Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, July 5, 2020

No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners! Book Review

I first arrived in Japan in 1998 to start my working career after graduating from university in Australia with a business degree. Japan was a vastly different place then to what it is now, and I was lucky to catch the very tail-end of the golden boom period. I was one of the few foreigners living in my small city in central Japan, and I can tell you that I had a lot of unique and interesting experiences as one of the only westerners in my area, but that is a story for another day.

Joe Palermo the writer of No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners arrived even earlier than I did, but we share many of the same Japan experiences and Japan stories.

The Book’s Content 

No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners is a short, easy to read 87-page book full of interesting Japan experiences from the perspective of a foreigner living in Japan in the 1980s.

Many of the stereotypes of a foreigner in Japan from the 1980s still, unfortunately, remain today, such as “Wow! You can speak Japanese. How are you able to do that? ” and “Your chopstick skills are amazing for a non-Japanese!”

Here is a little from the book and the author.

“A young Japanese woman was running through Tokyo station screaming “Save me! Save me!” There was a Japanese man chasing her and closing in. He grabbed her wrist and caught her about 10 feet in front of me. The woman was still yelling “Save me! Save Me!” but the Japanese people in the crowded station ignored her, not wanting to get involved. This is the beginning of just one of the stories from my experience living in Japan in the 1980’s, where I had moved right after graduating university. It was still rare to see an American who could speak Japanese fluently. This book guides the reader though my many adventures navigating through Japanese culture while living in the outskirts of Tokyo, as well as Tokyo proper.”

My View 

This book is really easy to pick-up and read and is jam-packed with short entertaining stories about Joe’s eight-year journey of living in Japan in the boom of the 1980s. The writing style is easy to digest and I found myself sitting down wanting to read more and more each time I picked it up. The main interest for me was reading about Joe’s adventures in Japan and how he adapted to Japanese culture while living in his small town on the outskirts of Tokyo. I could definitely relate to this experience.

I really enjoyed the book as someone who has lived in Japan for a very long time. I could relate to many of the stories in the book and even went through quite a lot of them myself, so it definitely brought back a lot of memories about my start here in Japan.

About the Writer 

The author, Joe Palermo grew up in Addison, Illinois in the United States. Upon graduation from the University of Illinois in Chicago, he moved to Japan to accept a position with the Japanese government as a Mombusho English Fellow (MEF). He spent 3 years working for Shimaden, a Japanese manufacturer of industrial temperature controllers, and then joined the Nielsen company (formerly A.C. Nielsen) locally in Japan. He is now semi-retired and lives with his Japanese wife in the suburbs of Chicago.  

No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners! is an enjoyable read, outlining what it was like to live in Japan in the 1980s with many of the experiences still ringing true today.

No Pianos, Pets or Foreigners! is available on Amazon

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Kyoto Shinjo Castle

Screen Painting of Kyoto Shinjo Castle
A great discovery was made this week in Kyoto with archeologists uncovering the remains of Kyoto Shinjo Castle (new Kyoto Castle) for the first time.

Kyoto Shinjo Castle was constructed in 1597 by samurai warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), one of the three great unifiers of Japan. It was the last castle he built before his death in 1598.

Researchers conducting excavation work unearthed stones walls and a moat belonging to the castle on the grounds of the Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace on May 12.

The castle was known to have existed due to it being mentioned in written documents, but no physical trace of it had been found until now. The techniques used to construct the castle wall will provide some good insight into the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) of Japanese castles

Excavated stone walls from Kyoto Shinjo Castle
Excavated stones walls from Kyoto Shinjo | Image: The Mainichi

Kyoto Shinjo Castle was destroyed in 1600 just before the greatest samurai battle in history at Sekigahara, which decided that fate of Japan for the next 260 years. Kyoto Sento Imperial Palace was constructed over its remains in 1627 as the retirement home for Emperor Go Mizuno after his abdication.

Stone Wall at Kyoto Shinjo Castle
Stone wall at Kyoto Shinjo Castle | Image: The Asahi Shimbun

The castle was built close to the Imperial Palace to cement the Toyotomi court rank of Chancellor of the Realm and Imperial Regent “kanpaku” (chief advisor to the emperor). Hideyoshi ruled Japan in all but name and most likely built the castle, so that his infant son, Hideyori (1593-1615) could succeed his titles upon his death.

Hideyoshi was worried about other daimyo (feudal lords), especially Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) gaining control of the country after his death.

It will be interesting to see what they decide to do with this amazing new discovery.

Screen Painting of Kyoto Shinjo Castle
Screen Painting of Kyoto Shinjo Castle | Image: The Asahi Shimbun

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Samurai Mac Burgers at McDonald’s Japan

Samurai Mac Burgers
Growing up in Melbourne as a small boy, I knew Japan for two things. One was ninja, the secret assassins and spies of feudal Japan who were skilled in the use of swords, shuriken and scaling hooks. The other was samurai, the elegant and noble protectors of Japan. Back in April, when McDonald’s Japan announced they were going to introduce two new samurai burgers, you can bet I was excited.

McDonald’s Japan have been teasing our taste buds for many years now with interesting limited-edition and seasonal burgers such as the Tsukimi Burger in fall and the Gratin Croquette Burger in winter.

The new Samurai Mac Burgers were created to capture the spirit of the samurai warrior with their Japanese flavours. They come in two different varieties which are designed to represent different samurai factions.

The Samurai (TV series)

The “Wild Faction” is represented by the Roasted Soy Sauce Style Double Thick Beef Burger, while the “Self-Indulgent Faction” is represented by the Roasted Soy Sauce Style Bacon Tomato Thick Beef Burger.

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Double Thick Beef Burger 

This is a mouthful to say and it is certainly a mouthful for the actual mouth with two thick and juicy 100-percent beef patties, two slices of rich cheddar cheese, and a crisp sliced onion with a savoury roasted soy sauce style sauce all sandwiched in a poppy seed bun.

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Double Thick Beef Burger

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Bacon Tomato Thick Beef Burger 

This mouthful also contains a thick 100-percent beef patty with smoked bacon, fresh tomatoes, crunchy lettuce, sliced onions, and white cheddar cheese with a savoury roasted soy sauce style sauce all sandwiched in a poppy seed bun.

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Bacon Tomato Thick Beef Burger

The Taste Test 

Unfortunately, due to the State of Emergency in Japan because of the coronavirus, we could only get the take-away version of the “Self-Indulgent Faction”. The star of the show is definitely the savoury roasted soy sauce style sauce on the burger, which really brings out the Japanese flavours. The thick juicy beef patty is enhanced by a hint of garlic which adds a nice tone and doesn’t overpower the rest of the flavours. Overall, I really enjoyed it and would not hesitate to have it again.

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Bacon Tomato Thick Beef Burger

The Roasted Soy Sauce Style Bacon Tomato Thick Beef Burger unwrapped

The Campaign Ambassador 

The campaign ambassador of the new burgers is actor, Masato Sakai, who has played several samurai characters in the past on TV shows. He is most famous for playing samurai warrior Sanada Yukimura in the NHK Taiga Drama, Sanada Maru in 2016.

The Campaign Ambassador Masato Sakai

Available for a Limited Time Only 

The new Samurai Mac Burgers will be on the McDonald’s Japan menu for a limited time only from 8 April until mid-May. You can pick one up for 490 yen (USD$4.50) but hurry as time is running out.

Source: McDonald's Japan

Samurai Mac Burgers

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sakura Cherry Blossoms in 8K

Sakura in 8K
Cherry blossom (sakura) season is one of the most beautiful times of the year to be in Japan. During late March and early April, the Japanese flock en masse to famous cherry blossom spots on the main island of Honshu to view the magical spectacle of these flowers blooming.

Hanami, or flower viewing is a popular tradition in spring with many Japanese enjoying the stunning sakura which are regarded as a symbol of beauty and renewal.

Cherry blossoms can be seen along river banks, in parks & fields and lining both sides of roads like a cherry blossom tunnel. It is the perfect time to relax and enjoy a picnic beneath the flowering cherry trees.

You can even catch the wondrous pink and white petals of the cherry blossoms along with fields of rapeseed (nanohana), which bloom at the same time in the countryside of rural Japan, creating a stunning contrast.

Many Japanese like to enjoy the cherry blossoms at night after work, which is called yozakura in Japanese. Many towns and cities will have festivals attached to the cherry blossoms with the cherry trees lit with lanterns. The atmosphere is amazing, especially the smell of Japanese festival food from yatai (street stalls) drifting through the night air. These colourful stalls sell all kinds of delicious Japanese festival food such as yakisoba, takoyaki, taiyaki and grilled corn on the cob to name just a few of the tasty goodies on offer.

It is always sad to see the cherry blossoms start to fall when they float through the air like soft snow. It signals the end of another cherry blossom season and the start of the warmer months in Japan.

Armadas, a video production company based in Japan recently released a stunning 8K video which captures the beautiful spring scenery of Japan in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture and Shinshiro and Toyokawa in Aichi Prefecture. Check it out for a glimpse of the beauty of this season.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Learn Japanese at Home

Japanese for Busy People
One thing that being stuck at home has been able to improve is my Japanese ability. I’ve found a lot more time recently to hit the books again and to get back into the grove of studying Japanese.

Japanese is not too difficult to learn, but it does take a lot of motivation and practice to successfully learn the language.

Studying at home is an easy option that you can do in the comfort of your own home. In this post, I’m going to highlight some great tools and self-study books for learning Japanese.

Self-Study Books 

Japanese from Zero! 

A great book for current students of Japanese, or absolute beginners of the language is Japanese from Zero! This innovative and integrated approach was developed by a professional Japanese interpreter and refined over the years by testing in classrooms throughout the world. Using up-to-date and easy-to-grasp grammar, readers are taught new grammar concepts, over 800 new words and expressions, and learn the hiragana writing system.

See Japanese from Zero! 

Japanese from Zero!










Japanese for Busy People 

If you don’t have a lot of time to study with a full work schedule, check out Japanese for Busy People. This series of beginner-friendly books is one of the most popular Japanese language textbooks in the world. The first of the three volumes introduces “survival Japanese” – teaching you the absolute minimum amount of Japanese needed to live in Japan. A great feature are the notes on Japanese culture which expand your understanding of Japan, its customs and people.

See Japanese for Busy People 

Japanese for Busy People










Japanese Demystified 

Struggling to learn Japanese with your current textbook? Maybe you need a change of approach with Japanese Demystified. This step-by-step Japanese textbook will take the mystery and menace out of learning the language and will replace them with an unintimidating approach to speaking, reading and writing. Each chapter has a clear objective with hundreds of quiz and test questions to help you learn basic grammar structures and verb tenses, pronunciation, essential vocabulary, and how to communicate with confidence.

See Japanese Demystified

Japanese Demystified











The highly acclaimed GENKI series of integrated resources for learning elementary Japanese focus on a well-balanced approach to learning all four language skill areas of speaking, listening, reading and writing. This is a favourite textbook of many Japanese language courses around the world, and it is easy to see why with interesting stories and illustrations. This book is perfect for anyone studying for level N5 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).












Tools for Learning Japanese 


This application is the ultimate study companion for anyone learning Japanese on the go. The Japanese search engine has over 175,000 words and 58,000 example sentences. You can create and customize flashcard lists and practice them, learn kanji for the JLPT, learn how to write hiragana and katakana, practice your pronunciation skills, and much more.

See Japanese


The perfect application for improving your kanji skills is StickyStudy which allows you to customize a learning plan that suits your way of learning Japanese. You can decide how you want to learn Japanese by studying kanji and vocabulary by level for the JLPT, or just learning kanji, hiragana and katakana the same way that Japanese children study at school.

See StickyStudy

That's all from me. If you have any great suggestions for resources that you use to study Japanese, please feel free to leave a comment below in the comment section.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Strawberry Picking in Gifu Japan

Nohime Strawberries from Gifu
One of the great joys of the late winter, early spring season here in the mountains of Gifu for me is the strawberry picking season.

Strawberry picking or ichigo gari in Japanese is a great chance to get outdoors with the warmer weather and spend some time doing a fun activity with family or friends.

You don’t just get to pick these gorgeous sweet red berries, but the chance to indulge in quite a few as well, which might just be the best part of this whole activity.

Gifu Prefecture has its own brand of delicious strawberries called ‘nohime’ which are known for their large size, tender flesh, and superb balance of sweetness and tartness.

Nohime Strawberries from Gifu
Nohime Strawberries from Gifu

A great place to try it out is Tumitumi Farm, a five minute walk from Tarumi Railway Motosu Station in Motosu City, where for ¥ 1,900 you can pick and enjoy your heart’s desire of strawberries for 30 minutes.

Make sure you are hungry as this is an all-you-can-eat fair and a must for any serious strawberry lover.

The farm is open from mid-December to early-June with an advance reservation required.

Tumitumi Farm Website

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Shibuya Scramble Square

Shibuya Scramble Square Building
There has been a lot of new development going on in Tokyo over the last few years to get the city looking good for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. One of the shiny brand new places that opened up at the end of last year is the Shibuya Scramble Square Building right above Shibuya Station.

The multipurpose skyscraper rises to a height of about 230 meters, making Shibuya Scramble Square the tallest building in the Shibuya area of Tokyo.

Shibuya Scramble Square ~ Tokyo’s Newest Landmark

The new Tokyo landmark opened on November 1, 2019, and can boast 47 floors comprising of an observation deck, offices, an industrial exchange facility, and commercial facilities such as shops and eateries.

Work on the building started in 2014, and it was designed to embody the future of Shibuya, a dynamic, international, and ever-changing city in Tokyo.

Shibuya Scramble Square Building
Photo by: 江戸村のとくぞう on Wikimedia Commons

The observation deck called “Shibuya Sky” on the rooftop of Shibuya Scramble Square offers fantastic views of the iconic scramble crossing below as well as 360-degree panoramic views of Tokyo’s skyline and the surrounding area. You can even see Mount Fuji on clear days!

Shibuya Sky observation deck
Photo by: Real Estate Japan on flickr

There is plenty of space to just relax and take in the amazing scenery with soft sofas and hammocks.

What is your favourite Tokyo landmark? Please leave your reply in the comments below. 

Shibuya Sky is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. with entry ¥2,000 for adults.

Official Website 

Map of Shibuya Scramble Square in Tokyo

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