My Trip to Tokyo and Karuizawa!

Tokyo is always changing and evolving so I love discovering what’s new in my favourite city every time I pay a visit. This progressive and magnificent metropolis never disappoints me. I was so happy to be in Tokyo and I really wanted to capture my time there so I asked Nathalie at Nathalie April Photography Japan if she’d take some photographs of me in Shibuya. You can see what a talented photographer she is when you look at this picture of me below. I don’t think I’ve ever looked so relaxed in a photo!

Nathalie April 1.docx

I had an absolutely fantastic time in Tokyo but I also had the chance to visit the beautiful resort town of Karuizawa for the first time.

You can now travel to Karuizawa and back to Tokyo on the shinkansen bullet train for just ¥10,000 on a 3-day JR TOKYO Wide Pass. This is a town well-worth including in your itinerary if you’re planning to visit Japan. The climate in Karuizawa is cooler than Tokyo and the pace is much more relaxed so it’s the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a few days before you travel to another part of Japan or back to your home country.

I bought this charming photo below of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan playing a spot of tennis in Karuizawa from Tsuchiya Shashinten, a specialty photography shop on Ginza Street in Kyu-Karuizawa where you can purchase all sorts of professional photos of the Imperial Family and the surrounding area for just a few hundred yen.

There are all sorts of quirky and interesting shops in Kyu-Karuizawa selling gorgeous souvenirs and trinkets but you can also shop to your heart’s content at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, a designer outlet, just behind Karuizawa Station where you can pick up some real bargains. In fact, I bought a lovely cream-coloured leather Coach business card holder here for just ¥5,800, reduced from ¥17,000!



Karuizawa is really picturesque and captivating at any time of the year, making it the perfect holiday choice in the warmer months and a great destination if you love to ski in winter and bathe in hot springs or if you just want to enjoy the autumn leaves. Karuizawa is considered to be an upmarket town. In fact, the Imperial Family spend part of their summer in Karuizawa nearly every year and many affluent Japanese people have holiday homes here.

There are also lots of restaurants serving high quality Western and Japanese food in Karuizawa. We dined at Benson Hamburger and Pasta just off Ginza Street in Kyu-Karuizawa. I had the salmon pasta and Roy had the hamburger with chips. The service was excellent, the food was wonderful and the atmosphere was relaxed and just so inviting.

benson_pasta

benson_restaurant_3

Another interesting fact you may not know is John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to spend every every summer here so if you’re a Beatles fan you’ll love visiting their favourite French Bakery in Kyu-Karuizawa or you could even enjoy a delicious lunch at the Mampei Hotel where they used to stay.

I’ll be sharing lots of photos and memories of my latest trip to Tokyo and Karuizawa over the next few months so please come back and visit my Cherry Blossom Stories Blog and feel free to leave a comment.

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner in Shibuya for Less Than ¥1,500!

Tokyo is an expensive place to visit and some restaurants can cost you an arm and a leg but there are also lots of cheap eateries located all over the metropolis and Shibuya is no exception. Nearly everyone who visits Tokyo will head to Shibuya – a town smack-bang in the middle of Tokyo where young, hip and cool people meet to dine out or hit the shops.

The mouth-watering and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes I’ve suggested below were chosen because so many people who adore Japan or live in Japan are raving about them on social media and you’ll love the fact you won’t have to pay more than ¥1,500 (about £10, $US13, $AUS17) for these meals. The places where you can eat these dishes are also very close to Shibuya Station. You can use a navigator app or ask a stranger for directions. You’ll be surprised how many people speak some English and how willing they are to help you get to where you want to go.

BREAKFAST: SOUFFLÉ PANCAKES at HOSHINO COFFEE inside 109 MEN’S MALL

Overlooking the scramble crossing in Shibuya, Hoshino Coffee serves pancakes that get a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor and if you look at the images below it’s easy to see why. The pancakes are very thick yet incredibly light and fluffy and the general consensus is they’re just “really awesome”. They’re served plain with maple syrup, with apple and caramel, banana and chocolate sauce, or even green tea ice-cream. You’ll also be pleased to know a serving of the double plain pancakes with maple syrup is just ¥700, leaving you enough money to order a cup of their popular “hand-drip” coffee!

A Japanese breakfast typically consists of steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish and side dishes and this should be on the breakfast menu if you’re staying at a good four or five-star hotel or a ryokan. If you don’t have this option you should definitely head to Shibuya and try the pancakes. They’re not as healthy but so much more agreeable to the Western palate.

Hoshino plain pacakes with cofee

 

banana and chocolate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUNCH: ICHIRAN RAMEN 

Some say Ichiran Ramen is the best ramen in the world so you have to try their famous noodles when you’re in Japan.

This is the description of Japanese ramen on Wikipedia: “Chinese-style noodles served in a meat or occasionally fish-based broth, often flavoured with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, menma, and green onions.”

Ichiran Ramen only serve pork/tonkotsu ramen but you can choose how spicy, rich and flavoursome you’d like the broth, how many pork slices you want, and how much garlic, spicy sauce and scallion you want added. If you’re eating by yourself you won’t feel self-conscious because Ichiran Ramen has a policy that reduces nearly all of the interactions between the staff and the customer. You buy your meal ticket from a vending machine and everyone sits in a private booth so you can concentrate on your meal without interruptions and distractions and thoroughly enjoy every mouthful.

ichiran

 

 

Ichiran ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DINNER OPTION (1): YOSHINOYA BEEF AND RICE BOWL (GYŪDON)

Rachel W. on TripAdvisor says “Yoshinoya in Japan blew our minds”! She also left a comment saying the ramen tastes much better and the menu is more varied than Yoshinoya in the US, so you can’t walk past this firm favourite. These Yoshinoya beef and rice gyūdon dishes are very popular with working-class Japanese. Therefore, some of your Japanese friends may not recommend it because it’s such a common food chain but I can assure you every Japanese person at one time or another has craved a beef bowl at Yoshinoya when they’re tired, hungry, strapped for cash and looking for the ideal comfort food. Even their regular gyūdon dish is completely satisfying and it’s only ¥380!

Yoshinoya

 

gyudon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DINNER OPTION (2): GENKI SUSHI (CONVEYOR BELT SUSHI)

This fun and enjoyable conveyor belt sushi restaurant is really popular with the tourists. You order on a touch screen and the monorail track shoots out your sushi dish within a couple of minutes. Although, the quality of the food is good and you’ll pay less than you would in your home country for conveyor belt sushi (plates start from just ¥100), this shouldn’t be the only restaurant you try when you’re in Japan because you’re not getting a purely Japanese experience. But if you live in Japan and you’re trying to save money or if you have kids and can’t take them to fancy restaurants, or if you’re just craving sushi and the 5-star sushi bars are right out of your price range then this is a cheap option.

genki sushi

 

genki screen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DESSERT OR SWEET TREAT: CREMIA SOFTCREAM at SILKREAM

Japanese people don’t say “soft serve”, they use the word “softcream”, and the softcream at Silkream is said to be the crème de la crème! The makers wanted to impress people all over the world when they created this delicious softcream and based on all the reactions on social media they’ve certainly achieved that. Everyone who has tried their premium softcream in Shibuya has been raving about the taste and they’ve been urging everyone to try a cone if they’re in Tokyo.

Most soft serve ice-cream has 8% milk fat content but this softcream has 12.5%. It’s made with Hokkaido milk and 25% is heavily whipped cream giving it a silky and creamy texture as well as a milky taste. Their cones are also incredibly good because they’re made from the same recipe as the buttery langues de chat cookies.

A single cone costs ¥515 but there are also dessert options such as their Chocolate Fondant, Mango and Passionfruit Parfait and Mascarpone Cheese and Espresso Crêpe. These decadent alternatives cost a little bit more but they’re also well-worth trying if you have a really sweet tooth.

cremiafondan cremia

 

 

 

 

silkream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos are courtesy of Yelp.

21 Thought-Provoking Quotes by 15 Famous Japanese Novelists

Have you ever seen someone reading a book on public transport when suddenly they’ll look up and stare into space for five minutes before returning their gaze to the pages or eBook in front of them, seemingly engrossed in the story? Maybe they’re reading a fascinating and thought-provoking novel by a famous Japanese author like Haruki Murakami and one beautifully written line or paragraph may have reminded the reader of something really special in their past. Or, the meaningful words they’ve just read could have sparked a new realisation or understanding of the world in which they live and they need a few minutes to absorb the implications of an expression.

Books by Japanese novelists and the quotes taken from these books tend to be poignant, profound and give you pause for thought. If you’re looking for the meaning of life then this is where you should start but I’m warning you — it may be a bumpy ride to enlightenment. A lot of stories by Japanese authors were written for more mature minds. Their themes deal with the impermanence of life, highly emotional or tense relationships, death, fatalistic emotions, misery and stark contrasts in everyday life. Some of the quotes below are very beautiful and refined while others may seem a bit extreme, such as Natsume Sōseki’s rather ominous description of a businessman.

I hope you enjoy reading these quotes and who knows? You might decide to buy a book written by one of these famous Japanese novelists. Next time you’re reading this book on a train, bus or plane maybe you’ll be the person who looks up from their book and stares pensively out the window as you think about what you’ve just read, the depth of the words on the paper or screen in front of you and how the story has inspired you to think outside the box.

 

Haruki Murakami (1949 – present)

hakuri-murakami

1. “As time goes on, you’ll understand. What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.” (Dance Dance Dance (The Rat, #4))

2. “That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.” (1Q84)

3. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1886 – 1965)

TANIZAKIpic2-c19604. “With lacquerware, there is an extra beauty in that moment between removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth, when one gazes at the still, silent liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its colour hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm senses the gentle movements of the liquid, vapour rises from within, forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the vapour brings a delicate anticipation … a moment of mystery, it might almost be called, a moment of trance.” (In Praise of Shadows)

5. “The ancients waited for cherry blossoms, grieved when they were gone, and lamented their passing in countless poems. How very ordinary the poems had seemed to Sachiko when she read them as a girl, but now she knew, as well as one could know, that grieving over fallen cherry blossoms was more than a fad or convention.” (The Makioka Sisters)

Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970)

Yukio Mishima

6. “Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of dayflies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music.” (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion)

7. “The past does not only draw us back to the past. There are certain memories of the past that have strong steel springs and, when we who live in the present touch them, they are suddenly stretched taut and then they propel us into the future.” (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion)

Kazuo Ishiguro (1954 – present)

kazuo-ishiguro-010

8. “Many of our deepest motives come, not from an adult logic of how things work in the world, but out of something that is frozen in childhood.”

 

 

Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972)

Yasunari Kawabata

9. “Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”

 

 

 

Natsume Sōseki (1867 – 1916)

Natsume Soseki

10. “Admittedly, there’s a certain coarseness about [businessmen]; for there’s no point in even trying to be [one] unless your love for money is so absolute that you’re ready to accompany it on the walk to a double suicide. For money, believe you me, is a hard mistress, and none of her lovers are let off lightly. As a matter of fact, I’ve just been visiting a businessman and, according to him, the only way to succeed is to practice the “triangled” technique: try to escape your obligations, annihilate your kindly feelings, and geld yourself of the sense of shame.”

Banana Yoshimoto (1964 – present)

banana_yoshimoto1

11. “Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities?” (Kitchen)

 

 

 

Natsuo Kirino (1951 – present)

Natsuo Kirino

12. “It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of the place itself, but I was afraid of the creatures who masqueraded as people.” (Real World)

13. “Friends are a weird thing. It seems like they know all about you, but then they don’t understand you at all.”
(Real World)

 

Hiromi Kawakami (1958 – present)

Hiromi Kawakami

14. “Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” (The Briefcase)

 

 

 

Fumiko Enchi (1905 – 1986)

Funiko Enchi

15. “Actions do not betray, but language is filled with the danger of betrayal at any instant. This quality is what makes language both infinitely beautiful and infinitely frightening.”

 

 

Kanae Minato (1973 – present)

Kanae Minato

16. “The world you live in is much bigger than that. If the place in which you find yourself is too painful, I say you should be free to seek another, less painful place of refuge. There is no shame in seeking a safe place. I want you to believe that somewhere in this wide world there is a place for you, a safe haven.” (Confessions)

17. “Whenever you’re worried or sad about something, I want you to know you can talk to me. But when you can’t or don’t want to, you should try writing in here. Just imagine you’re talking to the person you trust most in the whole world. It’s amazing how much the human brain is able to remember, how much you hold onto in life, but when you write something down, you can forget about it—you no longer have to hold it inside. Remember the good things; write the bad ones down in here and forget about them.” (Confessions)

Osamu Dazai (1909 – 1948)

Osamu Dazai

18. “I am convinced that human life is filled with many pure, happy, serene examples of insincerity, truly splendid of their kind-of people deceiving one another without (strangely enough) any wounds being inflicted, of people who seem unaware even that they are deceiving one another.” (No Longer Human)

 

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892 – 1927)

ryunosuke_akutagawa

19. “A man sometimes devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled. Those who laugh at this folly are, after all, no more than mere spectators of life.” (Rashomon and Other Stories)

 

 

Ryū Murakami (1952 – present)

Ryu Murakami20. “When you’re in an extreme situation you tend to avoid facing it by getting caught up in little details. Like a guy who’s decided to commit suicide and boards a train only to become obsessed with whether he remembered to lock the door when he left home.” (In the Miso Soup)

 

Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 or 978 – c. 1014 or 1031)

Murasaki

21. “Yes, the cherry trees put this truth very plainly: none of the glory of blossoms and autumn leaves lasts long in this fleeting world.” (The Tale of Genji)

 

 

You can find all of the above quotes on Goodreads, except for the quote by Kazuo Ishiguro from BrainyQuote and the quote by Lady Murasaki which I plucked straight out of ‘The Tale of Genji’.

10 Tips to Help You Blitz The Teacher Interview in Japan

I currently live in the UK but I taught English in Japan and Australia for over 12 years so I’m well aware of just how stressful the teacher interview in Japan can be, especially if you know very little about Japan and the Japanese culture. These 10 tips will help to prepare you for success and turn you into the ideal candidate.

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

1. Smile and don’t be shy

Your prospective employer will be looking for someone who is outgoing and friendly. You need to show the interviewer you have the right personality to teach students and impart knowledge in a group and/or private lesson situation.

Even though some of your future Japanese students will be very timid and sometimes unwilling to get involved during the lessons (despite the fact they’ve paid a lot of money to participate) you need to prove you can stand up confidently in front of a group of strangers, gain their trust, and teach an enjoyable and interesting lesson that leaves a pleasing and lasting impression.

Remember, a winning smile and a positive attitude about teaching and living in Japan will win over your prospective employer even if you’ve had no experience teaching in the past. Think about the teachers you liked at school and what qualities they had and how you can adopt those qualities for your job as a teacher.

2. Don’t be negative about past employers and don’t joke or use sarcasm

Westerners can make a big mistake in interviews or when they’re doing business with the Japanese if they use sarcasm or a joke to break the ice. If you’re asked why you want to teach in Japan DO NOT say something along the lines of Because of the money! Hahaha! or I want to live in Japan because I love Japanese food and I can see you do too! Hahaha! or I left my last job because my boss was an idiot!

If you’re not sure whether you should say something and if you’re afraid it might be misinterpreted or cause offense then don’t say it.

3. Show you know something about Japan and the Japanese culture

If you don’t know anything about the Land of the Rising Sun you should start reading about Japan, the Japanese culture and the area where you’re planning to teach as soon as possible.

There’s a lot of information about life in Japan on the internet so read as many articles as you can to prove you’re savvy and switched on. You could also buy a guide book to Japan if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to learn the basics about the culture, the customs, the country and even simple Japanese phrases.

4. Explain why you’re interested in Japan

Japanese employers will want to know as much about you as possible so it’s okay to talk about why you decided to work in Japan in the first place. If you’ve had a homestay experience in Japan you could say something nice about your homestay family. If you have Japanese friends you could talk about what you’ve learnt about Japan from them. It’s also okay to say you like anime or manga but just mention it and don’t go into detail.

5. Show an interest in learning Japanese

You don’t need to learn the Japanese language to work in Japan but it will help you a lot if you do. If you really want to impress your prospective employer you could incorporate some Japanese language into the interview even if it’s basic, but remember to speak in polite Japanese.

A simple introduction hajimemashite, Renae to moushimasu, douzo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu (hello, my name is Renae, nice to meet you) is a great way to start the interview. If this is too much for you to remember then a simple doumo arigatou gozaimashita (thank you very much) at the end of the interview should suffice.

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

6. Dress appropriately

We all know it’s important to look professional for interviews but some people with a creative streak think it’s fine to express their individuality in a subtle way. This might be okay for jobs in your home country but there’s really no room for individuality at interviews in Japan. Dress in a black or navy conservative suit and make sure it’s clean and not shabby-looking. Don’t wear dangly earrings, just simple gold or silver studs, and obviously remove any facial or tongue piercings.

Pay attention to the small details like a ladder in your pantyhose because it will be noticed and frowned upon. Always wear polished black shoes but nothing too trendy or unusual. Never wear stilettos. Don’t wear revealing clothing and don’t show up with blue or pink hair. Natural hair and makeup is best.

7. Be punctual

Punctuality and timing are incredibly important and arriving late for the interview, even by five minutes, could mean you won’t get the job. Arrive ten minutes early. No sooner and no later. If the interview is in Japan make sure you find the location for the interview beforehand so you don’t get lost and arrive late on the day. There are no excuses for lateness in Japan. Punctuality is so important in Japan train companies will give you a delay certificate at the station for you to show your boss if the train is running later than five minutes so you have a legitimate excuse for not arriving at work on time!

8. If a Westerner interviews you don’t assume he or she is different from a Japanese interviewer

If you show up for your interview and the interviewer is a Westerner and not a Japanese person can you forget everything on this list, laugh your way through the interview and impress them with sassy banter? No way!

The Westerner interviewing you has probably spent a considerable amount of time in Japan and working for this company. They’ve been chosen to conduct the interview because they’re a good role model and they know exactly who the company wants to employ.

If you’re now slightly confused and unsure about what they expect it’s quite simple – they’re looking for someone hard-working, happy, articulate, kind, well-groomed, enthusiastic, a team player, flexible, smart, punctual and manageable – be that person.

9. Be prepared to teach

You may have to give an English lesson during the interview so keep this in mind and prepare yourself mentally for this. They won’t expect you to teach anything too difficult and it will be a short lesson so keep calm and don’t panic. Don’t ramble on too much and make sure you express your enthusiasm in a professional manner.

10. Prove you’re prepared to move to Japan and commit to this job

If you’re attending an interview to teach in Japan the company obviously expects you to show some kind of serious commitment. You’ll need about ¥5,000,00 in savings in your bank account, you should have an up-to-date passport, you’ll have made enquiries about your visa, you’ll have spoken to your family and friends about your move, you won’t be in the middle of a residential lease agreement or a car lease, and you’ll be in the process of tying up all the loose ends in your home country.

If you have this all organized you’ll be mentally prepared to nail the interview and make a commitment to your employer in Japan. Don’t stress out too much about the interview. If you follow the above tips you’ll definitely leave a great impression and you’ll seem like the perfect candidate for the job.