Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #5: Onsen

I guess... should I write something about onsen?

Japanese culture makes a habit of visiting onsen, known in other countries as natural hot springs. The word is not often used to refer to the hot springs themselves, but rather to nearby inns that funnel the natural spring water into private bathhouses, where patrons can relax. In my time in Japan, I have only visited about half a dozen onsen, but there are thousands of them in Japan, ranging from elegant to bus-stop quality. Most recently, I visited an onsen located in a pitstop in Yamagata Prefecture. It was located inside a giftshop, and crowded with patrons coming home from a climb up Mount Gassan.

The above picture is likely from a ryokan, which is an expensive old-style inn where people crossing the highways during the Edo Period would stay. This type of inn is still popular, even today. Below is a picture of the more likely scenario: a modern-style onsen located in a modern building, with large picture windows but no direct access to the outside. The women and men are separated by a high wall, though there is often a clearing at the top of the wall to allow vapors to pass though. In Japan, the symbol ♨ is often used to mark an onsen on a map or road sign.

Obviously, since the invasion of Western culture into Japan, the previous practice of mixed-gender bathing is no longer in effect. What few onsen remain that allow mixed-bathing are known as konyoku, and offer mixed-gender bathing only as an extra option, not as the norm. To ensure that the water is kept clean, each onsen contains a shower area between the baths and the locker room. Patrons are expected to clean every nook and cranny before entering the baths, including both shampoo and bodywash. In addition, wearing a swimsuit or taking a towel into the water is against standard protocol. Most patrons bring a small towel that they put on their heads or leave on the side of the bath, out of the water.

Honestly, it's a great experience that I've had many times, in various locations and at varying levels of excellence, and I recommend anyone try it at least once. For us westerners, there is the hurdle of public nudity to overcome, even when it involves bathing nude with members of your own sex. Once you've realized that no one cares that you're naked, the hardest part is over and you can enjoy a nice, long, warm soak. Yokatta na...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


If anyone reading this blog has a pressing question about Japanese culture, please feel free to ask it in the comments section of this post. I will do my best to answer any questions in the future, for the curious.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Trip to Moon Mountain: Pictures

Today, I climbed Gassan (I.E. Moon Mountain) along with a group of about 24 people from my village. The event was organized by the village's sports club. After a four-hour bus ride, we arrived at the mountain. We rode a lift past the steepest part so we could begin our journey.

Gassan was beautiful, and the weather made it easy for us to take in all of the delightful scenery available. Located in Yamagata Prefecture, it is one of the three Dewa Mountains (Dewa Sanzan).

On the small board, you can see the kanji that make up Gassan's name: The kanji tsuki, meaning moon, and the kanji yama, meaning mountain.

At the top of the lift, we met a dog (shiba-inu) that proceeded to follow us.

To make it easy for climbers, two paths have been created, so travelers do not create a hazard when passing one another.

Surprisingly, the dog followed us very far up the mountain.

The trek was quite an ordeal, and we had to rest every twenty minutes or so to regain our composure.

By this point, we had climbed roughly 5500 feet.

Yoko-san, one of the organizers and my coworker, was in charge of one of the radios we used to keep our large group in constant contact. I teach one of her children, although there are so many that I cannot remember which one he is.

Although the view was brilliant, I often kept my head down to avoid tripping or slipping.

In the distance, we could make out a city, although I don't know its name.

There's that darn dog again!

If I remember what I wrote in a previous entry, Gassan is the smallest of the Dewa Sanzan. It's also the easiest to access year-round. The weather was so nice that I didn't wear my coat until I reached the summit.

At the top was a small buddhist temple that one could pray in for the low, low price of 500 yen. The summit of the mountain was around 6500 feet, about half the height of Mount Fuji, Japan's most famous mountain.

On our way back down, we passed the site of a former sword forge. Who would want to build a forge at the peak of a mountain?

Gassan has streams running everywhere, and the water is clean and fresh enough to drink from. You can find cups available to the public at small waystations, where you can sample the clear, delicious liquid yourself.

The dog ended up liking our company so much that he also climbed back down the mountain with us. What a trooper!

Sasumata: Man-Catcher War Fork

A fun, short entry: In every one of the schools I teach at, there is a long pole with a U-shaped head hanging on the wall in the teachers' office. This is a sasumata, which in English translates to "two-pronged weapon for catching a criminal" or, my favorite, "man-catcher war fork." In the past, it has been used as both a firefighting tool and as a tool for restraining criminals. On the right side of the following image, you can see an example of a historical sasumata.

These days, sasumata look very different. They've replaced the tiny spikes and wooden poles with aluminum. I have no idea whether it is common or not, but the schools keep these "weapons" available in case a dangerous individual threatens the teachers or students. So far, we've had no one threaten us, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to be prepared. You can watch a sasumata in action here. The video shows a group of teachers working together to subdue a "dangerous criminal" in an intruder drill.

I feel much safer knowing I am protected by the "Man-Catcher War Fork."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Punk Rock Show

Yesterday night, I was able to enjoy some fine music. Do you know any Punk? The Ramones, Sex Pistols? Or how about Rockabilly? What about Garage Rock, with bands like The Kingsmen from Portland, Oregon? Okay, well, what about Japanese Punk? It looks a little something like this:

Last night, I drove to Koriyama and met up with another English teacher. We went to Club #9, a small theater near the train station, to see some Japanese musicians. My friend, a big Punk aficionado, was able to introduce me to all of the musicians and score me some free swag (above). One thing I noticed about the concert was that they used a lot of English. All of their band names were English, both spoken and written. Some of their lyrics were also English.

A Rockabilly group named Lost Soul Revolt opened, followed by my friend's band, a group named Scrap. The lead singer reminded me of the lead singer from the band Guitar Wolf. Every member of Scrap came from the irradiated area of Fukushima, so many of their songs were about the crisis here. Even though my Japanese comprehension is sub par, I was able to feel the emotion in their voices as they sang about being unable to return home with their friends and families. At the end of their set, the audience joined in for a rousing chorus of the song "F*** Tepco."

Tepco is the Tokyo Electric Power Company, seen by most Japanese citizens as responsible for the evacuation of thousands after the instability of the nuclear plant in Fukushima caused the region to become radioactive. I suppose I should address this crisis in more detail sometime in the future.

The headlining band was The Street Beats. You can hear some of their music on Youtube. They had a very powerful stage presence, and performed two encores, even though the venue I attended was quite small (less than a hundred people). They're accustomed to playing for thousands of people, but it's nice to see they stop for all of their fans, no matter the amount. After the concert, I was invited by my friend to attend the after-party, where I had a chance to chat with the performers and thank them for all of the work they put into their stage shows. It was a pleasant experience, and I hope to attend further Punk shows in the future.

I just wish my ears would stop ringing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Typhoon Season

Typhoons. They're big, they're bad, and they're here.

Wikipedia defines typhoons as "mature tropical cyclones." They tend to appear in the Northwest Pacific Ocean. Typhoons form throughout the year, although the summer and fall months are the heaviest months of the year; in 2004 there were as many as 13 typhoons, although not specifically in Japan. However, Japan does experience a great deal of them. The area where Japan lies accounts for a third of all annual tropical cyclone activity. In fact, The Japan Meteorological Agency is tasked with the responsibility of issuing typhoon warnings to the entirety of the Western Pacific for the last twenty years.

As I speak, around 5:30pm Tokyo Time, The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a typhoon warning for Kanto, Tohoku and part of Hokkaido, three major geographical regions of Japan. I expect there will be some flooding, although nowhere near where I live, fortunately. My own village, H--, is characterized as suffering from "Heavy Rain, Storm, Flood, Thunderstorm, and Dense Fog." However, these are general terms since the meteorologists cannot individually check every village, town and city in Japan. In fact, what H-- is experiencing right now is simply heavy rain. If you click the previous link, you'll see that all of Fukushima is described using the exact same five terms.

By tomorrow, the typhoon will have moved outside the scope of Japan and northeast, toward (if I'm correct in my geography) the Sea of Okhotsk. They canceled school early today, but hopefully I won't have any problems navigating the waterlogged streets of my village tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Counting in Japanese (>_<)

If there's one thing I especially dislike about the Japanese language, it is the obscene amount of counters that exist. A counter should be thought of as "a word used to demonstrate amount for a specific set of objects." For example, in English one would say "There are five cars," while in Japanese one would say "kuruma ga go dai arimasu." Let's dissect that sentence, shall we?

Kuruma (car) ga (particle indicating subject) go (five) dai (counter) arimasu (verb meaning to exist).

In this sentence, dai is the counter. This counter is used for vehicles and machines. That's all fine and dandy, except for the fact that there are dozens of counters for every conceivable type of object in existence. I miss English for this fact: We have one, and first, and that's really about it. No need to get any more specific. In Japan, there are counters for:

People: ~nin
Small Objects: ~ko
Birds and Rabbits: ~wa
Long, Thing Objects: ~bon/pon/hon
Floors (of a building): ~kai/gai
Books: ~satsu
Rankings (1st, 2nd, etc): ~ban

...and more! You can find a more complete list here.

I am still learning all of the counters, so when in doubt I fall back on the "general" counters, which can be understood by most people:

1 = hitotsu
2 = futatsu
3 = mitsu
4 = yottsu
5 = itsutsu
6 = mutsu
7 = nanatsu
8 = yattsu
9 = kokonotsu
10 = too

Complicated, amiright?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mount Gassan

I signed up to climb Mount Gassan (月山) along with some people from my office. I guess you can loosely translate the name as "Moon Mountain." It's about a four hour drive from my apartment. Located in Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku Region of Japan, Gassan is the tallest of the Three Mountains of Dewa (出羽三山).

 These mountains have a rich history dating back 1400 years, to the time of the 32nd Emperor of Japan, Sushun-tenno (崇峻天皇). Since then, the mountains have existed as a center of ascetic religious beliefs. Throughout history, many people have chosen to undertake pilgrimmages to these mountains in the pursuit of religious enlightenment.

Each of the three mountains has a special significance. Mount Haguro (羽黒) is the smallest of the three mountains, but is accessible throughout the year and contains one of Japan's national treasures, a five-story pagoda. Mount Yudono (湯殿) is considered the most holy of the three mountains, and much of it is worshipped as hallowed ground. Gassan, in addition to being the tallest, is also home to a variety of rare plants. I'll try to take some good pictures for all of you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Japanese-Style Wedding

Last weekend, I attended a Japanese wedding in Tokyo. The bride graduated from my college a couple of years before me. When I lived in Tokyo back in '09, she helped me out if I had problems and was generally amiable. Back in early '11, I was invited to her wedding. Since then, I'd been making plans.

I caught a shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo on Friday and met up with some of the other wedding guests, mutual Japanese acquaintances. The wedding was held in Disneyland, of all places. Specifically, the Disneyland counterpart known as Disneysea, known as such because of the massive lake at its center.

The ceremony itself was beautiful, held in a circular chapel with large, elegant windows. The priest spoke in both English and Japanese, for the benefit of the few foreigners in attendance. Afterward, the bride and groom held a large reception for their guests, featuring some inspiring speeches (I didn't understand them) and a meal with almost a dozen courses. To top it all off, Mickey Mouse and the whole gang came to the reception wishing the new couple well. After posing for well over one million photos (I may be exaggerating), they performed some wonderful song and dance routines.

The bride's dress was a lovely strapless affair, with a train so long that she had a special attendant who moved it every time the bride wanted to turn right or left. The groom had some sort of tuxedo that I'd never seen before. All I can say is that it had more frills than anything else I've ever seen in my life. Later, he set the tables on fire, but that's a story for another day.

When it comes to a Japanese-Style Wedding between an American woman and a Japanese man, the rules of home-court advantage seem to apply. In this case, we adhered to many of the Japanese traditions and customs. Although, having never been married (that I know of) I can't always differentiate between what's inherently Western and what's not.

One thing in particular that surprised me is that in Japan it is customary to give money instead of gifts. Whereas in Oregon a couple might register at Target or Home Depot and expect guests to shop for them, in Japan everyone gives a go-shuugi (celebratory gift, ご祝儀) of cash to the bride and groom. For regular guests, it is 30,000¥ (around $350 dollars), but for relatives and parents it is even more. It can often be said that you are paying your way into a wedding in America with things like microwaves and dish sets, but in this case I was actually paying to attend a wedding with cold, hard cash. I actually prefer this practice to Western ones. When you're a newlywed couple starting a life together, I would expect that funding is more important that appliances.

My friend is an English teacher at an elementary school in Japan. During the ceremony, we watched videos made by her students. Of course, there were a few wet eyes in the audience. At the end of the reception, the bride and groom presented their respective families with gifts for having assisted in the planning and production of the entire affair. A lovely gesture, to be sure.

After everything was said and done, we had a second party for the young'ins! In Japan we call this nijikai (二次会), which means "second party on the same night." All of the people who were unable to attend the main ceremony due to space concerns or other business came out to harangue the couple in the most polite ways possible. I was please to come away with a 3-in-1 Breakfast Machine after winning the Bingo tournament, although that meant I had to carry a gigantic box everywhere I went for the rest of my vacation.

My trip to Tokyo was a lot of fun, but this was by far the best part of it, as well as the only reason I even considered spending $200 on a train ticket. To my friend, I wish all the best in the future. Finding that one special person is a delicate process, and earning/reciprocating that mutual affection is like walking a tightrope. It's always exciting, though. I'm glad you've found your balance.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #18: Purikura

An abbreviated, mispronounced form of the words "Print Club," Purikura (spelled プリクラ in Japanese) are photo booths located throughout the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo and beyond. For a small sum of cash shared between chums, you can take a series of photos in front a green screen. As you can see from the above photo, we later used image editing technology to write our names and add some fancy effects.

The photo booths are usually found in Game Centers, video game arcades with amusements ranging from UFO machines (claw machines in the US) to more traditional combat-oriented coin munchers. The girl on the side of the booth above shows one of the more annoying traits of Purikura: the photos have a habit of over-emphasizing eyes, making people look cartoonish.

You choose from a variety of backgrounds and poses before you begin. Be prepared, because after choosing you have only a short timeframe to get in position. Once the camera flashes, there are no do-overs. Your fee will afford you roughly half a dozen shots before you are directed to the editing partition of the booth. Once you have customized your pictures to your satisfaction, the machine prints them out. Purikura are small, only a couple of inches in size. They are stickers, meant to be affixed to cellphones, electronic dictionaries, cameras, etc. When you pull out your cellphone to make a phone call, you are instantly swept by a wave of nostalgia back to a time when your friends were close enough to make funny faces together in a 3x3 foot room.

If you have $5 to spare while you're visiting in Tokyo (and have friends, I assume), drop by a Game Center and snap some photos. Even if you divide them evenly amongst your friends, you'll still have seven or eight stickers you can put anywhere. There are worst ways to make memories.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #99: Capsule Hotels

So, I spent this weekend visiting my old haunt, Kawagoe. It's a pretty big city, roughly twice the size of my home, Salem. While staying there, I had to make sleeping accomodations, and ended up staying at one of the oft-spoken of Capsule Hotels that litter Japan. These hotel rooms are really nothing more than coffin-shaped boxes with mattresses inside. You can see from the photo above that they are quite small. That may be part of why the price tag is only $40 per night.

For my $40, I received one "bedroom," pictured above, in addition to access to a communal bathroom and sauna. There, I was able to wash away the sweat and dirt clinging to me. Hours of walking in 90-degree, humid weather will do that to the most stalwart of men.

There are no doors, and privacy comes with a pull-down screen that protects against visitors and noise. The screen hooks at the bottom of the entrance so that it can only be lifted from the inside. On the upper right is a television, and the speaker is near the head of the bedroom, so you can hear the program without disturbing adjacent capsules.

I set my alarm for 9am so that I could spend extra time in the sauna and still meet the 10am check-out deadline. The hotel has a common room with leather couches and a wide-screen television, so I watched the news before gathering my things and taking off. One thing I found particularly interesting is that the hotel takes your shoes when you arrive. I assume that's to prevent you from skipping out on your bill, but it might just be a strange habit of this type of establishment.

Sleeping at the Capsule Inn was a pleasant, relaxing experience and I would definitely use of these businesses again if I was visiting somewhere in Japan for a short time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Teachin' to the Choir

I would consider Tuesday to be the first of my "real" lessons. Despite lack of adequate preparation time, I was able to cobble together a few lesson plans using hastily located and executed ideas found on... the internet, of all places! Who would have thought!

The first thing I learned was that drilling the vocabulary in context is essential. Even a phrase containing as few as five words can be a major obstacle for students just starting to learn English. For example, yesterday my first lesson was "Please bring me that ____." The children understood the purpose, but failed in the execution. "Please me that" or "bring please" were more common responses than the target structure. In retrospect, I view it as a failure to drill the grammar and vocabulary in equal amounts. I focused too much on one side of the equation.

My second lesson was more successful, partially due to the simplicity of the lesson itself. "He plays sports" is an easy concept that contains only three words and speaks of a subject beloved by elementary school children. They already know baseball, basketball, and tennis. They love to play sports. Their energy is boundless. The concepts of "she" and "he" can be easily taught using students as examples.

Games are the solution. A proper balance of drilling vocabulary and playing games to consolidate that vocabulary. I like to think of it as "tricking children." Sounds rotten, but making them think they're having fun when they're actually learning makes me giddy.

My third lesson, a lesson completely out of the blue which left me utterly unprepared, also went well. Forced to adjust my teaching style due to small class size, this lesson was an exercise in winning the trust of the class. A small group, they were reticent to accept a newcomer (and a foreigner at that). After familiarizing myself with their names and playing some games, I'd like to think I won them over.

It was fun, all-in-all, but next time I'll definitely need to be more prepared.

The pain, oh the pain--

Admit it! You've been to a hospital at least once in your life. Don't lie to me! Although... you probably haven't been to a Japanese hospital before. The fundamentals are the same--make people feel better, cure diseases, etc--so it's really the finer points that make the sharp contrast between Japanese health care and American health care.

As a resident of Japan, I was required to enroll in the Japanese health care system. Everyone living in Japan must have health insurance. Of course, that's just the law. In reality, many people cannot afford health insurance and enforcement is lax. Japanese citizens visit the hospital nearly four times as often as Americans. I recall my time spent as a foreign exchange student in Tokyo; whenever any of us would get even remotely ill, all of our friends would advise us to visit a doctor.

I had occassion to visit the hospital this week. Let me assure you, it was nothing serious. While there, I was not particularly shocked by anything I saw, except for the large population of elderly people visiting at the same time. This may be due to the rising median age in Japan. I did a short report on the diminishment of the Japanese population back in 2009. The gist of it was that if Japan doesn't start having more babies or bring in some foreign labor, the youth of Japan will not be able to shoulder the burden of the expanding elderly population. By 2050, 40 percent of Japanese citizens will be over 65 years old!

But that's neither here nor there. Public health insurance pays around 70% of my medical expenses, and I make up the rest out-of-pocket. This comes down to a very reasonable amount, at least when compared to the soaring costs of medical care in the United States. Here's a real zinger for you: in the USA, an MRI scan costs $1,500. An equivalent MRI in Japan costs roughly $100. Since Japan is a cash-based society, the hospital doesn't send you a bill. They prefer you to pay in cash, at the counter, on your way out the door.

I'm not going to pretend it's a perfect system, though. It is easy to get an appointment with a doctor because there are three times as many hospitals per capita in Japan than in America. However, these hospitals still suffer from a "crowding-out" effect where serious patients suffer due to an influx of people going to the hospital for routine or non-serious treatment. The system also suffers from over-medication and excessive paperwork.

I'll always remember a story my friend (a fellow ALT) told me about her experience with Japanese hospitals. She cut her hand with a knife while cutting vegetables and had to be taken to the local clinic. The doctors held her from treatment until they could determine which name or title would be most appropriate to use when addressing her. Finally, they sent her home with medication so powerful that it caused her to black out. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but my point is that every health care system has its flaws. I can imagine, though, that from an American's perspective low co-pays, short waiting times and an abundance of readily-available clinics would be seen as a godsend.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #105: Strawberry Syrup

Pictured above: the first pancake I ever made. It was ugly but delicious, in the same way that a vegetable is ugly but delicious. Its inception was simple yet graceful. A cup of milk, a single egg and a package of what I can only describe as "white mystery dust" were its only ingredients. Spurred on by dreams of grandeur brought on by my culinary skills, I purchased these:

The Japanese reads: "Strawberry and Butter Cream." It's a topping for whatever, but what really appeals to me is the method of deployment: to use, one needs only fold the small package in half. The middle of the seal (where the picture of the hand squeezing the package is located) snaps open, creating a hole large enough to expel the strawberry and butter in a single stream of artificially-preserved ecstasy. Needless to say, the pancake was delicious beyond description. If anyone wants to try one of these things out, I'd be happy to mail a couple to America.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fruits Basket

Today marked the end of my first week as an ALT--Assistant Language Teacher. I spent a total of approximately 40 hours at five schools, alternating between elementary and junior high school students. Due to the small population of my village (less than 7,000), my schools are large yet my students are scarce. On the low end of the spectrum, my smallest class has only seven children in it. This makes it very hard to organize group activities.

One game I found the elementary children readily embraced is the game "Fruits Basket," which requires little more than a knowledge of fruit vocabulary and a circle of chairs. Each child is assigned a fruit: Strawberries, Apples, Oranges, etc. A person stands in the middle of the circle and shouts out the name of a fruit, and those children have to stand and run to a new chair. On one hand, the children are able to release their natural, pent-up physical energy. On the other hand, they are given control of the scenario by having choices. Some children would purposely try to be the odd man out because they enjoyed having the power to choose fruits over and over again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dawn of the Final Day

It's not really the Final Day, unless you're counting Friday as the final day of the week. That picture is purely for dramatic effect or, as we say with rapidity, "dramaffect." I've been teaching real classes in my village since Monday, swerving up and down and streets of the hill-ridden countryside and moving between schools as one might move between appetizers on a sampler platter. I'm never at one school for too long: One day, I may be teaching the names of fruits at an elementary school, the next day teaching junior high students to use contractions.

Regardless, I'm finally doing what I've been getting paid to do. What a surprise that it's actually not what I expected it to be! I envisioned crafting intricate lesson plans in the dead of night, tinkering with each aspect in order to cater to my students' individual quirks. Instead, I find myself regulated to the corner of the classroom, watching with a frozen smile as the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) leads the class lessons and calls upon me to teach students the difference between pronouncing "boring" and "bowling."

I don't make it sound very glamorous, but don't be deceived. I'm actually having fun. The students are full of energy and their manners are surprisingly good. I expected classrooms of deviants, snapping at my heels and pulling at my necktie as if it were a free-hanging noose. The teachers are all very kind and seem to have a good handle on classroom management. In fact, considering that I am only at each school a couple times per week, I question whether I am even necessary. Besides pronunciation, these teachers are entirely capable of evoking success in their students' English abilities.

Operations at junior high and elementary levels differ, of course. On the upper levels, I am a constant shadow within the class, participating in activities alongside the students, leading them in vocabulary drills as set out by the JTE, and correcting their simple mistakes by hovering over their shoulders like a hawk. In the elementary schools, I serve a perfunctory role as vocab driller and funny-face-maker. I am at least grateful that elementary school students can be appeased by even the most innocuous and simple gestures, such as pronouncing the word "sushi" in Barney the Dinosaur's nasally tenor.

I wish I could be more informative, but four days is hardly enough time to accurately measure an individual student's propensity to learn a foreign language when he'd rather be playing baseball. If I come off as some sort of oblique roustabout in this narrative, I sincerely apologize. While I cured myself of Japanese culture shock during my last trip to Japan, I must admit with shame that my naivety is a perpetual flaw.


I've wanted to update my blog for a while now, but I have been swamped with work. This has been the first week of real teaching for me, even though most of it has just been self-introductions. More on that soon. First, I have to post some more drink reviews, before I forget.

Fanta! This is Japanese Fanta, which comes in these cool, curvy bottles. The one I see on the selves most often is grape, but this momo-flavored drink (see: peach) is brand new and delicious. Peaches are one of the most popular fruits in Japan, along with strawberries, and there are even folktales written about peaches (see: Legend of Momotaro). I recently got a big bag of peaches for no reason, and I can attest that, at least in Fukushima, they are delicious! Don't try to Google Momo Fanta, though; there is a guy on Facebook named Momo Fanta, and he's the first result you'll get.

Pocari Sweat is an energy drink along the likes of Gatorade or Powerade, minus the fruit flavor. It is similar to Aquarius, a drink I've mentioned before. I know you may be hesitant about drinking something named "Sweat," but I assure you the taste more than makes up for it. I like to buy a bottle of this whenever I go to the gym, and enjoy all those tasty Japanese electrolytes.

Pepsi Nex Zero, the zero-calorie Pepsi, is the most popular type of Pepsi in my region. You see the normal cans of Pepsi in some vending machines around the village, but the only kind of Pepsi you'll see sold in stores is Nex Zero. I guess it must be the appeal of zero calories that makes it so popular. I'm drinking it right now, and it's not too shabby.

Calpis! This white, milky-colored beverage is a staple of Japanese beverage culture. In my old age, I can no longer appreciate the super-sugary drinks that make children stay up until forever o' clock, so I like to enjoy a cold, uncarbonated can or bottle of Calpis. It tastes a little like vanilla yogurt. The picture above is actually a picture of Calpis Sour, an alcoholic version of the drink. "Sour" in Japan tends to mean "has alcoholic content." As you can see, this one is 3% alchohol. I'll save it for the weekend, when I don't have classes the next day.

Sometimes, the convenience stores will have promotions where you buy drinks coupled with prizes. I don't think it's meant for children, because Japanese parents tend to avoid letting their children drink soda. You buy two bottles, one popular drink and one less popular one, at a discounted price in an attempt to get you hooked on the less popular one. They also include a little toy, like this weird monkey with brocolli on his head. I'm going to call him "Brocolli-Boss."