Craft Beer in Japan: Rare But Easy to Find

Beer lovers will either love or hate their trip to Japan. Fans of light lagers will find the stuff fresh and cheap anywhere they go. But real beer snobs seeking the darker, stronger or more complex brews get bored easily. Thankfully, there are remedies for travelers weary of the Asahi/Kirin/Sapporo triumvirate.

Bryan-sayuri-bairds-harajuku-taproomThe blog LetsJapan has a pretty decent writeup of Baird Beer, one of the popular local craft brews, and the Harajuku Taproom, one of the more famous spots to go for it. Quoth our hero:

Baird Beer’s credo is “Balance + Complexity = Character.”  I’ll leave it to you to ruminate on that.  Suffice to say that I tried the Wheat King Ale. … It was, indeed, balanced and had a rich flavor that delighted my tongue without taking me up by my shirt collar and shaking me. 

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Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo: See the 2012 Schedule

It's spring, and you know what that means: cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossom in tokyoAlso known as sakura, the pink flowers are a national symbol for Japan despite being short-lived every year.

The Japanese Weather Association also predicts when the trees will bloom each year, so that people can plan hanami parties with friends and family and relax under the blossoms.

The JWA makes predictions for each of Japan's 47 prefectures, but here are some of the major blossom dates on the 2012 calendar:

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Valentine’s Day in Japan: 3 Facts You Shouldn’t Miss

Valentine's Day in Japan is celebrated, but with a twist: 

Japanese chocolate fountainWomen 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?!

Tokyo Narita: Best Restaurants and Shopping

Have a flight out of Narita Airport? It's a huge building, and there's a lot to do. I've been through the airport bunches of times, so I've rounded it down to just a few places visitors should hit up in each terminal.

AkihabaraAre you Terminal 1 or Terminal 2?
A ton of airlines serve Tokyo Narita. Before you plan out your shopping trip, check the official list to see which terminal you'll be in. It's not easy to switch terminals, so you should stick to the one you arrive in (unless you have a rare airline switch for a Tokyo transfer).  

Eat/shop before passport control!
After passport control, it's just rice balls and soft drinks – and prices go up quite a bit. Once you leave this area,  you're pretty much just hanging out at your gate until departure.

LiquorDuty free is great for alcohol!
Duty free shops are very commonly not a bargain around the world for booze, cigarettes, or perfume. The exception to the rule is Japanese liquor. Personally, I don't leave Japan without a bottle of Suntory Hibiki 17, which at 6,000 yen is a solid deal for the whiskey that it is. 

The Best of Terminal 1

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Japanese television shows Morning Musume pulling cool stunts

This one's pretty fun: members of pop group Morning Musume are basically doing cool backwards throws to put everyday objects in their places.

Trash is thrown in the appropriate cans, canned drinks are shoved across tables, cell phones are thrown into bags, and that kind of thing.

The stunts get more and more complex as you go through the video. So does the number of attempts it takes to pull off each one successfully – you can see the stunt translated in the upper right along with how many tries it took.

It's recommended, of course, that you not try these stunts if you come to Japan

Morning Musume's Guide to Japan

Aika Mitsui wrote Morning Musume's Guide to Japan in with a hand-written map of the popular Shibuya district and recommendations for the best shopping and snacks. Be sure to read it if you're a fan.

Can iPhone Be Used in Japan?

People love their iPhones, so I'm not surprised when visitors ask me if their phone will work in Japan.

White-iphone-japanPeople have heard that their cell phones won't work in Japan for a variety of reasons, but it's mostly old news. By now, just about any smartphone you buy can be made to work in Japan.

So yes, your iPhone can be used in Japan. 

Still, there are a few things to worry about if you do decide to bring your phone over, such as:

  • Which models work
  • Roaming fees
  • Data roaming
  • Changing your data usage
  • Why WiFi won't do

There's a lot to cover, so let's get down to it.

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Roppongi Hills: 5 Things to Do

Roppongi Hills is almost a city in itself. There are places to shop, eat, live, and play. It's also a hub for high-end culture in Japan with a number of luxury restaurants, international fashion brands, and apartment towers known for housing Japanese celebrities.

Roppongi hills mori tower nightSo, with all that awesomeness in mind, here are 5 highlights from the complex:

1. Mori Art Museum
Asia has some great modern art museums as it is, but the Mori suddenly showed up and made a splash. Situated near the top of the Mori Tower (the big tower of the complex, lit up in blue in the photo there), it's a beautifully-designed museum with a great rotation of exhibits. 

2. Tokyo City View
The soon-to-open Tokyo Sky Tree may quickly take away the title of "best city lookout point" from the top of the Mori Tower, 52 stories up, but for the time being this is the one you want. It's basically part of the art museum, so you can get a combined ticket and do exhibits and the awesome view. If it's light outside and the weather's OK, you can go outside on the roof and view the endless buildings of Tokyo al fresco

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Cheap Hotels: Tokyo – Keio Plaza Hotel

Nights at a 5-star Japan hotel are on sale!

Keio plaza hotel tokyoA "New Deluxe" room, normally from 39,000 yen, is just 18,000 yen. The "Plaza Premier" room, typically 43,000 yen, is just 20,000 yen.

These prices are good for single and twin rooms.

Also included are a complimentary breakfast and a late checkout.

The hotel will add 15% for taxes and service charges, so you'll pay at most 23,000 yen for a room that normally costs more than double.

The deal expires on March 23, so it's best for spring break travel.

Contact IACE Canada to make the reservation.

Tip: skip the free breakfast!

Eating in Japan is an adventure worth traveling for. Here's the guide to Japanese food.