Otaru Beer in Otaru Hokkaido

Near Sapporo and want Beer? Try the Otaru Beer restaurant in the city of Otaru.

I think the Otaru Beer spot in Otaru is a better deal than the Sapporo Beer Factory or Sapporo Beer Garden in Sapporo. Otaru beer is more unique and tasty, and the environment is just as good if not better in Otaru. The Otaru Beer shop also has some quality souvenir mugs, glasses, and mini kegs for sale. If you like beer and find yourself in Otaru you should check it out. The food is nothing to write home about, but they go with a German theme so have pretzels and sausages as good as any that you’ll find in Hokkaido.

ProTip: Winter 2016 the Otaru Beer restaurant had a hot honey beer and a hot cherry beer available. The hot honey beer was not good. Repeat, not good. Skip it! The hot cheery beer was passable, but still not great. Stick with the Otaru Beer staples. I personally like their Weizen, also known as their “banana beer.”

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You can get to Otaru from Sapporo by train in about 30-40 minutes.

The Sapporo Beer restaurant is located right on the main drag near the canal so it’s easy to find. In this age of Google I’ll leave the mapping to you. You can’t miss it!

Mingus Coffee in Sapporo

Fancy hipster jazz coffee shop in Sapporo!

Mingus Coffee has excellent and strong coffee, yummy cakes, and traditional jazz playing on vinyl to keep spirits up. It’s also located in the center of the city close to Sapporo TV Tower so you can stop by after doing some sightseeing.

Mingus Coffee is a smoker-friendly environment, so there’s that. When we were there on a Monday morning there were no other customers, so we didn’t have an issue with smoke. At other times you may be enjoying some second-hand smoke with your coffee, but hey, that’s usual in Japan.

The shop has a nice rustic look with old cameras, jazz record jackets, and coffee equipment filling out the scene. There are window seats though they don’t offer much of a view. The coffee menu is straight forward, but has the nice touch of having the strong coffee options clearly labeled “strong” (though in Japanese only). So if you like your coffee with a kick you can be sure to find something you like.


Google Maps will get you there. Here’s the address.

Mingus Coffee
1 Minami 1-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku
Osawa Bldg. 7F, Sapporo 060-0061

住所:北海道札幌市中央区南1条西1 大沢ビル 7F
最寄駅:地下鉄「大通」駅32番出口より 徒歩1分
営業時間:09:00~24:00 (Open from 9-midnight)
定休日:不定休 (No regular holidays)
公式HP:なし (No official website)

Mingus Coffee around the web:
This site claims that Mingus Coffee is one of the best coffee shops in Sapporo as ranked by locals. http://hokkaido-labo.com/sapporo-coffee-1936


This site seems to suggest that Mingus Coffee has terrace seating. I can’t verify as I was there in the dead of winter and sitting outside was the last thing on my mind.

I store all my photos on Smugmug.

Excellent Hamburg and Steak in Osaka

Had some delicous steak in the Kitashinchi area of Osaka a while ago after I saw it introduced on a Japanese TV show. If you’re looking for an awesome lunch in Osaka check it out. You can walk to Kitashichi from Umeda station (closest to Nishi-Umeda) in about 15 or 20 minutes, but there is also a Kitashinchi train stop on the JR line.

We had to line up to get in at lunch time. Also, the TV spot featured their hamburg lunch, but when we sat down at 1pm we were told the hamburg had sold out at about 12:30pm that day. Apparently the TV spot caught them a little off guard and brought in a ton of new customers so they had been scrambling. We did however get to try the steak lunch and it was delicious.

The lunch course is very filling. You get the main dish, a mini curry, and a coffee or tea at the end. The shop allows smoking, but when we were there for lunch there were very few, if any, people smoking.

Go eat meat.

Shop Details:
ステーキハウス 風靡(ふうび)
Steak House Fuubi
Hamburg Lunch 1,575 yen
■ 住所:大阪市北区堂島1-3-11 スタックビルB1F
Address: Osaka-shi Kita-ku Dojima 1-3-11 Stack Building (sutakku biru) Basement Level 1
■ TEL:06-6348-9886
■ 営業時間:ランチ 12:00~13:30 ※平日のみ
Hours: Lunch – 12 pm to 1:30 pm *weekdays only
ディナー 17:00~21:30
Dinner 17:00 to 21:30
■ 定休日:日曜・祝日
Regular Holidays: Sunday and national holidays
Steak Lunch: 2,625 yen
Tender loin Steak: From 12,600 yen 
※ Dinner only

Things to do in Tokyo: Kagurazaka

I had the opportunity to roam around Tokyo with Yuko (@guideyu and @guideyu_) from Guide-Yu.jp!

Even though I lived in the Yokohama/Tokyo area for more than a few years, I learned a lot during our day-long tour and saw a lot of neat areas of Tokyo that I had maybe passed through but never really thought about when I was living there.

One of the places that we visited was Kagurazaka 神楽坂.

Kagurazaka in Tokyo

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I wouldn’t even have been able to read 神楽坂 before this trip. Basically the name means, a hill where you can hear the kagura. The kagura is a song or dance used to celebrate the gods.

Kagurazaka is a very fancy neighborhood with many traditional Japanese restaurants called ryoutei 料亭. Usually ryoutei serve fancy Japanese food in courses with a limited menu. Another feature of ryoutei is that they often employee actual Geisha to entertain their guests. @guideyu was telling me that during one of her small-group tours of the area they actually saw some geisha on the move. What a treat!

Many of the ryoutei in this area follow a strict policy of not letting any first-time customers in without an advanced invitation from a someone who is already a regular customer. This practice is called 一見さんお断り (ichigensan okotowari), and literally means, refuse those who appear for the first time.

There are not many places in Japan that continue to practice this tradition of keeping newcommers out. On this Japanese question and answer site someone is asking what the purpose of this was. The highest rated answer explains that basically, the practice was used to avoid trouble. The service at ryotei is top notch. The food is also excellent, and the prices are also extremely expensive. In order to perserve the quality of the experience for all of the customers, the owners want to be sure that all of the customers are well-behaved people that they can trust. If someone who has been introduced by someone else causes trouble, the shop can follow up with the person who made the introduction to resolve things. Apparently these days there are more of these shops in Kyoto than anywhere else in Japan.

Even if you don’t have an invitation to dine at a ryoutei, Kagurazaka is still a great area to visit. You can enjoy the old-style cobbled roads called ishidatami (石畳 いしだたみ), the traditional Japanese wooden architecture, and like I mentioned you may also get lucky and spot a real Geisha. The streets are so narrow that you’ll feel like you have discovered some sort of secret exclusive part of Tokyo to explore all on your own.

Kagurazaka was a great area. We ate at a shop called Daikonya, which is just a usual restaurant that does not follow the ichigensan okotowari policy of turning away newcomers. It was tasty! True to their name, Daikonya specializes in dishes that use daikon — and the use it very well. We also ordered a sashimi plate that was quite impressive. I would recommend Daikonya to anyone looking to have a fancy dinner in Tokyo.

Enjoy the photos!

Related Links:
Kagurazaka Wikipedia page
Mochi and Anko: and other Japanese sweets. Guest post by @GuideYu
Daikonya – gurunavi
Japanese Ryotei, the art of service. NYT 1997
Traditional Ryotei are in Danger. Japan Inc
Tiny Ryotei entry in Wikipedia

Tenjin Matsuri 2012

I went to Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭) in Osaka again this year!
This year the festival was on July 24th and 25h. Every year the festival is held around Tenmabashi station area and events are centered around the river and Tenmangu Shrine.

I have been to Tenjin Matsuri in the past, multiple times in fact, but I can’t seem to find any past blog entries about it here on JapanNewbie. Maybe I never got around to blogging it!

Tenjin Matsuri is one of the “big three” festivals in Japan (日本三大祭り). The other two festivals in the big three are Gion Festival (祇園祭) in Kyoto, and Kanda Festival (神田祭) in Tokyo.

Tenjin Maturi 2012

  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. Not all Japanese food is healthy.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. Tenjin Matsuri is one of those festivals that ends in a fireworks display!
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. These boats filled with drumming and dancing are the main event at this festival.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. The river is lined with food stalls.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. Catch live turtles with a hoop that has a thin sheet of paper in it. You can catch as many as you can until the paper breaks.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. Cucumber on a stick! With salt! Delicous summer snack.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012. Various fruits covered in sugary goodness.
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012
  • Osaka Tenjin Matsuri 2012

There are lots of festivals in Japan. Lots. Most have a deep cultural history and have been practiced for centuries. According to the Japanese Wikipedia entry for Tenjin Matsuri, this festival started in the year 951 on June 1st.

Most festivals take place during the summer, so if you are ever going to be in Japan between June and August it would be in your best interest to try to figure out where the festivals are happening and try to attend a few.

Festivals are great. Here are some things that you will be able to experience at most Japanese festivals, beyond the cultural and historical aspects!

1. Festivals are a chance to wear your summer yukata and hit the town.

If you go to a festival you’ll be able to see the latest Yukata fashions for both men and women. These days it seems that a particular style of “sexy” yukata is popular among the ladies… Most adults hate it. Basically girls these days wear their yukatas in ways that they were not meant to be worn. Some have them draped off of both shoulders! Too sexy! I mean, I’m not complaining, but it is certainly not the traditional way to wear a summer yukata.

2. Festivals are an excuse to stay out relatively late and drink on the street.

The streets are usually blocked off for festivals and tons of food vendors are out selling their wares. Also, it’s legal to drink on the street in Japan, so you can grab a beer and go about your business. I believe that during some of the larger festivals the train schedules are adjusted in some cities to allow people to get home a little later than normal. Regardless, usually the festivals have some big event with a scheduled end time, and they stick to the schedule. Tenjin Matsuri had a fireworks display that ended promptly at 9pm.

3. A chance to try lots of delicious (yet not cheap) Japanese festival food!

I posted pictures of some of the festival food in that SmugMug gallery. As you can see, not all Japanese food is healthy. It’s a lot of fun though! Some of the typical festival snacks that I did not take photos of include yakisoba, okonomiyaki, also a festival dish called hashimaki, which is basically okonomiyaki wrapped around a pair of chopsticks. They also serve various forms of fruit and meat on a stick. Castela is also popular, which is a sort of bite-sized cake. Gotta love it.

Video Clip, Click to Play
Video Clip, Click to Play

So what are your favorite things about Japanese festivals? Got any favorites?

One festival I have never been to yet really need to try is Neputa Matsuri up north!

Looking forward to the next festival!

Related links:
The official Tenjin Matsuri webpage.
Tenjin Matsuri Japanese Wiki page.
Kishiwada Danjiri Mastsuri from 2007
Handa Matsuri from 2004
Hamamatsu Kite Festival from 2008

And more! Just search the blog for “matsuri” or “festival” and I’m sure more will come up!

By the way, I store all my photos and videos with SMUGMUG now. It’s really great. Unlimited storage. No limits on the size of the files that can be uploaded. Awesome privacy settings and whatnot. I can even embed the stuff into WordPress easily as you can see here. Anyway, if you try it sign up with my introduction link here and I’ll get $10 bucks credit towards my renewal. Yay!

Japanese Craft Beer in Osaka – QBrick

I have a sudden interest in Japanese craft beers. I’m no expert, but I like beer.

Japan has already made an international name for itself with Japanese whiskey, and now it seems that Japanese beer is also getting some attention.

One of my friends in Shanghai mentioned that Japanese craft beer is pretty amazing, and after I arrived in Osaka for this trip one of the first things I noticed was a Kansai Scene article about local craft beer and an upcoming beer festival.

I have a long list of places in Kansai that serve craft beer, but my first stop was QBrick!

QBrick has an amazing list of international beers, but they also have a selection of 8 to 10 local Japanese beers as well. The list of Japanese beers changes depending on what is in stock, so it’s fun to check back from time to time to see if anything new has been added to the menu.

I also went for lunch once and tried their excellent hamburg steak. The price was very reasonable as well!

QBrick is a short walk from the Yodoyabashi subway station. Highly recommended.

Go there!

Related Links:
Osaka Town Clip: QBrick

You can also follow me on Instragram. I’m “JapanNewbie” there too.


My Haphazard list of Kansai Craft Beer Bars

Osaka: Higobashi / Beer bar
Tosabori 1-1-30, Osaka River Building 1F. [on the N (river) side of the little road that runs alongside the river, between Higobashi (bridge) and Chikuzenbashi (bridge), 4 doors E of the latter] Open 5-midnight. Closed Sundays.


Address: Osaka-fu, Sakai-shi, Kita-ku Nakamozucho 2-71 B1F
Phone: 072-255-8317

大阪府大阪市中央区平野町4-6-12 京音ビル,1F
TEL: 06-6203-0690FAX: 06-6203-0690

大阪府大阪市中央区平野町4‐6‐12 京音ビル1F

1-22-12 Kitahorie, Nishi-ku
Osaka, Japan 550-0014 [ print map ]
(06) 6539-7550 
Near Yotsubashi and Nishiohashi

Standing bar 1020
天神橋5-6-23 (一松食品センター), 大阪市北区, 大阪府 530-0041, Japan
Hitotsumatsu Food Center, 5-6-23 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku
Osaka, Japan

Kyoto has
Tadg’s Irish Bar and Restaurant
Beer Cafe Bakujun
Yamaoka Sakaten

Mochi and Anko: and other Japanese sweets

This is another guest post from my friend, Yuko (@guideyu and @guideyu_) from Guide-Yu, the super personalized Japan tour guide!

Yuko is awesome. She’s Japanese – but she also is an avid Kabuki fan, makes Japanese sweets in her spare time, and even dances traditional Japanese buyou! A true fan of Japanese culture. Today she discusses mochi and anko, one of the most common combinations found in traditional Japanese sweets. Be sure to check out her previous post about Japanese sweets and their relation to the seasons. Enjoy!

The combination of 餅 (mochi / rice cake) and 餡 (an or anko / sweet red bean paste) is a very typical example of Japanese sweets. First, here are some descriptions of each component.

餅 (mochi / rice cake) : Made of sticky rice by steaming the rice and then pounding it into a soft dough. While freshly-made mochi is the best, conveniently sliced and packaged mochi blocks are available in any grocery store in Japan for daily use. Japanese people usually boil the mochi blocks or toast them.

餡 (an or anko / sweet red bean paste) : Made of Azuki [wiki] red beans which are boiled, mashed, and then sweetened with sugar. There are different styles used to mash the beans. When the beans are roughly mashed, leaving big chunks of Azuki in the paste, the style is called つぶあん (tsubu-an); you can enjoy the original texture of the beans together with the bean skins (my favorite!). Another type is called こしあん (koshi-an) in which the paste is strained to remove the skins. This gives the bean paste a smoother and more elegant look-and-feel.

Zenzai (or Shiruko)

Toasted Mochi with Anko (tsubu-an); an example of quick and easy おやつ (oyatsu), or light snack, usually eaten at 3pm at “oyatsu time.”

These types of simple sweets are eaten year-round, usually at home with family, with close friends, or even while home alone.

Other oyatsu classics.

団子 (dango / sticky rice dumplings)

Dango! Made by Yuko's mom!

どらやき (dorayaki / pancakes with anko filling)

Dorayaki! Made by Yuko's mom!

*Yes! If you know Doraemon, dorayaki is his favorite food!

On the other hand, when we say 和菓子 (wagashi / Japanese confection), we often refer to the more elaborate wagashi which were originally developed to treat guests attending a formal tea ceremony.

As I explained in my previous post, the color and shape of wagashi typically reflect the sense of the seasons.

Wagashi of the season; Iris Laevigata: Made by Yuko's mom!

I’ll talk more about these seasonal wagashi next time!

There you have it! Yuko’s mom is amazing — I encourage you to learn how to make Japanese wagashi as well. I’ll eat them.

Until next time!

The anko image used in this post is from a free Japanese image website. The others are taken by Yuko!

May, the season of fresh greenery.

This is a guest post from my personal friend, Yuko (@guideyu and @guideyu_) from Guide-Yu, the super personalized Japan tour guide!

Yuko is awesome. She’s Japanese – but she also is an avid Kabuki fan, makes Japanese sweets in her spare time, and even dances traditional Japanese buyou! A true fan of Japanese culture. Today she has provided a post introducing the connection between traditional Japanese sweets and the seasons. Really fascinating stuff if you’re interested in Japanese culture. Enjoy!

In the traditional Japanese calendar May is called 皐月 (sa-tsuki), short for 早苗月(sanae-tsuki), which means “the month of the young sprouts.” Yes, May is the time for rice farmers to start planting.

The Japanese, who originally lived in a mainly agricultural society, have lived in harmony with nature and are known for their sensitivity to the seasons; not only the four seasons that we all know, but also even slighter more subtle periods between those four seasons.

This seasonal concept is also fundamental to 和菓子(wagashi / Japanese Confectionery, or more simply, Japanese sweets).

While there are simple and plain wagashi that are eaten throughout the year, many wagashi are meant to convey a sense of the season by representing the change in nature or seasonal festivities.

For example, 桜餅(sakura-mochi / cherry blossom rice cake; pink colored rice cake (or sometimes crepe) with sweet red bean paste inside, wrapped with a salted cherry leaf) is often eaten as a spring delicacy. However, sakura-mochi is usually limited to the late March to early April timeframe, which also corresponds with the time when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Sakura Mochi

Once sakura-mochi season is over we then have 柏餅(kashiwa-mochi / oak leaf rice cake; rice cake with sweet red bean paste inside, wrapped with an oak leaf) which is usually eaten from late April to early May. Kashiwa-mochi is traditionally served on May 5th, Children’s Day, a national holiday to celebrate children’s growth and happiness; the oak leaf is the symbol of our descendants’ prosperity.

Kashiwa Mochi

For the hot and humid Japanese summer there are wagashi that provide a refreshing and cool feeling. For example, these wagashi might have the color and shape of a stream of water. When autumn is around the corner there are red and yellow colored wagashi that represent the autumn foliage. In the winter wagashi take on themes of snow, camellia, and of the new years celebrations, to name a few.

There are countless examples like these for each season, and even further variations in the different regions of Japan.

The combination of 餅 (mochi / rice cake) and 餡 (an or anko / sweet red bean paste) is one typical example of wagashi, but there are other ingredients for wagashi to provide a variety of different textures, colors, and flavors, for each season and for each occasion.

There you have it! Hope you enjoyed learning about the seasonal context of traditional Japanese sweets. I know I did.

Yuko is planning to provide more content in the future so look forward to them!

What’s your favorite traditional Japanese sweet? Do you know it’s cultural meaning?

– JapanNewbie

The images used in this post are from a free Japanese image website.

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