Category Archives: Graham – Life in Japan

From the BionicBong series of “A look at the lives of people in Japan”.

Yu Yu Kobo – Nagasaki’s Premium Coffee Shop is a Place to Connect.

The Yu Yu Kobo Coffee Shop has to be the best run coffee shop in Tokyo. They have the best beans and the friendliest of owners. Not only is he friendly he knows his beans. Yuji Urakawa has worked in coffee all his life and is a retired veteran of a large Japanese coffee company.

But, it’s not all about the beans and the roast in this store. After retiring, Yuji decided he wanted to live his own life at his own pace. He also wanted to become part of his community so he decided to open the shop so that he could communicate with the locals and give something back at the same time.

He says we are well on our way to an aging society, not only in Nagasaki, but all over Japan. Older people around 60-80, who are living by themselves visit his shop to have coffee and enjoy the conversation. Sometimes they can make new connections with other customers there and he is trying to help them expand their connections by offering a cozy atmosphere at his shop. He hopes his customers can make connections not only with old people but with younger people, too. He says, “The most important thing is not selling the products, but the value in meeting and communicating with people. The business will follow after those things.”

So be it that it’s not all about the beans, he does have a wide selection from around the world, which he roasts there in the shop while you wait. Roasting of the beans doesn’t take long and if you haven’t caught on yet, he likes to talk. So he usually keeps you company with a nice cup of coffee or a glass of ice-water depending on the weather outside and a great bit of friendly smiles, nods, and small talk.

The coffee beans are fun to see and when you finally decide on which flavor you want you won’t be making a mistake no matter what your taste, be it sour, bitter, or mild. Yu Yu blend is the most popular and consists of four beans mixed together. He suggests to wait 24 hours before grinding the beans, but says if you want the flavor go ahead and grind them and use them.

He has all the things you need to make the perfect cup of coffee at home. There are filters for this and for that. There are strainers, presses, and percolators, too. And don’t forget all the cups and sugar cubes. He of course has a few machines of his own that he does all his wonderment with there in the shop. You can get the beans whole or he can grind them for you.

The big machine he does the magic roasting with is really something to see as well. And it is an art that he works in front of you as he meticulously separates and measures the beans before gently pouring them into the shiny bags of heaven he presents to you when he’s done.

The place doesn’t sit many, but there is never much of a crowd. And if there is a crowd, there is actually some talking going on between tables. It’s a refreshing place. Just the smell of the freshly roasted beans is worth popping in for and make sure you take something home as a prize. You’ll definitely be leaving having made a new friend.

Yu Yu Kobo accept orders by telephone or fax.

Tel/Fax: 03-3530-7295
4-28-2
Nagasaki, Tokyo
171-0051

yuyu_kobo_prize

The Other Side to Snowboarding in Japan

The other side to snow boarding in Japan? No this article is not about anything creepy or dangerous unless you think onsens are creepy. It’s about the great times to be had when your not out trying to break your neck.

On my last trip snowboarding I ended up going with my in-laws, which at first sounds awful to some of you I’m sure, but maybe I’m getting older or maybe I just like playing games. So this is what I’m writing about, cause I would never end up playing video games with my 58 year old father-in-law, unless well he happened to be Japanese and was popping ¥500 yen coins in everything that made a whistle, buzz, or chirp and had flashing lights on it. Which he is and was so that’s pretty cool.

So it was my first night in Myoko Kogen and by the way there is nothing do there, but snowboard. There is a karaoke bar and another regular bar, but they both close down at midnight, if not before. So hanging with the in-laws was what I was doing. And we hit the jackpot after boarding all day when we found the game room in the hotel. Of course there was one of those big glass boxes with the whack 3-prong crane on a chain and overstuffed with stuffed animals, if you know what I mean. The UFO something or other. These things I usaually don’t touch. But when I walked in the room my father and brother-in-law had already snatched two of the preciously cute little buggers out of the machine. So my manhood was already challenged, I was in an yukata, and I hadn’t been out of the onsen for more than 5 minutes. What do you have to do to relax in this country? So after a little cooing from my wife to try, I took a stab at it. And the game was on! On my first try I snagged a Snoopy and some other bus like thing. I was in the zone and I felt this box was ripe for the picking after bagging two with stone. I quickly preceded to plunder the poor thing. After spending about ¥800 yen(not mine) we walked away with 6 cute little stuffed dolls. A Snoopy, a Baby Donald Duck, a Baby Winnie the Pooh wearing a Cheshire Cat suit(don’t know, won’t ask), a baby Stitch, a puppy fox thing, and that bus thing. Not a bad score.

the_prizes
Our new friends...

We then proceeded to play some simple video games in death match heats, which was really fun and competitive. My brother-in-law and father-in-law both got a kick out of it as I was winning, of course my wife didn’t like that she was losing. Oh well, not sure what the etiquette should have been, but I’m a sore loser and well so is she, but she also rubs it in more than I do if I let her win. So, we put on a good show for the guys as we slugged it out while slinging sushi and making volcanoes blow up chunks of lava.

On the way back up to the room, we were on the elevator when the door opened and a little girl and her mom got on with us. The little girl’s eyes got really big at the sight of me as I was standing there with my arms overflowing with stuffed animals. I gave her one cause I couldn’t resist. I was just hoping her mom wouldn’t hate me for it, but I got an OK, daijoubu, just in case.

Later that night while sitting around the big table in our room with the whole family this time, I learned some new card games. My father-in-law had brought the Nintendo playing cards. So it was whiskey and sake time, while I learned how to play the games. Both games we played were fun. The first one was Babanuki(Old Maid) and it was really fun. This game involves dealing out all the cards in the deck plus one Joker. So you play with 53 cards. Before starting the game we played a game of Janken just to see who would go first. Once that was decided you go through your hand and match any 2 like cards and put them in a pile in front of you. If, your lucky you get a bunch of these at the start as the object of the game is to go out and not be stuck with the Joker at the end. The loser, if you haven’t figured it out is the one with the Joker at the end. So play went from right to left-oh and that was how the cards were dealt to begin with too. That freaked me out just a bit the first time seeing cards dealt counter-clockwise. Anyway from there you try to match the rest of your cards and discard them until you are out without getting the Joker. If you get the joker or any other card you don’t want you try to pass it on as quickly as possible by rearranging your deck so that the person to your right draws it from your hand. I mastered this fairly quickly and had them all laughing with a few slight of hand tricks right before they drew. You know…I had to keep it interesting.

Usunoro Manuke was the other game we played and its more a drinking game as you have to be quick with the reflexes. Basically 4 coins are put on the table, or one less than the number of people playing and you have to snatch them up when the time comes and hope you aren’t the odd man out. We used a pillow on top of the table to just be a little quieter and polite. This game was played with A-J, so the aces and the face cards. They are shuffled and dealt out. The object of the game is to pass one card to your right until you get all four cards to match and then make sure you get a coin. I was horrible at this one, but it was fun.

So after playing a few more rounds of the games we finally settled in for the night and slept. But not before we had some tea and ate our made from onsen water biscuit. You know, to relax.

The snowboarding was great, but I think I had more fun out of the snow this trip, especially playing Janken with grand-ma. She’s a tricky one and I couldn’t beat her.

The next morning the same little girl from the elevator ran into the breakfast hall, stuffed doll in hand, with her parents and empty handed sister stomping and dragging her feet. Oops….can’t win them all.

Myoko Kogen – A Snowboarding Dream Finally Come True

Myoko Kogen has to be one of the nicest ski areas in Japan. We went for the onsen and snowboarding this New Years instead of the normal onsen or feasting till you pop party that we usually do. We ended up snowboarding at the Akakura Onsen Resort and it was a blast! No better way to ring in the New Year, than running down the slopes with your feet attached to a board. You must admit to starting the New Year with a few bruises and risking your life is the only way you know your off to doing it right.

I had trouble the first time up and down as I hadn’t mastered the art of walking with one foot latched down and dragging a board. But I manged to shuffle along to the lift and get hoisted up the mountain without cause too much of a traffic jam. But, once seated and freezing on the way up the only fear of doom I had was getting off the lift. I didn’t end up on my back the first time out, but I think it was my butt. At least I didn’t run over anyone’s fingers.

Once around the U-turn you have to do as soon as you jump off the lift and again on my butt in the snow, I was able to put my other foot into the board and attempt standing up. Then, it was time to start the graceful act of falling down the mountain. Now I wasn’t sure what snowboarding was like, I knew skiing was scary as hell, but I was surprised at how much easier snowboarding seemed. It felt a little more natural and most importantly it was easier to stop.

So I had a few rough starts going down the mountain and getting used to turning from side to side. Finally realizing the quicker you could do it the better your chances of not doing a face plant. It took about two runs to find the quickest way to go and not end up trapped on the sidelines in deep snow doing a crab walk on your hands and dragging your butt and board, but I figured it out. It was a blast after that until I decided I thought I had it mastered and to go full-throttle down the mountain. You know the faster you go the more it hurts, when you screw up. Hey, that’s what the onsen afterward is for, right?

On my third time about halfway down, I stopped to get some pictures and saw these snowbikers zooming down the mountain with helmets and pads. It looked pretty fun like mountain biking with skis only faster. They were hauling down the side like nothing else. I’m not sure what sport that’s called, but it looks fun and my kind of dangerous.

Anyway, it snowed 60cm the day we were there. So all my photos are a little blurry and well that’s a lot of snow. Thawing the car for the way back home was a task I could write another article about.

Akakura Onsen, Nigata
Dec 12th – April 5th
02-5587-2125
www.akakura-ski.com

BlowFish Fins A Floating

I’m a sucker for any gimmick, so I tried the Fuguhire sake. This means hot sake with flame broiled blowfish fins floating in it. And well as I’m not a fan of hot sake, I prefer cold and if anything floating in it maybe a slice of cucmber, I was a little surprised by the taste. At first it tasted the same as regular ole hot sake, but as I got closer to the bottom it got a little more and more fishier. The last drop was a little too fishy.

Now I have heard that some take their blowfish fins home for further soaking , but for me I think I’ll stick with the old cold sake and a cucumber slice routine.

Fuguhire Sake

Fuguhire Sake

Fuguhire Sake

Yum!

Tokyo Bay – Vingt et un – Restaurant Ship Cruise

The Vingt et un restaurant cruise in Tokyo Bay was a great bit of fun for this posters birthday.  I won’t tell you which one it was though.  But I will tell you about the cruise and food.  The best time I think to go is in July or August during the Hanabi Season in Japan.  Almost every Saturday there are firework festivals throughout parts of Tokyo which you should be able to spot from the ship.  We were lucky enough to see one that seemed like it was in Odaiba, but even if you can’t see a fireworks show the skyline of Tokyo is fun and filled with such attractions as Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and a giant multi-colored ferris wheel.

The Vingt et un Cruise lives up to it’s name. “Vignt et un” means twenty-one in French, like the game of Black Jack. But I think its more like 21st Century as the entrance to the ship made me feel like I was walking into a scene from Star Wars.

There are two cruises available one is 120min the other 140min.  The 120min cruise was just time to eat, so if you want to get up and look around go ahead and do so.  

The food was great and came in courses. There was a Hawaiian theme to the music complete with Hula dancer, which made the night a little more interesting. I got a few giggles out the dancer and ukulele player/singer, I will admit. Wine is extra but not so much as its under $10 a glass. And since it was my birthday, I did get a great tasting cake with my name on it followed by even more dessert.

For more information you can visit their site or call 03-3436-2121. www.vantean.co.jp. Sorry I think it’s only in Japanese.