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Archive for the 'Samurai Theologian' Category

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo: O-Hanami at Canal Café

Canal Cafe Pic

Daniel here. Reporting for

お花見 (おはなみ), or cherry blossom viewing is one of the more pleasant seasonal traditions in Japan. The flowers are stunningly beautiful and change the landscape much like snow can in Winter. People wait in anticipation for their arrival, and the news forecasts 満開 (まんかい • full-bloom) predictions like they do coming rainfall and rising temperatures.

In addition to their beauty, 桜 (さくら) are short-lived. Almost as soon as they bloom, wind, rain, and budding leaves conspire to force the lovely pedals off their branches. Just as quickly as they achieve their full majesty, they depart and make way for Spring.

As a side note, this phenomenon is very apropos for Japanese culture which seems to delight in short-lived beauty. This can be seen in how Japanese female singers and actresses skyrocket in popularity only to fade into obscurity in their mid-twenties and in the careers of sumo wrestlers.

My wife and I are among the masses who check the forecast to catch Sakura at its peak. Last year we went to 国立 (Kunitachi, Tokyo) where there is a street lined with Sakura trees. It was quite lovely. This year, however, we went with people from our church to the Canal Café in 飯田橋 (Iidabashi).

Canal Café is found close to Iidabashi Station on the 東西線 (Tōzai Line) and also on the 総武線(そうぶせん). You can see it while riding on the 中央線 (Chūō Line) overlooking the 神田川 (Kanda River), but the 中央線 does not stop at 飯田橋駅 (Iidabashi Station). Although 神田川 is a river, it has been reshaped by construction to where it looks like a canal, thus the name Canal Café.

The café’s entrance is from the street that parallels the river. The entrance and gate has the look and feel of a yacht club. Usually, there is no wait to get into the café, but during お花見 season, there is usually a long wait to get in. This is not because of the lack of seating available, but because you have to first purchase drinks and food before entering. For some reason, this seems to take quite a long time. It took us nearly one hour to get in.

It was worth the wait, however, as the view is quite nice. The food is adequate, but I wouldn’t recommend the café based on the food alone. So, if you don’t mind the wait, I recommend the Canal Café during お花見 and any other time of year, you should be able to get a seat right away. Even when the flowers have fallen off, the Canal Café should be a suitable way to spend a sunny afternoon in Tokyo.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – IC “Smart” Commute Cards

Suica Card

Daniel here. Reporting for

Japan, and especially Tokyo, is full of commuters; people going from the outside parts of Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures to work in the city, and students moving in all directions. Just this month, many of these commuters have had their commute habits simplified with the event of Pasmo, an IC (Integrated Circuit) card which can be used on most trains and busses in Japan.

Japan’s transportation system is one of the most convenient in the world. Trains, subways, monorails, busses, ferry boats, and taxis can get you to your destination wherever that might be in this archipelago nation. Most people can get along fine without owning a car. While I do own a car, I mostly use it to go shopping at Costco.

When I first started living in Japan, I would either buy a ticket for each ride on the train, or I would buy a pack of eleven tickets for the price of ten for a specific route. These are called 回数券 (かいすうけん). There was also a prepaid card called the Orange Card. With this card, one could quickly purchase a ticket at the ticket machine without using cash. However, this process still took time.

I remember one time I went to see U2 in concert. The friend I went with insisted we buy return tickets before the show because he rightly understood there would be ridiculously long lines after the show. That was a smart move.

Then, a number of years back, the iO (pronounced イーオ, ee-oh) Card was introduced for JR (Japan Railways) lines. This is also a prepaid card. But this card could be inserted into the wicket which would automatically update the balance as one enters and exits stations. This card really increased efficiency, saving passengers a trip to the ticket-selling machines and reducing lines. Commuters could also purchase passes between two set destinations at a reduced rate. With the event of the iO card, these passes could be used in the same wicket card readers.

Then came the Suica IC card about 5 years ago. With this card, if one’s commute was on the JR train lines, one could not only avoid the ticket-selling machines on their commute, but they could also pass through the wicket gates without taking their pass out of its case or their wallet. IC sensors were placed on the top of the wicket gates and people could simply put the card near the sensor and it would update the balance or check the route without being inserted into the wicket or even being removed from wallets, cases or purses. This card can be used as a 定期券 or as an iO Card, or both.

The problem for many commuters and other passengers is that they need to use a combination of JR, private lines and subways to get to their destination, and could not use the Suica Card on these other lines. Most of these other lines, and even some busses and ferries could use a card just like JR’s iO Card called Passnet. However this required carrying separate cards and the Passnet card did not have IC capabilities.

Now, at last, there is an IC version of the Passnet called Pasmo. And in addition to adding IC, this card is compatible with Suica system on most routes. The Suica Card also works with the Pasmo system. The card and the reader automatically charge your card for the rate between the two systems. Now, when I go to the offices, I can do it with only my Suica Card. べんりですね!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Driver’s License Renewal

Driver’s License 2

Daniel here. Reporting for

Renewing a driver’s license can be a hassle in any country. Although this time, I was happy that I was able to renew my California’s driver’s license online (from Japan, no less!) with my credit card. Renewing my driver’s license here in Tokyo proved not to be as easy.

My understanding is that if you have a clean record, you can renew your license at one of several locations around Tokyo. However, if you had an accident or a ticket, you have to go to the main testing center in the city of Fuchū (府中 in the West part of Metropolitan Tokyo). I had been involved in an accident. Had this accident happened in California it would have been 100% the other driver’s fault. However, the police in Tokyo, whenever possible, like to divvy up the blame, usually 50-50.

I will not go into the details of that incident this time. If you want to hear about that experience, leave a comment and request it.

Well, since I did not have a clean record, I had to go to the Fuchū Driver’s License Center. I do not think there is a more difficult place to access in Metropolitan Tokyo than this spot. The nearest train station is 20 minutes by bus from Musashi-Koganei Station (武蔵小金井駅)! It can also be accessed by bus from Chōfu (調布) and Mitaka (三鷹) stations, but those rides will take you 30 minutes! And you are not permitted to drive to the facilities! I think this is part of the punishment.

Well, having arrived, I made my way to the information desk. I was given a form to fill out and a card for my secret number (暗証番号). I was to fill in two four digit numbers. I asked if they should match and the woman said なんでもいい, which I translate to “whatever”. After filling out these two forms, I got in the line that had the big “1” sign. Having reached the front, I was told how much the stamps I needed would cost. (Japanese bureaucrats just love papers and stamps). After draining my wallet of ¥4200, I made my way over to the big “2” sign which was for the eye test.

Japanese eye tests don’t require you to make out letters like they do in America. Instead, you have a circle with a slit in it and have to tell which side the slit is on. I have to wonder if this method is really all that effective. It seems too simple and I was only asked to identify three symbols. Oh well, I wasn’t about to complain!

The next stage was have my photo taken. It did not come out bad for a license photo and you should be able to see it on the blog page. After this, I had finished the processing portion of the ordeal, but now came the purgatorial portion. The “lesson” was to be given in the annex on the second floor. This would be no big deal, but I had sprained my knee a few days before. You would think they would have an elevator. But, you would be wrong.

The lessons began every two hours and the previous lesson was only halfway through, so I headed to lunch. When I returned, I was given a seat number and went into the room where I waited to watch nearly two hours of video. Half-expecting to see the Japanese version of “Red Asphalt”, I was surprised when the officer seemed almost apologetic to be putting us through this lesson. He said 申し訳ありません (もうしわけ) more than a few times. But he also let us know how important traffic safety is.

He ended up only showing us about 20 minutes of the video, and lectured us みのもんた-style (a Japanese entertainer), only less charming. But, it was okay, and the time went by reasonably well, especially since he gave us a 10 minute break about half-way through.

After we were done, we filed past his desk as he stamped our forms and we shuffled downstairs to receive our new licenses. The first person in our line balked at the bottom of the stairs when she saw the waiting masses on the first floor. Then, in typical Japanese-style, we all waited there because she had stopped until the staff called the people who were renewing (as opposed to the rest of the people who were waiting to receive their first licenses. After we received our license cards, we took them over to a machine and entered our secret numbers with the cards on the IC reader. After being accepted, we were free to go.

The lesson from all this? Don’t get in an accident, even one caused by someone else!
In a future post, I’ll describe what it is like to transfer a foreign license in the first place. I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Odaiba


Daniel here. Reporting for

Tokyo has no shortage of date spots. But, perhaps the most popular with the younger crowd (with the exception of Disneyland), is Odaiba (お台場). Odaiba is an manmade island in Tokyo Bay. It was originally built toward the end of the Edo Period (mid 19th Century) to protect Tokyo from attack by sea. After a failed attempt to make it into a high-rent district toward the end of the “bubble economy”, it was nearly abandoned. However, in the last ten years, it was rezoned as a commercial and entertainment district and has boomed in that capacity.

The most common way for young people to reach Odaiba is by taking the Yurikamome (ゆりかもめ線) Line from Shinbashi (新橋), which is just a few stops from Tokyo Station on the Yamanote Line (山手線). But, now you can get there with transferring directly from Shinjuku (新宿) by taking the newer Rinkai Line (りんかい線). For those with cars, there is the Rainbow Bridge which connects to the main part of Tokyo.

After arriving in Odaiba, there are many attractions to see. There is the Fuji TV studios with its funky building; Venus Fort, a Venice-themed shopping mall; Aqua City, a more American style shopping mall; Decks Tokyo Beach shopping mall; Sega Joypolis; Daikanransha, the second largest ferris wheel in the world; Zepp Tokyo, a popular live performance joint; Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (; some hot springs, hotels, a beach, a park and more.

As many of you know, I perform wedding ceremonies on Saturdays, and one place that I frequent is Le Meridien Grand Pacific Tokyo Hotel next to Daiba Station. This is a luxurious European-style hotel and is close to Fuji TV and Aqua City. So, I know Aqua City better than I know the other shopping venues. In Aqua City, you can find movie theaters, and stores like the Gap, Eddie Bauer, HMV (like Tower Records), G-Shock Store, J. Crew, Disney Store, Coach, and many smaller boutiques. There are also food places like Godiva, Starbucks, Kua’Aina, Cinnabon, Long Board Café and plethora of Asian food restaurants.

Also, from the terrace in front of Aqua City, there is a great view of Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

So, if you’re looking for a fun date spot near Tokyo Bay, check out Odaiba. I plan, myself, to check out the ferris wheel sometime soon.

I hope you enjoyed this review. Be sure to visit the blog at and leave a comment.

Until next time, saraba.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Restaurant Review: Kua’Aina


Daniel here. Reporting for

In Tokyo there are many wonderful places to eat. Of course, there are many places to eat sushi, tempura, gyūdon (beef bowl), and other Japanese dishes. But sometimes, you want the taste of home. There are many diners (known here as family restaurants) like Denny’s which have pasta and other western type dishes on the menu (one side note: many Japanese people are surprised to learn that Denny’s did not begin in Japan). However, I find that most attempts at American food, or western food to be adjusted to the Japanese palate. Among the few places that come closest to tasting like home are McDonald’s and Mos Burger.

But, if you want a really tasty burger in Tokyo, without having to fork out over ¥1500 at places like Hard Rock Cafe, the best place to go is Kua’Aina. Well, at least in my opinion. Yes, it is more expensive than McD’s and Mos. But it won’t break the bank, and their sets, which include a drink and fries, and for dinner, a salad, come in around ¥1000 for lunch, and ¥1200 for dinner.

As the name suggests, it is a Hawaiian-theme burger joint; not so much the burgers themselves (I don’t know anyone who’s even tried the Pineapple Burger). Rather, the interior has an island hut motif going. The walls and have wood and furniture have wood paneling and there are mounted surfboards, hanging leis, and photographs of authentic surf champions. Also, the staff greets customers with a robust “Aloha!” as you walk in the door.

Each type of burger comes in two sizes: 1/3LB and 1/2LB. The signature burger at Kua’Aina is the Avocado Burger. Other burgers include the Cheese Burger (sic), the Bacon Burger, the Hamburger, and the Pineapple Burger. They all come served on a kaiser roll. You can also add extra toppings; choices include cheese (five kinds: cheddar, American, provolone, Swiss and Monterey Jack), pineapple, bacon and avocado.

There is also a myriad of sandwich choices. They include Roast Turkey, Roast Beef, Pastrami, BLT, Avocado, Cheese, Teriyaki Chicken, Rosemary Chicken, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna. Each sandwich comes on your choice of kaiser roll, multi-grain wheat, or hearth rye. You can also add those same toppings of cheese, pineapple, bacon or avocado.

Other hot foods include Popcorn Shrimp, Onion Rings, and Clam Chowder. Salad choices include Green, Tuna, Avocado, and Turkey. Dressings choices are 1000 Island, Caesar’s, and Japanese (和風•わふう). There is also a variety of hot and cold drinks in American sizes (most other fast food places have undersized drinks). The more interesting drinks include Guava Juice, draft beer, bottled Kona Beer, and Momi Tea (like a Japanese version of tapioca).

As I mentioned earlier, the signature burger is the Avocado Burger, and so on the table there are instructions on how to eat it. This is because they give a half of an avocado for each burger! As you can imagine, it takes skill to eat this without the avocado squirting out the side and hitting the person sitting next to you in the cheek!
While Kua’Aina can only be found in two places in Hawaii, there are currently 12 shops in Japan listed on website. There is the Aoyama store where it all began. I managed to go there when it was the only one. It’s near Omote-sandō Station near Shibuya. I also frequent the Kanda-Surugadai location because it is near my church in Ochanomizu. The other stores I have visited are the Maru Biru store next to Tokyo Station, the Aqua City Odaiba store near Daiba Station, the Gotanda store and the Ikspiari store near Disneyland. I have yet to visit the Shibuya store, the Kamakura store, the Yokohama Aka Renga store, the Saitama Shintoshin store and the Yokohama Bay Water store. If you have been to any of these branches, please let me know in the comments.

I hope you enjoyed this review. And if you are near any of these locations, be sure to visit them when you get a craving for a great burger. You can find maps and more information at their website at Be sure to visit the blog at and leave a comment.

Until next time, saraba.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Hay Fever


Daniel here. Reporting for

Hay Fever, called 花粉症 (かふんしょう, lit. pollen sickness) here in Japan is a significant and growing problem. In most countries, grasses and weeds account for a large percentage of the cases of hay fever and reach their peaks in the Spring. However, the largest cause in Japan is 杉 (すぎ – sugi), which is usually translated as Japanese Cedar. Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) is actually a type of cyprus tree found in large quantities throughout most of Japan and it usually begins pollenating in January and peaks in February. And as just as the sugi pollen season dies down, the pollination of 檜 (ひのき – hinoki, Chamaecyparis obtusa), another type of cyprus, begins. So, for the poor souls, like me, who suffer from both pollens, there is an unbroken period of sniffling from late January through Golden Week (early May). Ugh.

The amount of pollen in the air varies from year to year based on factors like the warmth of the preceding summer and the natural cycle of pollination for each species. In my experience, it seems that sugi peaks about every five years or so. This year definitely seems to be an off-year, but there are still plenty of people suffering. In those peak years before I started visiting a specialist clinic, I would take an over-the-counter anti-histamine that would make me drowsy. It was miserable.

In the peak periods, I can smell sugi pollen. Most people I have spoken to are not sure what sugi smells like, so it may be that I am especially sensitive to this smell. If you have a dark paint color on your car (like I do), you can see the build-up of pollen on your car. It has a slightly yellow look to it.

What really upsets me is that the amount of suffering in Japan due to sugi is largely because of government decisions. In the period following WWII, the government wanted to plant trees that would be cheap, abundant and native to Japan for the purpose of construction. So, which tree did they choose for this role? You guess it – sugi!

Clinics specializing in nose and eye problems are crowded in this season. In addition to medicine, a common preventative measure taken is wearing masks not unlike those which you find in hospitals. And while they look uncool, they are very effective. In my first few years in Japan I refused to wear the masks and suffered for it. But when I began working at a high school, since most of the people was around were Japanese, I began to wear them. And I discovered just effective they were. So, these days, I don’t hesitate to wear them and buy them in bulk at Costco.

In particularly bad years, some people will wear goggles to keep the pollen out of their eyes. Now, I’ve never done this. I do remember in a really bad year seeing on the news people wearing ski goggles!

Another treatment that seems to be fairly effective is acupuncture, or hari. I’ve never tried this, but I’d be willing to.

Well, I do hope that you will not suffer from hay fever whether you are in Japan or any other country. But if you are, let me just say, かわいそう!

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Valentine’s Day Shopping

Valeintines Day

Daniel here. Reporting for

Romance is in the air here in Tokyo as Valentine’s Day approaches. And in Japan this year we have a three-day weekend as建国記念の日 (けんこくきねんのひ – Foundation Day) is moved to Monday in accord with the Happy Monday* policy. And since Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday, the department stores, bakeries and convenience stores will be busy catering to the romantically-minded. But, it’s not just those romantically-inclined that will be lining up. But, more on that momentarily.

As the Japanese are masters of adaptation, they often take Western traditions and reshape them with a distinctly Japanese twist. And this is certainly true of Valentine’s Day. Whereas in the West the heavier burden of responsibility of gift-giving falls on the men, the exact opposite is true in Japan. In Japan, it is the fairer sex that is expected to give chocolate to the men in their lives. Girlfriends give to their boyfriends, female students give to their male teachers whom they like, wives to their husbands. However, it doesn’t end there.

Another Japanese innovation is 義理チョコ (giri-choko – obligation chocolate). In this modern tradition, Japanese women almost invariably give chocolate to their male bosses and frequently also give to their male colleagues. While this practice may seem unfair, the men usually return in kind on White Day. But, I’ll save that topic for another time. The opposite of giri-choco is 本命チョコ (honmei-choko – true feeling chocolate, lit. favorite) There is also 友チョコ (tomo-choko – friend chocolate), which is chocolate women give to their women friends.

Being an American, I go to buy chocolate for my wife every year. But, when I do, I am usually the only man in a crowded space in front of the Godiva counter in the basement of a department store. It’s almost embarrassing to be the only man in a crowd of women like a man buying lingerie for his lover at Victoria’s Secret.

My wife also buys chocolate for me, which is nice. And having been a teacher at both high schools and colleges, I have received chocolate from some of my students. These are often 手作り (tezukuri – homemade). And, as Mikiさん pointed out in her audio blog, Japanese girls will often leave these on the desks of those boys they are interested in. Alas, this year I don’t teach on Wednesday, so I may be out of luck.

This year, I learned of a new development. Recently, some Japanese women will buy very expensive chocolate for themselves. They will spend twice or three times as much as they do for their boyfriends on the same amount of chocolate, ¥1000 or more. I believe there may be a word for this new “tradition”, but no one I spoke to seemed to recall what it is. I suggest 自己愛チョコ (jikoai-choko – narcissistic chocolate). If I find out the current term, I will post it in the comments.

Next month, I plan to write about White Day, the day where men return the favor.
Until next time, saraba.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Blue Parrot


Daniel here. Reporting for

In the Samurai Theologian in Tokyo series, I plan to give a behind-the-scenes look at and to provide reviews of places and events in and around Tokyo. Some reviews, like the previous one on anpan, will look at more traditional Japanese topics. However, I also plan to review spots where foreigners can get a taste of home.

In this entry, I review the Blue Parrot, a used book store in Tokyo that caters to the needs of English-speakers. The Blue Parrot is located in Takadanobaba near the station. The station is on the Yamanote Line, the line that circles Tokyo. It is also served by the Seibu-Shinjuku Line as well as the Tozai Subway Line. From the train station, take the Waseda-dori exit and turn right as you leave the station. Cross the street and walk up the left side of Waseda-dori approximately 200 meters. From the subway line, take the #6 exit, turn right and walk about 100 meters. For a map, visit their website.

The Blue Parrot has a large selection of English books from a plethora of categories. There are also DVDs, CDs, video tapes, and more. Books are priced at a fraction of the list price, and single DVDs sell for 980 yen, while CDs sell for 2 for 500 yen.

You can sell you books for cash or store credit. If you opt for cash, the amount is fairly low, so most people go with the credit option. So as you clean out your apartment and bring in your old books, you can use your credit to obtain new books and DVDs. They also have a point card system where you receive a stamp for every 1000 yen spent, which you can save up for more store credit.

If you are also looking for a place to check your email or surf the internet, the Blue Parrot also has computers with internet access for 100 yen for 20 minutes. And now, they have an online bookstore. You can access the online store.

I have found the Blue Parrot to have a good selection at a fair price. In fact the DVDs may be underpriced, with the exception of some TV series on DVD. But, they are considering their policy on DVD sets, so this may change for the better as well.

For more information about the Blue Parrot, visit their main website at and their online store.

If you would like to download the enhanced version (podcast file with photos, urls and/or chapter marks) of this audio, visit my Samurai Theologian Podcast page. Consider subscribing to receive future enhanced podcasts. You can also the photos in an online slide show from my site. Look for the enhanced podcast and photo gallery in the next couple of days.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Anpan

Daniel here. Reporting for

In the dialog and explanation for Beginner Lesson Season 2 #10 – Morning Coffee, they discussed あんパン (anpan), which was described as a bun filled with sweet bean paste. Also, they discussed 木村屋 (Kimuraya), the bakery in Ginza, Tokyo, that is most famous for it. So, I headed down to Ginza to get a closer look. But, first, a look at the origin of anpan.

Yasubei Kimura was a samurai in latter part of the 19th Century who, like many others, lost his job during the Meiji Era. He took on the role of baker and moved his business to Ginza. He was unsatisfied with taste of the bread at the time, and came up with anpan as a bread that was more to the liking of the Japanese palate. He knew he made it big when one of his customers introduced his delicacy to the Emperor and the Emperor requested to have it brought to him daily. The word got out. And as we say, the rest is history.

The easiest way to access the store is to ride the subway (either the Ginza line or the Marunouchi Line) and get off at the A9 exit, which comes out right in front of the store (and only a block away from the Apple Store!). Ginza is the famous shopping district in downtown Tokyo, and is one of the few places in crowded Tokyo with wide sidewalks.

There were many people walking by in both directions shopping at the expensive boutiques and stores. Kimuraya has a glass front, and there is an accompanying restaurant occupying the immediate floors above the store, with the actual bakery above the restaurant.

There are many baked goods sold at Kimuraya, but anpan is their signature product. So, as you enter the store, the anpan is on display near the door and can be bought directly from the sales people who bag your choice of anpan and other types of buns (I noticed cheese buns, sesame buns, chestnut buns and jam buns in addition to four types of anpan). For the sake of our investigation , I picked up the original style anpan, the signature style anpan (anpan with a small pickled piece of sakura), and shiro-anpan (the white bean paste mentioned in the podcast).

After performing a very scientific test at the labs, the consensus was that the shiro-anpan was the best. However, I found all three varieties to be excellent.

If you would like to download the enhanced version (podcast file with photos, urls and/or chapter marks) of this audio, visit my Samurai Theologian Podcast page. Consider subscribing to receive future enhanced podcasts. You can also these photos in an online slide show from my site.