#84 Karaoke

Who knew that some of the best lessons in life can be learned in a karaoke room?

As year abroad students with little to lose and and not experienced enough yet to be afraid of hangovers, we were amazed by the prospect of all-you-can-drink (nomihoudai) for the equivilant of about $15.

So we used to go out to various Japanese bars (izakaya) to order as many drinks as we could stomach within two hours (which, it turns out, when you have a bunch of foreigners including Americans and Europeans competing with each other, is a ridiculous amount).

Despite being a bustling city, the last train would be at the ridiculously early time of midnight, so we would usually find ourselves checking into karaoke to pass the time before the first train the next day. We discovered that a karaoke room is the cheapest (and probably most fun) place to spend the night without having to sleep in the streets, or take an overpriced taxi all the way home.

Just as revenge is a dish best served cold, karaoke is best served with copious amounts of alcohol. By the time we got inside, we would be pretty wasted, but this made for the best karaoke nights.

Suddenly everyone could sing like Mariah Carey, or at least we thought we could, as we screeched power ballads, and danced to Lady Gaga on the tables. In reality, we probaly sounded more annoying than continuous police sirens, but we didn’t care. If somebody was actually good at singing, we wouldn’t bring them with us anyway.

Not to be put off by the dozen trips per hour to the restroom that we had to take from all that we had already drunk, we would also help ourselves to the free soft drinks that came with our entry price. We would sip coffee to keep us going, and mix syrup with oolong tea, or drink too much of the mysterious green stuff pictured above.

Our disappointing moments of not being able to find a song we loved on the playlist would immediately be replaced with the joy of finding a popular chart song, a teen classic, or an anthem from the 90’s to belt at the top of our voices. (Side note: I must have sung AKB48’s ‘Heavy Rotation’ about 500 million times. To this day, it is remains a staple part of any karaoke trip).

Looking back, we may seem a little overindulgent, but at the time, we were having the most fun in our lives. It was those nights, which started out so optimistically at an izakaya, escalated to epic proportions at karaoke, and ended with a walk of shame to McDonald’s on the way to the station for the first train home, that were worth remembering.


#94 Shinkansen

Japan is a big country. In fact, it’s so big that it stretches across three different climate zones. Most of the big cities lie along the coasts, often separated by miles and miles of countryside, forests and mountains. Japanese people can’t spend all day travelling, so short of the technology to invent teleportal machines, they decided to invent the fastest train in the world instead.

Yep, in Japan if you want to go somewhere far, you can get there very fast – on the (appropriately translated) bullet train.

Since it was built 45 years ago, it has carried 7 billion passengers and has not suffered even one casualty, despite the fact that Japan is a country that doesn’t do too well on the natural disasters front. Engineers have taken great care to make it an extremely safe way to travel, by installing brakes and other fail safes to stop the train should they detect a problem with the track.

Taking the Shinkansen isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for. It’s smooth, comfortable and the time really does go quickly. With good friends to chat with, the journey goes by before you even settle down to read a book. It took just over an hour to travel from Kobe to Hiroshima.

However, depending on where you go, your view can range from the beauty of Mt. Fuji to the boring blackness of miles of tunnels. Either way, although a pretty view would be nice, the shinkansen was built for speed and will take you whichever way is the shortest route to get there.

The Shinkansen runs so on time that it’s almost scary, and when it arrives on the platform don’t dawdle, you  better hop on that thing because the doors close just a few seconds after letting the previous passengers off. Everything about the Shinkansen is about efficiency and speed which is kind of refreshing compared to the laid-back approach public transport tends to take back at home.

They’re constantly working on expanding the reach of the Shinkansen within Japan, and it’s good to know that tourism and business in many smaller towns and villages are being reivived because people can access them much easier.

It’s exciting to think about all the wonderful places you can be in just a few hours from the Shinkansen entrance.


#88 Nomihoudai

If there was one thing I wish I could bring back to England, it would probably be ‘nomihoudai’, aka. ‘drink-as-much-as-you-want’.

Gone would be the days of pre-drinking disgusting concoctions before going out into the cold night, stumbling into taxis to overpriced bars and clubs and coming back hungry enough to eat heart-attack inducing chips and kebabs.

Nomihoudai solves all of these problems. The drinks are delicious, the atmosphere is warm and cheerful, you can order tasty food, and most importantly… it’s. dirt. cheap.

20 minutes in...

The average price works out to be about Y1200, ($12-15, or about £10), depending whether or not you order food. You can drink as much as you can fit into your tiny human bladder in two hours.

...and then 5 minutes later

The selection includes over a dozen cocktails, whiskey, gin mixers and of course, sake. Overall, nomihoudai is an absolute bargain, and always makes a fantastic time out with friends.

Now I’m just really looking forward to ‘tabehoudai’… all you can eat.