What’s so special about Japanese convenience stores?

Apr 01 | Evan | No Comments |

Have you heard much about Japanese convenience stores? Yes, we are talking about convenience stores. In the U.S., there are also convenience stores too, but you don’t necessarily think of a convenience store where people go to have a decent meal, right? In the U.S., you may step into a convenience store to grab a drink or pick up a gun, but you don’t go in there to get food that can be satisfying for your brunch, lunch, and even dinner. 

In Japan, convenience stores are everywhere. Many operate 24 hours a day and it has become an essential part of Japanese people’s everyday life. The price may be a little more expensive than going to a local supermarket, but it’s convenient, open 24 hours a day, and there are even items only sold at convenience stores so the trust Japanese people have in convenience stores is immense. Next time you are on a photo tour of Japan, you might as well try having a brunch with food you can find at a convenience store.  We are not kidding! You will for sure go back for more! 

Essential in Japanese people’s everyday life

Convenience stores are an important part of Japanese people’s everyday life. It has items that are both hot and cold so that on a hot summer day when you need an icy cold drink or an ice cream to cool down, you can step into a convenience store. Similarly, on a cold winter day, once you step into a convenience store, you can find oden, hot buns, and/or hot drinks to warm up your body before you head home. Of course, for those people who don’t have enough time to prepare bento lunch, convenience bento is a lifesaver too! 

You may not know this, but convenience stores can also act as a place to protect kids from bad people by acting as a place of escape for children. If you see a sticker at a convenience store (can also be at supermarkets, gasoline stands, and regular homes) saying “Kodomo 110 ban no ie,” it is a safe house to escape in case of emergency for kids. Furthermore, this also applies to women if they feel unsafe walking back home. 

As well as food and drinks, convenience stores also act as a place to purchase tickets such as for concerts, amusement parks, and sporting events. In addition, not everyone has a fax machine at home so at convenience stores, people can send a fax as well. Furthermore, if you want to mail something to a friend/family, you can do that at a convenience store. As you are now aware, the service provided at convenience stores is so versatile that it has become a necessary part of Japanese people’s everyday life! 

Photo by Andrew Leu on Unsplash

This is the Japanese quality!

So how do international visitors react when they shop at Japanese convenience stores? Well, this famous foodie YouTuber, Mike Chen, visited both Seven Eleven and Lawson, two of Japanese major convenience stores, and tried all sorts of food that caught his attention. If you want to know what convenience stores carry and how international visitors think of food there, be our guest to watch the YouTube below. Of course, it’s his opinion, but this provides a good introduction to Japanese convenience stores. The level of food you can find at Japanese convenience stores is no joke!  

Of course, Mike Chen’s view is the view of an international visitor, so if you want to go a little more in depth about cultural awareness, watch “Abroad in Japan.” This youtube video below can give you a more in depth picture of ture Japanese convenience store as the YouTuber is a long resident of Japan and knows what each product is. In this video, he introduces 21 must try items at convenience stores in Japan. Perhaps try some of these items when you are on a  photo tour of Japan next! 

Conclusion… 

For Japanese people, convenience stores really provide a wide range of services that have become a significant part of everyday life. The majority of people use it so that they can purchase food and drinks, but this is also a good place to get newspapers as well as magazines and manga. Having a convenience store has its issues that we didn’t cover here today, but it often provides not only occupation to the community, but also a place to shop, and even a place to protect children and women in case of emergency. When you visit Japan next, make sure to try different convenience stores too as each one carries its own original items also. Don’t forget to let us know which one is your favorite and why!

March ’22 Update with Japan’s COVID Measures;

Mar 06 | Evan | No Comments |

Japan is easing restrictions with border control.

At last, we are excited to share some positive news with Japan’s border control with the COVID measures. Yes, finally, a lot of positive movements towards opening up Japan are happening. Unfortunately, Japan is not yet open for tourists as of March 1st 2022, but the country is finally reopening its border to international students, interns, and business personnel. Furthermore, travel restrictions for Japanese residents and travelers entering the country have eased greatly so hopefully in a few months down the line, we will be able to inform everyone happy news of Japan opening its borders to the tourist so that we can plan a photo tour of Japan by the end of year or even sooner! 

Updates that took place on Feb 10th, 2022

Let’s go step by step to illustrate the updates that have taken place in the last month. We will focus on the travel restrictions of travelers from the U.S. to Japan. Below updates took place on Feb 10th, 2022. 

1) The travelers from below states are required to stay at the government specified location for 3 days after the entry (previously 6 days) before moving to their own place of quarantine. 

Hawaii, Texas, and Massachusetts 

2) The travelers from below states are required to stay at the government specified location for 6 days (the duration of stay didn’t change) before moving to their own place of quarantine. 

California, Illinois, New York, and Florida 

*The number of quarantines remains the same for 7 days in total and those travelers from any other states not listed above could quarantine of their choice for the entire 7 days.

Information released on Feb 12th, 2022

1) Business & international students’ travel may ease as early as some time in Feb 2022, if not March 2022

2) The government will make a decision some time in the week of Feb 12th about opening the borders to international travelers. This change will take place sometime in March. 

Some of the things that are going to be discussed are: 

– Shortening quarantine to 3 or 5 days with COVID vaccinations & booster 

– Increase of daily number of people coming into the country from 3500 to 5000 

Major changes that took place on March 1st, 2022

A significant change to Japan’s brother control took place on March 1st, 2022. Besides shortening quarantine time, the Japanese government allowed people to use public transportation after landing in Japan to move to a quarantining location as well as finally opening a previously tightly closed border to certain groups of international people. Let’s take a look at each point of change that took place on March 1st focusing on quarantine first. (Below are cases for people traveling from the U.S. Depending on where people travel from, even with full vaccination and a booster, conditions may differ so if you are not traveling from the U.S., you need to check what conditions apply to where you are traveling from.) 

  1. As of March 1st, people traveling from the U.S. no longer need to quarantine at a government specified location once they travel to Japan. 
  2. If you are vaccinated and boosted, you no longer need to quarantine at all. Furthermore, you have no restrictions on using public transportation once you land in Japan. 
  3. If you are not vaccinated and boosted, you need to be quarantined for 7 days. However, if you get a PCR test on Day 3 and get a negative result, you can get out of quarantine. Furthermore, within 24 hours of landing, you can use public transportations.
  4. At the time of arrival, you need to show your vaccine passport, the PCR test result within 72 hours of pre-travel, PCR test at the airport, a letter of decoration, registering smartphone applications, and also answering Q & A. 

*Japan accepts below vaccines: 

  • 2 times of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or 1 time of Janssen
  • Booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna 

*Antigen tests are not adequate for replacing PCR tests. 

pagoda in gray scale shot

Finally opening its border to international people 

Let’s next take a look at what changes are brought to international travelers. A long awaited change finally took place on March 1st 2022, which is to reopen its borders to certain groups of international people. It’s a small, yet large step for Japan as the country has closed its border completely to international people since the rise of Omicrone in Dec 2021. This has placed Japan in a difficult spot at the global stage as Japan has been criticized by many countries around the world for its actions that Japan has been discriminatory towards foreigners. 

So who can travel to Japan and how can they travel to Japan? Let’s find out! 

International students and interns are finally welcomed back to Japan as of March 1st 2022. This is a significant step forward clearly to international students and interns who have been waiting a long time for the last two plus years despite being given a visa to enter. It is also a long awaited significant change for the Japanese economy and education as well. Furthermore, international business personnel are now allowed to travel to Japan for up to 3 months as long as the receiving side, a company or a sponsor can vouch for the individuals. Unfortunately at this time, international tourists are not yet allowed to travel to Japan. Furthermore, international people who have family members in Japan are not yet allowed to travel and visit their family or significant others in Japan. 

Conclusion…

The changes brought by Japan may be still too small to some people, but this is definitely a right move towards reopening the country pre-COVID stage that has long been awaited. From where Japan was a few months ago, the fact the country is now allowing international people to travel to or move to the country being a student/doing an internship is significant. Also the changes in procedures of quarantine once a traveler lands in the country are significant that a lot of people who were formerly hesitant to travel to Japan will be more willing to travel now. So… when will it be a time for tourists? That is unclear at this point, but Japan has indicated to reopen the country step by step so let’s hope we can plan a photography tour of Japan very soon! 

Will Japan finally open in March 2022? 

Feb 16 | Evan | No Comments |

When the pandemic broke out two plus years ago, nobody expected it to last this long. While the US is slowly getting back to some level of normalcy, Japan has been extremely strict when it comes to opening its borders to the outside world. As of Jan 23rd 2022, Japan is completely closed to foreigners. The country only allows its citizens and residents to travel internationally with strict monitoring once they enter the country. What can we expect from Japan in the coming months and when will we be able to plan a photo tour of Japan? Let’s find out what’s happening in Japan today and what may happen in the upcoming months. 

Japan’s current situation with the pandemic

Of course this could change anytime….

Japan is currently not open to any foreigners regardless of the purpose of the trip (okay, there are a very few exceptions). The only people who can travel to and from Japan are Japanese citizens or residents. It was though once opened up to foreigners when the Olympics was held in the summer of 2021 to those who were athletes or a part of the Olympics and further Japan decided to open its borders to business people and international students in November of 2021, but it was quickly shut down a month later with the rise of Omicron. 

Although the 14 days quarantine recently changed to 10 days quarantine on Jan 15th 2022, overall measures Japan is proposing such as not allowing any foreigners to enter the country does not seem to change at least till the beginning of March 2022. However, there is a movement by foreign nationals such as American researchers petitioning to open Japan’s borders as the President Biden and the new Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s meeting is approaching (Kaori, Yoshida 2022, “Requesting Japan to relax its borders” a petition by American researchers ,Nihon Keizai Shimbun, accessed Jan 23rd 2022. Also, two hours before publishing this post, some positive news came out: Japan to cut 7-day quarantine period to 3, allow in more foreigners.

COVID Vaccines in Japan 

Japanese people’s vaccination rate is extremely high in comparison to the world wide average of 52.4%. As of January 23rd 2022, 79.2% of Japanese people, which is equivalent to 99.6 million people, are fully vaccinated. However, the booster shot is taking a while for the Japanese to get started. In December 2021, finally those in the medical fields started to receive a booster shot while the everyday citizen has not had a chance to receive a booster shot. It is only recently, the elderlies are given priorities to get the booster shot in January 2022. 

Besides the issues of delayed booster shots, Japanese children aged between 5 to 11 are finally approved to get COVID vaccines as of Jan 21st 2022, thus there are still large groups of vulnerable populations that are at risk of COVID, thus Japan seems to be extra cautious with opening its borders. 

person holding injection

14 days quarantine to 10 days quarantine 

The length of quarantine just recently changed from 14 days to 10 days when entering Japan. There was a movement for 7 days quarantine instead of 10 days, but at the end, 10 days quarantine was chosen as Japan is still very cautious with the rise of the Omicron variant and people’s movement from abroad.

This change took place on Jan 15th 2022. Though this quarantine is not so simple. Most travelers cannot choose the place of quarantine for the first 3, 6, or the whole 10 days. What this means is that depending on where the travelers come from, they are sent to the government specified quarantine hotels to monitor their health condition for the 3 days, 6 days, or 10 days after their arrival with day 1 starting from the next day of the arrival. Apparently, It is so strict that only one person can stay in a room with the exception of a young child. Otherwise, even families cannot stay in the same room in a hotel to quarantine. 

Traveling from the US as of Jan 2022 

So what’s happening to those who are traveling from the States? For those who can travel to Japan from the U.S., there is currently a 6 days or 3 days quarantine period at the government specified hotel before they can move to their own home to finish up the 10 days quarantine. People who travel from below states have to quarantine for 6 days at a government specified hotel to monitor their condition with day 3 and day 6 PCR tests as these states experience high omicron outbreaks. 

Illinois 

California 

Texas 

New York 

Hawaii 

Florida 

Massachusetts 

People traveling from any other states only need to quarantine for 3 days at a government specified location before they move onto their homes to finish up the 10 days quarantine. 

So what’s next? 

Despite other countries’ pressures, Japan’s new prime minister and his team seems to be pretty clear on how they want to handle the pandemic and it doesn’t look so bright for any foreigners to be able to freely visit Japan any time soon. Even though there seems to be a change in the beginning of March 2022, it would be certain groups of people such as business people and international students who will be prioritized before any American travelers for pressure can visit Japan. 

We never anticipated that the photo tours of Japan, and just traveling to Japan in general, wouldn’t be an option for this long but hopefully things will improve in March and we’ll hear some exciting news in the coming spring to summer to visit Japan during cherry blossom season!

Only in Japan? Snow Monkeys that enjoy a hot spring

Apr 15 | Evan | No Comments |

The most famous group of monkeys in Japan can easily be said to the group of monkeys at the hot spring at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano. If you don’t know which group of monkeys I am talking about, these are the monkeys you might have seen in the photographs of monkeys relaxing at the hot spring in Nagano, Japan. Does it ring a bell? If not, take a look at the Jigokudani Monkey Park official website here to see what I’m talking about. 

They are the only monkeys in the world, which are known to bathe in the hot spring to keep themselves warm during cold winter. The park opened in 1964 and there are currently around 160 monkeys in the area, which come to bathe only during winter. Yes, this scene of monkeys bathing in the hot spring is a rare view only seen at this park. So, if you are not sure winter is a time to travel to Japan, this could be a good enough reason for you to join Japan Photo Guide’s photo tour of Japan to witness and capture the rare scene of monkeys relaxing in a hot spring.

What is “Snow Monkey?” 

So let’s learn more about the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park. As already stated, the park opened in 1964 and there are 160 or so monkeys living in the area to use the hot spring. However, they do not all come down to the hot spring at once, but they come down in a group of 40 to 50 monkeys. The reason the monkeys come down to bathe is just like us humans, they want to warm their cold bodies during winter. 

The term “snow monkey” is a term created by international media. Even before international media came to this spot, it was a popular destination for Japanese, but ever since the international media gave a spotlight to these one and only monkeys, the number of foreigners visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park has increased tremendously. For example, back in 2012, the total of 130,000 tourists visited the park while 30,000 of them were international visitors. 

Nihonzaru = Japanese Monkey 

The kind of monkeys you see at Jigokudani Monkey Park is Japanese monkey, Nihonzaru. They live over a broad area of Japan except for Okinawa and Hokkaido. If you want to see them, you simply need to head to the mountains. The matter of fact, when I was a child, I saw Nihonzaru in my town as my town is surrounded by mountains in Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Tokyo. They came down to human habitations and there was even a week-long town alert to warn us to be careful not to engage with monkeys when going home and after school. During that week, a group of us saw monkeys at the park, which had a back to the mountain. Even today, I hear that my town and surrounding towns have monkey sightings regularly. 

Japanese monkeys are really everywhere in Japan except for Okinawa and Hokkaido. You get to see them at the zoo as well as randomly in mountainous areas. However, they are wild so you cannot easily spot them by simply heading to the mountains. A park like Jigokudani Monkey Park was created so that anybody can come and observe the monkey for pleasure, but also for research purposes. The truth is, Japanese monkeys have very high social ability, thus the zoo does not showcase everything for us to fully understand them. 

Let’s learn more about Jigokudani Monkey Park! 

Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in Yamanouchi town in Nagano Prefecture, which is at the altitude of 850 meters. During winter, the temperature drops as low as -10 degree Celsius/14 degree Fahrenheit and snow accumulates up to 1 meter/3.3 feet. Yes, the winter in this area is very severe and tough for monkeys as well as humans. 

The park is a cage free park, where Japanese monkeys can come and go as they wish. It was created in 1964 and 1st received international recognition back in 1970 when it was covered by US magazine, LIFE. However, the biggest media exposure was in 1998 when the Nagano Olympics took place. This is when the park received a lot of visitors from the Olympic players, Olympic spectators as well as media. 

The reason the monkeys return to the park is because they are fed in the park. However, the park is just a part of their entire life, thus they go in and out of the park freely. As stated earlier, the Jigokudani Monkey Park area is very cold, thus the monkeys come down to the hot spring to warm their cold bodies. This scene is unique to winter as the monkeys are not so keen to hop in the hot spring during other seasons. So if you want to capture monkeys in a hot spring, you want to visit the park during the cold winter. 

Dos and Don’ts when visiting the park! 

They are wild so please remember the points below when you visit the park or whenever you encounter wild monkeys in Japan. Below points are listed on the official website in Japanese, but they are not translated to English so hope you spend some time before you make your way to the Jigokudani Monkey Park! 

  1. Don’t feed them 
  2. Don’t touch/frighten them
  3. Don’t look straight into their eyes at close distance 
  4. Don’t get too close to them 
  5. Can’t bring in dogs and cats 
  6. You can do photography & videography even with flash 
  7. Can’t use a selfie stick

At the park, even photographing using flash is allowed, but when photographing using a phone, please be careful not to get too close. Additionally, a selfie stick is not allowed in the park as it can potentially frighten monkeys as they could look like a weapon to them. People often tend to lose the idea of distance when using a selfie, thus it’s not safe to use around the monkeys. 

When visiting the park, you need to always remember that they are wild. Little monkeys are curious, thus they may get close to you, but if that happens, please remove yourself away from them so that you can avoid any harm. They can call adults to help if anything happens. Also, looking straight into their eyes means an indication of hostility as well as opening your mouth big. Don’t get too close, always keep distance from them. 

Lastly, since you cannot get too close to the monkeys, bringing a binocular is a good idea suggested by the park to observe them from a distance. 

Finally… 

After seeing photos and videos of monkeys bathing, you might be thinking “I want to go to a hot spring too!” Well,l don’t worry! Even though the park is away from any human habitations, in the same town, there is Shiga Kogen Snow Ski Resort where you can enjoy skiing/snowboarding while warming up your cold body at the hot springs. Going to see the monkeys in the wild is exciting, but if you get to enjoy other aspects of Japan when visiting Nagano would be a bonus, right? By the way, if you want to learn more about Japanese monkeys before you head to Japan with Japan Photo Guide’s Japan photo tour, follow the park official Instagram here and/or watch the live camera of the park so that you can dream of the day to visit and capture the snow monkeys! 

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