Thursday, August 27, 2009

CheapSake: Rakuen 100 Yen Wine

This begins my first foray into the one of Japan's hidden worlds. The world of cheap ready to drink booze. I'm going to explore the world of booze in Japan under ¥200 (about $2). America has a rich history of bumwines. Thunderbird, Cisco, and Wild Irish Rose are three examples. Japan also has its own various beverages for the on-the-go drunkard who needs a quick nip. Most of these are types of low quality sake, Japanese ricewine, but shochu, a type of Japanese spirit, and other fruit wines are also floating around the conbini. So with out further blabbering my first CheapSake review...


Rakuen Wine 楽園ウイン
CheapSake #1

I expected my first installment of CheapSake to be, well, sake, but today we got wine.

Tucked in the top corner of the cooler case with the hand written price tag... ¥100. It called out to me. It said, "David, I must taste like crap, drink me." It also said "Look at the sad place I've been put in the shelf, no one will ever buy me." I partially bought this box of red wine out of pity, partially out of curiosity. The pink packaging and the explanation on how to enjoy wine written on the back says this is for the girls here. It didn't stop me--I'm going to drink this in the privacy of my room. This wine is packaged in the same kind of box you'd have for apple juice back in elementary school. It comes with a straw, just in case you don't want to dirty a class. I choose the straw. I want the full effect. The side of the box has a flavor guide, as if it were actual bottle of expensive wine, but it makes me wonder. Are there other varieties of Rakuen Wine? If so, where can I find them? From the guide I learn that the wine is full bodied, is somewhat dry, has a moderate alcohol flavor, is 12% alcohol, and should be drunk between 12-14C. Reading this I actually thought this wine might not be too bad.

So how's the flavor? It full bodied indeed, there's something to it, a bit of a kick, and it's not very sweet at all. I was afraid it was going to be super sweet grape juice, but this actually doesn't taste too bad. It's got a dominant alcohol taste in the beginning, but not harsh at all. I've had worse that came in bottles with corks. As far as it's boozing factor goes, a few boxes of this will get you there, but it won't knock you out.

Rakuen Wine
Purchased at Sunkus

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beppu Landscape

08.05 BeppuLandscape 1

08.05 BeppuLandscape 2

Beppu is a city in need of renewal.

Two Kyushu Eki-ben

I spent a week earlier this month riding trains, boats, and buses in Kyushu. Here are the two Eki-ben* I had.

Hiroshima Station Eki-ben.

Akatori Bibinba Bento w/ Hiroshima Carp green tea and Hiroshima Carp cup sake.

The bento had rice mixed with ground chicken, kimchi, and sprouts. It also had a half boiled egg and hot sauce that you mixed into the rice. One of the best Eki-ben I've ever had. The tea and sake wasn't that bad either.

08.06 ToritenNanbanBento 108.06 ToritenNanbanBento 2
Oita Station Eki-ben.

Toriten Nanban Bento.

Fried Chicken in Kyushu is called toriten とり天 instead of karaage からあげ. It's also cooked differently, the batter is more like a tempura batter than a typical karaage. Chicken Nanban, covering chicken with a egg tartar and thickened sweetened vinegar, is also local to Miyazaki prefecture. I got this bento at Oita station, not an official eki-ben, but really good!

More Eki-ben

*Eki-ben are box lunches that are sold in train stations throughout Japan that feature local recipes and specialties.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


08.04-KitakyushuMonorail, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

The KitaKyushu Monorail originating from Kokura station.

Friday, August 14, 2009

08.04 Heta-Eki1

08.04 Heta-Eki1, originally uploaded by sleepytako.

Heta Stataion

Weeds have overgrown the unused tracks and platform at this station in rural Yamaguchi Pref.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ritsurin Park - Kagawa Pref.

07.30 RitsurinPark 7

Ritsurin Park isn't one of the top three gardens in Japan, but one worth going to. Lonely planet laments on the views of the buildings from the park ruining the experience, but for me I thought it was a nice representation of modern Japan. The mountain behind the park does make a good example of "borrowed scenery" in garden design.

There is ample information about the park in English for and you can read more about the park on their webpage.

07.30 RitsurinPark 1
The adjacent buildings popping up over trees of the park.

07.30 RitsurinPark 3
Be sure to feed the hungry carp while there. Most of the little tea houses in the park sell sticks of bread you can give to the fish.

More photos in my Kagawa Udon 09 set on flickr.

Sanuki Udon - Kansai Restaurant Review

A couple of weeks ago for our 1 year anniversary Yuko, her sister, mom and I went to Kagawa Pref. for some udon. The udon in Kagawa is famous nationwide and is called Sanuki udon, the pre-Meiji Restoration name of the Kagawa area. So, we drove 3 hours eachway just to eat some noodles. Yes, they are that good! We went to two shops.

Ueharaya Honten 上原屋本店
Closed Sundays
Udon from ¥220

07.30 UeharayaHonten 1

Ueharaya is located on an alley near Ritsurin Park, great if you're going to see the park. You go in, line up, order your noodles and take what ever tempura you want. Behind there there's a institutional coffee pot looking thing that has the soup broth in it. You put it in your self. There's also a station where you can cook your noodles some more if you want. Their Korokke is pretty good too!

07.30 UeharayaHonten 3
The cooking station.

07.30 UeharayaHonten 2
My udon and tempura.

Suisha Udon 水車うどん
Closed Wednesdays
Udon from ¥420
Niku udon ¥840

07.30 SuishaUdon 1

I liked this place the best. The noodles were fresh and meaty. Like you really had to chew into them. I got the Niku udon and it was so good. If you're heading to Konpira-san try stopping off here.

07.30 SuishaUdon 2
The Niku Udon at Suisha.

07.30 SuishaUdon 3
Cold Udon at Suisha.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shimamura the cheaper, more adventurous version of Uniqlo

07.22 Shimamura-Tarumi_2
Shimamura in Kobe's Tarumi ward.

After living in Japan for a while most gaijin eventually will find themselves shopping for clothes in some of Japan’s casual stores like Uniqlo, Muji, or Righton. These shops are somewhat similar to the Old Navy, The Gap, and Tully’s in the USA. One store which recently has gained popularity in Japan, although it’s been around for a long time, is Shimamura. My wife has been shopping there since the family she works for took her to one well before I first met her. It’s so cheap that they will drive an hour across Osaka to go their favorite store.

Shimamura in Tamba, Hyogo

So what do they have? T-shirts with nonsense English, pants with extra pockets and unnecessary chains, normal shirts, dress shirts, dress pants, bras, underwear, socks, towels, bedding, cushions, hats, sunglasses, shoes, slippers a small isle of toys plus some candy and batteries near the register to round it all off.

07.22 Shimamura-Tarumi_3
Chambre and Avail are sister stores in the Shimamura group

The special thing about Shimamura is that everything is different, and finding the same shirt in a different size can be hard. Uniqlo will have 1,000 copies of the same shirt in 5 different colors, Shimamura, on the other hand, will have 1,000 different shirts. When shopping there I first find stuff in my size and then sort out what I want to buy. If you're a 4L or 5L size guy you might be out of luck for pants, but there will be some shirts, socks and underwear that will fit you.

It’s also super cheap and better quality than what you might find in a 100 Yen shop too. Last time I was there I got a nice pair of black dress pants for ¥1,850 and some dress socks 2-pair for ¥200. I buy all my belts and room slippers at Shimamura. As for getting stuff for your apartment Shimamura is great. I get lots of my towels and bedding there. Also, if you’re looking for some cheap Engrish t-shirts to take home for omiyage, this is the place.

07.22 Shimamura-Tarumi_1
Outside Shimamura in Kobe's Tarumi ward

Getting to a store near you might take some work however as many of their stores are best accessed by car. Near Kobe there’s a store in front of Shin-Nagata station on the JR and Kobe Subway lines and a larger store down near the Awajishima bridge in Tarumi-ku. You can find one near you on their homepage (in Japanese).

A store similar to, but not as good as Shimamura in my opinion, is called Itogofuku. I got my mom and sister towels and bedding there when they came to Japan for a few weeks. You can find their stores via their homepage (in Japanese).


Of course if you can't read Japanese feel free to send me an email or comment to this post and I'll help you find a store near you!

This post was in the August Japan Soc Blog Matsuri. You can see other posts about being frugal in Japan at