Denny’s in Japan: much better food than you’d expect!

[Updated August 2019]

I LOVE Japanese food…  Anyone visiting Japan quickly realizes that Japanese food in Japan is on average WAY better and significantly more varied than what you’ll find in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan. Additionally, there are on average WAY more restaurants in any Japanese town or neighborhood than you’ll normally find in the states, and because all Japanese are foodies, 99% of these eateries are on average BETTER than what you’ll find in most American towns. In essence, while you CAN of course use review services, such as Yelp for instance, if you want to experience the sublime (in Japan I’ve had meals that were better than sex)… the fact is that the Japanese take their food culture so SERIOUSLY that you don’t need to do that to find a good meal — as you might in the USA. [That, and anyone who has seen the film Tampopo knows that they are SO serious about food that it borders on funny.] As such, a chain like Denny’s of Japan, which offers up 24 hour offerings, has GOT to be better than it would be in the USA if it’s going to survive here.

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First thing to realize is that unlike in the states, Denny’s Japan doesn’t tend to have a specific architecture… in fact except for the signage, no two buildings seem to be exactly alike (because the Japanese — unlike the Koreans — prefer uniqueness). I didn’t actually take the above image, it’s from commons.wikimedia.org, but of all the ones depicted it’s the closest in appearance to the one I was eating at.

I spotted it as my taxi was driving me to my airbnb near Sasazuka station in Tokyo, and since it was ONLY about 2 blocks away (and open 24 hours) I thought I would definitely explore it’s food options. That said, I was a bit nervous about it — because well, Denny’s, so I googled Denny’s Japan and found this article about why you should DEFINITELY try it while there, which assuaged my fears.

For anyone wondering what those options were, here’s the Denny’s menu that was available when I was there (like all things Japanese, the menu rotates seasonally) … and if you look you’ll see there’s very little “American” food on it, and even what’s there when you see it up close and personal has been heavily altered to meet the Japanese palate and concerns (while not listed on the menu above, if you look at this menu — which is the current webpage — good luck finding a desert that is over 800 calories, and most are between 240 and 550 calories — if you click on the red button to left of the food item, and above the English text, it’ll take you to the nutritional info page for that item). Another difference from the USA is there are NO HAMBURGERS on the menu, there is however a very large selection of “Hamburger steak” otherwise known as Salisbury steaks, with various toppings… and while there are pancakes, they’re relegated to the dessert section of the dinner menu, or to the breakfast menus (and that’s only available during breakfast hours — its not 24 hour breakfast).

The first time I went I opted for the healthiest food options on the menu. I was really happy to see that every food item on the menu includes calorie counts.

I opted for the grilled fish, with came with a little mound of grated Daikon (the white stuff) on the plate and a small dollop of a type of seaweed salad you almost never see in the USA (there are actually MANY types of seaweed, and many different recipes for seaweed salad… most Japanese restaurants in the USA only ever serve one of them). And of course, this being Japan, it came with bowls of white rice, and of miso soup. For my side dish I had a choice of cold tofu (which would have added a few calories), or the item in the picture, a salad of Spinach topped with grated Daikon root, and bits of grilled eggplant.  I chose the latter.

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When it arrived, the image below is what it looked like… not all that appetizing… and it didn’t smell so great (i.e., the fish was a bit fishy)…  it tasted ok (mostly because it had a miso marinated, which kills all ills).  That said, everything was reasonably tasty, and the whole thing came to 510 kcals (while beating the crap out of any lean cuisine I’ve ever had, while simultaneously offering MORE food). — the price of 1,049 ¥(en) in dollars translates to something just shy of $10.49, depending on what the conversion rate is that day; a price that is pretty cheap by Tokyo standards for a meal you sit down to eat.

In Tokyo many people live in apartments so small that they can’t really afford the space for a dinner table — my airbnb didn’t have one — so you’re paying for the land the restaurant sits on as much as you’re paying for the food. To this end, many restaurants will sell you the same meal cheaper if you order it to take out.

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And then for Dessert I ordered pounded rice balls (Mochi), red beans and Green Tea ice cream, 156 calories, where what showed up looked as appetizing as the picture. (About $3.49)

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Menu is top left, my photo bottom right

Warning, the green tea ice cream at Denny’s is for people who really love their green tea… as in, it has almost no sugar in it so you get a VERY intense green tea flavor.

With this I also ordered access to the all you can drink, “drinks bar,” which offered various kinds of tea, coffee, orange juice, and a selection of sodas.

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From then on every time I went to Denny’s  I just got hot water, which is free.


The next time I went I decided to get Denny’s version of Mentaiko Pasta, a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that usually uses a spicy pink cod roe mixed with cream on spaghetti instead of tomato sauce.  (It’s USUALLY a heck of a lot tastier than it sounds, although sometimes it’s not. First time I had it was from company cafeteria when I was doing a summer internship at Eisai Co., when I was in my 20’s, and that stuff was kind of disgusting — in my opinion; my Japanese co-workers actually looked forward to Wednesday lunch because that was when it was served. That said, when it’s done right it’s REALLY tasty.) The Denny’s version is Squid and cod roe, which doesn’t seem to be spicy at all, and had relatively little cream compared to other versions I’ve tried. That said, according to their on-line menu’s dietary page it has only had 14.9 g of fat.

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It arrived also looking pretty much like it’s photo, and while neither as spicy nor as creamy as it can be when really good, was pretty decent. That said, because it was neither spicy nor creamy, there was a there was a very slight fishy aftertaste which won’t bother the Japanese, but might not be appealing to westerners.

With it I got a bowl of the corn soup, which is one of my other favorite Japanese-western fusion dishes. I’ve had corn soup, and cream of corn soup, in a lot of different places, but it never tastes like the Japanese version of this dish, which is in fact my FAVORITE version of it.  The Japanese do a really good corn soup, to the point where even their cup o’soup instant versions of it are pretty good.

[On the topic of corn soup: I recently flew on Japan Airlines from Chicago to Australia — with a change in Tokyo — and on the drinks cart they were offering hot corn soup as an option. It ROCKED. When the cart initially came by and I asked what they had she hadn’t mentioned it to me, assuming I think that as an American I’d be freaked out at the idea of sipping soup instead of coffee. But then I noticed it when reading their menu — one of these inserts in the pocket, alongside the emergency instructions. Next time the cart came by I asked for it … she looked genuinely surprised, and I drank that for the rest of the trip.]

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Again, this Denny’s version of corn soup wasn’t the BEST I’ve ever had, but it was decent.

Together the 598 calories of pasta and soup left me with room for what promised to be a decadent dessert based on the photo in their menu

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image on right is mine, what showed up at my table

And THIS ladies and gentleman is why you don’t see a lot of fat Japanese ….  310 calories for THAT you ask? In the pictures on the menu it looks huge, like any American desert

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But in reality NOT so much… and keep in mind I have really really tiny hands (does this desert make my hand look big?), hands that are abnormally small for someone my height (usually girls with hands my size don’t top 4 foot 9 inches). So what you’re getting is a tiny portion of mostly a low fat chocolate jello type thing, a tiny sliver of chocolate brownie— both of which are far more chocolatey than sweet, with a tiny serving of cream, and an equally small one of vanilla ice cream, all topped with chocolate syrup. 

[Portion sizes is part of why you rarely see anyone fat in Japan, and when you do they are at best pleasantly plump by our standards. Japanese care far more about their food being flavorful than they do about seeing a massive amount of food on the plate, where in the USA those priorities are often reversed. I just recently saw an article talking about how a new nutrition group is being formed in the USA — which includes food industry leaders — to try to reign in portion size inflation in the marketplace. The goal is to erase the link in Americans minds between the value of a meal and how much food is on the plate, and to make it more about the quality and flavor of the foods used, like is the case in Japan. According the article, “Between 1993 and 2013, the average [American] bagel got 100% bigger; burgers got 78% bigger; cinema popcorn bags 120% bigger; and fountain sodas 207% bigger, according to the CDC. ” If you travel the world, you’ll realize an American small drink is served in what in the rest of the world is a medium sized one, and the large cup doesn’t have a comparison, let alone the extra large cups.]


The third time I went I tried what was described in a few different websites and youtube videos devoted to Denny’s Japan as their “Star” dish, Denny’s runny rice omelet (no this is not a spelling mistake). Even their own site describes it as “The popular No.1 menu of Denny’s became more and more delicious!” (again, NOT a mistake, that’s what the menu says — Japanese translations to English are often a bit odd). The two previous times I was there I had myself noticed that it appeared to be the dish most often ordered by the Japanese. It is a fried rice type thing covered with egg  and some sort of brown sauce … since there weren’t any veggies on the plate, I ordered the same vegetable side I had eaten the first time (the spinach thing) and a bowl of miso soup …

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Doesn’t look good, in my own opinion

Because it was 754 calories, and 39.6 g of fat (!!!), i.e., completely off my doctor’s prescribed diet for my fatty liver disease,  I decided to only eat about half of the egg dish and instead fill up with the almost fat free veggie side and miso soup.

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This task was made WAY easier because to my mind, …. this rice thing was kind of seriously disgusting … Honestly, for the life of me I don’t get why it’s their #1 dish, it reminds me of the really disgusting concoctions I came up with in middle school when I was first experimenting with creating my own recipes. Not only does it look disgusting, but there’s some sort of tasteless cheese-product type substance in it, which I THINK is supposed to be mozzarella…  and not only is this thing pretty fatty, it TASTES fatty (blech) … So I ate less than half (focused on the egg and not the rice) and ordered what I thought based on the menu photo was a chocolate ice cream dessert for 184 calories

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What appeared to be chocolate ice cream turned out in fact to be red bean paste- Anko (koshian), on top of pounded rice stuff, seaweed gelatin cubes (don’t knock it, they’re good), bits of banana and mandarin orange… and a dried apricot…

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As per the picture, it came with a sort of molasses to pour over… but I didn’t, as I didn’t think it actually needed it, and probably saved myself a few calories.


The next time I went in was for a late night snack. I had been going to sleep later and later, in preparation for my going home (for a variety of reasons I had to be good to go the day after I arrived, so I figured I would work through some of the Jet lag/time change issues while still in Japan — happily Tokyo is a 24 hour kind of a town, sort of like New York City.

This time I got what I THOUGHT might be a smoked salmon and cream cheese sort of appetizer.

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what arrived instead was smoked salmon on mashed potato (?!), which explains how it was only 198 calories…  with a sort of sweet onion sauce on top of the blobs of potato. Definitely a rather odd dish.

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Initially I ordered it with what I THOUGHT was going to be a glass of Kiwi juice. Happily, the waiter, realizing I couldn’t read Japanese and was just going by the pictures, pointed out that the Kiwi juice was in fact an Alcoholic drink….

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and pointed out something that till that evening I had completely overlooked….. Denny’s in Japan serves BOOZE!!! As in beer, wine, sake and fruity drinks…. I suppose the word highball should have keyed me in, but wasn’t expecting martinis at a Denny’s.

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When I told him I really wanted some sort of fruit juice, and NOT the orange juice offered at the drink bar, he pointed me towards the special seasonal menu which had on offer all things strawberry (I just noticed on their online menu that the next seasonal menu is going to be all things mango), and what he promised was a fresh squeezed strawberry juice for 76 calories (versus the strawberry juice with alcohol in it which was 129 calories)

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I followed this up with an Acai berry & yogurt dish, because I was feeling sort of dairy deficient in my diet.

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What arrived on my table didn’t look very appealing, not as pretty as in the picture, but it was VERY tasty, and crunchy with bits of fresh mint on top.

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One evening I decided that I wanted to try one of their salads. I opted for one that appeared to have grilled chicken and a poached egg. From the image, I assumed the salad had a blue cheese type of salad dressing

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(I later learned it was in fact a Caesar salad dressing) and asked if it could exchanged for what looked to be a Japanese sesame dressing instead — offered with a salad with a much lower number of calories.

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From the look on the waitresses face this was NOT a normal request (Japanese don’t futze with a chef’s creation), in fact she looked a bit freaked out by it… but their chef agreed to do it. (After the fact I no longer think it was sesame… but rather some other sort of  dressing with nutty seeds). That said, the salad was REALLY tasty.

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For the last meal I forgot to take any photos of my food … sorry, my bad: I had the Ginger grilled pork (which I found to be a bit oily — in retrospect I think it may have been pork belly such as the Japanese like to use in ramen… I kept having to pull off bits of fat… and ended up leaving about 1/2 of the serving on the plate as a result). Normally it comes with some mayonnaise on top of it (MORE fat) and mayonnaise potato salad; but I asked them to hold that, and instead paired it with the spinach/dikon side, and the seaweed salad that had come with the fish…. and of course miso soup. Additionally, I only ate about 1/3 of the bowl of  rice. Overall, not bad, but not great.

Sitting across from me was a ridiculously cute four or five year old girl who was in the Denny’s with her mom… this girl clearly LOVED her egg carbonara pasta. Her mom had ordered an adult size, but was spooning it into a child sized bowl for the girl… and she had enthusiastically slurped up two bowls of the stuff… really cute

Later, looking on Youtube, I found this series of videos of things that are usually pretty mediocre in the USA that are MUCH better in Japan, which included an episode on Denny’s:

note, in the video the sister says the disgusting rice dish which is Denny’s top seller is her favorite item on the menu…

All in all, while not EVERY dish on the menu was a winner, I would definitely suggest that if there’s a Denny’s in your neighborhood while visiting Japan, and your in search of some decent and cheap eats, you not overlook it as an option.

Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, entering on the Nightpassport tickets

If you can’t do a full day at Tokyo Disney I strongly suggest taking advantage of the Night passport tickets. I was in Tokyo for three weeks after the first aborted visit to Tokyo Disney at the beginning of my trip, but because of my ill-health, and the weather, I kept pushing off my visits till the very end of my stay. By that time, my sleep patterns had gotten serious screwed up, so that my body clock was almost back on US/East coast time a full week before I was set to return. As in, I was going to sleep at around 6am and waking up at around 3pm. Buying full day tickets was therefore an utter waste of money. Luckily, while a full day ticket costs close to $74, they offer a 6pm entrance on week nights ticket that only costs around $42; and they also have for Saturdays and Sundays for entering at 3pm or after ticket that costs $54.

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Note to self: I need to remember to check when Japanese school holidays happen before I go next time, because my timing this year sort of sucked. When I finally got back (on April 3rd — a Tuesday)  the seller warned me, as I was buying my ticket to enter the park, that I could expect three-hours or longer waits for rides (with an, “are you SURE you want to go tonight?” sort of look). When I asked her why it was SO busy on a weeknight, she said it was because it of it being ‘Spring vacation’ time for the schools.

To be honest, that first night this didn’t bother me too much as my main goal was to people-watch, experience the place, and do some shopping. Tokyo Disney used to Sell these incredibly cute, high-quality, tiny and light, umbrellas every time it rained. I have one that I have been carrying around with me for over 10 years now, which has suffered being turned inside out by 50 mph wind gusts, and STILL works. So, the MAIN thing I was hopping to buy while here was more of those. It makes me very sad to announce that they seem to have discontinued them. It really was the single thing I was hoping to load up on while I was in Tokyo. Now, instead, they’re only selling those plastic ponchos, like in the USA… and the only umbrellas are big heavy ones. So sad….

So, among the first things I did (after looking at some shops) was to go and get something to eat. In the US parks you can walk up to a restaurant without a reservation, and its often possible to make one for later in the day (although usually in a not popular time slot) … and then they’ll send you a text to your phone about 15 min before your table is ready, to tell you to come back — with the caveat of if you arrive later than a certain time you’ll lose the table. This allows you to maximize your time in the park … In Tokyo Disney no such service is offered, instead they actually make you just stand inline and wait for your turn … even if the estimated wait is over two hours. (Crazy right?) I HAD wanted to get the Sea food Gratin dish sold in the Mainstreet area, but the wait was bonkers, so instead I moseyed over to…..

…The Star Wars section of the park and got a ginger drink w/tapioca in a star wars cup. Firstly, I LOVE Ginger drinks — I had just spent the last two months in Australia buying every brand of ginger beer I could find and taste-testing them; and, on top of that, I’m very into all things Star Wars, although not a full card-carrying geek about it… and I have more than a few friends who are, who I thought might love the cup.

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Saved the cup to bring home to a friend of mine who collects Star Wars paraphernalia

The drink was really good, it had actual bits of ginger floating around in it along with those great big tapioca balls which alway freak me out a little because of the risk of choking to death on them when you suck them in via a straw should they get stuck in your airway … the Heimlich maneuver won’t work to get those suckers out

With the drink I got the oh so adorable looking Stormtrooper Mochi (a kind of pounded rice desert dumpling) which I assumed would be filled with red bean paste…

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— but I was wrong, the first was a lemon tasting custard, the second was a sort strawberry one, and the third was what I thought might be a coffee cream … (when I googled it the official flavors are Custard Cream, Berry Cream, Milk & Caramel Cream, so close but no cigar) Apparently if I had upgraded to nine dumplings instead of three it would included some black Darth Vader ones full of chocolate cream.

I was then tempted to buy, but did not purchase, this Soy Sauce and butter flavored popcorn which was being sold in either this Darth Vader head (which very few people seemed to be buying), OR… IMG_0172

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The case is visible just left of the woman with the broom… don’t know why but I LOVE this picture

… one of these way too adorable R2D2 cases (the really big one held by the girl below), but if I bought it I would want to take it home and there was simply NO room left in my suitcases for anything that big. (It being one week before my flight I had packed and weighed all my suitcases and knew exactly how much weight and space I had left.)

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Pictures of all the food related Star Wars collectibles available when I was at Disney

So I wandered around the park, checking out all the stores. (The crush of people was WORSE than it had been on the weekend day I had come two weeks earlier.) The category of items that called to me most were the headgear. In the US parks most of the headgear are wire headbands with either Minnie Mouse Ears, i.e., ears of various colors with a bows in various colors attached to them (about 98% of the time) or Mickey Mouse ears (black ears sans the bow, about 2%), and then various hats with things attached, and that’s about it. In Tokyo the variety of options is a lot greater, in large part because Japanese boys and men are far more likely to buy something like this and wear it around the parks than their US Western counterparts.

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What particularly caught my eye were the soft material headbands, which I thought I could easily shove into my suitcase, as well as into my car’s back pockets. I purchased the White Rabbit ears and thought I could buy the Winnie-the-poo ears next time I came… but they were COMPLETELY sold out by then, and I checked everywhere.

Learned something important, like the Americans in the Magic Kingdom, pretty much all the Japanese guests with kids abandon the park at around 8 PM — after the fireworks, and from that point till the 10pm closing you can actually do rides, EVEN though it was a school vacation day. At around 9:15 I rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, TWICE!!! There was only a five-minute wait, i.e., the amount of time it takes to walk from the entrance to the boats.

And then I learned something that I found a little odd; namely, they close all of the main street stores at closing time, except the ones selling freshly baked treats that go stale. In Disneyworld in Florida, they keep ALL of the mainstreet stores open for a good hour after everything else closes, because ‘you should never lose an opportunity to separate the customer from his or her money.’ So if you’re used to the US pattern, be prepared. When they say the park closes at 10pm they mean pretty much the WHOLE park.

My next visit to Tokyo DisneyLand was a few days later on Friday April 6; I was taking the gamble that MAYBE since the weather that night was supposed to seriously suck (there was a gale scheduled to hit town around 7pm), AND it was the last vacation day before the weekend before kids were supposed to return to school (and I was guessing most of them had not even started their homework yet) that the parks would be a lot less full than they had been on Tuesday… And I was RIGHT!

As I had arrived about a half hour before the late tickets went into effect, I decided to check out the hotel next to the Disneyland park.

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It is a nice looking hotel, and it has a Princess salon that is MUCH larger than anything I’ve seen at the magic Kingdom, with very different selection of outfits. (In fact if you have an age appropriate daughter I’d suggest it, as these outfits are NOT available in the US from what I’ve seen… and these ones look nicer and higher quality.)

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Also while wandering around the hotel I found this convenience store, selling the same sort of items you’d normally find, only all of them were Disney branded… so for instance there was even a box of lens wipes for glasses with a mickey on the box, and Cinderella lip gloss, etc. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, convenience stores in Japan are WAY better than what we’re used to in the states, and this one had the same impressive selection of prepared foods you could take back to your hotel room. (In fact I’m pretty sure some of the dishes were cold versions of what’s sold in the park’s restaurants.)

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 Tokyo Disney, like Disneyland in Los Angeles has the Magic Shop on main street, which is kind of seriously cool (I’ve never understood why the Magic Kingdom in Orlando doesn’t have it), with a guy who demonstrates
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So remember how I had wanted to get the Sea food Gratin from the restaurant on main street and they had told me it was going to be a 40 minute wait? Well this time I went to the same place and I asked how long the wait was, she said 20 min. One of the important things to remember is that at Disney staff are trained to give predetermined wait times, and in Japan 20 minutes is sort of like the default 15 minutes an American restaurant might tell you that you’ll need to wait to be seated (because the Japanese are far more inherently patient than Americans are).
So I looked in the window and saw that there were a bunch of empty tables… I got in line and it was 5 minuets… “maybe”… I ordered the shrimp gratin and corn soup— two dishes that Japanese think are western but that do not exist in these forms anywhere else
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After dinner like I said, the weather on this day was supposed to seriously suck, and the weather app hadn’t lied.  It was cold, wet and raining (spitting really)… which meant pretty much all the Tokyo area residents with yearly passes stayed home, which allowed me to get on the haunted mansion ride with NO waiting — twice in a row… in the US when the wait is this short the number shown is 10 min. Here it’s 13 because all Japanese know that in the west 13 is an unlucky number which makes the ride spookier …
The thing to remember is that in Japan the number 13 is NOT unlucky … in Japan, the number four is unlucky. The reason is fairly simple, the word for four in Japanese is “She” which is also the sound of the word for death, although spelled differently. This is also true in Chinese and Korean… but NOT in Vietnamese, etc.
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After the rides I did more shopping. When I was in Tokyo Disney in 2014 one of my major bitches was that there was very little I felt I needed to buy (I even found a TripAdvisor review I wrote about it). Let’s face it “Disney” stuff is available world-wide. When you’re at the parks, if you’re a hard-core collector you want stuff that is simply unavailable elsewhere (which with Ebay and such is becoming less and less true) or you want stuff that shows your friends you were there … something that actually SAYS Tokyo Disney on it… and at that time items like that simply did not exist.

This time around that is no longer the case. Pretty much EVERY category of items had Tokyo Disney written on it… Hats, shirts, etc…. I even found Disney resort band aids…

I’m buying them mostly for the clear silicon cases they come with, I am going to store my microfiber things that I bought in Australia (with Aboriginal designs on them) for cleaning glasses in them…

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They also now have Disney Park bathroom sets!!! Seriously, toilet seat and paper covers, and matching bathroom shoes.
IMG_1243 In case you didn’t know, the Japanese NEVER wear outdoor shoes into a house or apartment (it would track in dirt). Instead you switch from your outdoor shoes into provided slippers. On top of that, Japanese have special slippers for wearing inside toilets (which is a level of hygienic westerners don’t even think about).
And then, after the shopping  I watched the night parade …
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After the parade and the fireworks were over (trying to watch the fireworks when the clouds were below the level where the rockets explode was… amusing), once again the parents with kids, the few who had braved the cold and wet weather, all headed home … making the park EVEN emptier.
While waiting in line for the Snow White ride — at this point only a 15 minute wait… I saw this happening that I had never seen in the US parks, the staff were brushing stuff (I’m thinking a combination of popcorn and fireworks ash) out of the carts, but doing it WHILE the customers were still in the park.
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Note the pile of tan stuff in the right corner, that’s what she’s brushing out

One of the things I love about the dark house rides in Japan is they are WAY WAY WAY darker and scarier than the US version… (watch the YouTube below, make sure to keep the volume for the sound up to really appreciate it)

Now compare it to the Disneyland version of the same ride

Firstly the Japan ride feels longer to me, and more importantly, apparently little Japanese kids are either not scared as easily as American ones … Or (more likely) Japanese parents see nothing wrong with their kid getting a mild scare.

After that I got a small container of the chocolate popcorn, cause CHOCOLATE…  that said it tasted a bit like coco puffs but nowhere near as sweet. Not really my idea of chocolate.

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And then popcorn in hand I walked over to the Splash Mountain ride to see if I could get on that (normally like a two-hour wait) … and while I was standing in the 30 minute line (longer than I’d like, but doable) a staff member who was passing by me in the fast pace lane realized my popcorn box was now empty and offered to throw it out for me… welcome to Japan.  THAT level of service I’ve NEVER seen in the USA.

After that, I still had time for another ride before the park was due to close; I rode on the Pinocchio ride… and since it was close to closing time, no lines, NONE — for one of the most popular rides for little kids.

That said… take a look at the picture below of parents taking small children on the Pinocchio ride and tell me if anything seems off to you…..

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THIS is something you’d never see in the US… that the kids on this ride (see image above) are WAY too small to be riding safety… The kid in the front seat is maybe five or six years old, and the kid in the back seat is a toddler. But, here’s the difference…  in Japan no parent would sue Disney for their choice to be stupid if their kid (who they CHOSE to put on the ride) got hurt … Disney won’t let the kids on a ride like this alone, but if the parent is there, SURE…

Seriously, that kid in the back seat isn’t even two years old, the kid in the front seat didn’t look tall enough for any of the, “you must be this height” signs at Orlando

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After I got off the ride, this was the length of the line to get back on. The Park wasn’t closed yet and the staff were waving to me that I could get back on if I wanted to.

Oh, and to be fair the Pinocchio rides in the Tokyo and LA Disneylands are almost identical, neither is particularly scary — if you don’t believe me google videos of each

 

 

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The next day was Saturday the 7th (remember the never go to Disney on a weekend rule?), but the gale that had been heading into to Tokyo the day before had arrived with a will, and the weather was EVEN more horrible… Not much rain but Oh my lord the wind!!!! So what did I do? I went to go see the DisneySea Park!! Overall not a horrible idea, but I did it wrong.

My first mistake was a strategic error… SINCE I had been able to walk from the train station to DisneyLand with no trouble, and because it wasn’t raining, I tried walking to DisneySea… against 40 to 50 mile per hour wind gusts… instead of paying to take the train. TO get there you walk from the subway station to the Disney specific train station, then THROUGH the shopping mall, past the movie theaters, and then ask for help. It took multiple tries before I found a shop person (most of them spoke some English) who could direct me to the correct exit from the mall… to sidewalks… and then it’s a good 20 minute walk past parking lots most of which were empty, just like this one (photo from 2013)

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The public train access to the parks is so good that I have a feeling they’ve got way more parking here than they will ever actually use

and such till you get there. Had the weather been pleasant it wouldn’t have been bad, but I was walking against high-speed winds and it SUCKED. Finally, already tired out, irritated, and sniffly (from the cold and damp) I arrived at the park.

Once I got there, it was SO dark that it was pointless to try to take many pictures. I do have some from when I was there in October of 2013

So, that said, the Japanese seem to have developed a serious Duffy Bear obsession since I was last there. He is a character that was originally sold in Orlando but didn’t take off (it’s not like there were any cartoons connected with him) but then executives decided to heavily market him as the mascot of Tokyo DisneySea. The Tokyo customers loved him and I remembered Disney brought him back to Epcot, where and he even was given a prominent character signing area right near the entrance to the international area (but the lines to have your photo with him were always short), Americans not only didn’t really see the point of him, but I know for myself I actually resented him. I think it’s a general rule that Americans HATE obvious attempts at separating us from our money.  (this blog post from the Disney Tourist Blog has a pretty good discussion of the Duffy phenomena) and in 2015, he got removed from Epcot, although you can still find his toys if you look.

Last time I was in Tokyo he was way more popular than in the US, but NOTHING like now. His popularity with the Asian Disney customers has gone beyond all bounds and I just don’t get it. Any store in DisneySea that was selling Duffy merchandise has a 20 minute to 30 minute line just to get into the store, and the are LIMITS on how much of anything you can buy. I shit you not! The mania is such that they’ve even created a friend for him because … more things to sell, and the Japanese are lapping it up. I kept seeing these massive lines in front of various stores and when I asked what was going on I was told, “We’re in line to buy Duffy things.” They were allowing people in a handful at a time and the stores that had the stuff were stuffed with people. And some folks were coming out of the store and elatedly showing off their purchases like athletes holding up the first prize trophy after a contest of endurance.

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And then, I kept seeing people taking photos of themselves with their Duffy dolls. For instance, I caught these folks setting up their Duffy dolls and doing an almost professional photo shot of them in the park (the woman is holding a reflector while the guy was using a fairly professional looking camera).

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Walking around looking for things to eat, I found more cute mochi dumpling — These were chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavored. I had purchased some other foods to eat, stuff where you could sit down… but the indoor tables were take and then after I found an outdoor table a gust of wind blew away my dinner… seriously

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Even with the horrible weather, the wait for the Raiders of the Lost Arc ride was too long for me

On the topic of popcorn in every flavor…. this one was so bizarre that I HAD to try it

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I am sorry to say that it was SO disgusting that after the first few mouthfuls, I threw the rest away… just NASTY. The garlic part was nice but the shrimp tasted like fish that had gone off.

DisneySea has an Arabian Coast section, which includes a Pirates of the Caribbean type ride dedicated to Sinbad…. with NO LINE

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By the end of the day I was so exhausted that I even left the park a bit early and headed for the train station. I was completely and utterly exhausted after having almost every step being against 30 to 40 mph gusts, not to mention spitting rain … I had dressed for cold, but it never came. It’s currently midnight and 68 F … I had my long sleeve hemp t-shirt, my thick black turtle neck sweater and my leather jacket (which I ended up carrying the whole time) my ankles and legs are exhausted from fighting to walk against a few hours of non stop wind.

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The red arrow points to the Maihama Station, which is where Disney is…  IF your intent is to both visit Tokyo AND engoy the park, then I STRONGLY suggest that you try to find lodgings near Tokyo Station, which puts you an easy walk from the Ginaz, the royal palace, etc., and an easy ride to the park.

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‘Women-Only’ Train-Cars in Japan

You’d THINK ‘women-only’ carriages would only happen in cultures like the Middle East, where the genders are kept separate, but you’d be wrong. In an effort to combat ASSHOLE men who think a crowded train is the perfect opportunity to put their hands up the skirt of any women unlucky enough to be standing next to them, various cities around the world have begun to institute “women only carriages” in their trains, including Tokyo.

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Today I spent best part of a miserable day (Tokyo was having a gale, i.e., a storm with very little rain but near constant 30 to 50 mph wind gusts) at Tokyo Disneyland (hey, a woman has got to have her priorities); and while heading back home to my airbnb had my first encounter with this phenomena.

Because of having to fight intense winds the whole day I was already exhausted, and the whole route (from the airbnb to Disney) takes a miserable 1.25+ hours — and includes a LOT of additional walking as you make changes between three different lines none of which are adjacent to the other (suffice it to say that I will NOT be staying in this location again)… By the time I reached the final leg I was EXHAUSTED, and I still had make a change from the Japan Rail (JR) Chūō line (which runs east to west) to the Keio which starts at Shinjuku Station, which runs to the “dormitory communities” (or commuter towns) west of Tokyo…. where I was living. When I finally got to the Keio platform, the train was sitting there with it’s doors open, but pretty much every car “looked full”.

Emphasis has to be given on the “looked” part, because … one of the “experiences” of being in Japan is riding in a TRUELY full train. Most Americans have never had the pleasure because it involves an invasion of personal space that unimaginable in the west. A full train in Tokyo is one where people have been crammed together like sardines to the point where you are cheek to jowl with your fellow passengers, and as the doors close the train staff can be seen shoving people in.

[Note: if you ever find yourself on a train like this, I STRONGLY suggest you take this suggestion, “go with the flow.” By that I mean, relax your entire body and pretend you’re laying down on a bed, and don’t freak out when you find your legs are no longer under your body. It’s a very Zen meditative sort of thing, like a trust fall or being held aloft in a mosh pit. IF you try to struggle to stand, a) you will fail, and b) you might actually get hurt — as in strain your back. At stations right before yours, maneuver yourself closer to the doors, especially if your needing out at the next station. When you station arrives and the train comes to stop, THEN you get your legs back under you and yell “SUMIMASEN!” at the top of your lungs repeatedly, and starting from a football stance put your shoulders into the person in front of you and shove the hoard blocking your exit out of the train. Once you’ve burst through their ‘defensive line,’ immediately turn around and face the startled masses, bow very deeply and hell out Sumimasen again, then leave.]

Back to my story… This was not THAT full, but it was still pretty darn full. I kept going down the line car by car trying to find one where there was enough space to step in without having to shove my way in (like I said before, this was the first station on the line so the train was just sitting there with its doors open). Finally, I found one, and bleary eyed and exhausted, I stepped in. Looking around I was like “wow there are a lot of women on this car.”  The doors remained open, and more women stepped on… And then I started to look around and really SEE and realized that I could not spot a single male on the car. Well that was odd, so I couldn’t be right… I keep looking and sure enough I could not spot even one man on the car.

Suddenly I had a brain fart and, in English, I loudly said “is this a woman’s only car?” One girl standing just by me, who spoke a tiny bit of English volunteered a quiet, “yes”, so then I asked her “how do you know which is the women’s only car?” and she kept saying “muzukashii, muzukashii” which in Japanese translates to literally to “difficult, difficult” but idiomatically has a much broader ‘unexpressed meaning’, or what the Japanese refer to as Haragei (a crucial concept to understanding the Japanese);, in this particular case it meant: “my English really isn’t good enough to be able to explain this to you and while I’m struggling to find the words I don’t know how to say it… and I am very both sorry and slightly embarrassed about that, so please forgive me.” In Japan it’s VERY important to belly as much as with your ears.

When I got off the train I looked all around until I spotted the identifier.

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I had of course heard about women only trains, and had probably many months ago read something somewhere saying they were showing up in Japan, but it wasn’t something that was in my ‘awareness’ so to speak… to use proper English, it was not within my ken. (Great word, shame it’s not used more, it’s the closest thing in English to the full and proper meaning of the Japanese term, “Wakarimasu” — which is rather closer to the SciFi slang term “to Grok” than it is to the simple concept of to know.)

The need for women only cars in Japan however, WAS … I am sorry to say, very much within my ken. Back, 30+ odd years ago, when I was in my early 20’s I spent two successive summers living and interning in Japan. The first was in the tiny Japanese ceramics town of Arita, more precisely in Okawachiyama Village (and at the time there were only two other westerners in the whole place) working interning in the international business department of Iwao Jiki Kogyo; the second time was in Tokyo for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, Eisai. That summer I was riding on a perviously described “very full train” with wife of my father’s colleague, a professor from Todai, when an also previously described asshole made the mistake of taking advantage of me. My mamma didn’t raise no shrinking violets.

I felt an uninvited hand exploring my backside and then using it’s fingers to pull up my skirt. For about a split second I was in shock, but then I got pissed and slowly maneuvered my hand through the press of bodies around to my rear and grabbed the hand. I then proceeded to slowly turn my body around while holding firmly onto the hand (at that age I played piano, violin and viola, practicing each for at least 20 minutes a day… and was rather renowned among my friends for how strong my hands were). By the time I turned myself around, the hand had been twisted into a position that I was sure would be uncomfortable if not outright painful for the owner. I then looked among the faces in front of me, and found who I was pretty sure was the guy based on his expression of fear and pain… I then let go of his hand, pulled mine out, pointed right into his face and yelled  repeatedly “CHIKAN! CHIKAN!” … Japanese for molester, or sexual harasser. The people around us all looked at him in shock (tellingly, a lot of them were unhappy with me for disturbing Wa, or harmony — another term crucial to understanding Japanese culture) and when the train doors opened he ran out of the train with his tail firmly between his legs.

While the folks on the train weren’t thrilled with me, my companion, who was in her mid to late 30’s (I was in maybe 23? at the time) looked at me with pride and wonder. That said, she shuffled me off the train even though it wasn’t our stop (like I said, I had committed the then socially unforgivable sin of breaking Wa — read the description) — but now a days I hope Japanese might have grabbed him and held him for arrest, instead). And then once we were on the platform she said to me, “HOW did you do that! PLEASE teach me! That happens to me all the time on the train and I never know how to respond. That was WONDERFUL!!!”

I say that no a days I would expect the Japanese to respond differently because, as the presence of Women only cars indicate, times have changed. According to this web site, “The chikan problem is [now] taken very seriously by railway companies and the authorities, and anyone found guilty of groping is liable to imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,500).” But that said, according this other web site  (citing a 2008 study by Adam Burgess and Mitsutoshi Horii), “Somewhere between 50-70% of young Japanese women experience chikan (“pervert,” often “groper”) on Japanese commuter trains in metropolitan areas” and, according to the same site the reason Japan’s camera phones make a snapshot noise that the user can NOT turn off is to prevent sicko’s taking pictures up girl’s skirts.

According to yet another on-line article, Women who attract chikan, and women who don’t”: The illustrated guide that’s provoking debate, which was published in 2014… the problem of Chikan men is now being discussed openly in Japanese society…

By the way, THIS is the image in question…
And, looking at it, who do you think the artist identified as the easy target?screenclip4
… according to the artist, in Japan, sexual attacks are more in line with the tastes of Pedofile priests than the sort of “she must have been asking for it” victim shaming we tend to see in the West. As such,, the woman with exposed breasts, or the Goth girl are the ones least likely to be attacked, while while the underage school girls or demurely dressed adult woman are statistically the ones MOST likely to be attacked.

“Suspects in sex crime cases were asked why they chose that person [to attack]. Fewer than 5 percent said they targeted someone because they were wearing provocative clothing. In rape cases, the most common reason given was ‘they seemed like they wouldn’t report it to the police’ (45%). In indecent assault cases, the most common reason was ‘they seemed meek; I didn’t think they’d be able to stop me’ (48%).” — from the article about the image

… returning to the trains, the good news, according to the wikipedia article on the subject of Women only cars on trains, is that in Japan, unlike some other countries, men are fined for entering the cars and the ever present rail staff (the ones whose job it is to shove people into cars) are on site to enforce the rules.

 

The Joys of Convenience Store Food in Japan

When you think of convenience stores you generally don’t think of them as a great place to pick up an affordable meal. I don’t know about you but when I see the plastic wrapped food options in their refrigerated cases, or the hot food on display, I tend to worry about food poisoning first, and consider just how desperate I am for food second, and then tend to go for something processed and in a bag instead… like a bag of chips. Except when I’m in Japan, in Japan I actually opt for convenience store food when looking for cheap eats.

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In Japan convenience stores are pretty much everywhere, with about 50,000 of them scattered throughout the country, and they are sort of famous across Asia for the quality of their eats. For example: the other week, my favorite former teaching assistant (from when I was professor in Korea a few years ago) was in town for a few days. (I had told him I was intending to come here after Australia and he had asked if he could tag along for a few days.) This being his first time here, one of his “while in Japan” priorities was to eat convenience store food… I shit you not. Sure, Korea is chock a block with convenience stores, and even has 7-eleven’s of it’s own; and Korean convenience stores have food too…  that will keep you from starving to death and will fill you up in a pinch, but the whole time I was working there I never heard anyone describe them as a first choice for a meal. (And most of the time what I saw folks eating at them were cup a noodles or some other processed and or frozen food warmed up … not generally the ready made stuff (of which there was very little to choose from anyway — probably a catch 22 situation).

By comparison in Japan you’re as likely see teenagers and young adults dropping into a convenience store to pick up a quick meal (which they’ll usually eat at home) as you are to see them dropping into a McDonalds or a any other fast food chain, and by extension the offerings are extensive. While there they’ll pick up freshly cooked but refrigerated meals out of the refrigerators, baked goods, etc., with the same confidence as we would buying precooked foods from the grocery stores’ deli sections.

The concept was brought to Japan in 1974 by 7-Eleven, a brand that started in Texas, and as is true with all other imports the Japanese made it their own, to the point of buying out the brand entirely (the company is now owned by the Japanese, and there are more of them in here than anywhere else, in fact 31% of all their stores world wide). Nowadays, there are essentially three major chains, 7-eleven, Lawson (which like 7-eleven began as a US brand, but the brand name is now owned by the Japanese and the US stores were bought out by, and now called Dairy Mart), and FamilyMart (the only chain to originate in Japan).

Of the three, my favorite is Lawson where a) pretty much everything they sell is in my opinion much tastier than the equivalent at the other two chains

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… but also, and most importantly for me, b) Lawson’s cooked foods tend to have English descriptions on them (making my life a tone easier).

IMG_0766IMG_0767They also sell these little packets of chicken in various calorie sizes… I recently tried the smoked chicken tenderloin one for 37 calories … and oh dear lord it’s tasty and moist! Last year a friend of mine had decided to just throw money at the problem of not having enough time or energy to cook for the twenty people she’d invited to thanksgiving dinner, and had purchased a whole smoked turkey from one of those catalogue food companies (like Williams– Sonoma), which turned out to be “to die for”!!!! This bit of chicken in plastic from Lawson’s was almost that good… and it’s from a convenience store!!IMG_0765

And while under normal circumstances I would NEVER buy something like cooked fish from a 7-eleven in the states, I have purchased it from Lawson’s, and it was good.IMG_0764

by comparison, 7-eleven for the most part does NOT put English on most of their food packets (except for the kcal which, happily for me, the Japanese seem to always list with the western alphabet); what is there is sort of a mission statement about how great their food is, rather than anything useful.IMG_0768.JPG

That and, like I said before, the few things where I’ve compared 7-eleven’s product with the comparable Lawson’s one, I preferred the flavor of Lawson’s food.

The only product where the ‘rule’ about English labeling doesn’t seem to hold up is on Sandwiches, where 7-eleven DOES put an English description and Lawson’s does not

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For the most part I find the FamilyMart brand to better than 7-eleven in flavors, but not quite as good as Lawson in most things… and they rarely use English descriptions on their products either.

Also, if you’re in Japan, needing to pick up some cash, and not able to find a bank ATM that will accept international bank cards, every ATM I’ve looked at that’s in any of the three chains accepts international cards. I haven’t used them, so I don’t know if there are any extra fees involved.

An interesting factoid that most travelers will never need to use: I’ve read that, because of their omnipresence in Japanese cities of all sizes, anyone who needs police protection such as battered wives, can run to one any convenience store and the clerks are tasked with protecting them till the police arrive.

Found this good video on the topic: