Japanese food vending machine

Vending machine at the Japanese restaurant

20140801-DSCF1293 This is not an unusual sight in Japan. Many restaurant chains and small joints use these machines to save on labor costs and to streamline the ordering process.

Don’t be fooled by the look of the machine, many good affordable restaurants use those. If you are lucky they will have a fancy display with pictures. Making a choice will be easy.

If you are less lucky, everything will be written in Kanji without photos. Don’t be discouraged, I’ve often been in this situation as well. Adopting a puzzled expression on your face is a good solution. More often than not, a staff will come and help you choose with whatever English they know. Not only your getting great food but some original human interaction, perhaps with the cook himself.

As for the technicalities: simply insert some bills in the machine and push any button you like. Paper receipts will come out for each item, you should bring those to the table of your choice where a staff will come acknowledge your order. FYI beer is spelled like ビール.

Japanese snow monkey

GaijinGoJapan’s best of Nagano Prefecture

Are you tired of Tokyo’s scorching summer heat or simply want to escape the crowd? Nagano Prefecture is located only a short shinkansen ride north of Tokyo and has a lot to offer. Onsen, georgous mountains and monkeys are only few of the landmarks of this area of Japan. Here’s some of GaijinGoJapan’s recommendations:

Resting monkey JIGOKUDANI The japanese snow monkeys are probably one of the most emblematic figures of Nagano prefecture. Located at Yudanaka onsen, the snow macaque enjoy the volcanic hot springs of Nagano’s mountain range. They bath all day, only waiting for you to visit them!

Zenko-ji templeZENKO-JI Nagano city is not particularly recognized for being a town with historical landmarks, but Zenko-ji temple will surprise you. The Dalai Lama visited Zenko-ji, so why not you?

Lake Nojiri and mount MadaraoLAKE NOJIRI AREA Lake Nojiri is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. It is especially popular among Germans who apparently have a small community of cottages along the lakes’s shore. I think lake Nojiri area has a lot to offer to non-Germans as well, anybody can enjoy gorgeous scenery, right?

Nozawa Onsen snowNOZAWA ONSEN Nozawa Onsen receives lots of snow in winter, and happens to have lots of volcanic activity too. This makes Nozawa a ski and “onsen” Mecca of Nagano prefecture. Dozens of those hot baths are located around the city and the best: they are available for free.

Wasabi grows in well irigated rocksWASABI FARM You like this Japanese mustard that burns its way straight to your nose? Ever wondered where is comes from? Wasabi is actually a root that is cultivated in a well-irrigated bedrock. Come see how its done and taste it at wasabi farm.

Main keep of Matsumoto castleMATSUMOTO CASTLE Matsumoto Castle is one of the rare preserved castles in Japan. By preserved, I mean that the structure is the same as when it was built: no fancy elevator will bring you to the top. Instead, one must climb its way up using the original steep wooden stairs. A lot of fun!

View from Murodo StationTATEYAMA MOUNTAIN AND KUROBE DAMM This one is technically not in Nagano prefecture, but the journey starts there so it might count as well! The Kanden Tunnel Trolley bus takes you from Nagano prefecture to the Kurobe Damm and mount Tateyama in Toyama prefecture. Lots of breathtaking mountain scenery on the program!

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Japan-Guide, my trusted source of information on Japan

When it comes to detailed information about attractions in Japan, Japan-guide is hard to beat! It is simply the most complete reference of touristic destinations, cultural customs and touristic guides available about Japan. It would take years, or decades, for any neophyte traveler to cover Japan-Guide’s exhaustive list of castles, parks, restaurants and museums.

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Every entry on Japan-guide is accompanied by a complete description including the price of the attraction, the opening hours, the address, and a simple map with useful info about nearby roads, scenic paths and trains/bus stations. It also sometimes provides bus schedule, which is very practical when most local information is in Japanese!

Also, every touristic landmark is ranked by popularity (most visited). Although this can be sometimes misleading as most visited does not necessarily imply the best, it is still a good indicator of which attractions have the most to offer. Although the visual appearance of Japan-guide can be a bit dense at times, make sure to pay a visit before your next trip to Japan, it might inspire and simplify your trip organization!

Jorudan

Find train schedule easily in Japan, with Jorudan.

Finding a good train route or schedule in Japan can sometimes be tricky, but with the right tool it can become much easier. Of course, google map can do it, but its interface can be sometimes complicated to use while in a rush.

That is where Jorudan becomes handy. With its clean interface that is easy to use on any smartphone, one quickly understands why it is a popular choice among the Japanese. Whether you need to take metro in Tokyo, local trains in the countryside or move rapidly across the country with the Shinkansen, Jorudan has all the info necessary, and will provide a route with transit time as smooth as it can be.

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Tokyo at night, a wonderful portrait of Tokyo’s nighttime cityscape by Sandro Bisaro

Tokyo is really a wonderful city to explore at night. Not only the streets are safer than any other metropolis in the world, but the place simply looks like a gigantic oceans of lights and neon extending as far as you can see. Expressing the feel of Tokyo at night with words is not an easy task and neither it is with your average photography. I had the chance recently to learn about Sandro Bisaro, a photographer who specializes in night cityscapes. He covered Tokyo extensively. I’ll let the amazing images speak for themselves!

Shibuya Night
Shibuya at night
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Shiodome giant clock

Walking around Shiodome

Shiodome is a new business district of Tokyo with a very modern feeling. Skyscrapers of Shiodome host hotels, businesses and upscale restaurants. This is not an area of Tokyo especially catering to entertainment but can be nice to explore on your way to Hamarikyu Garden or before taking the Yurikamome train line on your way to Odaiba.

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Elisete Shiraishi, awesome photos of Japan

I came across Elisete’s photos on Flickr and was blown away by their aesthetic quality. I think a photo is successful when it makes you think and feel inside you: “wow I wish I was there”. Those photos just have that effect on me! I hope they’ll have the same effect on you!

This noodle dish is called Yakisoba, it is commonly served as street food during Japanese festivals.
Comida japonesa

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