【Living in Japan】FIVE WAYS TO LIVE ON A BUDGET IN TOKYO

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1 USE 100-YEN SHOP

A good policy is to always check the 100-yen shop before buying something from a regular store. They carry an amazing variety of items and are ideal places to stock up your apartment with dishes, silverware, and other essentials to survive when you first arrive. Buy in Bulk on your phone to find better deals online while you’re shopping at stores, too. I usually use Amazon to buy big boxes of oatmeal or my fabourite cereal that I know I’ll eat and that last for a long time.

2 BUY IN BULK

Not everything is a bargain at the 100-yen shop, especially toiletries and other things that you’ll use everyday. It’s better to buy essential consumable supplies like tissues, detergent or body soap in bulk from stores like Costco. There are several around Tokyo and if you can find a friend with a membership, tag along with them every once in a while and stock up. It’s also a good idea to buy lots of frozen veggies and fruits, as these can be absurdly expensive when sold fresh in the supermarkets. If you can’t make it to Costco, try finding a local wholesale food store such as “Niku no Hanamasa” (there are several around Tokyo) which caters to restaurants and sells meat and seafood at big discounts. To manage bulk amounts of food, I bought a cheap box of 200 plastic bags which I then use to separate and freeze a few weeks worth of meat and fish.

3 SHOP ON LINE

Shopping online using Amazon or Rakuten is easy and convenient in Japan. You can even have your package sent to a local convenience store for pick up and often can get next day delivery. You can use a barcode reade

4 USE CRAIGSLIST

At any given time, there are a lot of foreign residents who are packing up and leaving Japan and need
to sell their things. I bought a big screen TV and a fridge both from people who lived right down the road from my place. You can search for the item you’re looking for and sometimes even negotiate the price a little as long as you’re willing to pick it up yourself. I sometimes just search the name of my town to see if anyone is selling something locally that’s easy to pick up. This is a great way to buy big items like a washing machine or a stovetop oven.

5 BEWARE OF WARIKAN

Obviously you should try to cook at home as often as possible if you’re living on a budget. And you should also try to pack a lunch everyday if you can. But sometimes you get invited out and want to have fun. In Japan, it’s pretty normal for a group of friends to share all the food and it’s often (but not always) customary to split the bill at the end of the night (called warikan). The problem is that you end up having to help pay for the five bottles of expensive wine someone decided to order. If your friends are considerate they will pitch in more if they had a lot, but don’t count on it! Your best bet is to go to a place with nomi-hodai or all-you-can- drink (usually for two hours) with a set individual price or to go to a Western-style pub where you pay separately as you order, (called betsu-betsu). You can also just buy snacks and drinks at a convenience store but be careful because it’s bad etiquette to eat and drink while walking around.

INDULGE IN AN AUTHENTIC RYOKAN EXPERIENCE IN SYDNEY

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Much like how younger generations of Aussies grew up watching Pokemon in the late 1990s and early 2000s, kids in the 1960s were crazy about the Japanese TV drama series, “Shintaro the Samurai”. Linda Evans, who runs a traditional Japanese ryokan in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Balmain, was one of them.

Interview and words: Taro Moriya Photography: Naoto Ijichi

jStyle: What got you interested in traditional Japanese culture at the start?

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Linda: We grew up watching “Shintaro the Samurai”. Influenced by the TV series, kids those days loved playing samurai and ninja, playing with imitation swords and papermade throwing knives (shuriken) and so on. Our generation of Aussies all remember “Shintaro” in the good old days. Apparently, when the actor who played Shintaro came to Australia, he was welcomed by more than 7,000 fans at Melbourne Airport. That was more than the number Beatles fans who came to the airport when they visited! Interestingly, the TV series doesn’t seem to be as popular in Japan. Whenever I talk about “Shintaro” to Japanese people of my generation, no one ever remembers it. Wooden houses, paper doors, samurai and ninja clothes, swords, shuriken… Everything in Shintaro’s world was totally exotic and a great culture shock to us. That was the beginning of my interest in Japanese culture.

jStyle: What inspired you to build an authentic ryokan in Sydney?

Linda: My love for Japanese culture as a child continued through to adulthood. My first trip to Japan was finally made possible in 2001. We decided to take a family trip there and stay at an authentic ryokan. The most amazing experience in the Japanese ryokan was their exceptionally warm hospitality. Since then, we have been obsessed with traditional Japanese culture and we have travelled to Japan seven times thereafter. It was then that I started to think about introducing world-class Japanese hospitality to Australia, and I came up with the idea of building a Japanese-style ryokan at home. Utilising our fifth generation home in Balmain, I was determined to start a new life by renovating the house and turning it into a ryokan. “If I am going to do it, I do not want it to be semi-Western and semi-Japanese styled. I will aim for an ultra-authentic Japanese style,” that was what I thought.

jStyle: It must have been a very difficult task to build a completely authentic Japanese house in Australia. How did you make it possible?

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Linda: The building was an early colonial style sandstone house built in 1855. While the original sandstone structure and walls were preserved as historical legacy, everything else was recreated. The foyer, two guest rooms, and corridor were all converted into an authentic Japanese interior with black timber and mortar. A separate room became a bathroom with an imported Japanese bathtub. Tons of soil was removed from the garden, and turned into a tranquil Japanese garden with pond carp swimming around. I wanted to reproduce the Edo-period (1603-1868) style exterior, interior, furniture and garden. Although it was impossible to purchase 100% genuine Japanese building materials and furniture in Australia, I did not want to make something that people would feel is “unauthentic”. Based on the architect’s plans, my husband and I DIYed every little thing with a local carpenter. While we sourced local products as much as possible — paint, timber and building materials from Bunnings Warehouse and repairing Japanese antiques available in Sydney, for example — I imported things that were not available in Australia, such as the Japanese cypress bathtub. It took two years for development approval, and seven years for construction and renovations. It was finally finished, just one week before the opening in 2013.

WOODEN HOUSES, PAPER DOORS, SAMURAI AND NINJA CLOTHES, SWORDS, SHURIKEN… EVERYTHING IN SHINTARO’S WORLD WAS TOTALLY EXOTIC AND A GREAT CULTURE SHOCK TO US.

jStyle: How is business so far?

Linda: Gojyuan has attracted many local customers as well as overseas visitors who want to try something different. Not only customers who have stayed in Japanese ryokans, but also those who have never been to Japan. Other than providing Japaneselevel hospitality, which was my initial purpose, I have been conforming to accurate Edo-period details as much as possible. I am also adopting the Japanese manufacturing way of kaizen to improve our service quality as well. Along with a unique ryokan experience in Sydney, you may also enjoy kaiseki (traditional Japanese style degustation) dinner at an extra cost, if you book more than two weeks in advance. At Gojyuan, we are also working on introducing Japanese traditional culture to Australians. Our Japanese instructors are regularly holding workshops in various areas such as: tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloth), gift wrapping, mizuhiki (rice paper art), kimono dressing, temari (thread ball), shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine), Japanese pickles, Japanese sweets making and origami.

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JAPANESE KITCHEN KNIVES WHICH CUT LIKE A SAMURAI SWORD

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Photos: Naoto Ijichi

The essential components of tasty cuisine are top quality ingredients, the touch of a good chef and the equipment in their right hand. Just like a samurai could not exist without their sword, a chef can’t exist without their kitchen knives.

Currently, the export of Japanese made high quality kitchen knives is rapidly spreading across the globe. The reason non-Japanese chefs love these knives so much is by merit of their astonishing cutting ability. Japanese knives are uniquely designed to cut without needing much force at all. The circumstances which have brought about the evolution of these knives is a culture of subtle and detailed food preparation that is an essential part of traditional Japanese cuisine.

ACCORDING TO THE FOOD EXPERTS, WHAT MAKES A GOOD KNIFE?

Mr Takashi Sano, sushi chef at popular Sydney restaurant Sokyo, says knives are an important partner just like one’s wife. A good knife has a certain familiarity in one’s hand which acts in harmony with the chef’s thoughts and to date, this has provided much satisfaction to gourmet clients in Sydney at Azuma, Tetsuya’s and a number of top restaurants serving Japanese, western and modern Australian fare. These knives give the ability to cut fish in a clean and precise manner without any hindrance allowing for beautiful presentation of the food and the wonderful texture and flavours to be felt when eaten. The sizes and shapes of the many styles of Japanese knives are a strong ally of a chef and it is said this bond is well understood and cherished by non-Japanese chefs too.

THE BEST WAY TO MAINTAIN HIGH QUALITY UTENSILS

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Mr Takashi Sano, sushi chef at Sokyo

In order to not only craft the appearance of the cuisine but also the flavour, it is vital that anyone working in a kitchen chooses the optimum knife and takes extra special care with the maintenance of both the blade and the handle. In Sydney, Knives and Stones is a specialist shop selling a huge range of Japanese made homeware, knives and sharpening stones. On top of selling their high grade wares, they also undertake the difficult maintenance of the knives including polishing and fixing chipped and bent blades. The owner James says that with just one maintenance session, you’ll soon have a blade which can cut through anything with the utmost ease.

When using a knife for a number of years, there is a chance that parts of the wood in the handle may become corroded, splinter, or the original pattern may lose its detail due to the constant pressure from one’s hand. When this happens, it’s a good idea to consult Knives and Stones to repair or replace the handle. Their showroom also displays the best Japanese knives such as: Sakai Takayuki and Masamoto Sohonten; and sharpening tools so it’s perfect for people who are serious about looking after their equipment and keeping it in top condition.

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