in Japanese. So you will see lots of sweet shops used locally produced chestnuts.

Also, I found 2 Sake Breweries in this town if you are into it.

Masuichi Ichimura 桝一市村酒造場

Inside they have a small bar counter where you can try their sake.

masuichi-ichimura-1masuichi-ichimura-2masuichi-ichimura-3

Matsubaya Honten 松葉屋本店 (Their website is only in Japanese)

This place was purely for retail and didn’t see any tasting area nor service.

matsubaya-honten-1matsubaya-honten-2

There was also a wine shop called “St Cousair” where I could try bit of wine tasting for ¥400/glass. I tried a white wine called, “Niagara Blanc” which is very sweet and muscat like. In here they also sell lots of Tomato based products, spices, cheese pasta and jams.

I think the owner has been heavily influenced by France/Italy and you can easily see that once you go inside.

St Cousair (Their website is in Japanese only)

obuse-st-cousair-1obuse-st-cousair-2

What I have been told is that in Nagano there has been a surge of new vineyards for the last 10-20 years.

In the past it was too cold to grow grapes in this part of Japan, but along with Global Warming and improvements on modifying grape seeds there has been multiple small vineyards springing up in this region.

You’ll never know, Nagano could be a major destination for wine tourism in near future.

So if you have a bit of time available in your hands, a little break from skiing or snowboarding, or on a rainy day, it could be an option to explore a bit more in this region.

See you next time.

Today’s Phrase

Osake Wa Oisi Desu お酒は美味しいです=Sake tastes good.

Yes that’s so true! Keep trying!