31 Days of Halloween: Choco Bat and Choco Cake

Japan has dozens - hundreds, prehaps - of relatively unique candies, sweets, and snacks on the shelves of convenience stores, supermarkets, and surprisingly common snack and sweet shops. This month, I'm going to share many of those with you as a sort of Trick or Treat event!

I am going to generally stick with sweets, though a few salty snacks are in there. Just like the bags of pretzels or peanuts some people give out. And in the spirit of Halloween candy, I'm using inexpensive packages - fun size in the States.
First is the Choco Bat. I've had this before, but it's been a long time. I first heard of Choco Bat because I saw the little logo guy on a handheld fan and bought it (I'm a baseball fan, remember?). It was a couple months later that I finally tried one.
I guess Choco Bat sounds better than Choco Stick or Choco Log. But that's what it looks like. It's very lightweight, too.
The taste is okay for kids, but now I remember why I haven't had one in a long time. The chocolate isn't really rich enough and the semi-soft cake inside tastes artificial.
The Choco Cake is moon pie-sized, but less than 50 yen per package. There are two small cakes inside.
These are softer than the Bats, but essentially the same product. The Cakes are a little better tasting if I had to choose, but I'm not running back to the store for more.

Well, one pair of treats down! What will I pull out of my bag tomorrow?

Fun Videos to Pass the Time

I'm cleaning out my "Saved Articles" folder, and finding a bunch of stuff that I should have tried months ago - KFC here had what looked like a delicious chicken and rice bowl but it's probably gone now, for example. And plenty of events came and went without my attending them.
I'm also finding a bunch of videos I saved to just toss into posts. So why not add in a couple now?
I might have posted the Taylor Swift one before. But it became an instant hit at the office when I showed it to some of the other staff and teachers.
And not goat-like at all, Action Movie Kid has had a second compilation video for a month now.
This girl could totally take me down. She scares me.
Pharrell Williams's Happy may have come and gone in the US, but I'm just now getting around to posting this Harajuku version from about, well, four months ago. And it's a good way to chill out after your virtual butt-kicking from a seven year old girl.

That's all for today! See you on October First!

Intermission: A Little Music for You

I love music, and original compositions are always great. But there's something about a quality cover or remix that appeals to me. And lately, sampling individual sounds from different songs or movies creates all new music from "found" sounds. Give It Up, above, is probably the best example of such a work I've ever heard.
I'm not really sure what Pogo is, but the idea is the same. Unfortunately, this uses such small clips of sound that the original context of the songs is completely lost most of the time. And a lot of the Pogo videos out there sound very similar. Like listening to every Keane song back to back.
Since I'm in Japan, I guess I should toss in some J-Pop. This is AKB48's latest single, Kokoro no Placard. It's not my favorite song, but I'm starved for good music these days.
Speaking of J-Pop, here's what a less-popular idol group looks like on stage. I couldn't find anything really good to close the post with. I was walking around Akihabara a couple weeks ago, as I too-frequently do because I love to get a kebab don from a restaurant in Electric Town, and there was a big idol competition or something going on. I ran into a bunch of girls in their costumes gathered on the street waiting to perform. Not as exciting as it seems, just worth mentioning.

Anyway, I'm working on something, so I'll be back next month! That would be in a couple days...

Mount Ontake Eruption 12 Hours Ago

I'm not sure what the news is like in America, but around here the discussion will most likely be about the eruption of Mount Ontake.
At 11:50 AM local time, the volcano erupted by spewing a massive cloud of ash into the air. Hundreds of hikers were on the mountain at the time, and dozens are injured, though I haven't heard details on how bad yet. Seven hikers are missing.
More up-to-date details are probably available online if you're reading this later than . It's approaching 11:30 PM here, so any relief/rescue efforts have most likely been halted for the night. Of course, the area is essentially off limits now due to continued risk.

Volcano eruptions aren't exactly rare in Japan; a new island has been quickly forming in the Pacific Ocean from a volcanic eruption over several months; that island actually swallowed a second island. And I wrote about my visit to an active volcano in Hokkaido which erupted most recently in 2000.

The event is major national news, of course, but Tokyo is over 200 km away and certainly not at risk. The nearest major cities are Nagoya and Matsumoto, neither of which are in any danger either. Hopefully everyone currently on the mountain can be safely removed by the end of the day tomorrow.

Okaki: Japanese Rice Crackers Aren't All Senbei

What do you serve guests who come over to your house?
If you live in Japan, you probably won't have many visitors. Family visits are common enough, but most Japanese houses are too small for gatherings. That explains the popularity of coffee shops, restaurants, karaoke places, izakayas (Japanese pubs), and the massive gatherings of high school kids at local family restaurants in the afternoons.

But if you do have casual visitors over, you'll probably offer them some tea and a simple snack. You can offer senbei, which is a flat rice cracker that's grilled and usually covered with soy sauce. Or you could offer a similar snack called okaki.

Okaki is fried and is more three-dimensional. It also seems to come more commonly in variety packages to mix up the flavors - there are different seasonings and styles.

The above bag was under 200 yen (less than $2) and has a lot of different flavors. They're all pretty good, and it's a nice snack to have with beer in the evening. Expect a somewhat salty savory snack; they're crunchy but usually not too hard. Perhaps if you visit my tiny apartment I'll share some with you too!

There are many other Japanese crackers that I haven't even tried yet... yet!

Japan has a very big potato chip market, which I think are much more popular as daily casual snacks at home, with lots of great limited flavors. But oddly enough corn chips have never really taken off here, though Doritos has really been pushing their "Gourmet" line lately with what seems to be a new flavor on shelves every week, lasting for about a week before the next taste arrives.

So, what do you serve guests at your house?

SCMAGLEV and Railway Park: Nagoya's New Train Museum

 2011 may seem like a long time ago, but as far as museums go, three years is still pretty young. Located inside a giant train-themed building, this new train haven goes from ancient to futuristic. Seriously. The building is shaped like a line of trains. Do you not see that?
 After paying admission, you enter a large, dark area showcasing three train engines. The first is an extremely powerful steam engine, the fastest of its time. On the wall behind the trains is a very short video about the history of the trains.
 Times have changed, and the Shinkansen bullet train in the middle is the fastest operating train model today. But to the right is a model of the future, a maglev train.
 Train doors are already pretty cool here in Japan, but the doors on this model are even cooler, opening up instead of to the left or right. You can take a look at the seating compartment inside.
 From the entry display, you are then free to explore the expansive grounds of the main museum exhibits. But before playing inside, now is the best time to go out the doors to the side to see the steam engine with exposed innards and an older express train you can explore.
 This train ran on the Chuo and Tokaido lines, and the route map/stop guide is still visible above the doors. You can peek into the conductor's compartments, but entry into that area isn't allowed... ever... seemingly on any train in Japan.
 But, explore the rest of the train and have a seat. I believe this is the only train you can actually sit in at this museum.
 What sets this museum apart from the train museum in Saitama is its collection of bullet trains. Omiya's museum has a lot of historical vehicles and a wide variety of cars and engines; the Nagoya park mostly focuses on express trains.
 You can walk in almost all of the cars, but sitting isn't allowed! Actually, that's a major problem I have with this museum. The train and subway museums in the Tokyo area all allow (and usually encourage) guests to relax on board, while this place forbids it.

 You aren't allowed to play with the large ticket machines (another shame) but you can operate the touchscreen and generate a free "ticket" for the model gates.
 Then you can use the ticket to pass through the gates, and keep it as a souvenir. The wall board displays actual up-to-date information on Shinkansen approaching Nagoya.
 Along the back wall is a row of historic cars.
 You can't walk into the older models; it's completely fenced off. But some of the back doors are open and you can peer inside.
 The collection includes a sleeper car (left) and a gauging car (right) which would help find areas where trees or other objects might be too close to the tracks and risk contact.
 There are some dining cars attached to one of the trains.
Again, entering the generally off-limits areas is forbidden (so much for seeing something new) but you can peek inside the kitchen from the door, and admire the metal etching on your way up to the elevated dining car.
 Because it would require more cleaning and maintenance, the entire dining area is off limits of course. But you can observe it from the entrance.
 There's a second car with a lower-class dining area and kitchen to view.
 Again, you can't enter the area, but you can see some model food and view the area from the entrance.
 From the entrance to the main area, the cars seem to go from newest on the left to oldest on the right. Some of the older cars are more exciting to see than the newer ones, mainly because the newer cars are still easily seen traveling around Japan.
 If only they made train cars like this today. I guess the wood isn't as easy to maintain.
 This car is a little more spacious, designed for heavier city crowds. The darker car would most likely have run on longer routes.
 Closeup shots are fun.
 There's a very old steam engine here that you can view including a coal car. Then, you've reached the end of history and you can explore the rooms and second floor.
 There's a really expansive model train layout with small Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya areas.
 Tokyo is in the picture on the left. You can see SkyTree! The trains can be operated for a fee.
Here's the floor with all the trains. Eight rows of trains with two or three cars per row.
 It's a nice collection! There are 39 train cars on display in all.
 There's an old bus around a corner in a dark room. Wait a minute, you're upstairs in the entry area again! This is a great chance to take a break, take some photos, and get a better view of the trains.
The second floor also has history exhibits like you see above, and simulations for trains and subways (for a fee). There are also displays on train parts and it's possible to look under many of the train cars down on the floor. Many of the rooms up here focus on science, engineering, and logistics, including building the new maglev line from Tokyo to Osaka.

An English audio guide is available for 500 yen, and it's supposed to be really good. There's a lounge area on the second floor, and a small area sells boxed lunches and sandwiches like you'd get on the trains.

The museum is open 10:00-17:30, closed on Tuesdays and over the New Years holidays. Adult admission is 1000 yen, with train simulator fees ranging from 100 to 500 yen.

Access is via Kinjofuto Station, the last station on the Aonami Line, 24 minutes from Nagoya Station (350 yen). Signage at Nagoya Station for the Aonami Line is pretty good, and the railway park is right next to the station.