Thursday, 28 October 2010

Non-trainspotters look away now...

Watching a DVD of someone playing old video games probably sounds to some like as much fun as having teeth extracted, the same way I used to feel when my dad would pull out his recordings of steam trains pulling into stations (the B-side of the record contained the same train, different station). However, this is exactly what I did last night when I rented 'Game-Center CX' from our local rental store (100 yen for a week! (about 80p)). The show is presented by Arino, a Japanese comedian, who is set a challenge each week based on a particular old video game, such as completing the game in a certain time limit. There are also sections in the show where Arino goes to investigate far flung locations that contain a treasure trove of old arcade games. I must say, watching this was a guilty pleasure but one I really enjoyed nonetheless, I guess I inherited some of those trainspotter genes!

Game-Center CX 1.0 (menu)

Arino about to play through Makaimura (Ghosts 'n' Goblins)
on Famicom (I feel for him!)

The other DVD we rented was a compilation of appearances of the Japanese comedian Ega-chan, who performs in a 'high-tension' form of comedy. Being close to Ega-chan is kind of like being near a more risque version of Rod Hull and Emu (an old English "comedian" (I use the term lightly) with an emu puppet for those who may not know) where the emu is a half naked, balding Japanese man. Ega-chan has a near obsessive tendency to expose himself at any opportunity and harass young girls, all in the name of entertainment of course, and is probably an acquired taste (for those without much taste, myself being one) but I found myself compelled to watch, despite not understanding that much of what was being said. High-tension indeed!


P.S. I believe clips of both these programs are available on You Tube if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Forest Eating

Yesterday we took a trip to my wife's home town, Kawachinagano which is in the southern regions of Osaka. My wife's mother had kindly offered to take us out for a meal at a fantastic restaurant called 'Santouka' which is situated in the mountainous forests around the area. The food was really good, with many small dishes including sesame tofu, tempura, grilled fish (which was particularly good) and many others. Not only was the food good, the views are great as well, looking out through the surrounding forest, very relaxing and a much needed break from the city.

Inside the restaurant.

The view outside.


The surrounding forest walk.

Local wildlife.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Autumn's Debut

Today autumn finally made a dramatic entrance as blustery winds threatened to blow me off the balcony, bringing with them menacing grey clouds. The temperature has dropped suddenly from a lovely 23 degrees to a chilly 13, prompting me to dig out my cardie from the depths of the cupboard. I can't grumble however, I hear that it has been an unusually long hot summer for Japan that has lasted longer than most.

Menacing clouds roll in

Seeing as the autumn has arrived, I thought it was a good excuse to get into some serious comfort snacking. Firstly, one of my favourite savoury snacks at the moment is Cheese-Almond, individually wrapped rice crackers with cream cheese and an almond top, its a perfect combination of flavours! I also really like the retro looking packaging.

Almond-Cheese, yum

The other treat that caught my eye is a wintery 'caramel latte' edition of choco-pie (I think the name actually translates as something like 'pie's fruits'?!). I have expressed my penchant for this particular snack before so felt it my duty to investigate this latest incarnation, all in the name of research! (yet again)

And thus ends my snack report.

Choco-pie wintery edition!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

More penguins in love!

The Japanese seem to have a thing for amorous penguins as I purchased another Famicom game this weekend featuring the love story of two penguins called 'Dream Penguin Story'. Although one is pink with a bow, these are not the same romantic penguins featured in Binary Land but Penko and Penta, two birds with a troubled relationship. Penko, it seems, is not too happy with Penta's recent weight gain and has decided to run off with another dubious looking penguin called Ginji and won't give Penta the time of day unless he loses his unsightly love handles.

The game is a platform affair involving Penta running through the scrolling landscape collecting miracle weight loss drinks in order to lose weight and eventually rescue the fickle Penko. Some enemies fire fruit and onigiri at Penta who must avoid them to avoid re-gaining weight, this is essential as he must lose a certain amount of weight by the end of the level otherwise Penko will lose interest completely and its game over.

The graphics are nice and there is some variation in the gameplay with some levels involving flying a plane but it is also very easy, it took me only a couple of hours to complete the whole thing! The first time I completed it, however, I succeeded in rescuing the damsel in not-so-much distress but failed to lose enough weight so she decided to run off with Ginji anyway! I just don't know why Penta even bothers!

 Dream Penguin Story

 Title screen

 Penko breaks the bad news to Penta

 A slightly trimmer Penta

Airborne Penta


One place I have been meaning to visit for a while now is Nara. As Saturday was a warm, sunny day we decided to finally make the trip and headed out by train to the West of Osaka, the journey took around forty-five minutes and passed in no time.

After a trek from the station up a hill that leads up through the town past various shops selling Nara souvenirs, we reached the main park area of Nara. We stopped at a small nearby soba restaurant that we had read about, we ate cold soba with tempura which was really tasty and some of the best I have tasted, the place is nice and quiet too. I say quiet, however there is one custom in Japan that I have still yet to become accustomed to, that of making as loud a slurping sound as possible when eating soba (supposedly a sign of appreciation). Anyone that knows me well knows of my lack of tolerance when it comes to loud eaters, so this is a particularly tough challenge for me but luckily this restaurant was the only place where it was that noticeable).

A great place for soba, if you don't mind the slurping!

After eating we headed up through the park, one thing that is immediately noticeable is the amount of deer, there are hundreds of them! They are all really friendly and quite happily stand around amongst the crowds of people, hoping for a rice cracker that you can buy from stalls dotted around the place.

Deer oh deer!

Our second stop was at the Daibutsuden temple, which is the biggest wooden structure in the world and houses a fifty-foot statue of Buddha. The sheer size of the building is breathtaking, as is the statue inside and a definite must-see when visiting Nara.

That's one big temple.

The entrance to the temple.

That's one big Buddha!

A scary looking customer!

After spending some time strolling though the park, dodging deer droppings, we eventually headed back into town and spent some time browsing the various small shops along small back streets. One place of particular interest was the Narakougei-kan Crafts Centre, a place selling many incredible wooden sculptures by local artists. Unfortunately they were all a little out of my price range otherwise I would have come back with armfuls of those wonderful things!

Some cute bunny wunnies.

A nice cuddly octopus.

Visiting Nara was an very enjoyable day out and I would like to go back again to see the things we missed, and to climb Mount Wakakusa to the west of the park, something I just didn't have the energy to tackle this time!

The four attack skills of an angry deer.

Not more deer!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Unleash your geek! Part 2

I gave into temptation again recently (seems to be happening a lot I'm afraid) and purchased a second Famicom game from 'Mandarake' a well known shop specializing in vintage toys, games and manga.

Who needs death and destruction when you can play a game about re-uniting penguins in love? You play the game by controlling one of two penguins, the other one mirroring your moves in reverse. The goal on each screen is to make the penguins meet each other either side of a heart at the top, whilst avoiding spiders and webs. These obstacles can be zapped by a beam each character possess (don't ask me why a penguin would own a laser beam) apart from flames that appear on later levels.

Overall, a recommendation for fans of the 'penguins in love trapped in mazes' genre.

Local Wildlife

Around our apartment block there are a lot of flowers growing but one type I'm particularly fond of is this one:

I'm not sure what it is but it grows everywhere. Maybe one of you horticulturalists out there could enlighten me? (I know who you are!)

The other wildlife I like around here is the turtles (our maybe terrapins?) in the local pond. Here they are enjoying the morning sun:

Ahhh, how sweet!


Yesterday we decided to take a trip to a picturesque area in north Osaka called Minoh.

From the main station there are many routes winding up through the forest covered mountains that surround the area. The route we took initially took us up past many small souvenir shops selling the local specialty, deep fried maple leaves, which must be quite a profitable gift to sell considering the trees are everywhere in abundance! At the start of the trek up the mountain there is also a huge hotel built into the side with a long elevator rising up to the different floors.

After stopping at a nice looking restaurant to fill up before the long walk ahead we carried on alongside the river, past a few interesting looking temples to an 'Insectarium', which displays many kinds of insect (as you would expect). We didn't stop here to look around as we had a long way to go before reaching the end of the trail. Along the way there were many signs warning people not to feed the monkeys, something I would happily have refrained from doing, had there actually been any monkeys there! Its one of my goals to see a wild monkey in Japan but up until now I have not succeeded, I live in hope!

Eventually we reached the end of the route to see a cascading waterfall, not a huge one but quite pretty nonetheless, it was a nice end to a walk through some beautiful scenery and I think we will return when the leaves start to turn as I hear the forest looks amazing at that time of year.

The trek begins, with an ominous hotel looming!

A good place to stop for lunch

 Even the drain covers are beautiful here.

 Insects, with a mantis trying to muscle in (top)

Very picturesque!

A tunnel to another world perhaps?

Beware of falling rocks and giant monkeys

 I'll pass on the drinks thanks

At last, the waterfall!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Unleash your geek!

Yesterday I had the intimidating task of buying a suit to wear to interviews. Having always avoided the need to wear such restrictive clothing in the past I was not looking forward to this chore but knew it had to be done so set off for Namba trying to put on a brave face. The first shop we entered was promising however, shop assistant was ever so helpful and took my measurements making suggestions all the way. I was thinking more positively at this point, that was until he told us what the price was, around £530! He had mentioned the price ranges to begin with but had failed to mention that this particular one was in the upper range. We did try on a couple of cheaper suits, one of which was fairly nice but decided to look at other shops to compare. The next store we tried was Comme Ca, a really nice store with very helpful staff. The clothes are very stylish and not too expensive, and I ended up bying a very nice suit for much less than the other store, I might have even changed my mind about wearing suits!

After that ordeal I thought it was about time to unleash the geek in me and head over to Nipponbashi (or Den Den Town) an area well known for its electronic goods. Its a haven for geeks or otaku with many video game, anime and comic stores. My aim was to purchase a second hand Nintendo Famicom, one of the original Nintendo consoles, commonly known in Europe and America as the NES. It has been a long time dream of mine to own one of these consoles, ever since I first saw pictures of one in a magazine whilst on a family holiday to Devon back in the eighties. Alongside the console I bought a copy of Ninja-kun, a game I also used to play in arcades as a kid under the title Ninja-kid. After a few failed attempts at getting the thing working, using the tried and tested method of blowing into the cartridge and switching the console on and off, I was taking a nostalgia trip back to more innocent days and underused brain cells.



Screen from Ninja-kun


Every day for the past week I have been eating inch thick white toast with a generous knob of delicious Hokkaido butter for breakfast. This week however I decided to start eating a little healthier so I was pleased to see a box of Kellogg's bran flakes (or buranfure-ku) nestled within the limited selection of cereals at our local supermarket. Apart from the Japanese writing I thought they looked pretty much like good old fashioned bran flakes that I knew and sort of loved, however I was slightly shocked to discover upon eating that they were as sweet as a bowl of Frosties! Not only that, they have a very different, crispier texture.

Despite probably being less healthier than the flakes back home, I do like the Japanese variety and will carry on eating. At least they still keep you regular!


Friday, 8 October 2010

Day 7

Not much to report today apart from a visit to one of our favourite cafes in Umeda. The cafe is called Utenakissa and is in a peaceful back street. The decor has a traditional feel and is run by just one man who always plays very relaxing classical and slightly avant-garde music. The coffee is also some of the best I have tried in Osaka, if slightly more expensive than most places.


Well its been a whole week that I have been in Osaka and its been fun! Next week the job searching starts in earnest, it should be interesting to see how that all turns out. From now on I have decided that I will not post every day but only when I have something of interest to report, as for tonight, Lupin is on TV so time to crack open a cold beer and celebrate my one week anniversary!

Day 6

Another hot sweaty day yesterday and another hot sweaty bike ride! This time our goal was an area called Horie, an area in the south of main Osaka, in order to shop for furniture. After carefully planning our route we set off, heading south across a number of rivers, the sun sparkling on the water. At the third river we stopped, there was no bridge! I looked at the map and our only choice was to head West for some time to the where the next bridge was. Half way there we stopped thinking, 'This can't be right, there must be another way across!'. At this point my wife  asked a nearby business man if we could cross anywhere, he informed us that there was no way over but you could go under the river! He seemed very friendly and seemed fascinated by my name, calling me over and stopping his friend to tell him who I was! We had to return the way we came and found a large elevator that went underground, then a tunnel that went under the river. From that point we continued our journey through an industrial area and down past Osaka Dome.

Osaka dome obscured by three large gas balls!

In Horie we passed a branch of a chain of supermarkets called Tamade (ball come out?!). This place looks more like a casino than a supermarket, with the inside decked out with neon fruit and vegetables, offering food at discount prices!


After browsing a number of furniture shops (all which where far to pricey for our small budget) we headed further East towards Namba, a very busy district in the South of Osaka. Cycling around this area proved to be an absolute nightmare! The streets are extremely busy with people, cars and bicycles zipping back and forth in every direction, you really have to have your wits about you to avoid a collision.

We finished off the day at our favourite okonomiyaki (a kind of thick savory pancake) restaurant, its a family business and the atmosphere is always lively and friendly and they serve many varieties of the dish. Their website is

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Day 5

A slow day today without much to report, spent most of the day inside on some illustration work. Had a bad nights sleep last night so kept falling asleep on the floor, I guess the jet lag is still taking its toll!

I have been eating far too many sweets and snacks recently, today I ate a whole box of Lotte Choco Pie (puff pastry sweets with a chocolate filling) my excuse is I love the packaging so put it down to research!

Chocolate Pie!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Day 4

Another warm and sunny day! Just about managed to wake up early enough to speak to my parents via Skype for the first time since being here which was nice, although I did get a bit confused by the time difference thinking we were 9 hours ahead rather than 8! Still, they were nice enough to stay awake for an extra hour to speak.

I had been eagerly awaiting another day of cycling around town since yesterday and today our target was Muji in the Loft department store in Umeda (central Osaka) to buy household goods. The journey took us around 25 minutes and was enjoyable, if a little hectic along the busier streets, with just a few near misses along the way!

As for my adventures in food, I finally plucked up the courage to try Natto! My wife often ate Natto (fermented beans) in London and on many occasions caused me to vacate the room due to its pungent smell, but not wanting to be beaten, I vowed to eat it some day. That day was today as I bought a Natto and rice roll at the local supermarket then took a deep breath before taking a bite. My first response was one of disgust as the flavour hit my taste buds and I struggled not to spit it out, but just before I threw the rest away I had a strange urge to try some more and amazingly proceeded to finish it off! Despite not being totally won over by natto, it was a start and I think its a taste I may eventually get used to but I think I will save that for another day!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Day 3

After yesterday's rain, today was another warm sunny day. Today was also the day I bought my new bicycle! There are many cyclists around here and everyone cycles on the pavement, which makes it a bit safer but not not so much for pedestrians! There doesn't seem to be many rules for cyclists in Japan and they ride in any direction and anywhere, which can make things a bit confusing at times, I have already had many near misses. I had forgotten how much fun cycling can be, its been about ten years since I last road a bike but after initial wobbles I was zipping around town with the wind in my hair. Most enjoyable!

My first destination on my new bike was to the local council office where I had to apply for my Alien Registration card which all foreigners are required to carry at all times if they are staying in Japan more than 90 days. This was fairly painless, thanks to the help of my partner, but meant a lot of waiting. While I was waiting for my number to appear on the screen, a guy sat right next to me and straight away said 'hello!'. This man was from Afghanistan and had been living in Osaka for around eight years, I was initially taken aback by how forward he was but I guess he didn't get much chance to speak to many non-Japanese people. We spoke for a while and eventually he gave me his business card and told me if I needed any help I could give him a call. I was not quite sure what to make of the whole situation!

In the evening I cooked a meal for the first time in our new kitchen. This was also my first time to cook with octopus and my new favourite mushroom, 'eringi'! This has a kind of rich, buttery flavour and is one of many interesting types of mushroom available here.

Another interesting day!

 Eringi Mushroom

My New Bicycle!