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.
The 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.
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?!
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.
Are 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.
Duty 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.
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.
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.
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.
So, 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.