Google Maps now allows offline maps for Japan (!!!)

For years now Google Maps did not allow us to download Offline Maps for Japan. It is an extremely useful feature when you are out and about and you might not yet have full mobile coverage or your plan is not set-up yet.

A week ago this was not possible and I have just now noticed that you can now select the Japan area for a custom offline map in the Google Maps app on my iPhone and on my iPad.

This is great news! Do you use the offline map feature?

Musashikosugi Curry Fest

If you do not know japanese curry yet you are missing out big time.

Unfortunately due to typhoon 19 the Musashikosugi Curry Expo had been cancelled along the overall Kosugi Festival 2019.

But the curry stamp rally did start earlier than the typhoon hit the city and carries on still until end of october.

It works like this:

You go to each restaurant. You eat a meal. You get a stamp.

The more stamps you collect the higher valued the prices. More meal coupons even electronics!

But anyway. It’s all about japanese and indian curry. And for that

As you too might want to tick all 28 restaurants of your bucket list take this map I made of all 28:

As you can see – on the iPhone Google Maps app you even get a nice progress bar of those you already visited. I’ve been to parco curry already – so that counted.

Walk through Tokyo

Let me introduce you to a wonderful concept. We are using these movies as backdrop when on the stepper or spinning, essentially when doing sports or as a screensaver that plays whenever nothing else is playing on the screens around the house.

What is it you ask?

The thing I am talking about is: Walking Videos! Especially from people who walk through Tokyo / Japan. And there are lots of them!

Think of it as a relaxing walk around a neighborhood you might not know. Take in the sounds and sights and enjoy. That’s the idea of it.

If you want the immediate experience, try this:

Of course there are a couple of different such YouTube channels waiting for your subscription. The most prominent ones I know are:

In addition to attract your interest there’s a map with recent such walks in Tokyo. So you can specifically pick a walk you want to see by a map!

don’t forget to zoom out – there is more than just the Tokyo area

train sounds in Japan

If you’ve ever been to Japan you must have noticed that everything and anything makes sounds and talks. Elevators, escalators, doors, train stations, gates, vending machines – you name it, it makes sounds and talks.

It’s so apparent but yet quite comforting that I enjoyed it. It became an additional channel of information without the need of point-and-call all the time. Highly effective for me.

Japan utilizes sounds to a degree that every detail seems to count. Take the station gates you rush through to get to your train platform. It’ll sound differently depending on how you pay, what status your ticket had and even how close your IC-cards balance is to being empty.

Or just the fact that the ticket gates make sounds at all to make you find them easily.

A good portion of this sounds you can find on places like YouTube or specialized websites. One of those specialized websites is hatsumelo.com:

For some routes and stations you find here:

  • Station melody – departing and arrival melodies that are played on the occasion
  • In-car chime – chimes played before and after information broadcasts mainly in the Shinkansen and limited express trains.
  • Door opening and closing – doors make sounds too!

a red triangle on the window

When you walk around in Tokyo you will find that many buildings have red-triangle markings on some of the windows / panels on the outside.

some of the windows have red triangles pointing down
do you see the triangles pointing down on the upper right wall?

I noticed them as well but I could not think of an explanation. Digging for information brought up this:

Panels to fire access openings shall be indicated with either a red or orange triangle of equal sides (minimum 150mm on each side), which can be upright or inverted, on the external side of the wall and with the wordings “Firefighting Access – Do Not Obstruct” of at least 25mm height on the internal side.

Singapore Firefighting Guide 2018

The red triangles on the buildings/hotel windows in Japan are the rescue paths to be used in case of fire. All fire fighters know the meaning of this red triangle on the windows. Red in color makes it prominent, to be located easily by the fire fighters in case of a fire incident. During a fire incident, windows are generally broken to allow for smoke and other gases to come out of the building.

Triangles in Japan

グランツリー武蔵小杉 and Park City Forest Towers on canvas

I’ve blogged about those pictures taken day- and night-time before. I’ve also blogged about how they where produced.

With a picture spot freed at one of the walls in our house we decided to print the day and night pictures on canvas and have them side-by-side. And it looks great, I think.

I might want to take the night picture again with the slightly different perspective
close up on the canvas structure

Craft Beer in Tokyo (Kanto)

There are lists of things all over the internet. I’ve linked to some of these food related lists and maps already on this blog.

And of course there’s this list of craft beer breweries missing:

microbrewery or craft brewery is a brewery that produces small amounts of beer, typically much smaller than large-scale corporate breweries, and is independently owned. Such breweries are generally characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavor and brewing technique.

Wikipedia

“Kowloon Walled City” themed arcade in Kawasaki (あなたのウエアハウス)

While we were visiting Japan we usually stay quite close to Kawasaki. And with some hints we found that a replication of “Kowloon Walled City” had been put up as a video game arcade there.

Kowloon Walled City was a largely ungoverned, densely populated settlement in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories was leased to Britain by China in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the walled city contained 50,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) borders. 

Wikipedia: Kowloon Walled City

A partial recreation of the Kowloon Walled City exists in the Anata No Warehouse, an amusement arcade that opened in 2009 in the Japanese suburb of Kawasaki, Kanagawa. The designer’s desire to accurately replicate the atmosphere of the Walled City is reflected in the arcade’s narrow corridors, electrical wires, pipes, postboxes, sign boards, neon lights, frayed posters, and various other small touches that 

Wikipedia: Anata No Warehouse

I did not know a lot about the Kowloon Walled City before we found this arcade. And it’s – as you can imagine – a very colorful reproduction of the ambiance that you – according to documentations and reports from the time – would have experienced. Especially in the entrance area, the theming of the rooms and some game cabinets as well as for example the rest-rooms.

Of course there is a full blown quite nice but – as it is good custom – extremely noisy arcade in there as well. We’ve easily ‘lost’ 3 hours in there. Be aware that smoking is allowed in these places in Japan.

The first floor contained the UFO catcher machines and a good portion of vintage and modern arcade cabinets. I’ve had a go and Gradius and greatly enjoyed it. There’s a battery of Mech-Pods as well as racing and rythm games.

The second floor had lots of pachinko and other medal and slot machines. Even more noise than any arcade cabinets could do.

The third floor finally contains Dart and Snooker / Billard tables.

All in all it was one of the nicer arcades. Much nicer than others because there was a lot more room. It did not feel half als claustrophobic as an arcade usually feels in Japan.

Super Urban Intelligent CArd

Suica (スイカ Suika) is a rechargeable contactless smart card, electronic money used as a fare card on train lines in Japan, launched on November 18, 2001. The card can be used interchangeably with JR West’s ICOCA in the Kansai region and San’yō region in Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi Prefectures, and also with JR Central’s TOICA starting from spring of 2008, JR Kyushu’s SUGOCA, Nishitetsu’s Nimoca, and Fukuoka City Subway’s Hayakaken area in Fukuoka City and its suburb areas, starting from spring of 2010. The card is also increasingly being accepted as a form of electronic money for purchases at stores and kiosks, especially within train stations. As of October 2009, 30.01 million Suica are in circulation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suica

This time around we really made use of electronic payment and got around using cash whenever possible.

There where only a few occasions when we needed the physical credit card. Of course on a number of tourist spots further away from Tokyo centre cash was still king.

From my first trip to Japan to today a lot has changed and electronic payment was adopted very quickly. Compared to Germany: Lightning fast adoption in Japan!

The single best thing that has happened recently in this regard was that Apple Pay got available in Germany earlier this year. With the iPhone and Watch supporting SUICA already (you can get a card on the phone/watch) the availability of Apple Pay bridged the gap to add money to the SUICA card on the go. As a visitor to Japan you would mostly top up the SUICA card in convenience stores and train stations and mostly by cash. With the Apple Pay method you simply transfer money in the app from your credit card to the SUICA in an instant.

This whole electronic money concept is working end-2-end in Japan. Almost every shop takes it. You wipe your SUICA and be done. And not only for small amounts. Everything up to 20.000 JPY will work (about 150 Euro).

And when you run through a train station gate to pay for your trip it you hold your phone/watch up to the gate while walking past and this is it in realtime screen recorded:

I wish Germany would adopt this faster.

Oh, important fact: This whole SUICA thing is 100% anonymous. You get a card without giving out any information. You can top it up with cash without any link to you.