The Making of Tetrapods

main photo

In my April 15 column in the Japan Times, I wrote about “tetrapods,” the four-legged wave-breaking concrete structures you see all up and down the coast of Japan. In the column, I explained that these huge structures are made on-site by pouring concrete into leased molds, like the ones in the photo below.


For a nice series of photos showing the making of tetrapods in more detail, take a look at this blog.

Meanwhile, a company called Maniapparel offers a humorous series of tetrapod clothing….


…and grey felt stuffed tetrapods for the home.


Unfortunately, the company doesn’t sell through online vendors that are relatively easy to navigate with limited Japanese. If you can manage in Japanese, drop an email to Maniapparel at You can also order the stuffed toys from Village Vanguard.

Finally, a well-deserved toast to the clever blogger who used the same mold concept to make tetrapod ice cubes. I want this person on my team.


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Shipping up and down the coast of Japan


A regular reader of my blog gave me a gentle nudge today, observing that I haven’t been posting much. What’s worse, she said, I haven’t provided links for my last two columns in The Japan Times. So posthaste, here is the link to my Feb. 17 column about coastal shipping — moving goods within Japan by sea.

The print above shows a ship on one of the old Edo-era sea routes (kairo 海路) for trading goods up and down the coast of Japan. The print is “At Sea off Kazusa” “Kazusa no kairo” 上総ノ海路), from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount (Fuji Fugaku sanjūrokkei 富嶽三十六景) by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) 葛飾北斎. Kazusa was a province in the area of modern-day Chiba Prefecture. Yes, Mount Fuji is in the picture — look again closely!

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An Intoxicating Lesson in Japanese Colors


Call me slow, but I only just figured out that the product names of my favorite Japanese craft beer are unusual Japanese color words. Coedo Brewery, probably the biggest little brewery in Japan, produces five beers. I’ll share what I learned but not my beers.

The blue label: 瑠璃 (“Ruri”) means “lapis lazuli,” like the gem stone. That sounds beautiful in English, too.


The brown label: 伽羅 (“Kyara”) is a type of Japanese incense, light brown in color and made from aloe wood (whatever that is).


The red label: 紅赤 (“Beniaka”) is a brilliant, deep red color — and a type of sweet potato, which is actually used in making this beer!


The black label: 漆黒 (“Shikkoku”)is a deep black, like “raven” or “ebony.” It sounds very poetic.


The white label: 白 (“Shiro”). I’m not sure how this one made it into the line-up; it’s just the regular word for “white.” But hey, it’s a change from “weiss,” right?


Coedo (pronounced “koh-eh-doe”) is sold in better supermarkets and liquor stores, but it’s rare to find the full line up. If you live in Japan, and want to try and compare, I’d recommend a One-Click on Amazon Japan, which sells 6-bottle gift-pack of colorful Coedo beer for with free shipping! (The first screen you’ll get asks you to enter your birth date to confirm you’re of legal age.) Who knew you could order beer through Amazon? For those of you outside of Japan, Coedo is exported to a number of countries, including the U.S., South Korea, Hong Kong and France. The beers are very smooth and well-balanced, and have won major awards in international competitions.

Which is your favorite?

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How to Reduce Food Waste (in Japan)


In my Jan. 21 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about the expiry dates on food labels in Japan and explained how to use them so you don’t throw away perfectly good food. The gist is that the highly perishable foods that warrant a strict 消費期限 shōhi kigen (use-by date) shouldn’t be eaten after the date on the package, but foods labeled with a 賞味期限 shōmi kigen date — and that includes milk, eggs and tofu — come with a little wiggle room. They can be safely eaten for a while after the date; rely on your senses to tell you how long is ok.

Even little steps can help reduce 食品ロス shokuhin rosu (food waste), a huge problem throughout the developed world but particularly acute in Japan, which is dependent on imports for 60 percent of its food supply and lacks capacity for trash disposal. According to the latest statistics from the agriculture ministry, every year, some 500 to 800 tons of edible food are thrown out by Japanese households. Think of all the hungry people that could feed!


Here are 6 Japan-specific tips for reducing food waste:

1) Learn what the expiry dates on Japanese foods mean. If that tofu in the frig is still fine, eating it instead of pitching it will save you money, reduce waste and keep one more thing out of Japan’s limited landfill.

2) When shopping, don’t automatically reach to the back of the rack for product with a later expiration date. If you can use what’s in front before it expires, do everyone a favor and buy it. You might save the supermarket from throwing product out.


3) Don’t buy more than you need. Check what you’ve got at home before going shopping, and take advantage of 少量パック shōryō pakku (small-portion packs) and ばら売りbarauri (things sold separately rather than in sets).

4) Learn how to use the stem, tops and peels of fruits and vegetables. If you or a loved one read Japanese, there are lots of recipes available under headings like 捨てずに、まるごと、おいしく食べる sutezuni, marugoto, oishiku taberu (“eat the whole thing, deliciously, without throwing anything away!” and エコうま eko uma (“Eco and delicious”). Here’s a nice recipe in English, for using up daikon or kabu leaves.

5) Be careful when ordering at restaurants. In order not to leave food on your tray, tell ‘em how much you can eat. It’s perfectly fine to say, ご飯は少なめでお願いします gohan wa sukuname de onegai shimasu (“A relatively small portion of rice, please.”) Restaurants don’t like wasting food any more than you do.

6) If you mistakenly order more than you can eat, tell the staff you want to do 持ち帰り mochikaeri (“take it home”). Some restaurants won’t allow this because they’re worried you won’t handle the leftovers safely and then complain when you get sick. I’ve sometimes gotten my way by using terms like 自己責任 jiko sekinin (“on my own responsibility”) and もったいない mottainai (“It’s a shame to waste!”). Thanks to efforts by groups like the Doggy Bag Committee, food service outlets in Japan are becoming more open to the idea of customers taking home leftovers.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section below. My readers will thank you for it!

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How to sink your teeth into geniune Kobe beef

Documentation and certificates supporting authentic "Kobe beef"

Documentation and certificates for authentic “Kobe beef”

In my Dec. 17 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about Kobe beef 神戸ビーフ, focusing on the myths associated with this top-of-the-market Japanese meat. With this blog post, I’d like to help readers who wish to try it for themselves. But first a big caveat emptor: Kobe beef is scarce – really scarce. If you want to be sure you’re getting the real thing, you’ll need to put forth a little effort.

First, take a look at the chart below. I found it helpful in understanding the standards meat must meet to be Kobe beef, as well as how Kobe beef measures up against other brands of premium Japanese beef. Real Kobe beef must come from a purebred Tajima steer (born, raised and butchered in Hyogo Prefecture) and meet the highest standards for meat quality and marbling.


Fortunately, distribution of Kobe beef is now strictly controlled. Carcasses that make the grade are issued a ten-digit identification number 個体識別番号 (kotai shikibetsu bangō) that can be checked online. Retailers and restaurants are certified, and should be happy to show you the identification number for the meat you’re offered.

If you can read Japanese, the best source for certified sellers. whether butchers or restaurants, is this list kept by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association. Even in Tokyo, only a handful of restaurants are certified as serving authentic Kobe beef. They include Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511 in Akasaka; the Yamanami teppanyaki restaurant in the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku; Asakusa Imaihan in Asakusa, and the Heijouen yakiniku restaurant chain.

While I can’t translate the full list, here’s a taste from other cities in Japan: Aburiya Kan-emon in Numazu City in Shizuoka Prefecture, Tsuruhashi Yakiniku Gyuto in Osaka, and Wataru in Kobe.

There are only a few certified sellers outside of Japan, with the highest number in Hong Kong. In the U.S., where products that falsely claim to be Kobe beef or “Kobe-style beef” abound, there’s only one restauranteur certified as serving genuine Kobe beef: the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. Strangly, I couldn’t find Kobe beef on any of their menus posted online. Maybe it’s only the high rollers who get genuine Kobe beef.

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Look, then look again: fender mirrors

New Toyota JPN Taxi Concept taxi

Toyota’s upcoming JPN Taxi Concept taxi

In my November 19 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about the rather special rear-view mirrors you see on the front of Japanese taxi cabs. I promised to post some photos of vehicles equipped with fender mirrors, including a sneak peek at Toyota’s soon-to-be-released taxi cab, the JPN Taxi Concept.

The JPN looks suspiciously like an SUV to me, but the company says it borrowed design elements from London’ iconic black cabs.


The interior certainly looks roomy. Nice big windows.


What? No fold-down jump seats?


Now, here’s a real classic car with fender mirrors. Anyone want to identify it for me?


And a Toyota Crown Super DX, I think from 1993, formerly a taxi:

Toyota Crown Super DX

In the “here’s something you don’t see everyday” department, a Mazda Eunos Roadster with fender mirrors from an Alfa Romeo. According to the owner’s account, the modification was for looks, not function.

A Mazda Roadster with Alfa mirrors added

A Mazda Roadster with Alfa mirrors added

And last but not least — this driver isn’t leaving anything to chance. See what I mean? If not, look then look again.

car with side mirrors and fender mirrors

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Understanding the new “above sea level” signs


In my column in The Japan Times on Oct. 22, I wrote about the spate of new 海抜 kaibatsu (elevation over sea level) signage going up all over Japan. Each sign provides the elevation at the spot where the sign is erected.

Because there is no national standard, and many of the signs are only in Japanese, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the variations. Let’s start with the sign above, in Gotsu, Shimane Prefecture. The text says ここの地面は海抜17.5 m koko no jimen wa kaibatsu 17.5 m (the ground here is 17.5 meters above sea level). Helpfully, there’s a little English and Chinese and Korean, too.

Here's what the signs tend to look like along streets and roads:


In this case, the text is ここの地盤は海抜2m koko no jiban wa kaibatsu 2m (the ground here is 2 meters above sea level).

In Tokyo, most of the signage includes at least the English words “above sea level.” Tokyo Metro’s signs have Chinese and Korean too, and are part of the subway operator’s efforts to reduce the risk of flood damage.


The example below, which is in Aioi City, Hyogo Prefecture, gives not only the elevation but also indicates the closest safe place to evacuate to in case of a tsunami. (In this case, an elementary school 490 meters ahead at 7 meters above sea level.)


To get an idea how high you’d need to go in your area for various rises in sea level, whether from a tsunami, flooding or global warming, take a look at this interactive flood map. If you live in Japan, your local government should be able to provide guidance about flood evacuation points.

Minato-ku in Tokyo, for example, recently released a free app for smartphones that can guide you to safety. It’s called 港区防災アプリ “Minato-ku bōsai apuri” (Minato-ku disaster app). Once you’ve downloaded it all you have to do is point your phone at something in your location and it will tell you the nearest evacuation point. Here are the download links for iPhones and for Androids. Versions in English and Chinese should be available in November so check back then. I’ll try to remember to update this post with links.

To learn more about rising sea level, check out Brad Plumer’s Wonkblog post, “Why Tokyo has more to fear from sea level rise than Vancouver.”

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