Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!

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Wow! Another year in Japan has come and gone so fast! This year we’re having a very quiet and low key Christmas at home with my immediate family. I wish I could go meet my family back in the US but at least we’ve got Skype and modern technology for times like this. I’m just glad we’re not the Griswolds. Winking smile

Over the past year, I’ve seen my blog turn into more of a beer blog which is neither good or bad, its just been kind of a slow year for nature stuff since my hiking friend moved away. I’ve picked up a few new friends since then but we don’t meet as often as I’d like.

As for 2012, it’s been kind of a crummy year for international stability, finance, and politics. I won’t go much into that because there are much better blogs for that kind of topic, but I must admit that 2012 must have seemed like all the pieces were falling together for a worldwide apocalyptic event if anyone actually bought into all that Mayan calendar nonsense. My writing of this very blog entry is proof enough that it was all for nothing although it was kind of fun, in a dark way, to imagine what if it actually did happen. Well, I guess that’s that. No one knows when the world will end, and that’s the way it should be. Smile

Here’s to an internationally safer, more politically responsible year for 2013 and hopefully more success in finding a better job to help my family have a bit more breathing room financially. Thank you all for your readership even if you aren’t commenting, I can tell by the page hits that I have a pretty solid base of readers and for that I am very grateful.  May this blog have more interesting things on it in 2013 for you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sweet! New phones! Samsung Galaxy SIIIs

DSCF0001After just over a year of carrying around “antique” smartphones, my wife and I agreed it was the right time to go shopping for something newer, and less prone to crashing. Our last phones were designed be NEC, and as it was their first foray into the smartphone market, it was a rough ride of lockups, resets, and unresponsive typing. The overall design of the Medias N-04C was nice as it was super slim and lightweight but it was most likely those features that really limited the phone’s capabilities.

So this time around, now armed with proper smartphone knowledge, we went shopping around for some new phones. My wife wanted the newest Sony Experia phone which is pretty good but a little to small and expensive for my liking, I was leaning toward the Galaxy line as they are the best of the Android bunch. Plus, that AMOLED display is incredible!

 

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Well isn't that cute. The Medias is trying to look like a jelly-bean. Too bad it chokes on the home screen. Sad smile

After a few different shops and confusing price quotes, we ended up buying our phones from a local independent phone shop. Our phones were priced about the same as anywhere else but at this store we got 25,000 yen back in cash. The catch, and yes there was a catch, was that they installed a lot of paid subscription apps before they gave us our phones. This turned out to be ok though as we unsubscribed from all the apps immediately. So we’ll end up keeping about 22,000 of the original 25,000 yen. If were were smartphone newbies we might have been taken for a ride and that 25,000 would have been burnt up within about a few months. I suppose that’s always something to lookout for whenever you sign up at a franchise phone retail outlet.

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So, we really like our new Samsung Galaxy SIIIs. They are incredibly responsive, fully featured, and aren’t much bigger than our last phone. We could’ve went with the stronger, new, quad core version of the SIII (SIIIalpha) or an equally powerful LG Optimus but we wanted to lower our phone bill, not raise it. I think we made the right decision though by balancing functionality with price.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grand Kirin and Sapporo 100% Malt (Exclusively at 7/11 Japan)

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I usually don't go to convenience stores unless I have to pay an occasional bill that can't be paid through an ATM or really need to use the restroom. Well, I kind of deviated from this stance when I stayed at a hotel in Tokyo with my wife a few weeks back.

I'm a frugal man so I avoided the convenience of buying a super expensive beer in the hotel from their vending machines in the lobby and instead opted to visit a nearby 7/11 convenience store. To my surprise they had a pretty decent variety of beers, many of which I have never seen before. 2 beers immediately caught my eye, the first being a unique stubby glass bottle of Grand Kirin and the other, a silver and black pinstriped can of 100% Malt by Sapporo. Both beers were and still are exclusive to the 7/11 and Ito-Yokado 7&i owned convenience stores and groceries across Japan. So this will be a double review as it's been a few weeks since I've actually drank the beers but I did buy the beers again for this review for picture purposes and the fact that they were tasty enough for a second go.

Grand Kirin

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This beer is unlike most Japanese beers as it comes in a stubby, longneck style, brown glass bottle. The stubbiness cuts off about 20ml from the volume of the drink but it doesn't seem to take away from it's overall value. I felt more willing to pay more for the glass bottle as it is pretty uncommon here in Japan to find a single serving of beer like that. Kirin Grand poured smoothly from the with a nice, thick head that stuck around longer than the average Japanese macro brew. I kind of cheated and took a little swig directly from the bottle and immediately fell in love. The beer had a mild sweetness and went down smooth. It had a great aftertaste and left me pretty satisfied despite its smaller 330ml size. I can't say much more than the fact that it made me want to buy it again and I did. Even with its high price tag of 275 yen or so, it made me realize that sometimes its worth it to spend more. I really hope Kirin keeps this label around to try to compete with the luxury brands like Suntory's Premium Malt and Sapporo's Yebisu brands. I think it would fit quite well in that genre.

Sapporo 100% Malt

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At first glance, the Sapporo 100% Malt beer reminded me a lot of an Asahi Super Dry, not by its taste, but more because of the can's design. Asahi has the most recognizable can because of that simple silver design. 100% Malt pours like a Budweiser with a weak head that disappears kind of quickly, very reminiscent of ta happoshu although it is a true beer. The color is also somewhat like a Budweiser as it comes in a pale yellow color. The beer had a welcoming aroma but I really couldn't put my finger on what it was like. As for taste, it isn't not bad and even leaves a nice bite at the end. The only real saving grace for this beer was that it was the cheapest beer in the convenience store at 195 yen. I won't be buying it again but it was to try something new.

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Both of these beers are exclusive to 7/11 owned stores for now but I think Kirin Grand will eventually make it to other competitors eventually. I've only been able to find the Kirin Grand in 7/11 convenience stores though. The Sapporo 100% malt is a collaboration between 7/11 and Sapporo which I found very interesting. Usually collaborations occur with food and soft drinks. This is the first time I've personally seen a beer collaboration. But hey, if it can keep the price of a beer down, I'll buy into it.

Suntory Amber Beer

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Fall and Winter seem to bring a lot of limited time releases for beers every year. This year is incredibly varied which is great for me. This may be the first time I've come across an Amber style beer from a Japanese macro brewery. Suntory is best known for their Premium Malts and whisky brands so it's not too much of a stretch for them to try to make yet another luxury styled item. All I know is that there's finally a new and unique beer label that has a name that accurately describes what is in the can. Not only does it have a descriptive name, it also employs a full English title, without strangely worded English or Japanese-isms. The can's design, however, is a bit on the simple side. But it's what's inside that counts right? :3

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Just judging by the first pouring I feel that Suntory has done an excellent job, as it pours light but with a medium thick head. The beer's color is a nice medium red color and justifies the title beer's name. The aroma of Amber Beer is light but has a mild sweetness to it as I'd expect. I think it has to do with the roasted malt they use in this particular blend. It went down really smooth and left a light bitterness at the end. It went well with a pizza as well. I really liked it.

Suntory Amber Beer can be found pretty much at every grocery store in my area so it most likely isn't too hard to find anywhere else in Japan. It was maybe 10 or 15 more yen than an Asahi Super Dry, but it was worth every single extra yen. I may buy some more for next week's Christmas party. Maybe have a little beer sampling to celebrate the recent tasty variety of new Japanese beers on the market. Great job Suntory!

Suntory Caramel Brown

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This one’s going to be a short and to the point review. The can’s design caught my eye and got me really excited at the possibility of a nice creamy non-beer, beer. From the picture above, you’d think that’s what to expect and it definitely delivers. I went into this not expecting much as it is a beer-like drink but I was optimistic for something good as these drinks have been improving over the years, especially 2012.

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My first impressions of the alcoholic beverage when poured was that the color is spot-on from my expectations and what I saw in advertisements. It was exactly as the label described it, a rich, caramel brown. So judging by appearances, this drink really does emulate a dark beer exceedingly well. As for taste, it was bitter-sweet and went down well enough but it left my tongue feeling dry. I was expecting more of a syrupy feeling just by how it looked so this kind of added to the overall letdown. It really didn't have much of an aftertaste either but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If it weren’t for the dry after taste on my tongue I may have really been down with this drink. Maybe I’ll give it another shot since its so cheap but for now my decision stands that it’s not something I need to keep in my non-beer, beer circulation.

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In the end, I'd say it's worth at least one shot if you're an adventurous fellow like myself always looking out for a cheaper alternative to the highly taxed beers in Japan. Trying new stuff is ALWAYS fun. Smile

Sapporo Fuyu Monogatari (Winter Tale)

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Sapporo has released their winter season brand beer and being a Sapporo beer fan, I couldn't resist. The can's design and label don't describe what kind of beer it is emulating as opposed to what is usually done by its name or any of the subscript below the label. So I went into this kind of in the dark not knowing what exactly to expect. Sometimes that is a good thing though.

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My idea of a winter brew is heavily influenced by beers like Samuel Addams. I was expecting a somewhat sweet and creamy beer that is best for drinking on its own before or after dinner but not with it. Fuuyu Monogatari didn't seem to be either sweet or creamy (not that it was advertised as such either) but it did come with .5% more alcohol per volume than other beers. It poured light and didn't have much of a head to it. There is little to no aroma to it and what I could smell was indescribable. It just kind of smelled like beer although it reminded me a lot of a dai-san/happoshu beer. The taste was light and watery… Overall kind of forgettable. I suppose one good thing about Fuyu Monogatari was that it was smooth and went down easy enough but it didn't have any notable aftertaste that convinced me I should buy another can.

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I wouldn't go as far as saying Fuyu Monogatari is bad but for something labeled as limited I was expecting more and it falls quite short of its grand namesake. I mean, if Sapporo can do a good job with their Mugi to Hop Kuro which isn't even a real beer, why can't they do a good job with Fuyu Monogatari which is a real beer? It really appears to me as if this was more of just a cash-in by using a unique can design rather than putting a true effort into something that could be good. At least it was being sold at the same price as regular year round beers. It just didn’t click with me when I tried it. Maybe I’ll give it another shot later but as it stands right now, I think I will pass on it for other drinks. Good luck next time Sapporo. I still love Yebisu and your regular gold star label.:)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I won a mail-in contest for Sapporo’s Mugi to Hop Aka (Red)

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I usually ignore mail in campaigns as I am too lazy to fill out the card and buy a stamp to stick on it. But a couple months back I figured it was worth a shot so I mailed one of the postcards affixed to a 6-pack of Mugi to Hop Kuro back in October if I remember correctly. If I remember correctly, on the mail-in postcard I could choose which version of  Mugi to Hop I wanted, so I chose Red as I never saw it for sale in my region before.


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Well, now it’s the middle of December and to my surprise I got an unexpected express delivery package from Sapporo Beer’s sweepstakes fulfillment department this morning. I just won a 6-pack of Mugi to Hop Red! What a great surprise Christmas gift for such a loyal fan of the Sapporo brand.

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I doubt Sapporo’s marketing division actually has ever read or cares about my blog, but it’s nice to get something back for supporting a brand that get’s it right. The box was shipped as pictured above, no wrapping or extra box around it. I give Sapporo props for not using wasteful packaging as is common with most things here in Japan. It was the size of a 6-pack and had 6 cans of Red inside. It also had a nice letter congratulating me on winning. On the outside of the box there’s a cutout of a Christmas tree you can decorate you home with if you don’t have a tree I guess. I don’t plan to cut it out but it’s a nice gesture. Overall, it’s a pretty neat box.

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So, why is this so special? Well, besides the fact that I actually won something for once, they sent me their Red version. I’ve found great satisfaction in their emulation of beer in their regular Mugi to Hop and Kuro brands but I never could find a liquor store that carried the Red variant. I love all beers, especially Red ones and I was always curious what a Red style happoshu would taste like. Unfortunately the tasting will come in a later entry if I remember to write something about it. For now, we’ll have to wait till I drink the cans on Christmas Eve with my in-laws at their Christmas party. I’m hoping for the best. So far Sapporo has delivered in spades with this particular brand. I expect the same with the Red as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shaving with Evangelion figures

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What do men’s facial shaving care products and Neon Genesis Evangelion have to do with each other? Nothing, but it doesn’t stop promotion teams from trying. As a matter of fact, I love promotions like this because I usually get something I usually wouldn’t buy otherwise for free without even trying. This is kind of old news, especially for those who are fans of the Evangelion series or live here in Japan. Anyway, let’s catch up!
I used to be a fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion while I was in high school, way, way back in the late 90s but had since moved on from the series. But now there is a re-release of the classic series in theaters every year or so, so there are tons of promotions like the shaving cream one that pop up all over the place. I guess Evangelion has found a place in Japanese society and doesn’t seem to have a cloud of nerdiness about it as it might have when it was still a new thing. That’s cool I guess.

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Ever since summer of this year I’ve seen nearly all drugstores and even some convenience stores I’ve visited have a special section decorated all for this particular promotion. I really like how the only guy in the series who has a beard, Gendo Ikari, has it shaved off and he’s uncharacteristically smiling as well. They even got the scruffy Kaji to clean up his act. It’s really funny to see stuff like that after all these years of remembering him as a frigid father figure in name only to one of the lead cast members in the TV series he’s in.
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So eventually I caved in and ended up contributing to this particular campaign. I don’t need to buy shaving products all that often but I finally needed some shaving foam and got an Asuka Langley phone strap figurine with it. She’s proudly sitting as a decoration in my Christmas tree. Smile
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