Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Buy a Drink or Get Out

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

While bars and nightclubs at home in Australia are required, by law, to follow strict guidelines regarding the responsible service of alcohol, it seems the same is not true of similar establishments in Japan.

On a recent visit to Roppongi (a popular, yet slightly dubious, nightlife district in Tokyo) I noticed that many clubs have an enticing “no cover charge” entry policy, but make it abundantly clear from large signs on the walls that if you aren’t drinking, you will be immediately ejected from the premises.

The deal is, if you’re spotted sans glass for more than a few seconds, one or more sizeable bouncers will approach and politely ask if they can get you another drink. If you say “yes”, they will cheerfully make their way to the bar for you, and a fresh drink – along with exact change – will be in your hand in under a minute. If, on the other hand, you choose to challenge their policy by saying “no”, you will be given one final chance to reconsider – this time with the typical Japanese politeness noticeably less evident – before being escorted into the street by the full complement of bouncers on staff. Of course, by “escorted”, I mean unceremoniously ejected with as much force as necessary.

I discovered this latter part after witnessing a friend – who had been attempting to subvert the system by carefully nursing the remnants of a lukewarm drink – challenge the rules, only to find out the hard way that the bouncers don’t take kindly to people attempting to negotiate what is clearly a non-negotiable policy.

In short, the lesson to be learned from all of this is simple: If you don’t plan on drinking in one of these places, you shouldn’t plan on staying long.

Sign stating "Everybody must be drinking to stay"

...and they mean it


Land of the Pineapple Kit Kats

November 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Stepping inside a Tokyo 7-Eleven is like being transported to some sort of bizzare parallel universe; everything there seems oddly familiar, yet somehow not quite right. There’s White Peach Fanta, Pineapple Kit Kats, seafood-flavoured bubble gum, and sports drinks with the highly unappealing name of Pocari Sweat…on my first day in Japan I wandered inside to buy some potato chips and spent twenty minutes just staring at all the weird products on offer.

Not surprisingly, I found their selection of chips to be just as surreal as the rest of the product range, with the regulation choices of plain, salt & vinegar and barbecue replaced by substantially less orthodox offerings like salmon, parsley-carrot and pea. As I had a preference for something that was at least vaguely edible (I felt the chances of any of these flavours fitting that criteria were fairly slim), I decided I would try to find a snack of the slightly less weird variety. Unfortunately “less weird” is not something Japan is known for – at least, not when it comes to convenience food, anyway – and the most normal item I could find that was even remotely chip-like was a packet of plain, dried seaweed snacks.

After much deliberation, I decided seaweed would still be a more digestible option than fish-flavoured chips, so this is what I purchased…and for the record it was actually quite good. If there are any Japanese potato chip manufacturers reading this, please be advised that people spurning your product in favour of something that looks like it washed up on a beach three months ago is a fairly clear sign you need to revisit your flavour choices.

Of course, having said that, I later tried the Pineapple Kit Kats and discovered that the local obsession with bizarre, experimental snack food flavours is not completely without merit, as these were actually very tasty. In fact, if you work at Nestle Japan and can hook me up with a free crate or two as reward for this endorsement, get in touch via the comments section below.

Really, I’m serious…those things are awesome.

Note: Since my visit I’ve learned that the Japanese snack food industry has managed to up the weirdness levels of its products even further by producing some positively absurd-sounding frankensnacks. These include Sweet Green Tea Kit Kats, Cucumber Pepsi (seriously, Google it if you don’t believe me) and, horror of horrors, curry-flavoured lemonade. By these standards, my experience now seems almost normal.

Japanese Vending Machines

Clearly, convenience products are a major industry in Japan

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Never Blow Your Nose in Public

January 27, 2010 1 comment


It seemed that every I time I stepped outside during my stay in Tokyo, people would attempt to hand me free tissues.

Why, I hear you ask? I was there for a week and still have absolutely no idea. Considering that blowing your nose in public is a major social faux pas in Japan, the concept of foisting free snot-receptacles on passers-by seems rather bizzarre. If any Japanese people are reading this, please e-mail me and explain the tissue thing because I’m confused.

By the way, in regard to the whole never-blow-your-nose-in-public thing, it took me, oh, all of about two minutes to forget this rule. D’oh! Is there anyone else capable of offending the cultural sensitivities of an entire nation before they’ve even gone through immigration?

My sincere apologies to the people of Japan.

Apparently the tissues are a popular Japanese form of advertising...personally, I'm not convinced they need any more.

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Midnight Mountaineering Madness

January 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Translation: Wrong way, go back

“Beware of lightning”.

This was the sign that greeted me as I began my ascent of Mt Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. I paused for a moment to ponder exactly how one could be wary of lightning. What was I supposed to do, jump out of the way when I saw it coming? Only in Japan.

Glancing away, I caught sight of the shadowy peak ahead of me, and my thoughts drifted back to a few weeks earlier when I had first made the decision to tackle the legendary Fuji San. It was while still enjoying the relative comfort of life in Melbourne that I had, perhaps a little too casually, agreed to a friend’s suggestion that we attempt to scale the twelve-thousand-foot giant. It was not until now, as I stood gazing in awe at the towering mass before me, that I realised this was not exactly going to be a Sunday afternoon stroll in the Dandenongs.

We had been reliably informed that attempting the climb in the sweltering heat of a Japanese summer was somewhat unwise (death by heat stroke being one of the less desirable side-effects of such a venture), so a decision had been made to take the recommended “safe” option and climb at night. Now, I’m not quite sure how clambering up the side of a volcano in total darkness with a flashlight strapped to your head can be considered safe, but this is what we did. And, yes, it is as difficult as it sounds.

It soon became clear however, that lack of sight was just one of the obstacles that would confront us on our trek; a sudden and unexpected change in the weather being the first of several additional “challenges” we were forced to overcome. Of course, at the start of our ascent, the conditions were perfect; a beautiful starry night with no wind, no clouds and a lovely, mild temperature. Clearly though, this was just the elements mocking us, and as soon as we moved out of sight of the trailhead, everything degenerated into a Biblical-style apocalypse.

Just how bad was it? Well, when I stated that Japan is hot in summer, I meant that it’s hot at sea level. At twelve-thousand feet above sea level, the temperature can very rapidly plummet to the level meteorologists like to refer to as “goddamned freezing”. Consequently, about half-way up the exposed mountain trail – still agonisingly far from the summit, yet much too close to turn back – an icy wind (gale would not be too strong a word to describe its force) began to blow directly into our faces, becoming stronger and colder the higher we climbed. Not only did this make it incredibly difficult to move forward, but I can honestly say that I have never been that cold…and that includes the time I got caught in a snowstorm in Ireland. Painful! In fact, toward the end of the climb, I began to experience prophetic visions of the excited faces of Japanese archaeologists finding my body encased in ice thousands of years into the future.

Also, like most humans, I appreciate having a plentiful supply of oxygen at all times. It became apparent as we neared the summit however, that at this altitude – particularly after seven hours of climbing in a strong wind – extracting the required amount of air from the meagre supply on offer was going to be impossible. This resulted in us having to stop to catch our breath every few steps – making for very slow progress – and produced the rather unpleasant side-effect of our hearts pounding like one-thousand-watt subwoofers in order to compensate for the lack of oxygen in our bodies. At one point I honestly thought my insides would explode out of my chest in a moment reminiscent of the dinner scene in “Alien” (note: ruptured aorta was ranked somewhere down around death by heat stroke on my list of “things to experience in Japan”).

Despite the multitude of obstacles that confronted us though, we eventually managed to reach the top and the experience of standing at the summit made all the effort worthwhile. From our position above the clouds, we gazed out at a seemingly endless expanse of mountains, lakes, cities, rivers, and forests, all burned red and orange by the glistening light of the morning sun. Exhausted from the climb and shivering violently in the freezing wind, I could barely move, yet staring at that view I did not for one moment regret the effort expended to be in that place at that time.

At least, not until I remembered we had to climb back down.

It was while contemplating this thought that I realised the elements were hell-bent on making sure we didn’t leave with the impression that scaling a mountain of this size was easy. Less than half-an-hour before our planned descent, a thick fog rolled in from out of nowhere and was quickly followed by torrential rain, then hail. Now, if you think climbing up a rocky slope in the dark is difficult, try climbing down a muddy slope in a hailstorm with absolutely zero visibility. Oh yeah, the lightning I mentioned earlier, that appeared too…and with rather frightening regularity (note: always get someone else to hold your aluminium climbing pole when standing on a barren mountainside during an electrical storm).

Eventually though, after several more hours of walking/climbing/sliding/falling and a lot of effort, we sighted the hut at the base of the trail – and I must say that I don’t think I have ever been as tired as I was when I finally walked inside…or as wet.

In hindsight however, my decision upon reaching the bottom to have just three hours sleep before setting off to the famed Roppongi nightclub district in Tokyo, was probably not the best way to recover from such an adventure.

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