Life in Japan

Our daily life while in Japan

FoodJapanese SnacksLife in Japan

Umaibo – The Delicious Stick

Umaibo - Delicious StickUmaibo - Delicious Stick

“Delicious Stick”

I’m not into kid snacks and sweets. In America, sweets for children are usually too sweet and dyed in unnaturally bright colors that make me question its cancer-causing potential. Meanwhile, savory snacks are too salty and usually too starchy. Through my teen years, I often picked puff corn snacks as my go-to junk food. After a lengthy discussion with a friend on Japanese junk food, I was told to visit a dagashi shop (Japanese candy shop) and try Umaibō.

Given my nature, I’m not a person who goes blindly into dagashi shop. Research must be done!

History of a Delicious Stick

Umaibō literally translates to “delicious stick.” What kind of stick is delicious? A cylinder of puffed corn which kinda looks like a short stick when you hold it. To be honest, it’s more of a tube since its hollow through the center, but according to the packaging, it makes the snack more “サクサク” (sakusaku) or crispy. I also suspect that the tube design also creates a stronger product which prevents it from being crushed during transportation and probably improves the final texture by allowing it to be cooked evenly from the inside.

Umaibo was first produced by the Risca Corporation and distributed by Yaokin Co. in 1979, making it a snack that’s almost as old as I am! At the time, Umaibō sold for the cheap price of 10 yen per stick. Much to the delight of Japanese children and their parents, that price hasn’t changed for the last 41 years. But according to Japan Wikipedia, the weight of Umaibō was ever so slightly reduced over the decades as much as 3 to 5 grams less than the original 1979 product due to the rise in the cost of raw materials.

Umaibo – Cheese Flavor

Umaibō Mascots – Are They From Outer Space?

The mascots of Umaibō really stand out, far more than American advertising characters. Each character seems to have their own persona complete with birthdays and hobbies – at least according to the official website.

Umaemon (うまえもん) – The main mascot of Umaibō is a round-headed gaping-mouthed character usually dressed in a costume. According to the Umaibo website, his hobby is cosplaying which explains why each Umaibo wrapper features him in some kind of costume. Umaemon is totally different from Doraemon (blue color, red nose) because he is grey in color and lacks whiskers.

Umami-chan (うまみちゃん) – This anime girl sporting a half-Umaibō hat first showed up in 2017. She’s the long-lost 17-year-old sister of Umaemon and uses an Umaibō for a microphone. As far as I can tell she shows up on the cover of large bags with 30 Umaibō inside and is typically bought by adults at Don Quijote stores. She has her own website, theme song, is found on Instagram, and posts on her Twitter account. Yes, she knows she doesn’t look like her brother and often points that fact out.

Umicheal (ウマイケル “Umaikeru”) – Umami’s pet cat debuted in 2018. Umicheal looks like a cat with a face that looks just like Umaemon. According to his bio, he’s a spy from space sent to investigate Umaemon and Umami because he suspects that they are aliens. Yeah. Space spy cat.

Naked Umaibo

Umaibō Flavors

Let’s get back to the snack. As far as I can tell there are 15 to 16 different “regular” flavors of Umaibō that can be found in stores in Japan. There are also regional flavors as well, meaning they can only be found in certain areas of Japan. And then there are “limited release” flavors, which only run for a single season sometimes never to be seen again.

No, I haven’t tried all the Umaibō flavors. But I might try one or two as I see them. I will reserve eating all the flavors in one go to the younger Japanophiles. Getting high blood pressure from all the salt isn’t worth it. But just for giggles, I’ll list all the flavors of Umaibō here:

Umaibō Regular Flavors

  • Mentai – cod roe pickled in chili peppers
  • Corn potage – creamy corn soup
  • Cheese
  • Pizza
  • Teriyaki Burger
  • Salami – One of the original flavors
  • Easy salad
  • Chicken curry
  • Tonkatsu sauce – Another original flavor
  • Shrimp and mayonnaise
  • Takoyaki
  • Chocolate
  • Beef tongue
  • Natto
  • Sugar rusk
  • Premium Mentaiko
  • Premium Mozzarella & Camembert
  • Premium Japanese style steak with wasabi sauce

Umaibō Regional Flavors

  • Kirtan Snack (Akita Prefecture only)
  • Monjayaki grilled taste (Tokyo only) – Monjayaki is a pan-fried batter similar to okonomiyaki, but with different liquid ingredients
  • Honey Kabayaki Sauce (Shizuoka Prefecture only) – a soy grill sauce used on grilled eel
  • Okonomiyaki (Kansai only)
  • Hot pepper noodles (Kyushu / Western Yamaguchi Prefecture only)
  • Delicious Beef tongue salty (Tohoku only)
  • Sugar cane (Okinawa only)
  • Cinnamon apple pie (Tokyo only)
Eating a chonky Umaibō sometimes is messy with crumbs

Eating a Umaibō

To date, I’ve only tried Umaibō twice: Corn potage and cheese flavors. Both were savory. So the corn potage tasting like sweet corn, while the cheese tasted kind of like Cheetos, but a bit sweet. The texture of an Umaibo is certainly crispy but also dry. Eating too much in one mouthful sometimes uncomfortably desiccates the mouth.

Upon opening the package, I found a rather chonky corn puff – about 2 cm in diameter and 10 cm long. Biting into this super crispy awkward snack was certainly tasty, but also messy since it produced a lot of crumbs. Its hardly finger food yet alone easy eating for kids.

I also discovered instructions on how to prepare an Umaibō for “beautiful eating.” I presume so that kids and dainty ladies can eat the snack without too much of a mess. Here are the translated instructions:

  1. First, place the Umaibō on the table.
  2. Place your hand flat over the package (middle finger aligned with the Umaibō).
  3. Press down as you would give a heart massage and stop when you hear the Umaibō break inside.
  4. Open the wrapper, and you have a Umaibō split lengthwise in four!

Here’s the original illustration posted by Mr. Watanabe:

Sig’s tasting commentary

Sig here. So, Anne asked me to try some of these out. I had cheese, Salami, and Tonkatsu. The cornmeal is fried so that it is very light and airy, and quite crispy and stiff. It crackles and then melts quickly in your mouth. The flavor is pretty much all on the outside of the stick in the form of a salty powder.

The flavors do a good job of evoking what it claims to taste like, though always salty and a little sweet. The consistently light texture of the snack is nice but feels a little insubstantial. I’m not a big fan but these would be a great thing to offer at a party for people to try.

Grab some of these things to try out: Our Amazon affiliate link for a variety Umaibo pack.

A Fun Japanese Snack

Overall, I find Umaibō adorable and the variety of flavors interesting. I kind of want to try them, but I also worry about my health. If you’ve tried the other flavors let me know what you think of them!

FoodLife in JapanMatsuri & More

Amanatto – the Edo Period Treat!

Amanatto SetAmanatto - Sugar Coated Beans

Sugar Coated Beans

I first discovered Amanatto while wandering around Tsukiji Outer Market. A woman with a bright smile held up a bowl of dark-colored beans up to me and said: “Try!” I plucked one from the bowl expecting a kind of savory bar snack.  I was surprised when a sweet sugared flavor blossomed in my mouth. The soft chewiness confused me, especially as the texture turned slightly grainy. “It’s sweet beans,” she explained. I was so amused by this candy that I bought a small bag to bring home.

Tasty sugar-coated bean treat

The Edo Period Treat

Originally called amananattō (甘名納糖), this confectionery was first cooked up by Hosoda Yasubei, during the 1860s at his Tokyo wagashi store, Eitaro Confectionery.  Eitaro still exists today and you can visit one of several shops found in Tokyo. I highly suggest stopping by the one at Nihonbashi near Tokyo Station. You can buy all sorts of wagashi treats in addition to amanattō and marvel at a store that’s been there for roughly 200 years in the same spot!

Yasubei used azuki beans (red mung beans), cowpeas (black-eyed peas), and soramame (fava beans) to make the first amanattō. Today, amanattō is particularly popular in Japan. Although I’m told its especially associated with older generations and is regularly served during teatime.

Hokkaido’s Red Bean Rice

As a side note, throughout Japan, there is a rice dish called sekihan, where sweet sticky rice is steamed with adzuki beans. Usually, sekihan is a dish associated with celebration and is made during weddings and birthdays. Here in Hokkaido, instead of just pain adzuki beans, they’ll use amanattō instead – the result is an even sweeter rice dish.

A Simple Candy

Typically its served with green tea but is perfectly fine by itself. I have yet to cook with it Hokkaido style with steamed rice, but maybe you can try it and tell me what you think.

You can find bags amanattō in grocery stores or as boxed omiyage (souvenirs) in train stations here in Japan. I’ve seen them sold online at, but not Amazon proper. If you can’t find it and would like to try it yourself, I’ve included a recipe below. Enjoy!

Amanatto Mix

Amanattō Recipe

Ingredients for bean preparation

  • 1 lb beans such as red mung beans, black beans, fava beans, or navy beans
  • water, to soak and cook beans
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda

Ingredients for sugar coating the beans

  • 3 cups of water
  • 4 ½ cups of fine granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups superfine sugar

Prepare Your Beans

Rinse beans, picking out any stones, broken beans, or odd-shaped beans. Soak overnight in ample water.

After soaking, drain beans and rinse with plenty of cold water. Pick through again to get rid of any cracked, halved and beans with no skin.

Put beans in a pot with plenty of cold water – about an inch or two above the beans – and a good pinch of baking soda. The baking soda will help to maintain the color of the beans.

Simmer beans gently for 1 hour until beans are just cooked through. Be careful not to boil the beans or overcook them. The beans should tender and hold their shape, not mushy nor falling apart

Drain beans and rinse gently in cold water. Carefully sort through the cooked beans, discarding any that are out of the skin, or where the skin has cracked open. Keep in mind that this will decrease the number of beans by as much as a third depending on how carefully you cooked the beans. Save discarded beans to make a bean soup or bean salad.

Sugar Coating the Beans

Prepare sugar syrup by combining the 3 cups of cold water, granulated sugar, and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the syrup is starting to thicken a bit.

Carefully add the beans to the syrup mixture and continue simmering for 1 1/2 hours. Try to stir gently and as little as possible – the goal is not to break any beans.

Turn off the heat and allow beans to cool for 10 minutes. Drain.

Put the superfine sugar into a bowl. In batches, toss the beans into the sugar and then lay them out onto a cookie sheet in a single layer.

When all the sugar-coated beans are on the cookie sheet, put the cookie sheet in an oven preheated to 175 degrees F for 5 minutes.

Remove the cookie sheet and toss the beans, returning them to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the beans in the oven for 5 minutes.

Cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container. Stored amanattō can last for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge.

Gaijin Survival GuideLife in Japan

Tale of the Stolen Wallet


Japan has some of the best rates of returned wallets in the world. That said, nowhere is 100% safe. I’ve had great luck here but it’s not always a bed of roses. Early in 2020, I had my wallet stolen, at least, that’s what I suspect. Read on and judge for yourself.

Not my actual wallet.

Leading up

I’d had a busy week of teaching English and was on my way home for the weekend. I decided to get my wife a treat, some Swedish blueberry jam from Jupiter, a foreign goods store near where I work. In my haste and juggling of goods, I put my wallet in my left side coat pocket and didn’t zip it up.

My wife was delighted with the gift, but the next morning as we prepared to head out for errands I could not find my wallet. A thorough search of our small apartment proved it missing. I knew I’d had it on the trip home so there were scant places I could have dropped it.

This is an especially big deal for me here in Japan. I need to carry my passport with me for ID purposes as well as my Japanese residence card. I also had a number of credit cards, my bank cash card, and around $150 in Japanese currency. Cash is still king here so I often have a fair bit on me.

The cash is disappointing, the credit cards annoying, but the passport and residence card is a huge hassle to replace. They would cost me both a lot of time and a fair bit of money to sort out. In the meantime, I’d have no way to prove I am allowed in the country. I’ve never been asked for my ID on the street but it’s not a good situation.

The best way to get a shot like this is at the end of the line for the train.

High Hopes

Just the week prior I’d read an article about how common it was to get a wallet back in Japan having lost one. Apparently the rate of return is around 64% or higher, usually without so much as a yen missing. Japanese are trained from an early age to return found property. Kids finding a few coins will take them to the local police stations to report it missing. The police fill out missing property forms even for a few yen. It may seem like a waste of time but it builds social trust and honest behavior.

The Plan

My plan was to retrace my steps and check with the various places it could be turned in as we went. First up was the walk to the train station. We stopped at the local Koban (a tiny police station you can find everywhere in the cities). The officer was out on patrol so we moved on.

Next up was the local train station. After a bit of work with our portable electronic translator, we struck out. It had not come in at this station. The attendant gave us a number to call later in the evening to see if it made its way to the central lost and found.

From there we made our way 3 stops to where I get on the train from work. I work in a big mall/office tower complex with two train stations. Fortunately, I only move through a small part of this complex on my way home from work so there weren’t too many places to search.

I checked both with the officials at this station and got the same result as the first, no wallet. Next, I headed to my best hope, the store where I bought the blueberry jam. They seemed pretty excited about my query. That gave me some hope, but it turns out their excitement was only that one of the cashiers knew what to do with me, not that they had my wallet. They led me to the mall’s help desk where I repeated my query again.

Again, no wallet. Things were looking pretty grim at this point. I could check all the other mall info desks. This place is like a mall made of different malls each with its own lost and found. But it seemed unlikely anyone would go wandering that far afield with my wallet. I was ready to give up and wait to call the central transit lost and found in the evening.

Anne persuaded me instead to go to the Koban at the mall. It was out of the way so I doubted they’d have it, but Anne was set on the idea and asked me to, “please just do it.” Without any truly good argument against the idea other than me being disheartened and tired, I agreed.

This is not the Koban in Sapporo. This is the Koban in the town of Semboku in Akita prefecture.

The Friendly Japanese Koban

I’ve got a ton of respect for the police in Japan. I think American cities could learn a lot from the way they operate. I’m never worried about talking to the police here and they are almost always polite and super helpful. Their mission isn’t just to enforce the law but to help the public. You can even get a loan from them if you need it to get home.

At any rate, I went in, and between their limited English and my translation device, we got going on reporting my wallet missing. They didn’t have it at their Koban but if any station found it, then they’d be able to find out by inputting my info in their system. I didn’t have high hopes, but it seemed the prudent thing to do.

Lo and behold, they got a match! My wallet was recovered in a neighborhood halfway between home and work. After a bit more paperwork I could go pick it up at their central station, just a short walk from the mall area. The bad news, it was empty of cash. The good news, everything else was in there including my passport.

Sapporo Chuo Police Station in Downtown Sapporo

Why I think it was stolen

We headed over to the Chuo station to recover the wallet. A policewoman came out who spoke a fair bit of English to go over the contents with us. I was able to verify everything was there but for the cash. She explained that it was recovered from the bathroom of a convenience store. It had been stripped of its cash and left on the back of the toilet tank.

It was found by the staff at the store and turned into the police. The store was not in the train station but was a couple of blocks away out on the main drag of the commercial district. The convenience stores generally don’t secure their bathrooms, and unlike the train station ones, they are single-person rooms so you can have some privacy to say, go through a wallet.

I’m not an expert on such matters, but this MO smacks of a pickpocket or a semi-professional. It’s still possible it simply fell out of my pocket and was recovered by someone less than scrupulous. None the less, pickpockets are not unheard of in Japan and my wallet would have been really easy to pick. Regardless, the person who ended up with it wasn’t very helpful.

All’s Well that Ends Well

It was a great relief to get my wallet back, especially to get my passport and residence card. Not only that, but it took a total of about two hours from when I discovered it missing to it being back in my hands. That’s pretty astounding all said and done. Losing a day’s wages is a lot less than fun, but I think I got off lightly here.

I’ll be significantly more cautions with my wallet from now on. It’s a good reminder for me as we consider moving on from Japan to Europe. I’ll be keeping my wallet somewhere much harder to get to and taking some extra precautions with my passport especially. I’m supposed to keep it with me, but I think I’ll keep it at home anyway and offer an excuse if anyone actually asks for it. Ultimately, I think that’s the safer bet.

I want to offer a final thanks to the police here for being helpful and efficient. They seemed genuinely sad and embarrassed that I didn’t get my cash. As far as I’m concerned, their diligence in everyday paperwork made my life a lot easier. If you are ever in Japan, don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

Gaijin Survival GuideLife in Japan

Elevator Observations in Japan


One bit of cultural minutia I noticed in Japan is the etiquette in elevators. It’s not especially elaborate but it is more purposeful and uniform than you will find in America.

Everyone is an elevator operator

Nearly any time you are in an elevator, someone standing near the control panel is going to nominate themselves as the elevator operator. They will reliably push the open door button to allow for folks to get on, and the close door button the moment folks have left and finished boarding.

Women tend to take to this role more than men, but it’s not unusual for a salaryman to step up and push the buttons. There is some history with women serving as professional elevator operators called –erebeta garu– and this might explain why women seem to commandeer the controller most often or why men don’t.

It seems to me, they are pretty quick on the draw with the close button. I’ve almost missed my floor when some old ladies somehow didn’t register my massive presence at the back of the elevator, and I’ve seen a few would-be passengers shut out.

Izumi Garden Tower Elevators provide a nice view with your ride

It’s not like the doors are especially slow to close on their own, but perhaps the cumulative effect of millions of self-appointed door closers shaving a quarter second from each door operation has a net impact that contributes to Japanese productivity.

I’ve tried my hand at commanding the console once or twice. I’m not the most attentive of operators and usually, someone else takes over for me before long and is quicker on the draw.

Sky tree has professional elevator operators, stay away from that control panel!

Lining up

It’s a pretty major faux-pa to cut in line in Japan and folks here naturally queue up any time it might seem appropriate. A long single-file line will quickly form near a set of in-demand elevators. The head of the line is strategically located such that they don’t impede folks coming out.

One problem that sometimes arises is that on the top or bottom floor, the current operator is going to be coming out, but they remain behind the panel, and thus out of sight to the folks waiting in line. The operator will come out last (holding that open door button until the last second). Sometimes the over-eager line waiters will start to pile in before they have exited.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Knowing where to stand

The Japanese have the art of moving around in social spaces down to something of a science. The preponderance of public transportation is likely the catalyst for this skill. On the elevator, folks will self-sort as best they can such that the people on for a long ride will move to the outer edges and the folks on for a short ride will be in the middle or near the door.

Folks watch somewhat keenly for clues of who needs to get out and when, and they likewise throw subtle body language to show when they need to make a move to the door. Verbal communication is only rarely needed. A -sumimasen- (excuse me) is usually enough to sort things out should the more subtle social cues fail.

Stickers Say “watch your fingers!” Japan’s elevators are unforgiving.

Wisely, anyone near the door in a packed elevator will simply step out to let others escape and then re-enter rather than try to shuffle around inside.

All said and done, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at this kind of maneuvering and I mostly blend into the ballet seamlessly despite my size and remarkable appearance.

It’s mostly a quiet ride

Like other public areas, the Japanese tend to be pretty quiet when packed in with strangers. The more crowded the space, the less likely it is anyone will be chatting. That said, there is some talk that goes on, especially when there are only a handful of folks there.

Nakagin Capsule Towers have scary old elevators
FoodGaijin Survival GuideJapanese SnacksLife in JapanMatsuri & More

Eating Gobo



Also known as Great Burdock. U-eong in Korean. Niúbàng in Chinese. And Arctium lappa in Latin.

When living in a new country for the first time you notice all sorts of things. For me, it’s the small details while on regular everyday outings. That’s what happened when I encountered a strange root at the local grocery store in the produce section. Language books and online courses don’t explain the small nuances of everyday life in Japan, let alone the name or use of a vegetable root.

During my first encounter, I was kind of surprised to see dirty yard-long sticks for sale in the right next to sweet potatoes and onions. But, after a quick inspection and a little help from Google translate, I discovered that it was a burdock root, also known as gobuo or gobō in Japanese.

Gobo for sale. Yum.

Tea, Herb & Weed

I’ve seen burdock tea in the US, but it’s hard to find and usually in small tea bags. In Japan, there’s a lot more burdock tea on the grocery shelves and I’ve even seen it bottled.

I also know about burdock as a medicinal herb. Burdock is often found in teas or dry powders packed in tiny pills sold at vitamin and herbal health stores and of course online. Used in western folk herbalism and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, this root supposedly cures a litany of aliments such as reducing inflammation, lowering blood sugar, and preventing infections.  

As a past gardener and plant hobbyist, I am also familiar with the common burdock (Arctium minus – a relative of the Japanese version Arctium lappa). Common burdock is a tenaciously invasive weed. Sprouting from unkempt back yards, abandoned lots, and in between cracks of sidewalks all over the USA. This plant from the thistle family is more of a nuisance since its seed burs cling eagerly to clothing.

I can’t recall ever seeing cleaned burdock root sold fresh at the grocery store in the states. I might have seen it at an Asian food market, not realizing what it was.

From left to right: Dried burdock root, bottled burdock tea, burdock burs.

War Crimes?

I once heard a story about how American POWs in World War II were being “forced to eat tree roots” for testimony in a war-crime trial. I did some background research and one document did confirm it, but it was noted as a miss translation for Gobō rather than an actual crime of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Nattō was also mentioned as “rotten beans” in the report – having tried nattō I can completely understand why!

Fresh Great burdock roots.

The Vegetable

Since eating gobō, I’m happy to report its hardly a punishment, but rather a tasty and healthy root vegetable.

I learned that burdock is as common as carrots in Japan. The most common way to cook burdock in Japan is Kinpira Gobō (recipe below). Kinpira is a Japanese cooking style where you stir fry and simmer usually with sugar and soy sauce, maybe some other seasonings as desired. With burdock, carrots and other vegetables are also added. This traditional dish is commonly found in supermarket bento boxes. I can honestly say that it’s far more appetizing when julienned rather than the “dirty stick” raw form.

The taste of burdock reminds me of artichokes (also apart of the thistle family) and the texture is similar to parsnips. It’s crispy and a bit sweet especially when cooked. There a hint of bitterness, and sometimes it can have a harsh muddy taste but only if you don’t pre-soak the roots for about ten minutes before cooking.

The burdock roots are a bit bothersome to cook from scratch since they tend to oxidize to a brown color quickly if you don’t submerge them in water with a teaspoon of vinegar immediately after cutting. I have seen pre-cut packages of burdock, usually in the frozen foods section.

Burdock sold in Japanese Grocery Stores.

Worth Trying

If you want to try a new vegetable, I think gobō is worthwhile. Packed with fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants it is defiantly good for you, but then again the same is true for all vegetables.

Kinpira Gobo

Kinpira Gobo

¼ pound carrot (about 1 medium), peeled, top and bottom trimmed
¼ pound burdock (1 root), peeled, top and bottom trimmed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 tablespoons of dashi or water
1 teaspoon of vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
pinch of toasted sesame seeds

Julienne the carrot and burdock into long matchstick pieces, about 1-2 mm × 1–2 mm × 4 cm.

Fully submerge the burdock in cold water with 1 teaspoon vinegar, mix and let soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well before cooking.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the sesame oil, and when it begins to smoke, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring frequently until the vegetables begin to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mirin and dashi/water and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or so, then add the soy sauce. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, then stir in the sugar.

Continue cooking, stirring frequently and reducing the heat if the vegetables threaten to color. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender with a slight bite and just begin to stick to the skillet, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top.

Burdock flowers
FoodLife in Japan

Mitsuya Melted Peach Soda


Snack Attack #2

三ツ矢 とろけるもも
Mitsuya Melted Peach

Package Style: PET bottle, 500 ml
Price:  ¥100 to 140

  • Taste:  4/5
  • Smell:  4/5
  • Texture: 3/5
  • Value: 2/5

Mitsuya was a famous beverage producer here in Japan, brewing cider since 1884. Today it’s a brand name owned and made by Asahi Soft Drinks. They have all sorts of flavors in addition to cider, but all drinks regardless of flavor are carbonated.

Each season the Mitsuya brand puts out the special flavor, this winter its Melted Peach. Not sure what “melted” means in this context, but I imagine it has to do with the fact there are bits of peach pulp in the soda.

Both the smell and flavor is like a peach on steroids, but without being sugary. Honestly, I find that peachiness better than a real peach, only because I’ve chosen too many bad peaches. 

The texture of the peach pulp is subtle and overpowered by the carbonation. Like most Mitsuya drinks, the CO2 is on overdrive such that I suggest that you slowly sip and let the bubbles fizz away in the mouth. Drinking it too fast would just waste the flavors in addition to giving you excessive burps.

Overall, it’s a fun and refreshing fizzy drink that kind of reminds me of a Bellini minus the Champaign.

Mitsuya Melted Peach Ingredients: Sugars (fructose-glucose liquid sugar (domestic production), sugar), thigh juice / carbonic acid, acidulants, flavors, vitamin C, thickener (xanthan)

Thick peach puree with pulp!

Currently, you can buy Mitsuya Melted Peach on

Life in Japan

One year in Japan: Sig’s Reflections


I arrived in Japan in mid-November of 2018. It was the result of a long-time interest in Japan, a lifestyle choice to become a traveler, and my wife’s similar ambitions. It took almost a year of planning and preparations to arrive at that moment.

As of this writing, I’ve been in Japan for one full year. I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on what I’ve learned, what it has meant to me, and where it will take me in the near future.

Ivy on the Sapporo Beer Factory
This is a window at the Sapporo Beef factory in Autumn.

What have I learned?

Quite a lot I’d say. More than I can capture here but I’ll offer some highlights.

Japan is not a monoculture. It is a pretty diverse place in and of itself where you can find a huge range of attitudes, ideas, and expressions. It has not been difficult for me to insert myself into the flow of life in Japan. The cultural differences have been a point of interest rather than a source of conflict for me.

I’ve learned a lot about Japanese food and Japanese food culture. It’s a pretty powerful part of life here. I think it is more defining of the Japanese culture than in America where we have such a diverse approach to food. It’s also a wonderful way to connect to people of other cultures.

Soup Curry Picture
This is soup curry, it’s fantastic!

I learned just how easy it is to live in Japan without knowing any Japanese. I am basically illiterate here, yet, I have almost no difficulty making a normal life. That’s taught me something about literacy itself, but also the immense privilege it is to be a native English speaker in the modern world.

I have certainly learned quite a lot about teaching English to non-native English speakers. That’s what I’ve spent the lions share of my time here doing. I’m still pretty new at this craft, but I’d say I’ve got some talent for it and have improved quite a bit after teaching some 1000+ lessons.

I’ve learned many small details about the ebb and flow of Japanese life and the particulars of how things are done here. There are so many particulars of life here that are different. Yet, I’ll say that the basic human drives, desires, and nature is not so different, it has just found different expression over time and circumstance.

The sweet wife and I striking a pose.

What has it meant to me?

I feel some measure of accomplishment to have made the move here successfully and to have navigated the various challenges faced by a foreigner in a foreign land. So it is self-validating in this respect. It’s also been a dream of mine to come here so it’s great to make that come true.

I’m disappointed that I haven’t taken the effort to learn more Japanese. It was sort of a fantasy of mine that immersion in the culture would motivate me and I’d come from Japan with this new skill and window into the culture. A year in, and I barely can muster survival level Japanese. This, along with realizing how powerful it is to speak English probably means I’ll be largely mono-lingual all my life.

Teaching professionally has been another dream of mine since I was pretty young. My work experience so far has cemented that this is a job I am naturally very good at and well suited to. It’s not great for making a lot of money, but it’s very satisfying at a personal level and not very stressful for me.

I have had my moments of soul searching, wondering what my ultimate goal of this wandering lifestyle is and how exactly I’ll sustain it as I get older. That’s a pretty good segway into this next bit.

Naruto fried thicken plate.
A fried chicken meal from Naruto chicken restaurant. Good stuff!

Where are we going next?

I’m a year into a general notion of spending two years in Japan. It took about one year to get here, so that means its time to start seriously thinking about what comes after Japan and when will it happen. Also, how will we finish out our time here?

Sapporo, our current location as of this moment, is cheap and comfortable. Each move we make in Japan will cost us money. Moving from Tokyo was paid back in reduced rent and expenses. But going anywhere else would probably mean higher costs. So, this may well be our last long term spot in Japan.

Gaba Halloween, staff members only.
My coworkers at Gaba after a Halloween party for clients.

Our next destination is probably going to be in Europe. Australia calls to us both, but its harder to find employment there for a working visa, and its an expensive place to just go on tour without working. If I can find an online gig that can support us, maybe. Europe has a lot more options and its a gateway to so many different places I want to visit.

I think if we do end up in Europe next, we will be there for quite some time. Likely not just in one country, but moving from nation to nation as work opportunities (or eventual self-funding) permits. Right now, we are eye-balling Spain as a starting point. The cost of living is low, and the demand for English teachers is pretty high.

Gaijin Survival GuideLife in Japan

How to Do Laundry in Japan Part 2: The Washing Machine

Inside the Washing MachineInside the Washing Machine

This is a continuation of How to Do Laundry Part 1: Laundry Products

Now you’ve got your laundry detergent, fabric softener, and some oxygen bleach. Perhaps you’ve even double-checked the tags on your shirts and pretreated stains. Laundry is now in the washer and it is time to get cleaning.

Where to Put the Detergent?

The size of your laundry load will determine how much detergent you will use. Usually, the laundry load size is measured in liters or L, and the detergent will have measurement lines on the cap or cup to gauge how much to use in relation to that.

Example of Laundry Detergent instructions.

If you have liquid detergent, there should be a small well with a hole located on the side just above the laundry drum.

A common location to pour liquid detergent. It may differ based on machine

If you have powdered detergent, it should either go directly into the drum or into a pull-out tray specifically meant for powders.

Detergent Powder Tray. Be sure to check with the washer’s manual or use a translator app to double-check any markings.

Where to Put the Fabric Softer

One of the most unusual things about Japanese washing machines is all the different receptacles to put all the laundry products. In my American washing machine, all of it went into a single tray — which was subdivided into sections, one for each product type. Though I think some of the newer front-loading machines do follow this logic and I haven’ had the opportunity to use one.

For the fabric softener, there is a small receptacle on the washing drum itself. The most common place to put your fabric softener. You might have to dilute the softener with water if it’s too thick, otherwise, you might find a white residue on your dark clothes.

Just one example where the fabric softener goes. Just be sure to double-check, it should be labeled

Where to Put the Bleach

If you have a liquid bleach, it most likely needs to be poured into the same well as the detergent. For powdered bleach, it should go into the same tray as the powdered detergent tray. I’m guessing this is why most Japanese don’t use chlorine bleach, the way the washing machine puts the product directly on to the clothing would easily stain the clothing — It isn’t diluted before being released into the washing cycle as in American machines.

Basic Washing

Just for the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that you’ll only need the basic or automatic wash setting cycle.

  1. Push the power button – Look for “電源” and “切/入” sometimes its also marked by PowerOnSymbol (power symbol). This button toggles the washing machine on and off. The machine should beep and the status/time display should turn on.
  2. Close the lid and press the “スタート” button – The default cycle or “コース” should already be set to “機準” or “Standard Wash”

After the cycle has started, it should be fully automatic. The drum should turn the clothing a few times before letting the water in. It’s all a part of a feature that weighs the clothing and determines how much water to use.

Example Controls of Washing Machines

What! Only Cold Water?!

So you’ve noticed that the washer only has cold water and there is no option to have warm or hot washing water.

If you were born before a certain year, you might be wondering why the water is cold and there is no hot water for washing. I know that old laundry habits are hard to kick. Washers have changed and so have laundry detergents. You no longer have to use hot water to get clothes clean.

Modern detergents – in Japan, America, and the rest of the world – are much better at putting enzymes to work in removing dirt and stains at lower water temperatures. In fact, they are less effective at higher temperatures.

So, unless you are using a washing machine that’s older than a decade and you’re using detergent from 1995, I’d say that there is no need to use hot or even warm water washing. Not only will you save money in the form of cheaper energy bills but also save your clothing. It’s common knowledge that cold water is gentler on your clothes, and can protect them from fading, shrinking, or bleeding.

If you are concerned about disinfecting, there are plenty of safe (human and environmental) laundry products such as oxygen bleach to help with bacterial and mold.

If you are concerned about stains, it’s always best to pretreat strains according to the type of fabric *before* putting into the washing machine. It’s a subject well discussed over the internet, and a simple Google search will come up with some kind of solution.

If you don’t believe me, check out Consumer Reports’ article on “Don’t Bother Using Hot Water to Wash Your Laundry.” Even Smithsonian Magazine makes a fine argument for washing clothes in cold water. For extra reading visit

Cheat Sheet for using Japanese Washing Machines

Keep in mind washing machine controls differs by manufacturer and model, but I’ve created a simple cheat sheet of the most basic and most common controls. Feel free to print out or download it to your smartphone.

Cheat Sheet for Japanese Washing Machines

If there are extra features on your washing machine, then I suggest downloading a translation app on to your smartphone for real-time translation. I highly recommend Google’s Translate App (Apple App Store or Google Play Store) for on-the-fly translating with your smartphone’s camera.

Try to find your washing machine’s make and model number, and searching for the PDF manual online at the manufacturer’s website. Google’s Chrome web browser comes with automatic translations via Google Translate which you can install as an extension will greatly aid your search.

Good luck and happy washing!

Gaijin Survival GuideLife in Japan

How to Do Laundry in Japan Part 1: Laundry Products

Quick Guide to Japanese Laundry ProductsQuick Guide to Japanese Laundry Products

Congratulations! You’ve got an apartment and you have a washing machine. But where’s the dryer? Oh, there is none, but we will get to that soon enough. Where’s the soap? You’ll have to buy that yourself. You’re in luck because today I’ll pass on what I’ve learned about buying Japanese laundry soap, fabric softener, and other laundry sundries. So here’s the quick’n’dirty version to help you get clean — and without hardly knowing any Japanese.

Laundry Detergent – 洗たく用洗剤

Laundry detergent is common and is sold in grocery stores and “konbini” marts, you might find the same brand for cheaper at bigger drug stores and even more so at discount stores like Don Quixote. If you want deeper discounts, shop online at by keeping an eye out for as much as 20% off under “Today’s Deals” or on Amazon Pantry.

I suggest buying the liquid laundry detergent as opposed to the powder kind. The powder detergent will sometimes leave a soapy residue on clothing, especially when you pour it into the wrong soap receptacle in the washing machine. But if cash is tight then go for the low-cost powdered detergent. Like in the US, liquid detergent comes in bottles. What’s unique with Japan is that soap detergent refills come in bags with pour spouts. Powder detergent, of course, is found in cardboard boxes.

Some Japanese brands of laundry detergent come with additives, usually fragrance but also color-safe bleach and fabric softener. Usually you’ll be able to tell that there are additives by the diagrams on the package, but also because they are more expensive.

Look for the following kanji in the table below. They will be printed on the front of the product usually at the bottom. The same or similar kanji will be printed on the back near the bottom in a product description table next to 品名 or “product name”:

Detergent for washing洗たく用洗剤せんたくようせんざいSentakuyō senzai
Synthetic detergent for washing洗濯用合成洗剤せんたくようごうせいせんざいSentakuyō gōsei senzai
Unscented detergent for washing香りのない洗たく用洗剤かおりのないせんたくようせんざいKaori no nai sentakuyō senzai
Unscented 香りのない かおりのない Kaori no nai
Scented or Fragrance 香り かおり Kaori

Fighting the Funk

The most interesting detergent additive I’ve discovered is an anti-mold and anti-bacterial agent. This makes sense in Japan because many people do not have drying machines and must hang-dry clothing. During the rainy season, it is very common to dry clothes indoors. While some folk use laundry dehumidifiers to cut down on mold growth on clothing, but that might not be an option for you since they can cost around ¥15,000 ($148 USD) for a good one. If you notice a funky gym-sock smell on your clothing even after washing and drying look for the following kanji on detergent packaging:

For room drying部屋干し用へやぼじよHeyaboshiyō
Room-drying detergent部屋干し用 洗剤へやぼようせんざいHeyaboyōsenzai
Laundry Detergent Samples
Examples of Laundry Detergent – Liquid comes in bottles, Powder comes in boxes

Fabric Softener – 柔軟剤

Line drying clothing is the norm in Japan and you may notice the stiff feeling in your clothes afterward. Using fabric softeners removes solves the crunchy clothing problem and makes ironing a tad bit easier. If you find your clothing is super crispy after drying *and * after using fabric softener, try using less laundry detergent. I guess this is why there seems to be an endless selection of fabric softeners available on the Japanese laundry isle.

Most fabric softeners are fragranced; they usually have flowers or bright colors on the bottle. They do make unscented softeners and usually come in an all-white packaging, but they are hard to differentiate from laundry detergent of the same fragrance-free kind.

Nearly all fabric softener comes as a liquid in a bottle, with refills in bags.

Here is some kanji to help you in your search:

Fabric Softener柔軟仕上げ剤じゅうなんしあざいJūnan shiagezai
Fragrance-free softener香りのない柔軟剤かおのないじゅうなんざいKaori no nai Jūnanzai
Samples of Fabric Softener
Examples of Fabric Softener – The bottom row are fragrance-free

Bleach – 漂白剤

Most bleach in Japan is the color-safe kind, using hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach. Its kind of rare to find chlorine bleach outside of kitchen cleaning products. Some laundry detergent already comes with the whitening agent, so it’s not necessary to buy extra bleach unless you’re trying to get rid of stubborn stains.

Most hydrogen peroxide or oxygen bleach will come either powdered or liquid; the powder kind is cheaper. Look for the following kanji on the front of the product near the bottom.

Bleach for clothing衣料用漂白剤いりょうようひょうはくざいIryōyō hyōhakuzai
Bleach for Laundry Samples
Examples of Bleach for Laundry

Starch Sprays & Wrinkle Removers

If you have an office job that requires a dress shirt, jacket, and slacks, chances are you’ll be ironing your clothing. There is no escaping the fact that line drying will cause wrinkles, but there are solutions to help you iron them out. Starch sprays help to smooth cloth and keep wrinkles away throughout the day. While wrinkle removers do just that: they help remove wrinkles making ironing easier. This is especially handy for fabrics made of cotton, cotton blends, rayon, and linen.

Here is what to look for when searching for ironing aids:

Spray Starchスプレーのり すぷれーのり Supurē nori
Starch Agent for Iron アイロン用のり剤 あいろんようのりざい Airon-yō nori-zai
Finishing agent for iron アイロン用仕上げ剤 あいろんようざい Airon-yō shiage-zai
Wrinkle remover for iron アイロン用シワとり剤 あいろんようしわとりざい Airon-yō shiwa tori-zai
Spray Starch
Spray Starch & Wrinkle Removers

Cheat Sheet of Japanese Laundry Products

All this can be hard to remember so I’ve created a PDF cheat sheet of laundry products that you can download for printing or save to your mobile device or smartphone. So good luck and happy laundering!

Continue to How to do Laundry in Japan Part 2: The Washing Machine

Beyond TokyoGaijin Survival GuideLife in Japan

Visiting the Dentist In Japan


So there I was, eating my eggs and toast for breakfast when I detected something hard and suspiciously tooth-like rattling around in my mouth. This is not how happy stories generally begin.

Filling in the details

It turned out, thankfully, to be an old filling rather than an actual tooth. I’d been warned by my dentist years earlier it may need to be replaced someday and someday had just arrived. Fortunately, there was no pain to speak of, but it was a pretty big filling so it left the tooth rather vulnerable.

Anne hit up the internet looking for English speaking dentists in the area. There were a few. My first choice didn’t work out. I called and they reported they were not taking any new patients at this time. The second one Anne picked out only took walk-in patients for first-time or emergency visits. I decided to go in early on a Friday morning as I expected a long wait.

These souffle pancakes are quite popular in Japan.

Short but sweet

Omni Dentix was the name of this establishment. The online reviews were not exactly promising, a mere 2.4 stars on average. But reading the translated revies, most of the Japanese customers seemed to take some issue with the receptionist rather than the dental work itself. One of the one-star reviews mentioned her bright colored dress. It seemed worth the risk.

I grabbed some cash to pay for the work. Accustomed to American dental practices I grabbed about $500 / 50K Yen. Since I have the national insurance here, I’d only need to pay for 1/3 of the bill, but I wanted to play it safe. We found the place without too much trouble and arrived about 30minutes after they opened.

The office was not the gleaming white palace of medicine you expect in the west, but it was nice enough. I filled out a simple questionnaire and settled in for a wait. After only about 5 minutes, a doctor came out to see me. We sat down at a desk. I described my problem. He told me to please follow him.

There was a large line of people queued up to take a picture of this location.

We went straight to the dentist’s chair, he looked at the tooth, we talked about options. He offered a simple filling or a “metal reconstruction.” I opted for the filling in this case. He got to work and about 15 minutes later he was finished. The filling was an “old school” amalgam style. I hadn’t had one of these in many years, but frankly, teeth aesthetics in the back of my mouth are not high on my priority list.

I’d never had such no-frills work done. They didn’t insist on x-rays or a full dental cleaning and check-up first like I normally get in the US. He applies some local anesthetic, he cleaned the damaged tooth up, drilled it bit, put in the new filling, dried it, polished it, and done. The bite is great and there was only minimal discomfort through the process.

Not the tooth fairy, but far better than a picture of the inside of my mouth.

Then the big surprise

I was a bit stunned that we were all wrapped up 40 minutes after I’d wandered in the door. I didn’t even get the usual dentists to lecture about brushing and flossing my teeth. I headed to the receptionist to settle my bill. The total cost to me: 1640 yen. That’s about $15 US. Granted, that is 1/3 of the full bill due to the national health insurance but still, I was stunned how cheap it was.

All in all, cheap, fast, and convenient. Color me super happy about it. The receptionist can wear whatever she likes, Omni Dentix gets 5 stars from me.

I can respect American dental practices and their dedication to patient health and thoroughness, but when people with limited incomes have a dental emergency they dread not only the trip to the dentist but the somewhat devastating bills that often come with it. I’ve been there a few times. I rather wish this kind of service at this kind of price was an option for people who just need the work done with minimal fuss and expense in the US.