B-Side Labels • ビーサイドラベル

Awsome stuff. Possibly based on the image of Akashiya Sanma (as speculated by my wife's sister, who is a bit of a J-entertainment buff), the above car label states 'Kansai-jin in Car'.

B-Side Labels also make a lot of other really good funny stickers. Among the best are their caution / information type labels, which carry that special Kansai touch (made right here in Kansai BTW). If you're Kansai and proud of it, you should get yourself one.

Now look, I'll be blunt, I was very naughty taking these pictures and I'm sure I'll get in big trouble if someone finds out. So don't tell anyone that I took them at Tokyu Hands (Shinsaibashi), or that the labels in the pictures above were ¥840.

Based right here in Kansai!

Kunino Cho Beer, Takatsuki • 國の長ビール、高槻

Would you believe my dad found this one before me. Determined to try every beer available in Japan he'd run himself dry one day, and somehow 'came across' a Morimoto bottle shop near Hankyu Takatsuki Station in his unstoppable beer hunting endeavors. He'd never seen Kunino Cho before (it wasn't Asahi, or Kirin, or Suntory, or Sapporo either).

Kansai has a few kick ass microbreweries, Kunino Cho being one of them. It's in Takatsuki city as well (close to Hankyu Tonda • 富田). I feel a close attachment now, as I'm a Takatsuki-shi resident myself! They're originally a sake brewery, but they also do their beers really well.

As to the taste, I was surprised at the clear refinement of the Kolsch Type Draft (white label). It was a very refreshingly clean. The All Type Draft (red label) was a delightful amber color and more full in flavor. I don't pretend to be a beer critic, but I know that I enjoyed Kunino Cho Beer, and I will be headed back for some more.

Although it can be quite expensive, it's worth supporting your local Kansai breweries just so they don't get swallowed up by the 4 giants in Japan. Honestly, what's 'expensive' is highly debatable when it comes to good beer. Recently I've been thinking that pouring money into the big breweries for the same old beer is getting EXPENSIVE. I'd rather pay more and enjoy it these days.

If you're a beer lover, I recommend you keep your eye on the Japan Craft Beer Association's web page, and also bento.com (which has great beer reviews). Kuninocho shows up at most beer events around Kansai.

Fandango, Juuso • ファンダンゴ、十三

I never knew what Grind Core was until I went to Fandango.

But now I know. I was asked by a mate if I wanted to go and I thought 'well, what the hell'. We'd just got settled in with our beers and were having some pre-band chat before the first band called 'Real Reggae' came on.

We were all kind of shocked. I can only describe it as a non-stop thrashing of all instruments with the lead singer apparently saying the word "f**k" repeatedly into the microphone, until the end of what seemed an eternity. Song after song. With raised eyebrows and hand signals we called an unspoken cease in audio communication, and resumed it once we had exited the premises with our ears going 'piiiiii~'.

But I'd go again believe it or not. You'd just have to lock me in a room with SMAP songs playing constantly for a few hours and I'd be back there like a flash. I'm a big fan of rock, and Fandango does have bands like Electric Eel Shock (personal favourites) in regularly. Transworld Ultra Rock. Oh yeah.

Fandango's website (here) is also in English, so keep an eye on them for an excellent line up of live rock, punk, heavy metal, noise, hardcore, alternative, slash and indie original music.


If you head to Fandango on a Friday or a Saturday night, you might even be hassled by girls in nurse uniforms... if you're a guy (or even if you're a girl, perhaps). You know it's those unique Japanese experiences we crave for.

Sweatshop Union, South Osaka • スウェットショップユニオン、南大阪

When it comes to t-shirts and printing, don't fool around. If you want anything done seriously in Japan, go strait to Sweatshop Union, do not pass go.

As the name indicates the print man himself, Matthias, works hard to give you good quality results in decent time. Sweatshop Union is a little different from other print shops in Japan because they provide plastisol prints; designs that don't fade in the wash, don't peel and even remember their shape if they've been stretched. The shop also has a number of specialised inks, including glitter inks (the most popular being silver and gold), a glow in the dark ink, and even a whiteboard ink, allowing you to draw on your own t-shirt. You can order any colours you want in the CMYK range (even special colours), and print up to 6 individual colours in the same design, really expanding the possibilities.

Matthias' wife, Miyuki takes orders and deals with inquiries (both in English and in Japanese), and is not only friendly, but helpful and patient with customers. One of their sons, Mitsuwa, is also a regular at the shop after school hours, and that reallty gives the place a homey feel. You know when you walk in there that it's not just another typical company; it's family, and you can't go wrong with a family business.

Screenprinting can be an expensive process for a small run (like, 1 or 2 shirts), so you might want to consider your reasons for printing before you rush in and order. More information about the process and the whole screen printing deal can be found on their website (here).

Sweatshop Union also colaborates with the artist PKMFA on an original label It's Our Thing, producing it's very own attractive designs. I'm a proud owner of two items from It's Our Thing, and they're so good, my wife dosen't like it when I wear them around the house.

I was lucky enough to get some great working experience at Sweatshop Union, and I learnt a lot about the silk screening process while I was there. This is exactly why I can say, with confidence, that Matt produced the best quality screenprints in Kansai, if not Japan.

Best shirts, right here in Kansai.

Kashiku Cordon Bleu, Kyoto • かしくコルドンブルー、京都

Kashiku Cordon Bleu (website here), is an absolutely fantastic restaurant that you should think about visiting if you're near Keage station (subway) in Kyoto. It's on the way to Nanzenji Temple.

The restaurant serves Japanese food, served with a french approach to cooking. It's all dashingly creative. Most of the ingredients are from Kansai and the surrounds (seasonal as well), and the staff takes pride in the way the food is chosen, presented and served. All food comes in courses, and the wine list is good. At the end of November the family and I dined there, and some of the photos of the food are displayed below. They look goooooood, right?

My wife and I had our nijikai • 二次会 there last year, and the staff were friendly and helped us work out a reasonable deal for everyone, and not only that~! After the party had finished, they gave us two plates heaped with food, and left us both in silence to catch up on eating. And if you ever get married in Japan, you'll understand exactly WHY that was so important to us. If you don't understand, email me and I'll tell you.

Be prepared to have the food moments at Kashiku Cordon Bleu engraved into your hearts if you decide to dine there.

A Smile in the Sky • 空のスマイル

On the 1st of December, reported so far as Yahoo top news, the air was so clear in Kansai that a crescent moon and two keen stars (Venus and Jupiter, according to some stuff I've read) seemed to give the sky a bit of a smile.

I wasn't thinking that when I took this picture though (and I call myself creative).

Rakusui, Kyoto • 洛翠、京都

A place very dear to my own heart is Rakusui, a short walk from subway Keage station in Kyoto.

A long long time ago, Rakusui was the principal residence of the Fujita family, the 3,300 square meter garden designed in 1909 by the 7th Ogawa Jihee, and just recently in 2003 has been restored by the 11th Ogawa Jihee, who has inherited the landscape gardening technique Ueji. He says "Think easy, not difficult things. Designing gardens which heal your mind and make you yawn when you see them with an empty mind—that is my style." The garden is what brings most people to Rakusui. The pond in the middle of the garden was designed in the shape of lake Biwa, and even draws water from a channel through the mountains strait from the lake. The first time I stayed there with the family, one Aunty asked if it was OK to drink the tap water. The staff replied that not only was it OK, but they believe it to be the freshest tap water in Japan. After a drink myself, I can't help but agree.

The garden was designed to make the viewer feel relaxed from the very bottom of their hearts. The tall trees along the fenceline hide all surrounding buildings, and only the tips of the mountains behind are visible, giving one the feeling that you've really left Japan behind. There is a nice open lawn area on the lobby side, and seats for viewing, so even on a cold day you can sit outside and soak up some sunlight.

behind the pond is a building called a Gasendo • 画仙堂, which is a 'shrine of picture immortal' (according to the information I am currently reading). Apparently it came from China about 280 years ago. Religious ceremonies conducted there nowadays (mainly wedding ceremonies), are done by the priest from Ootoyo Jinja, a small shrine on the Philosophers Walk.

The cook at Rakusui is also very good. Preparing seasonal meals in a very traditional Kyoto style.

If you want to book for the Autumn season, you'll have to call from the 1st of May (office opens at 10pm), you'll need to book for 3 or more people, and good luck with the Japanese!

Nanzenji, The Philosopher's Walk, Kyoto • 南禅寺、哲学の道、京都

In autumn, Nanzenji and the area around is a good place to visit and a recommended seasonal getaway.

Though the crowds flock there, the size of the grounds keep things from getting claustrophobic, and it is beautiful. If you've got a day to play with, you can fit a good deal of things in your afternoon in this area of Kyoto: There's Nanzenji, Eikando, The Philosopher's Walk, and that will take you up to Ginkakuji, which should tire you out enough. I've written about Eikando in a previous blog entry (here), so I'll just make a few notes on the other 3 places.

Hundreds of years ago (1264, to be exact) Emperor Kameyama built a palace which he later changed into the temple, Nanzenji, in 1291. The grounds are spacious, providing plenty of room for the throngs so nobody gets hurt.

The main pavilion was originally used by the master priest and for a small entrance fee you can see the Hojo Hall, originally built and donated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Within the hall is the Hojo Garden, famous for it's simplicity, refinement and dignity. The place boasts National Treasures in the form of buildings, objects and artwork.

Though Nanzenji became a temple, part of the original palace gardens remains though, (along with some of Kameyama's ashes) and is now called Nanzenin. Typical of the gardens constructed at the end of the Kamakura era, it has a pond and lanes for strolling, ideals for appreciation and a calm mind. And smashing photos.

A nice breezy walk from Nanzenji is The Philosopher's Walk, so named after Kitaro Nishida, a prominent Japanese philosopher, who used it for his daily meditation. During autumn it can become a little crowded, but never enough to make you regret going. The walk follows a little river that winds it's way along the base of the mountains, and is dotted with a mixture of maple and cherry blossom trees, making for a good spot to visit in the spring as well.

Nanzenji, Eikando and The Philosopher's Walk are a good group of things to do for a bit of a lenghty stroll on an autumn afternoon, perfect for getting out and seeing Kansai a bit.