Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DiverCity Tokyo Plaza at Odaiba & GUNDAM!

DSCF0035Hey look it’s not another beer review or rant!  For once in a long while my wife and I went on a drive for pleasure. We decided the night before to head on down to the recently opened Tokyo Diver City on Odaiba island right across from Fuji TV’s headquarters. DiverCity opened a month ago July 2012 so it was kind of neat to be one of the first visitors to the store. I also haven’t been to Odaiba since I studied abroad here as a university student just over 7 years ago so it was nice to be back again to this very unique and resort like part of Tokyo.
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I’m not really a shopping kind of guy but I was curious to see the first ever Old Navy and American Eagle clothing stores in Japan. It’s not really easy to find clothes my size in Japan so having stores like these helps ease the frustration of shopping a bit. I was very pleased to find they carried my size and the prices weren’t too high even though they did raise them to be more in line with Japanese clothing stores. (boooo) I do fit in GU/Uniqulo stuff but my size seems to disappear quick and they don’t carry as much stuff I want to wear compared to places like Gap/Old Navy.
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My wife had her suspicions and she was right. My main objective was to check out the life-size mobile suit Gundam in front of the mall there. After missing it on display around Tokyo for the past couple of years, I finally got to see it for myself. It did not disappoint. It would have been nice to see it lit up at night but my camera sucks anyhow and probably wouldn’t have mattered much. Even if you aren’t into anime or robots, it’s still pretty cool to get a picture in front of. You can’t see something like this every day. We even got a more professional picture of us on a platform in front of the mobile suit which was 1500 yen with paper frame. The people on the platform will also take a picture of you with your own camera with no obligation to buy the picture if you wish not to. That’s pretty darn cool.
On the way back into the mall we stopped by the Gundam Café and bought some goodies like a package of instant Gundam Branded mild pork curry (ACGUY Curry with Jaburo Cheese inside) and a Gundam Café rubberized key strap. The café also sold a limited variety of Gundam themed beverages and light meals. A must visit for any fan of the series.
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After spending about 10 painfully hot and sweaty minutes outside in the summer heat I got all the video and pictures I ever wanted. So we headed inside the crowded 8 floor mall for some shopping. We didn’t see everything in the mall as we came by car and parking wasn’t free even with the 2 hours we got knocked off our parking pass for spending over 5000 yen there. My wife enjoyed checking out the H&M and the HUGE 2 story Forever 21 there. Of course there were many other stores to shop at but that’s all I really remember.
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There was one thing I found strange about the mall. I am not sure how often this happens but one of the men’s restrooms was temporarily repurposed for woman’s use only. This was due to overcrowding at women’s restrooms there but even with that restroom available to the women there it didn’t seem to draw many in. The sign seemed to cause more confusion than good as many women seemed to double back from the restroom when they realized where they were even with the sign in the entrance way.

While it is not uncommon to have coed restrooms in Japan this was the first time I’ve ever encountered such a use for a men’s restroom at such a new and modern facility here. My wife said there was still a huge line in the regular ladies room where she preferred to go to because well men’s restrooms are icky. As many other women like her thought as well. In my opinion I think it was a dumb idea and probably didn’t help as much as intended. If anything, the mall designers should have just made that whole area women’s only. It’s not like the men would have missed it much.
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If you are in Tokyo you should check the place out. You can buy a lot of Japanese specific souvenirs there as well as clothe yourself if you aren’t quite Japanese sized. Not to mention buy some exclusive Gundam swag and food at the Gundam Café right outside the mall.
Click HERE for the official mall website in English. It lists all the shops and special events as well. Here’s a few points of interest if you are too lazy to follow the link above:
  • Gundam Café
  • Round One family amusement center and bowling alley
  • McDonald’s
  • Subway Sandwiches
  • Starbucks
  • Godiva Chocolate
  • Hello Kitty Japan store
  • maidreamin (maid café)
  • H&M
  • Forever 21
  • Old Navy
  • American Eagle Outfitters
Here are some bonus shots of Yoyogi Parking Area and Tokyo tower taken from the car as I drove to and from DiverCity.

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Yoyogi PA
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CROWED SHUTOKO! & Rainbow Bridge in the distance

Monday, August 20, 2012

If you want affordable beer in Japan get a Costco membership

09040301203614906There isn’t much for me to write beyond the title of this entry but I figure I should elaborate a little lot. After living in Japan for so many years I just accepted that beer was a luxury here and cut down on my consumption accordingly. Most would turn to harder alcoholic beverages but I prefer beer so I just ended up drinking less.
From what I’ve read about beer prices in Japan it seems the general consensus is that beer is expensive because of the unfairly high tax beer carries here. You can mostly thank the government for that. For more details I suggest a quick internet search from your provider of choice. It also doesn’t help that most Japanese don’t have much reason to complain as its all they’ve ever known so the price of beer will most likely never come down. So what does a beer adoring expat do in times like these? Turn to hard liquor or even the dreaded near-beer happoshu/daisan? Although many do, I’d suggest finding a friend with a car or get a drivers license and drive down to the closest Costco you can.
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I was just at the Iruma Costco in Saitama last week and found a few good examples to justify my reasoning. I found a few import beers, 2 Aussie and 1 Holland based beer that were priced significantly lower than the domestic Japanese. For example you could get a box of 24 Fosters for a “low” price of 2998 yen. You could also get a 24 pack of beer all the way from distant Holland for a measly 2980. These import beers have traveled long and far by boat and most likely taken their fair share of import taxes as well.
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So how about buying bulk domestic Japanese beer? Buying in bulk saves money right? Well, that depends where you’re buying from. If you’re at Costco, you’ll save almost enough to buy another 6 pack and then some compared to the large supermarket chains like Aeon’s Max Valu and 7-11’s chain stores Ito-Yokado. Max Valu sells a 24 pack Asahi box for 6480 yen according to its website and Ito-Yokado sells the same box for a much cheaper 5380 yen. Of course you may find deals While prices may vary from place to place, it’s generally much more than buying at Costco.
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So back to Costco… When you move over to the Japanese beers aisle you’ll immediately notice a huge jump in price compared to the import beers. Asahi, which is usually the most prevalent and cheapest beer in Japan sells for 4088 in the same 24 pack box. That’s nearly 1000 yen more for the same amount of beer. I find that to be completely illogical and silly seeing as how Asahi’s ingredients are grown, brewed, and bottled exclusively in Japan. At least if you buy the Asahi in Japan. If you buy it in say, America, it could be bottled in Canada and labeled as import because Canada is not America haha?
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Shopping at Costco could be a win-win situation for most beer fans as they can save a huge chunk of cash if they just bought their beer all at once. While it may not be practical for many people here, especially if you are without a car, it is the most economical route than buying a can or six-pack at a time. I drive around 2 hours to get to my nearest Costco. It helps reduce home sickness and reminds me that I don’t have to pay Japanese prices in Japan.
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^My meager haul
It always amazes me how some things like beer and even cheese can be a lot cheaper buying import than domestically manufactured products. I guess it’s just that imagined Japanese tax that makes everything more expensive than it really should be. At least I have a way of minimizing the effect a bit. Of course, sometimes paying a little more for something special like IPA craft beers makes sense. But when its your regular supermarket grade beer it’s just not right…
Here is a short video I also made on the same topic while I was at Costco. I think I did a better job writing about it though…

I actually enjoy Corona from time to time but I got burnt out on it living in Southern California for most of my adult life.