Conveyor belt sushi is famous for bringing around Japan's best-known food with no effort, but it's also one of the best ways to eat out cheaply while you're here.
Also known as revolving sushi or kaiten-zushi, the video above sets the scene pretty well. The conveyor runs in a big square. Patrons sit on the outside of the rectangle and chefs work inside the conveyor. They're not in the scene here, but waiters are running around behind the customers clearing tabs and serving drinks. On the conveyor belt are plates of sushi, obviously, but also little ads rolling by promoting seasonal items.
Here are 7 tips that let me leave stuffed for no more than 1500 yen:
If this video is any indication, it's great. It's part of a new international ANA ad campaign hoping to boost Japanese tourism in 2012.
It covers pretty much all the major things tourists expect: sumo, bath houses, maid cafes, Harajuku girls, and all that. But the Sofia Coppola-mimic cinematography and soundtrack serve as a reminder that all of us have reasons to visit the country – or memories that will stay around for a long time.
Valentine's Day in Japan is celebrated, but with a twist:
Women give presents to men! It's another sign that Japanese society is still pretty male-dominated.
There are three more facts you need to know about Valentine's Day gifts in Japan:
1. It's chocolate. Chocolate is the traditional present.
2. It's platonic. Typically, women bring lots in to the office to give some choco to all the guys, regardless of relationship status.
3. Women get paid back in March. March 14, a month after, is a separate "holiday" called White Day, where men give back to women. This one is more like how Westerners celebrate Valentine's Day: guys buy more expensive, more shiny gifts for the special ladies in their lives.
So guys, sit back and relax. Ladies, where's that chocolate?!
Did you know that Kit Kats – yes, those breakable chocolate bars – are big in Japan?
The thing is, they come in a ridiculous variety of flavors, and even sometimes get exclusives that are limited to a season or a certain location.
Photographer (and friend of this site) Greg Ferguson has kept a collection of all the crazy bars he's encountered in Japan. In his words:
Who doesn't love a good Kit Kat? Thought so. Japan perhaps loves them too much, though. They go willy-nilly cuckoo-bananas crazy over them and show their rabid fanaticism by churning out wacky new flavours and varieties every month. Being a foreigner, I was of course powerless to resist.
It's now been a few years for Greg's album, and it's grown to an amazing 249 photos for wacky flavors like Bitter Strawberry, Tiramisu, Flan, Purple Sweet Potato, and of course, Green Tea Kit Kat.
Oden isn't the famous kind of Japanese food that tourists come to the country for, but locals and expats know it all too well.
It's a sort of cuisine – it's a collection of things that are boiled in a fishy broth. Everything that comes out is hot, and most of it is pretty heavy on the protein. So, it's really known as a winter food.
Oden is found everywhere. During the coldest winter months, you can find it in every convenience store, and the stores will even smell of the stuff during that time.
Here's a more detailed explanation from the Japan Visitor Blog:
Dashi [the broth oden is made in] is made with konbu seaweed and shaved tuna flakes (kezurikatsuo), so oden is not really vegetarian, though many of the other ingredients are staples for non-meat eaters: daikon radish, potatoes, konnyaku, kinchaku (mochi in a deep-fried tofu pouch) and tofu. Other things found in oden include boiled eggs, chikuwa fish cakes, folded seaweed, meatballs on sticks, sausages, octopus and sometimes skewered beef.
Personally, it's not for me. But at least I was brave enough to try it.
If you're a fan of Japanese martial arts styles and want to learn more, there's a wiki that's a gold mine for you. Gottsupedia, as it's known, is a repository of Japanese martial arts – especially aikido – along with their histories and specific techniques.
For example, here's a snippet on the Yoshinkan school of aikido:
Yoshinkan's emphasis on basics and instilling them in students through repeated drills is a direct product of the difficulties encountered when Yoshinkan first began teaching exceptionally large groups, such the Tokyo police. … Ueshiba did not give exact instruction, instead he would show a technique and let everyone figure it out saying "That's fine, that's fine" to everyone's way of doing it.
The entire wiki is the work of just one guy, so there's not much yet in the way of collaborative editing or fact-checking, but the 193 articles on hand show that the one dude is pretty serious about his stuff.
Wherever you are in Japan, there's sightseeing to be done on the street. Literally.
Manhole covers are used as works of public art all over Japan. Patterns and even painted colors are used to create local images that can be seen by locals and visitors alike.
The variety of images is impressive. Nature makes a big appearance, as trees and birds are especially common throughout the nation's prefectures. Cherry blossom trees are especially frequent. Also appearing are dragonflies, deer, cranes, and other animals that are either locally common or well-known in the national mythology.
There's also a high number of firefighter-themed manhole covers. Those covers give firefighters easy access to water in case of emergencies.