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Tokyo Sky Tree March 27, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Sky Tree” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nv

Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest landmark in Tokyo.  It is a culmination of planning and building that spanned over 5 years.  Tokyo Sky Tree was officially unveiled to the public when the designs were published at the end of 2006.  Tokyo Sky Tree is currently the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa.  Sky Tree was built because of the rapid growth of skyscrapers in Tokyo.  In the past, Tokyo Tower, which stands at 333m, was the tallest structure in Japan.  With an ever changing landscape and advances in technology, Tokyo Tower was quickly becoming a regular structure rather than the tall tower that was needed.  Tokyo Tower is a fully functioning TV Tower that broadcasts terrestrial television and radio programs across Tokyo.  With the large towers in Roppongi creating greater problems for Tokyo Tower, the need for a new taller structure was conceived and Tokyo Sky Tree was built.

In 2008, the ground-breaking ceremony for Tokyo Sky Tree was held and the pace of construction has been furious.  Like many buildings, the foundation is the hardest part of any construction.  It took almost one complete year before the foundations were finished and the main structure could begin to be built.  From that point it was very noticeable that Sky Tree was growing daily.  It took two full years to reach a height of 600m and aside from a few moments where the tower seemed to stop growing for a month or so, it was very easy to see progress being made to the external structure of the tower.  Tokyo Sky Tree is topped by a large antenna that stands 36m tall.  The 36m tall antenna was built inside the base of the tower and jacked up to its final position.  It was about 10m from its final resting height when the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.  Thankfully the main structure held up and the tower structure was completed soon after checks were made along the entire tower.

There is a lot of symbolism and technology within Tokyo Sky Tree.  The first aspect of Tokyo Sky Tree is the shape.  While most pictures will show a circular structure, it is far more complex than that.  The design was created to start as a triangular base as it slowly transforms into a circular design by the time it reaches the observation decks.  The triangular base was designed to minimize the effect of shadows on the surrounding area.  Whether this is true or not is unknown by myself as I don’t have the means to test it out.  The next piece of technology is the use of old technology.  It is often promoted by the designers that Tokyo Sky Tree was built using old ideas with modern technology.  Utilizing the ancient designs of pagoda in Japan, they created a centre column with the structure hanging from it at the top.  This allows the centre column to “float” independently from the outer structure and help protect it from catastrophic failure in the event of an earthquake.  Of course this is using modern upgrades to the design and modern technology and materials.  The final symbolism in the structure is the height.  Tokyo Sky Tree stands at 634m tall.  634 can also be read as “mu(tsu) (6), san (3), shi (4)” or “musashi”.  Musashi is the old name of the region.  Musashi Province was an area that encompassed Tokyo, Saitama, and part of Kanagawa.  It can easily be thought of as the entire region that also includes Chiba.

The official mascot of Tokyo Sky Tree is Sorakara-chan.  Sorakara-chan can be loosely translated as the girl from the sky.  The simple backstory of Sorakara-chan is that she found Tokyo because Tokyo Sky Tree was able to cut above the clouds and shine very brightly.  You can already find her items and souvenirs at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree before the tower has even been opened to the public.  It is a typical marketing ploy by the operators of Tokyo Sky Tree and she will definitely make money for them.  Tokyo Sky Tree is not just a TV tower.  It is also a full scale shopping complex.  The main floors are occupied by Tokyo Solamachi.  Tokyo Solamachi is the name of the shopping complex that occupies the main building at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree that stands a mere 7 stories tall.  Tokyo Solamachi isn’t very special as it consists mainly of a typical shopping mall but they have added a dome theatre and aquarium to the top floors.  It will be the focal point for the entire neighbourhood and create a bit of competition for neighbouring Asakusa and Kinshicho.  It is unlikely that the new area, coined “Sky Tree Town” by the developer will take off immediately.  It will take time to build up but it will be very popular once it opens in May.

While Tokyo Sky Tree itself is complete, the entire structure and Solamachi won’t be open to the public until May 22nd, assuming there are no last second delays.  It will be a very popular destination at first and there are sure to be lines to go to the observation deck and lines to get into the shopping complex for the first year or so.  Whether or not it will give people enough reason to keep visiting is anyone’s guess.  It is likely that the complex will do well into the future.  It has the potential to draw a lot of people to the tower as it is located just a stone throw’s away from Asakusa.

This is the first in a series of posts about Tokyo Sky Tree.  To read more, please head over to Tokyo Sky Tree (Opening Day)

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Tokyo – Ikebukuro February 14, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Ikebukuro” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-H1

Ikebukuro is a somewhat forgotten city in Tokyo.  It is located on the north western edge of the Yamanote Line and isn’t as conveniently located as Shinjuku or as famous as Shibuya.  It is often known more as a transfer town where many people stop, do a bit of shopping, then continue home.  Ikebukuro is a major hub for people heading north-west towards western Tokyo and western Saitama.  Rail lines to the west spread out in similar fashion to Shinjuku and Shinagawa however they move more northerly.  While the town may be a transfer town, there are many things to see and do and a reputation that can make it feel like a younger sibling to Shinjuku.

There are many ways to arrive at Ikebukuro.  The most common way is to use the Yamanote Line, but there are countless other lines as well.  Ikebukuro can be split into 4 major areas.  The western side of the station is a quaint little town that is full of life and spirit.  Just outside the west exit is a public art space inside a park.  There are several sculptures in an open square along with the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space.  This is a large concert hall that has various concerts and performances all year.  It is also home to the largest pipe organ in Tokyo with free lunch hour shows.  Unfortunately, when I visited recently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space was closed for renovations.  I’m sure it will reopen soon enough.  The west side is quieter than the east and not as built up.  There are various smaller shops and more tranquil parks in the area.  There are several ethnic restaurants that are there to please all tastes.  It is also home to a small outdoor goods section with a few shops specializing in hiking and camping gear.

To the north of the station is a small area that is akin to Kabukicho in Shinjuku.  It is definitely not as well known and in some ways a bit more dangerous.  Like Kabukicho, this district is home to many clubs, bars, and adult themed shops.  It is also home to various restaurants where you can get good cheap food.  Somehow bars and the seedy underground business go hand in hand.  I would guess that drinking and risky business really complement each other.  During the day, this area is probably not as interesting to most people; however it can give a glimpse into what happens in the area and the type of people who frequent it.  There is also a small bridge that crosses over the train tracks which provides a great view of Ikebukuro Station and how busy the station gets as the trains constantly enter and exit the station.  While Shinjuku and Tokyo have more trains running through the station, Ikebukuro has more chaos as tracks crisscross each other creating a spaghetti-like mess below the bridge.

The east side of the station is where most of the action is.  The area immediately to the east and up to Sunshine City is a very busy urban centre.  When visiting this area, you will feel that it is busier and more chaotic than Shinjuku.  This is due to the nature of the area.  There are relatively few tunnels connecting each area and the shops are all crammed together.  The main roads and crossings are always crowded and it can be difficult to stop and smell the roses.  People will push to get to their destination and people will also push to get you into their shops.  It can take several days to explore this entire region.  The usual electronic shops are rampant near the station with various fashion boutiques along the main street to Sunshine City.  Just before Sunshine City is Otome Road.  This is a small 2 block section full of anime and manga shops.  It can give Akihabara a run for its money but unfortunately due to the size of the area, it still pales in comparison.  The shops are relatively large compared to the small shops in Akihabara which make it much easier to find things.  The shops are also well concentrated in the 2 block section with almost nothing else beyond those blocks.

For those who want something touristy, Amlux is a Toyota showcase that is akin to Megaweb in Odaiba.  It is very similar with the one exception that you can’t easily test drive the cars.  It costs more money and requires early reservations to test drive cars in Amlux.  They have similar models on display and rather than a wide open space, all the cars are crammed into a typical office building.  They still have the same amusement style rides for kids of all ages, such as driving simulators, and a few race cars on display.  Megaweb is by far the better of the two but Amlux is still a great place to visit.  Connected to Amlux, and just across the street of Otome Road is Sunshine City.  This is one of the most famous building complexes in Ikebukuro.  It is home of the 60 story Sunshine Tower with an observation deck with spectacular 360 degree views.  Note that when I say spectacular, it’s mostly a view of Tokyo so don’t expect to see many mountains nearby or a lot of nature.  Expect to see a sprawling urban landscape.  The Sunshine City complex itself has lots to offer.  There is a basic shopping mall on the main floors as well as Namja Town, and Aquarium, and Planetarium at one end of the complex.  Namja Town is a theme park run by Sega Sammy.  It is geared towards children but they also have a few things for adults and couples.  Namja Town is well known as a place to enjoy gyoza.  Gyoza is pan fried dumplings and Namja Town boasts that they have the largest variety of gyoza for sale.  It can take a few days to try all of the gyoza available but it can be done.  Do note that there is an admission fee to enter Namja Town on top of the cost to purchase gyoza and play various games.  The aquarium and planetarium used to be very basic and standard fares.  They are undergoing renovations and will reopen this year.  The aquarium was nothing to celebrate before the renovations.  It was a small place that took only 20 minutes to walk through.  It was a very disappointing experience.  Unfortunately I can’t comment on how things will be after the renovations.

Ikebukuro is a great place to visit, but to be honest, not an essential place to visit when visiting Tokyo.  If there is something specific you’d like to see, you should visit Ikebukuro.  However, there are other areas with more options.  Shinjuku has the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers which has a free observation deck.  Roppongi also has a similar observation deck for a fee.  Odaiba has Megaweb along with other interesting things.  Rather than going to Otome Road, you can visit Akihabara to see manga, anime, and electronics, or better yet, go to Nakano and see manga and anime.  If you happen to be staying in Ikebukuro, it is a good place to stay and explore.  If you are staying elsewhere, you probably won’t need to visit the area unless you have visited every other area ofTokyo.

Ikebukuro Information:

Ikebukuro (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3038.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2012 Tokyo Auto Salon January 24, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2012 Tokyo Auto Salon” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-M4

Last week I had written about going to the Tokyo Motor Show at the end of 2011.  In January 2012, a second motor show of the season called the Tokyo Auto Salon is held.  This is a very different car show compared to the Tokyo Motor Show.  The Tokyo Motor Show is a typical auto show that focuses on new cars and concepts from the major car manufacturers.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is a tuner car show that is similar to the SEMA show.  For those who are unfamiliar with the auto industry, a tuner car is any car that has been modified from its original form.  This can be anything from upgrading engine parts, changing the paint or any other part of the car.  It can be very subtle to very crazy.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is the best way to see all of the potential craziness people can do to their own cars.

The first thing to understand about visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon is to know where to go.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is held in Makuhari Messe in Makuhari, Chiba.  It is one of the most famous convention centres in Tokyo with concerts and various trade shows being held at all times of the year.  Due to the layout and cheap rent relative to Tokyo Big Sight makes this a very attractive location for trade show organizers.  The Tokyo Auto Salon is a large show that encompasses the main 8 halls as well as a small exhibition outside.  While they don’t make use of the entire facility, they made use of a huge space nonetheless.  Compared to the Tokyo Motor Show, it felt somewhat smaller, yet more tiring.  The show itself has a lot more to see and it is all crammed into a somewhat smaller space than the Tokyo Motor Show.  There are relatively less people at the Tokyo Auto Salon but with the area being more cramped makes getting around the show floor difficult.  When visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon, like the Tokyo Motor Show, I highly recommend going early and being as patient as possible.

As I mentioned, the Tokyo Auto Salon is very different to the Tokyo Motor Show.  It focuses on tuner cars.  The entire Auto Salon in 2012 was loosely divided into sections.  There were the custom car areas, the manufacturer custom car division, accessories, sound systems, paint, and custom car displays.  While there are many sub-sections in each area, they generally kept close to their theme.  All of the major Japanese aftermarket tuners were at this show.        Many of the well-known Japanese aftermarket companies such as VeilSide, Tommy Kaira, and HKS were present at the show.  Wheel and tire manufacturers such as Bridgestone, Yokohama, BBS, and Rays were also present.  You could easily spend hours just visiting these booths to see what new and innovative products they had.  Each company had their own theme.  HKS was very much performance based while VeilSide was all about looks.  The major Japanese manufacturers had their own booths as well showcasing the products of STi, GD, Nissmo and others.  These names may not seem very familiar but companies like STi stand for Subaru Tecnica International.  They are subsidiaries set up by their parent companies to be somewhat independent but loyal to their parent company.  In fact, most of the companies were fairly loyal to one or two manufacturers.  RE Amemiya is a well-known tuner company that is known for their ability to tune Mazda RX-7s and RX-8s.  It provided a lot of variety into the designs of each car that can be both a blessing and a curse.

The other aspect of the show is to showcase individual cars.  At the Tokyo Auto Salon, some of the aftermarket companies brought cars to be judged.  Other individuals from around Japan also brought their cars to be put on display.  Most of the cars on display in the general area were street legal.  By far the most memorable was one by NATS (Nihon Auto College).  It is a school that teaches the students how to fix and modify cars.  They modified a Lexus SC430 (SoarerZ40 in Japan) to be a modern take on the original DeLorean from the “Back to the Future” movies.  It was a work of art and craftsmanship that was nearly unmatched in the entire show.  There were other great examples of their work that was present in the auto show but that one still sticks out in my mind.  NATS is a great college that probably doesn’t get much attention overseas.  It is a very creative group of students and teachers working together like a master and their apprentices.  In fact, I would say that most of the companies at the show acted in a very similar way.  From my very limited knowledge of the aftermarket industry, a lot of it is art with a healthy dose of mechanics.  With enough time and money, you could create anything you wanted but you still need the ideas to make something good.

One other aspect of the show is the women.  No auto show would be complete without having beautiful women posing in front of the expensive cars.  The Tokyo Motor Show was the same yet very different.  The women at the Tokyo Motor Show had to either fit in with the theme of the manufacturer.  Many times you would see women in the strangest costumes just to fit the theme.  At the Tokyo Auto Salon, that seemed to be less apparent.  Most of the women at the show were there to get as many people to their booths.  You could tell which booth had a woman modeling by the crowds surrounding them.  If there was a large crowd, it was highly likely that there was a woman there.  It was a bit sad as the most beautiful women, rather sexy looking, were getting the most attention.  The women who dressed in a regular way or those who didn’t go the extra mile to look beautiful or sexy didn’t get large crowds of men with cameras in front of them.  It is an unfortunate part of life that men usually think predictably.  Each booth that had girls had a slightly different taste but in general.  When you see a few booths, you have basically seen all of the girls as they all have girls that are differentiated by the colour of their clothes and a little difference in taste or style but generally it is similar and gets numbing after a while.

There are several final thoughts I have about the show itself.  My first thought is that it was cramp and crowded the entire time.  At the Tokyo Motor Show, I had a lot more energy to see the entire show whereas at the Tokyo Auto Salon, after an hour or so I was exhausted.  I would also say that the types of people that went to the show were different.  The Tokyo Motor Show is geared towards the average person.  I saw more families at the Motor Show compared to the Auto Salon.  I also saw more young people and “gangsters” at the Auto Salon.  While I would not say that they are gangsters, some of them did fit the bill in terms of style.  There were also more camera geeks who would do anything to push their way forward to get dozens of photos of the same girl.  It was annoying and difficult to manage.  For those who love fixing cars and seeing tuners, I highly recommend visiting the Tokyo Auto Salon.  In fact, you might enjoy it a lot more.  Unfortunately, since it is a tuner crowd, expect to see a plethora of Nissan GT-Rs, Toyota Prius’, and Mazda RX7s.  It is an unfortunate reality that domestic cars will get more attention as it is cheaper to buy a domestic car than an imported car and easier to get parts for it.  Either way, there are some great cars to see and if I had the time and patience, I would go for a second day as well.

2012 Tokyo Auto Salon is part of a series of posts about various car and bike shows in Tokyo.  To read more about the other car and bike shows, please follow the links below:

Information:

Tokyo Auto Salon:  http://www.tokyoautosalon.jp/

NATS (Blog with Tokyo Auto Salon information):  http://www.nats.ac.jp/pc/as/ebizo/index.php?day=20120114

Tokyo — Otemachi January 3, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Otemachi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Is

Otemachi is a small business district north of Tokyo Station.  By all means, it is not a place most tourists would ever consider visiting.  It is an area that is virtually shut down on Sundays.  It is devoid of any open shops and restaurants which makes looking for food a near impossible task.  While there is almost nothing to do on the weekends, it is an interesting place architecturally and they do have various events scheduled in the area.

The first thing to understand when visiting the Otemachi area is to learn how to get around.  For most people, entering via Tokyo Station will be the easiest.  Entering via Otemachi Station will also be easy, but the labyrinth of underground passages makes this a very daunting task.  The street is much easier to get around, but due to the changeable weather at times, this is not always feasible.  Being close to the Imperial Palace, it is often rumoured that most of the tunnels around Otemachi were originally built in the build-up to World War II and that there are several secret tunnels still remaining.  Unfortunately, a walk through the tunnels of Otemachi is nothing interesting.  It is a typical labyrinth of access tunnels that will get you lost.  Otemachi Station itself is situated in a square shape around one block making transfers from one line to another very inconvenient.

Otemachi is one of the oldest areas of Tokyo and it is currently undergoing revitalization.  In many areas of Otemachi, you will see various construction sites and buildings in various degrees of completion.  Some of the older buildings will be around for many more years, but like the neighboring Marunouchi district, the old buildings have been destroyed or in the process of being destroyed.  If anything, you can get a great sense of Tokyo’s construction industry and how it functions when building high rises.  When visiting some of the newer buildings, you can find a lot of surprises.  The older high rises are generally closed to the public, but newer buildings are open with shopping floors in the basement.  As Otemachi continues to be revitalized, it is looking less and less distinct from neighboring Marunouchi and will soon be indistinguishable.

Otemachi, for tourists, is well known for being located at the entrance to the Imperial Palace East Gardens.  A short walk across the street from Otemachi is the main entrance to the East Gardens.  Located adjacent to the entrance is the Wadakura Fountain Park.  It is a beautiful park with many fountains.  It is just as beautiful, if not more, at night when the fountains are lit up.  While these are the large parks in Otemachi, Otemachi also has many tiny parks and areas to relax.  Similar to Marunouchi, this area has many secrets waiting to be discovered if you look for them.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Otemachi is an area that can easily be skipped by a typical tourist.  Neighboring Marunouchi has more things to do while Otemachi is a true business district.  There are many offices in the area and very little else.  Most people will just pass through on their way to the East Gardens and that’s pretty much it.  For those living in the area, or rather working in the area, it can be a treasure trove of secrets.  You can find passages underground that you never knew existed.  You can find small parks that are populated only by people working the surrounding buildings.  You can also find the typical “slaryman” of Japan.  Unfortunately, you won’t see them in their natural after work environment, the bar.  For that, you’ll have to walk across Tokyo Station to the Yaesu district.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Barbecuing in Tokyo October 4, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food, Japan, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Barbecuing in Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Ip

Tokyo is a tough place to barbecue.  Barbecuing back home in Canada involved a gas grill, a bunch of friends if they are available and a selection of meats and salads.  When someone wanted a steak, it was pretty easy to fire up the grill, throw on a couple steaks, and within 15 minutes, you were ready to eat.  No need to really do any preparations.  If you had a party, of course you had to prepare a lot but not that much.  If you wanted something good, you would have to marinate the meat overnight, and prepare all the vegetables and salads.  Grilling in your backyard was a very simple affair and something that people routinely did.  Tokyo, a city where there are relatively few, if any backyards, and if someone does have a backyard, it is usually very small.  Land space is expensive and prohibitive to having large yards.  Barbecuing in Japan presents its own unique challenges that must be met head first.

The first thing one must learn is that barbecuing in Tokyo is essentially illegal.  You cannot set up a barbecue on the side of a river or in a park.  It is illegal to have an open fire within the city limits of Tokyo.  Whether that applies to private property or not is unknown to me.  I have seen people with somewhat larger yards and balconies where they can barbecue, however being Tokyo and Japan, you do have to be aware of your neighbors.  One of my friends had bought a grill and started to barbecue in front of his house, outside his front door.  While the street in front of his house was primarily for pedestrians, as cars would not fit, his neighbors were polite but complained quickly.  After using it once, he never had the opportunity to use it again.  The only legal place to barbecue is within one of the city’s parks.  There are websites that direct you to the various parks within the city that allow people to barbecue.  Since Tokyo is such a large and dense city, they require reservations before you can barbecue at these sites.  The only problem is that these locations fill up very quickly and are usually reserved months in advance.  Unless you have connections or a bit of luck, you won’t be getting into these locations.  It can be a hassle to find a place in Tokyo for a barbecue, but thankfully there is one last emergency measure, an illegal barbecue.  There are just a few places around Tokyo where you can safely, yet illegally, barbecue.  I don’t recommend it but there are lots of people who do it.

The food and cooking style at a Japanese barbecue is slightly different compared to a typical American style barbecue.  I’m used to hearing about people grilling burgers, steaks, and hot dogs.  In Japan, it can be similar but in a very Japanese way.  I often see Korean style barbecue meats, or thinly sliced meats.  Seeing seafood is also very popular in Tokyo.  Vegetables tend to be the same.  Just putting raw vegetables on the grill and letting them cook.  Like most barbecues, you can grill almost anything you want.  One of the bigger problems with grilling in Tokyo is getting the fire started.  Coming from Canada, there is only one person I know of who has a traditional charcoal fired grill.  He has all of the items from the charcoal heater to the good charcoal.  In Tokyo, I had to learn how to set up a grill and get the fire going.  It is very common for people, including myself, to just buy charcoal and grab a bunch of old newspapers and figure it would be easy to start the fire.  I was very wrong and the first barbecue I had, it took about an hour to get it started!  The second time on was much easier for me.  I knew the idea of how to start it, but having a starter fuel is idyllic.  At the end of a Japanese barbecue, noodles and vegetables are brought out.  All grills come with a flat pan that is heated to create a griddle.  This griddle is used to cook yaki-soba.  Yaki-soba is a very traditional end to any barbecue in Japan.  If you ask any Japanese person what they should have at a barbecue, especially as a last dish, they will almost certainly say yaki-soba.  While I don’t like it, it is very common in Japan and should be expected.

Like any barbecue, in the end, there are no rules in what you must do or how you do it.  A barbecue in America/Canada is essentially the same as one in Japan.  While the food is different the idea of getting together with a group of friends to enjoy a beautiful sunny afternoon is no different.  The logistics are much harder in Tokyo but on the plus side, you can drink alcohol in public so having a beer or a glass of wine at a barbecue is perfectly acceptable.  Having a loud group of friends laughing the afternoon away is no different between Japan and North America.  If you ever get a chance, you should try having a barbecue in Japan.  If you can’t have a traditional barbecue where you grill outdoors, you can always go to a yakiniku restaurant instead.  It doesn’t have the same appeal, but it is better than nothing, and you don’t have to prepare anything.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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