Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aquamarine Fukushima

One of Iwaki’s best tourist spots, the Aquamarine Fukushima is a great place to visit . It is a new age sea museum and is a good way to discover the mysteries of the Ocean life. The Aquamarine Fukushima has been built at a place where the Cold Black Current ( Kuroshio) from the north meets the Warm Kurile Current (Oyashio) meet . This place is called the Shiome Sea.

The entire building is a glass structure and there are various attractions are spread across  4 levels of this aquarium.


On the first floor the first exhibit that we saw was the “ Evolution of Life in the Seas”. After viewing the exhibits on the first floor ,we took the escalator up to the 4th floor. We reached the exhibit “Along the shores of Fukushima”. This is an an open air walking trail along which there are glass tanks with the local sea creatures.



Walking down this trail we reached the third floor where we reached the Northern Pacific Sea creatures exhibit. The Sea Lion and the Walruses swimming in the high tanks are entertaining  and it is no wonder that this exhibit is loved by kids . When we visited most kids were trying to imitate the loud sounds of these creatures and each time the walrus and the sea lion dived into the water, they would clap and jump with excitement. Then we reached the Oceanic Galleria which has displays about the environmental issues and conservation of marine life etc. There is an activity area for kids where kids can enjoy drawing and colouring various sea life pictures. As you walk along to go down to the second floor you see the “Waters of Tropical Asia “ exhibit. A tropical climate and surroundings have been created here . Finally we reached the second floor and the first exhibit we saw was the “Seas of Coral Reef” . After seeing lots of coral reefs and colourful fish , we walked to the display “The Okhotsk Sea” and after this we moved to the main attraction of the Aquamarine Fukushima.- “ Oceans at the Current Rip” . This is a triangular shaped walk through glass tunnel where the creatures living at the meeting place of both currents can be seen. This I heard is the world’s first triangular tunnel. After this we viewed the exhibits “ The Oceans of Fukushima” and  finally reached the touching pool. Not to be mentioned this is a favourite spot with kids and we saw many adults all excited about touching the live sea creatures. From here we went to the Iro Iro Aquarium where there is a nice blend of a play area with the aquarium.





We then ventured outdoors to the Kappa Village. Here the countryside waterside environment has been recreated and you can find water insects and frogs a plenty. Walking along the water, we reached the Janome Beach. Not a big beach, it is a small shallow beach where kids were playing in the water and further down we saw some live starfish too. We saw one kid holding 7 or 8 starfish and he posed for some pics too.





On the way out , we passed through small tanks with Angel fish and  blowfish and a souvenir shop too.




The Aquamarine Fukushima is a nice place to spend half a day and if you happen to have kids with you, then definitely don’t miss visiting this place.


Admission fees: Adults; Yen 1600 Children: Yen 800

Address:
50 Tatsumi-Cho, Onahama, Iwaki City, 971-8101

Phone Number: 0246-732525

Timings: 9 am to 5.30 pm ( March to November)
              9 am to 5 pm (December to March)


Access : Approx 20 mins by car from Iwaki Yumoto IC


Website:  http://www.marine.fks.ed.jp/english/top_e.html

Exploring Japan

Japan has a lot to offer if you are here for a longer duration. Castles,Waterfalls, ski resorts, hot water springs, natural wonders, beaches, islands, Shrines, Temples, historical places, Nature parks, Amusement parks, name it and you have it all. It is justified to say that Japan is definitely a traveller's delight.  

The most popular way to explore Japan is to take a train. Trains are convenient and there is connectivity and most travel maps or guides indicate the nearest station and the access from the nearest station. Not to mention, Shinkansen is a good choice if you are short of time and don’t mind the cost. Unfortunately for us, Iwaki is not on the Shinkansen route so we don’t have this option most of the time. If you are taking the train from Iwaki station, you can park your car at the station parking lot and then get an endorsement at the station counter that you are traveling out of Iwaki by train and this means you can park the car for free till you return to Iwaki. Very convenient as you do not need to rely on taxi or buses if you have an early morning train to catch or are likely to arrive in Iwaki late in the night .   

Road travel by bus or car can be time consuming considering the traffic and the narrow roads in Japan. Buses connect Iwaki to major cities and there are buses for Tokyo and Fukushima  or Koriyama leaving from many parts of the city every day. Most buses however originate from or pass through  Iwaki station in central Taira. There are direct buses from Iwaki to Universal studios in Osaka, Kyoto and offcourse Disney resort in Tokyo. We still haven’t traveled by bus to places outside Iwaki but as I am told buses do take a lot more time than the train . As such locals recommend taking the trains to save on time.

We mostly travel by car. Offcourse to visit places that are far off from Iwaki like Hiroshima or Hokkaido, we will have to take the train or the shinkansen but as of now we haven’t ventured that far.

If you happen to drive to most places , then a navigation system is a must. Unfortunately for foreigners like us, good English navi is rare. Our friend had one but I am told it was not good enough . We have an Alpine Navi wherein the voice guidance and display is in English , but the input is in Hiragana-Katakana. We find our way mostly by looking up for the pincode or telephone number of the destination or some place close to it and input it. Since the display and voice guidance is in English we know that we will be guided to the correct destination.

If you are planning to drive around in Japan, it is best to purchase an ETC card. This is for the road toll on the expressways. There is a separate lane for ETC card holders at the toll gates. Currently ETC cardholders enjoy the benefit of a subsidized flat toll rate of 1000 Yen on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays regardless of the distance traveled. This is definitely a big boon for people like us, who love to travel every single weekend. I have heard that this subsidy is given for encouraging more and more people to travel during holidays and weekends and boosting the tourism industry which was badly hit during the country’s recent recession. Our local friends say that this subsidy is for a limited period and is likely to be discontinued though the likely date is still not known. The toll rates on the expressways is quite high and as mentioned in one of my previous blogs, a one way drive from Iwaki to Narita airport costs about 6000 Yen on a regular working day.

As we travel around Japan, I will try and put up some information of places that we visit along with the address and phone number or postal code


Parking:
Parking is highly expensive and in some places the rates start at 100 yen for 15 minutes. Offcourse in major tourist and commercial locations, finding a vacant spot close to your destination could be a difficult and time consuming task too. In some cases they have flat rate for a certain hours and we have usually encountered a rate of 1000 Yen for 3 -4 hours between specific time slots during the day. In tourist spots the rates on weekend are higher and though the rates displayed in bold may not appear too high, be sure to check for the fine print which has a disclaimer that the rates differ during the weekend. Usually this is written in a combination of Hiragana-Katakana and Kanji and foreigners have a hard time seeking help from locals in trying to decipher this. Our first experience came in July when we visited Tokyo and we stayed in a hotel in the Asakusa area. We asked locals for help and 3 or 4 people helped us by even calculating the amount that we would have to pay for 24 hours parking. They said we would have to pay about 2800 Yen for the entire 24 hour period. Though not cheap compared to other countries, it still seemed like a good deal. We parked our car and went around Tokyo and stayed the night in the hotel. The next day when we went to our car to leave for Iwaki, we had a shock. The amount we had to pay was Yen 7500. We took a picture of the parking charges board , paid the charges due and came home. Next day my husband happened to show the picture to his colleagues and they too calculated it at 2800 Yen. Then my husband asked them to read the fine print and they realized that a different rate was applicable on weekends and the weekend calculation came up to Yen 7500. It was an eye opener for us and now whenever we plan a long distance trip we also lookup for a parking lot with reasonable rates and if possible select a hotel that has a parking lot attached. Usually hotel parking lots are not as expensive as compared to other parking lots.


Accomodation :

Hotel rooms can be expensive in popular places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Hokkaido etc. There are certain business hotel chains like Toyoko Inn or Route Inn which have various room options. There are western style and Japanese style rooms. Japanese style rooms typically do not have beds but they have futons ( which are mattresses spread on the floor) and have tatami mat flooring. The prices are usually within a certain range of Yen 8500 to Yen 17000 for a twin or double non smoking room. This usually includes a breakfast. In some cities, parking is also free if you are a guest at the hotel. In bigger cities offcourse they have limited parking lots and this too comes at an extra cost. More or less there are paid parking spots near these hotels so it should not be a problem, except that you could end up paying quite a bit for parking . Also in most cases the Route Inn and Toyoko Inn hotels are located quite close to the railway stations and in some cases both these hotels are also in close proximity to each other. Most of them do not have a regular restaurant and you need to find other options for lunch and dinner. If you prefer a non smoking room, you need to indicate at the time of reservation. Getting a changeover later is next to impossible.

Japan has a unique kind of accommodation called Ryokans. They are Japanese style inns and quite often they are family run guest houses. They could at times be more expensive compared to a standard hotel room. This is usually because they are located near onsens and away from the hustle bustle of the cities.  Moreover traditional breakfast and dinner is provided to the guests. Sleeping is usually on the futons spread on the tatami mat flooring . They also usually provide separate inhouse footwear and yukata for use during the stay. In some cases the bathing and toilet facilities are common for all guests. Offcourse the baths are gender segregated. It would be best advised to check beforehand when making a booking rather than discovering it when you check in. A one night stay at a ryokan usually costs between 15000-30000 yen per person.

Whatever the choice of transport and whatever the choice of accomodation, travelling in Japan is the best way to explore this wonderful country. Enjoy the customs and traditions and you will feel at home. Like James Michener puts it -
 "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home."
 

Cost of Living in Japan from a foreigner's viewpoint

It is well known that Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world. Is it not justified considering that Tokyo is the capital of the most expensive country in the world. Yes, as of 2009 Japan is or rather was the most expensive country to live in. I recently read a news article that the African nation of Angola has overtaken Japan in 2010. But then I have no idea about things in Angola so I don’t want to touch the subject.

Yes, Japan is an expensive country to live in.  Whether you live in Japan or are a visiting  here, the prices are sure to shock you. The shock is greater if you are from a country like India where prices of essential goods like food and commuting costs are not unreasonably high. For New Yorkers or Londoners, the price difference may not seem to be too high though. My friends in Iwaki say that the costs of the same products or services are even higher in bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

At times we find the price comparison strange- for example the cost of 1 litre petrol is almost the same as 500 ml bottled water and much cheaper than a cup of coffee at a Coffee Shop. Also prices vary from store to store and the price gap is wide. In some stores you may be able to find a pack of 6 tomatoes to cost the same as the cost of 1 tomato in another.

You may find things to be expensive or cheap but one thing is for sure - for the price you are paying you are not compromising on the quality. Most Japanese products are costlier because the manufacturers do not compromise on the quality. Also the brand name or the reputation is of utmost importance here. Things which are expensive are considered to be of a better quality and big brands seldom reduce prices to woo customers.

I remember searching the internet looking for costs in Japan just few months back. Lots of information was there on the net- some old and some new but nevertheless these gave us a fair idea of the costs out here. I too thought of putting up some information about costs so that others can have a fair idea of what to expect.


Food items

Food items tend to be on the higher side. Fruits and vegetables are costlier compared to meat, poultry and seafood . I have listed down a few costs which more or less part form of our daily consumption. In most cases I have indicated a range of prices because these prices more or less vary between this range on a weekly basis and the variations can be shocking at times.


Product
Quantity
 Price in Yen
Drinking water
1 bottle-500 ml
120-150
Bread
 Pack of 6 or 8 slices
100-200
Milk
1 litre tetra pack
170-300
Fruit Yogurt
4 packs of 80 gm each
180-250
Pudding
1 cup -150gm
120
Tofu
1 pack
50-200
Tomato
1
90
Tomato
1 pack of 4 or 5
400
Okra / lady’s finger
1 pack of 10
200
Onion
Pack of 6
300
Potatoes
Pack of
200
French Beans
1 pack of 10-15
200
Eggplant
3-4
200-300
Corn
1
150-300
Cabbage
1 medium size
100
Radish
1 Big
100
Lettuce
1
90-180
Spinach
1 bunch
100-200
Green chillies/ Pepper
Pack of 6-10
200-400
Garlic
3
200
Cucumber
1 piece
50
Shrimps
100 gm
200
Chicken
1 kg
300-400
Apples
1
50-100
Bananas
Bunch of 6
200
Grapes
200 gm
400
Watermelon
1 mediumsized
1000-3000
Watermelon piece
300 gm size
300
Tender coconut
1
300
Pineapple
1
300
Cherry
200 gm
400
Apricot
1
300
Fruit juice/ Coke
1 Litre Bottle
150-300
Cooking Oil-
 (Canola / Sunflower)
1 Litre Bottle
200-700
Tomato Ketchup
1 400 gm bottle
200-500
Instant Ramen Cup
80 gm
80-150
Potato chips
100 gm
200
 Eggs
Pack of 10
200
Bento Box
1 box
300-800
Tuna
1 tin
300-500
Chicken (boneless)
2 kg
600-1000
Chicken wings
500 gm
400-700
Shrimp
8-12 pieces
300-600
Salmon
4-6 slices
400-1000


In Japan, usually everything is available in small quantities too. If you need just one onion or one banana, you can buy it easily. Price per piece is indicated in most cases and usually in the range of 50 to 100 yen apiece. Also certain fruits and vegetables are packed in single piece packaging. Moreover usually the price per piece or for a pack is charged on per unit or weight basis. So you don’t save by stocking more pieces. In a way, this is a good method of reducing wastage.

If you happen to come from a country where you find a large variety of vegetables and pulses, shopping is tough because you don’t get to see much variety. We have now got used to it but initially shopping for vegetables was difficult as you get to see the same vegetables all the time. Offcourse, the situation is not as bad as in South Korea where the choice was even more narrow. Milk and Milk products are plenty. The good part is that foreigners can find lot of food stuff and ingredients required for their home cuisine easily. So you don’t need to depend on people traveling from your homecountry for your supplies. This was not the case in South Korea where we lived before we moved to Japan this year. Finding foodstuff other than for Korean cuisine was a difficult task. Few stores in Seoul did stock stuff for foreigners. The only boon in South Korea was the Costco stores where American stuff could be found.

Toiletries

Cosmetics for each and every kind of need are available. If you are used to a particular brand of cosmetics , it may be difficult to find it easily. For example, I am used to the Neutrogena brand and I haven’t been able to find Neutrogena products at least in Iwaki. If you have sensitive skin /hair then it would be better to carry some for your requirements in Japan. However it is better to check the customs rules as there are strict rules for cosmetics and perfumes. Most of the P&G and Unilever products are available easily at all department stores, pharmacies.


Product
Quantity
 Price in Yen
Shampoo
700 ml
500-1200
Body Wash/ Liquid  Soap
200 ml
200-700
Body Moisturiser
400 ml
600 - 1200
Deodorant sprays
150 ml
500-1000      
Band-Aid
20 strips
200-400
Dishwashing liquid
400 ml
100-500
Laundry Detergent
1 kg
300-700
Fabric Softener
3 litre
500-1500


Eating out

Eating out can be expensive too. But then it depends on the place you choose to dine and the cuisine you select.

If you eat in a ramen shop or a smaller joint the cost is obviously less, The cheapest food probably is the O Bento or Lunch box. If you want to have a decent meal in a good joint then off course you should be prepared to pay about 3000 yen per head and this does not include drinks.

Atleast in Iwaki, the cost of a decent meal is usually in the range of 1000 - 3000 Yen per person. And usually this does not include the cost of drinks. Prices usually start from 300 Yen and can go higher up per dish. A set meal is usually priced between  700 Yen to 1000 Yen. Some restaurants like Denny’s offer free coffee or juice if you order food . A normal cup of coffee is priced between 300-700 Yen depending on the flavour and brewing style. The serving size in Japan is not very big and usually the portions are small. So if you have kids who enjoys eating it is better to order something from the kids menu for them. Some restaurants have a nice variety of kids menu and these include a small toy or candies or some other stuff which kids love. Moreover each dish you order comes separately and does not include any accompaniments . In South Korea, one main dish would come with 5-6 accompanying dishes, salads, and offcourse the kimchi and to top it these accompaniments were unlimited . After our South Korean experience , we definitely find the Japanese serving size small.

Sushi Bars are joints which specialize in Sushi and usually have a conveyor system. The price is usually per plate and the prices generally vary as per the colour of the plate. The good part is that usually there are pictures of the plates with prices printed against them and displayed at every table in the sushi joint.

Most of the restaurants do not have an English menu though nowadays it is much easier to find some waiters/waitresses willing to try and translate in broken English. The good part is that most Menu cards have pictures so you can choose what appeals to you. Most places have display shelves with a sample of the dishes available . If you cant speak or read Japanese, this is the best place for you. You can just point out the dish you want and you can prepare to eat your meal. There is a small hitch though. Usually the portion size in the sample is much more than what you will be served. So don’t be disappointed when you are served your food. However it is best advised to inform while ordering if you do not eat a particular kind of meat or seafood. Usually pork and beef are commonly used in Japanese meat dishes and seafood dishes may include octopus or sea urchin. Finding pure vegetarian dishes is difficult and you need to specify

Furniture:

Japan has a variety of options when it comes to Furniture. Nitori is the Japanese counterpart of Ikea. The variety is good and there are stores all over Japan. The pricing is reasonable and apart from furniture they also sell home décor, appliances , cutlery, pottery, gardening stuff etc . They have a English website too where the products and prices are listed down. Ironically in a country reputed for being expensive, the furniture and home décor stuff costs are much cheaper compared to the other countries I have lived in.

There are other chains too like Marhom and Tokyo Interior which offer a range of products to cater to home furnishing and décor.

In Japan, there is a concept of Renting furniture too. If you do not intend to stay in Japan for long and need only a few things for a short duration, then this could be a good choice. I am not sure about the prices but I have heard that it could be expensive depending on the city and offcourse the type of furnishing.

Clothes:

Clothes tend to be a bit overpriced in Japan if you are brand conscious and are specific about the latest trend.  If you don’t care for brands and trends, then you find the cloth prices reasonable. Most department stores have cloth outlets and these have off price sales at various times during the year. Usually during the end of season sale, you could snatch a great bargain.

There is one hitch. Most Japanese people have a slim build . As such if you are of a slightly bigger size, finding clothes of your size could be difficult. The clothes are usually marked as S, M. L and it is very rare to find an XL size. Moreover , you should remember these are Asian sizes and not comparable to the standard definition of S,M,L and XL in US or Europe. One of our non Japanese friend had a very tough time searching for an evening dress in Iwaki and had to go to Koriyama to find one. I am sure it is easier to find bigger sizes in big cities like Tokyo but then the prices are similarly higher.

Monthly utility costs:

Electricity, gas and water bill costs are high and as expected vary based on usage, the city you live in and offcourse the season. Since it is only 4 months since we came here, I don’t think it is correct to indicate these costs at this point of time. We have just experienced the summer and I understand that these bills tend to shoot up during summer. I will try and put up more information on this front when I get a fair idea in the coming months.

We have a NTT Broadband Internet which costs us 6000 yen per month for unlimited usage. We do not have a landline and did not require one for the internet broadband either. The speed is good, but certainly slower compared to the internet speeds we had in South Korea.

Mobile phone costs are substantially high. I have a NTT Docomo handset and as per my plan the call charges are about 21 yen /30 seconds in addition to a Basic monthly charge . The minimum you could expect to pay would be in the range of 2000 Yen per month even if you use the mobile phone sparingly.

We hardly use the mobilephone or calling cards to call our family back in India. We mostly use Skype or Voipzoom and could recommend these for the clarity and connectivity and most of all for reasonable costs.

We do not have a cable television or set top box at home as we are not regular television viewers. However in Japan, we need to make a payment to NHK if we have a television at home. We pay about 2500 yen per month to NHK which is for the basic plan. We get about 6 channels- all Japanese channels with the only English program being the bilingual news telecast on NHK-G.

Hair cutting charges begin from 3100 Yen and vary based on the styling and other services that we choose. The 3100 yen that I have mentioned is the least one could expect to pay.

One more major cost is the daily commuting charges . My husband drives to his work and as such we are not aware of what the average daily commuting charges add up to. Also in Iwaki, parking is not a major problem and many offices and other stores have free parking lots so we do not incur cost on that front. In the big cities, if you drive to work and need to park you car in a parking lot then it costs atleast  1000 Yen to park the car between 8am to 6 pm daily on week days. In cities like Tokyo parking rates vary from 100 yen for 1 hour to 100 yen for 15 minutes depending on the area. As such most Tokyo commuters prefer to use public transportation such as bus or the metro to save on the cost and most importantly the time. Tokyo’s metro system is very convenient and even first time visitors can easily find their way, thanks to the maps, displays in English and the colour coding of the various lines. There is a monthly or season pass system available for daily commuters. Also I have heard that most employers usually cover a certain percentage of the commuting costs as part of the pay package.

Please note that I have compiled the costs based on personal experience and these costs are as of September 2010. Moreover these are the costs that we are currently incurring in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. However prices in Tokyo and Osaka tend to be atleast 10 to 20% higher than in other places. So if you intend to be in these places you should factor in this price gap.


Health and Medical Costs:
Medical costs in Japan tend to be on the higher side. But offcourse with Health insurance, you don’t feel the pinch. Like in most other cases, our health insurance is taken care of by my husband’s company and 70 % of the healthcare costs are covered under insurance. So in effect we pay only 30% of medical costs. Moreover for children under a certain age, the government takes care of the medical costs and you don’t have to pay anything from your pocket .Just ensure you carry the child medical registration card on your visit to the doctor or pharmacy. This is something you need to register for when you get your alien registration card from your local city hall. This is not all, we also get intimations from the kindergarten and city hall whenever any vaccination drive or any periodic checkup is organized by the City Hall. 

Rent:
A small apartment in central Taira in Iwaki could cost you 45000-65000 yen for 50 sq.mtrs . If you choose to live in a locality little further away from Taira, then for almost the same price you could get a bigger apartment/house of 80-100 sq mtrs.

These rental rates are as per my knowledge for homes in  Iwaki. However in Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama and other big cities , the rent could be easily twice or thrice the amount I have indicated above.

Travel costs : 

Road tolls vary on basis of distance. The standard rate is 20 yen per km. However currently ETC card holders have a discounted flat rate applicable only on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.. This is for a limited time and I am not sure when this discounted rate will be discontinued. A one-way drive from Iwaki to Narita airport costs about 6000 Yen only for Road toll on a regular day.

I will not elaborate on the other travel costs here since I intend to write a separate blog about traveling in Japan soon.

Electronic items:

Atleast for me Japan is synonymous with Electronics. Japan is and has been the world leader when it comes to electronic goods. There are hundreds of varieties of each product. There are lot of chain stores too like Yamada Denki or K’s Denki. If you live in or near Tokyo then you will surely be advised to pay a visit to Akihabara – the mecca for gadget lovers.

In case of most home appliances, the prices are comparable to other countries. What is good is that most of these products are made in Japan and not made in China. However we have observed that the cost of Washing machine (laundry machine as the locals call it) is exorbitantly high. Plus most laundry machines do not come with a hot water inlet . Another home appliance which is highly expensive is the dishwasher. Also the dishwasher is not a common appliance in most Japanese homes and you will hardly find a kitchen fitted with one. Also finding a dishwasher at the electronic stores can be a difficult task.

Most important to note is that Japan uses a 100 V voltage and frequency of electric current is 50Hz in central and eastern Japan .This covers Tokyo, Yokohama, Iwaki, Hokkaido and the entire Tohoku region, . The frequency is 60 Hz in Western Japan and this includes Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima , Fukuoka, Shikuoka, Kyushu and other places in the south and west of Japan.

Japanese electrical plugs have two identical flat prongs with a hole near each tip. These appear similar to the American plugs. I have heard that the American plugs work fine in Japan but Japanese plugs may not work in USA.

We use voltage step up transformer for small electronic appliances that we had carried from India and South Korea. We however use these appliances only once in a while and it is best not to use electronic items with the transformer for long periods or on regular basis. Also if you are planning to carry back any appliances to your home country from Japan, you might need a step down transformer and these are easily available at electronic stores across Japan.

If you are purchasing any electronic appliances in Japan, it is better to ask for the models which come with an inbuilt English menu. It is difficult to change the settings if the English menu is not available. Most items like microwave oven, refrigerator, oven, rice cooker, laundry machine etc do not have English menu and we have managed to identify the functions and which buttons to use with the help of our Japanese friends. We did manage to get a Television set with English menu though the remote control is purely in Japanese. For those who are aware, Japanese prefer the usage of Kanji ( derived from Chinese characters) and it is difficult even for most Japanese to decipher the difficult Kanji. Most appliances have these Kanji characters ! Moreover even the user manuals rarely come with an English language translation. Even the car navigation system that we use has only voice guidance and display in English, while the input is only in Japanese. We use only the telephone number or post code input option and as such have not encountered any problems on that front till now.

Japan is not always expensive and sometimes Japan can be affordable too. If you are a traveller on a shoestring budget, Japan has lot of affordable accommodations, travel options and cheap dining joints which will ensure that you haven’t missed out experiencing the country and its culture while you were here. If you intend to live like an expat, go to the most happening joints, eat food from your country then offcourse you should be willing to shell out more.

100 YEN Stores

100 Yen Stores or "Sen En" stores as they call it in Japanese are a boon for people looking for good bargains and value for money. A visit to a 100 Yen store is an eye opener. You start wondering if this is the same country which is so reputed for being expensive. You can find a huge variety of goods for a much lower price compared to the big stores. The range of products is wide. You can buy stationery, gardening equipment, pet food, plants, toiletries, toys, party stuff, school stuff, fashion accessories, cosmetics, home décor, cutlery, crockery, pots and pans, plastic and glass ware, clothing and even food stuff and small electronic items in these 100 yen stores. A visit to a 100 yen store gives you the satisfaction of leaving the store with bags full of goodies without burning a hole in your pocket. Some 100 yen stores have a great deal of Japanese souvenirs too so a trip to these stores is good if you want lots of gifts to carry back home. There are many 100 Yen stores but the most popular ones seem to be those part of the Daiso chain. Daiso has about 2500 stores all over Japan  with hundreds of overseas branches . Not everything is priced at 100 Yen but yes most of the products are priced at 100 yen. The others are also usually in multiples of 100. The interesting thing that we noticed is that when the price is 100 Yen there is usually no price tag but as the price increases to multiples of hundred the price tags are attached. But you should be aware that sales tax of 5% is added to the product . So for a product priced at 100 yen , you pay 105 yen and for 200 Yen you pay 210 Yen and so on. A visit to a 100 yen store is a must when you are in Japan.

Recycle Shops

You can find recycle shops easily in Japan. Usually they have the words Used or Recycled  written in English somewhere on the name board so you can spot them easily. You can find anything from used furniture, home accessories, toys,  used Kimonos, clothes , bicycles and  footwear in these shops. Usually the people from good financial background do not prefer these shops and that’s why you don’t see much crowds in these shops. Usually you can find people looking for antiques or garden décor items or people looking for items to fulfill short term needs in these shops. Not everything in these shops is used. You can find some things still in their original packaging and unused . This is because these are off the market and if you are lucky you can find some good bargains in these shops.


Off Season Stores:

We have come across some stores which have year round sales on the off season products.
You can buy winter clothing in peak summer for discounted prices. The discount can go upto 80% and if you are lucky you can really get a great bargain.

We saw one such store near our home.. It is called the Abe-Kobe Ya. We went in because we saw Christmas decorations including a Santa Claus effigy at the entrance in July. We saw jackets and snowboots etc on sale for 30-80% discount.  

To sum it up , it depends on each individual's lifestyle to define his or her stay in Japan as expensive or affordable.  I have tried my best to share as much information as possible based on my personal experience.