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Friday, December 30, 2016

Kohaku Uta Gassen 2016

Kohaku Uta GassenThis year's Kohaku Uta Gassen is the 67th installment of this long-running New Year's Eve institution, which is watched by millions of people around Japan.

Kohaku is a male-vs-female singing face-off between famous entertainers in Japan run by Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.

"Ko" is the kanji for "red" and stands for the women; "haku" is for white and represents the men.

The main theme of this year's program is "Let's sing a dream." However, not far below the happy and well-run surface, is a much larger issue. SMAP - the nation's leading boy band - is breaking up after a quarter century and will not be appearing. Short of divine intervention, the "boys" (most of the members are now in their early 40s), an institution, are finished. Rumors are rife.

Another large theme is that this may be the final program in the Heisei Era as the current Emperor may abdicate in the coming year.

The White (men's) team is led by Masaki Aiba from the boy band Arashi - the heirs to SMAP. Actress Kasumi Arimura leads the Red (women's) team.

Hiraku Utada and Puffy will make their debut appearances. Hiroshi Itsuki is making his 46th appearance.

Kohaku will air on December 31 2015 from 7:15 pm to 11:45 pm on both NHK TV and radio. The venue is NHK Hall in Tokyo's Shibuya district.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

G Physique Gay Bar -- for a Quickie (or More) in Osaka

G Physique is an easy place to stop for a quickie as you bar hop your way around Osaka's main gay area, Doyama, but you may even find reason to linger here longer than planned.

Door of  G Physique gay bar, Doyamacho, Osaka.
G Physique - the entrance

The crowd is primarily in their 20s to 30s, and a bit into the 40s too, but with only about one-third of them being Japanese (with about a third each Asian tourists and non-Asian tourists), you’ll find the place very accommodating to foreigners.

G Physique gay bar - the bar - Doyama, Osaka, Japan.
Bar at G Physique gay bar in Doyama, Osaka, Japan
English is spoken well by your "master," otherwise known as the owner of the bar. He'll be happy to chat you up if you like, but this is also the kind of place where you can just relax with your drink and take in the surroundings. Speaking of drinks, they’re quite affordable for a bar like this! 700 yen for standard drinks, and no cover charge either. Compared to many other bars, the lack of a cover charge here makes it even more fiscally palatable, since you can experience the place, have a drink, and be out the door all for 700 yen.

Bar lights at gay bar G Physique, Osaka, Japan.
Spot lit bar at G Physique gay bar, Doyama, Osaka, Japan
G Physique is split into two zones, a small bar area up front, and a back room with a smattering of cocktail tables. If you’ve come with someone you want to chat with, or if you prefer to blend into the wallpaper, the back room is going to be best for you. For more joviality and pole position, sidling up to the bar is recommended. Wherever you choose to sit, you’ll get to experience the moderately titillating light show, and some classic gay bar music with requisite follow-along TV screens.

Sexy lighting at G Physique gay  bar, Doyamacho, Osaka, Japan.
G Physique, Osaka, a great atmosphere to get to know people

Opening hours are from 7pm to midnight, later on weekends, closed on Tuesdays. Although it is unabashedly a gay bar, men and women of all orientations are welcome.

Welcome to G Physique gay bar, Doyama, Osaka, Japan.
Welcome to G Physique
G Physique is located at 8-23 Doyama-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka, right at street level.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Japan This News Week 25 December 2016


Japan News.
Napping in Public? In Japan, That’s a Sign of Diligence
New York Times

Japan in record military spending amid Chinese tensions

Swipe right? 'Toilet paper' for smartphones trialled in Japanese

Okinawa gets largest chunk of land back from U.S. military since ’72
Japan Times

Okinawa: NGO Appeal to the United Nations and to US Military and Government over Base Matters, December 2015 and December 2016
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Japanese young people flock every Christmas season to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). It is a seasonal "tradition."

Between December 23 - 25, 2015, KFC had revenues of roughly 46 million US dollars.

That was a 104.4% increase on the previous year.

Source: Japan KFC Holdings

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Two Americans Pokemon Go and Japan


Can you stand reading one more article about Pokemon Go? Please humor me and say yes. I promise, this will be short.

I have an iPhone, but my daughter does not, so she uses my phone to play Pokemon Go. I get the benefits of sharing in the fun and, once in a while, catching a Pokemon all by myself. So we were looking forward to playing in Japan, and for a reason special to Amanda: catching her favorite Pokemon since forever - Farfetch'd, who currently resides only in Asia.

Farfetch'd, Pokemon Go.

If you have not played in Japan, here is something I want you to know: wild Pidgies apparently circumnavigate the globe. They are everywhere, more than even Rattatas. So, except for Farfetch’d, you are definitely not missing out. All the other Pokemon populate the highways and byways, cities, towns, fields, mountains, and bodies of water in Japan. (And maybe you can hatch an egg with a Farfetch’d inside at home, as that is a possibility). But it is kind of fun to get Pokemon labeled as caught in Joetsu, or Nagano, or Niigata, and so forth.

Farfetch'd caught!

For days we looked for Farfetch'd, and at one time we observed his mysterious silhouette in a Pokemon sighting while we waited at the train station in Naoetsu. Amanda walked back and forth along the dark platform, but, alas, to no avail. Finally, having but one day left in Japan and resigned to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen, we looked at the screen and there it was: Farfetch'd and his traveling leek stalk. Amanda pulled out all the stops: berry, then Ultra Ball… "Gotcha!"

And guess what else? Amanda got to be Gym Leader at Kasugayama Castle - for at least five minutes!

Gym Leader at Kasugayama Castle.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Luminous Forest & River


The season of illuminations is in full swing in Japan, but if you, like me, find most of them interesting but a little twee then I suggest you check out what Tokushima city over on Shikoku has on offer.

Luminous Forest & River, Tokushima.

The Tokushima LED Art Festival 2016 features dozens of artworks made using LEDs at numerous sites all over the downtown area. A few do look like the more traditional illuminations, but the vast majority don't, and many of them include sound and some form of interaction as well.

The biggest pieces are produced by the international art collective teamLab and go under the name of Luminous Forest & River, and the biggest piece is located on the river itself about halfway between the main railway station and the Mount Bizan Ropeway Station.

Luminous Forest & River, Shikoku.

Consisting of more than 100 giant spheres floating on the water and speakers lined up along either bank, to a gentle soundtrack the colors of the spheres are constantly changing. Further along the banks are many more installations including a small one in a nearby arcade that has smaller white spheres suspended from the roof that when touched light up and emit a sound, very popular with kids.

Luminous Forest & River, Tokushima, Shikoku.

The grounds of Tokushima Castle also has a major installation. It would take a full evening or two to be able to visit all the art and there are numerous concerts taking place as well.

Some information in English can be found here http://tokushima2016.team-lab.net/en/
and much more in Japanese here:

The festival runs until the 25th December so if you are nearby it is well worth a visit.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Earthquake-Hit Joban Line Section Reopens


The Joban Line is a Japan Rail East railway that runs about 350 km from Tokyo through four prefectures: Chiba, Ibaraki, Fukushima and Miyagi up the east coast of Honshu to Sendai. Train services on the Joban Line were disrupted at several points by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Station closures caused by the earthquake and tsunami damage meant that some sections were served by connecting buses instead of trains.

Shinchi, Sakamoto, and Yamashita Stations reopen on the Joban Line.
Map of the Joban Line stations that reopened after relocation this month.
Now, five years and nine months after the disaster, train services have been restored to the 14.6 km section of the Joban Line that crosses from Fukushima prefecture into Miyagi prefecture just north of it: between Shinchi Station in Fukushima and Hamayoshida Station in Miyagi prefecture. Between the above two stations are Sakamoto and Yamashita stations. Since 2011, buses had been running between Shinchi and Hamayoshida stations as a transport alternative.

The work of reopening involved changing the route of the line and relocating the stations. Shinchi Station is now 20 meters south of its original location; Sakamoto Station and Yamashita Station, the next stations north, are about 1 km further inland from their original locations; Hamayoshida Station, next north, remains in its original location, which is where the replacement section of the Joban Line joins the original.

The diagram at top shows the old and new line and stations. (The diagram is an adapatation of that posted on the Kajima Construction website, Kajima having been responsible for the reconstruction of the section around Sakamoto Station.)

The new section of line opened on December 10. Over one-third of the new track is now elevated.

This reopening of a section of the Joban Line is a testament to Japan's dedication to good infrastructure, and its readiness to invest in rural areas.

Read more about the Joban Line.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Japan News This Week 18 December 2016


Japan News.
What the West Can Learn From Japan About the Cultural Value of Work
New York Times

Japan parliament legalises casinos

US grounds Osprey fleet in Japan after aircraft crashes off Okinawa

Putin set to arrive for summit with Abe, but island dispute progress seen as unlikely
Japan Times

The Asahi Shimbun’s Foiled Foray into Watchdog Journalism
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"The number of crimes reported in Japan in 2015 hit a postwar low, the National Police Agency said Thursday, attributing the trend to an increase in security cameras as well as raised public awareness of crime prevention.

Overall penal code violations decreased 9.3 percent from the previous year to 1,099,048, falling below the previous record of 1,190,549 set in 1973, the agency said in a preliminary report. All crime categories marked declines from 2014.

The number of thefts, which account for more than 70 percent of crimes in Japan, dropped to 807,605 from 897,259, while murders fell to 933 from 1,054.

Fraud cases dropped to 39,439 from 41,523, but cases of furikome sagi (bank transfer scams) or phone scams rose 1,474 to 12,729."

The only area that witnessed a spike was crimes committed by senior citizens.

Source: Japan Times, January 14

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Traveling to Japan

Well… I have visited Japan fourteen times now. Not meant as bragging, but as an indicator of how much I like the country. My Japanese blogger acquaintance who lives in Fukuoka says I should receive a medal from the Japanese Bureau of Tourism. (But wait - my daughter has been to Japan fifteen times!)

Oda Nobunaga.

Friends continue to ask me why I travel to Japan every chance I am given. Perhaps these friends are innocently making conversation, but, in any case, I wonder why. I just like Japan for its own sake. Do I have to have a relative over there or some kind of scheduled business conference? Isn’t it good enough for them that I love the country? Hey, I’m even learning Japanese on Memrise. ("Amanda, isn’t that the kanji for 'cow?'" "That person said 'Watashi wa!'") So if you love Japan too, come on over your own reason.


I am not an expert on any subject, but I have had the experience of 14 round trip flights and this is what I think about the airlines. If you can, try to book a flight on a non-American airline. Singapore and Korean Air are fine. I think ANA is the best, hands down. The service is outstanding and they nearly always run on time. If the schedule is altered by five minutes, they will notify you. I have flown both economy and, for the past three visits, Business Class (I'm getting old and can’t manage 11 hours upright anymore) and the quality of the service holds for both.

Nara deer.

We leave from LAX at the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Say what you will about the domestic terminals, but the international terminal is beautiful. We like to leave at about noon from Los Angeles and then we arrive in Tokyo (usually Narita) the next day around 4:30 p.m. (And just to let you know, the airfare is much lower in the fall- Spring 2016 Business Class was approximately $7500 for two people, compared to $5100 in Fall 2016).


Until our recent trip, we would catch a connecting flight from Narita to, perhaps, Osaka, Sendai, or Fukuoka. This involves waiting for a few hours at Narita. Now, all of a sudden I am just too old for this. The waiting area is very hot and crowded, and people are often using more than one seat. It is pretty uncomfortable. Then, finally when boarding is announced, you have to ride the bus out onto the tarmac to the proper plane. Next comes the hour or so flight, arriving at your destination and all the details, finally a train trip to your hotel while you tote your luggage (Do travel light).

Glico Man.

A lot of people would have no problem with this, but for me it simply has become too exhausting. Think Homer Simpson as "the impressionable zombie dad" and you will get the picture. Therefore we now stay at a hotel near Narita for our first night. If we need to travel a distance the following day, we take the shinkansen (we budget for it). This year we noticed on our tickets a reduced fare on reserved seats due to the time of the year (November?).

Homer Simpson as the impressionable zombie dad.

My daughter and I visit Japan in the spring and the fall. During these times we could not decide which was our favorite season of the year. "Our favorite time of year in Japan is when we are there," we would quip. After a long period of reflection, I am ready to pick the glorious autumn.

Kochi Statues.

Koi carp.

Matsumoto Castle.

Miyajima, Hiroshima.


Japanese food.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hotel Sekumiya Obama

Hotel Sekumiya in Obama is a three-star hotel close to JR Obama Station and the local beach on the Sea of Japan coast.

Hotel Sekumiya Obama Fukui Japan.

The 70-room hotel has a choice of Western-style rooms with beds or traditional, Japanese-style lodging with tatami mats and futons.

All rooms include a flat screen TV and free WiFi. Japanese-style breakfasts and dinner are served in the hotel restaurant and feature crab in season, a specialty of this area of Japan.
Nearby attractions include Myotsu-ji Temple and Uriwarinotaki Falls.

Check out the cardboard cutout of President Obama in the lobby. Obama city made great play out of their shared name with the soon to be ex-President Barack Obama.

Hotel Sekumiya Obama Fukui Japan.

Hotel Sekumiya
Obamashirahige 113
Fukui 917-0069
Tel: 0770 52 0020

Hotel Sekumiya Obama Fukui Japan.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Japan News This Week 11 December 2016


Japan News.
Japan Is Obsessed With Climate Change. Young People Don’t Get It
New York Times

Hayao Miyazaki: Japan's godfather of animation?

Japan PM to visit Pearl Harbor with Barack Obama

Diet ratifies TPP but trade deal remains dead in the water without U.S.
Japan Times

Japan, Pearl Harbor, and the Poetry of December 8th
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The results of the triennial PISA tests were just published. Every three years, 15-year-old students around the world are tested in math, science, and reading.

Of the 72 countries that participated, Japanese students finished 2nd in math, 5th in math, and 8th in reading.

Singapore finished first in all three categories.

Results can be found here:

Source: Asahi Shinbun, December 7, page 1

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Plaza Hotel Maizuru

The Plaza Hotel in the port city of Maizuru on the Japan Sea coast is a 2-minute walk from Higashi Maizuru Station on the Maizuru and Obama lines.

Plaza Hotel Maizuru Kyoto.

The Plaza Hotel is a pleasant, value-for-money place to stay in Maizuru. Rooms are on the small side but are very reasonably priced.

The hotel is handy if you are thinking to visit the nearby beauty spot of Aminohashidate, which is 25km distant or are taking a Shin Nihonkai Ferry from Maizuru to Otaru in Hokkaido. A ferry leaves Maizuru at 12.30am in the morning and arrives in Otaru at 8.45pm.

Plaza Hotel Maizuru Kyoto.

The Plaza Hotel is also near to Tanabe Castle Park.

Plaza Hotel
39-1, Hikitsuchi Orihara
Kyoto 624-0841

Higashi Maizuru Station, Maizuru.

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Friday, December 09, 2016

Hotel Uneri Dogo Island


The Hotel Uneri on Dogo Island in the Oki Islands is the ideal place to stay if you are visiting Candle Rock on a sightseeing boat.

Hotel Uneri, Dogo Island, Oki Islands.

The port from where the sightseeing boats for Candle Rock leave is just 1km from the hotel, located on the waterfront of the picturesque Fukuura Bay.

The Hotel Uneri has good, fresh, local seafood and offers both Western and Japanese-style rooms including six, eight and huge twenty tatami mat rooms.

The hotel also has several log houses nearby for rent for a more back to nature experience and a tennis court.

The large communal Japanese-style bath looks out over Fukuura Bay.

Behind the hotel is a beautiful waterfall.

Hotel Uneri, Dogo Island, Oki Islands, Shimane.

Hotel Uneri
Minamikata 1933
Oki-gun Okinoshimachi
Shimane Prefecture 1685-0303
Tel: 08512 5 3211

Candle Rock, Dogo, Oki Islands, Shimane.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Visiting the Sanada Clan

My daughter and I have been enthusiastic and faithful viewers of this year’s NHK Taiga drama, “Sanada Maru.” We looked forward to visiting the Numata Castle ruins in Gunma Prefecture and, most of all, Ueda Castle in Nagano.

Numata Castle Ruins, Japan.

At the Numata Castle ruins we had to imagine how the castle was fiercely contested and fought over. We remembered seeing Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Sanada Masayuki, Hojo Ujimasa, and Tokugawa Ieyasu on the television drama. Otherwise there is not much to see, except for some reason there is a row of cages housing different birds. I felt sorry for all of them. The birds clearly wanted to escape their harsh cement prison cells. There was nothing we could do except to spend a few minutes talking to the lonely cockatiel.

Nobuyuki Komatsu, Numata.

The city of Numata did have a special presentation of “Sanada Maru,” and in most areas of the building visitors were permitted to take pictures.

Hence, I had my photo taken with a cardboard replica of Sanada Masayuki, my favorite.

Sanada Masayuki.

At Ueda Castle the celebration of all things Sanada was elaborate. There was a user-interactive “Sanada Maru” presentation sponsored by the NHK housed in a building adorned with the Sanada crest. This must have been the official site of the drama - because after we exited the display hall we stepped directly into a shop full of Sanada-related merchandise, ha.

Sanada Yukimura re-enactor.

We had our picture taken with a Sanada Yukimura re-enactor, just as we had done about five years ago on a previous visit. Then, we were just about the only visitors that day. It was a huge contrast compared to the crowds of people milling around the castle grounds next to us.

Ema, Ueda Castle

We walked through section of Ueda Castle and I thought about the Sanada defeating the Tokugawa twice with the much smaller Sanada army. It made me laugh to think that Ieyasu must have been so angry and humiliated. We also enjoyed eating festival food - dango, yakitori, and soft ice cream. Amanda purchased an ema and hung it with the others after carefully rendering a drawing of Genjiro and herself on the smooth wood surface.

Ice cream break, Ueda Castle.

Spending a few hours at Ueda Castle was a lot of fun for us and totally worth it. If you are interesting visiting, the exhibits will be up until March 31, 2017.

Sanada Yukimura.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Chiyoda Hotel Fushimi Nagoya

The Chiyoda Hotel in the Fushimi business district of Nagoya is an excellent value for money accommodation option, located roughly half-way between Fushimi Station and Nagoya Station.

Chiyoda Hotel Fushimi Nagoya Aichi.

The Chiyoda Hotel is decidedly no-frills but does offer a free breakfast, good Wifi and a choice of pillows and toiletries on check in.

You might have to duck to get into the shower in the unit bath but you are guaranteed a good night's sleep in a quiet area of town some way from the main road.

Walk east towards Fushimi Station for a good selection of bars, cafes and restaurants including a number of home away from home expat friendly joints: Elephant's Nest British-style pub, Shamrock Irish pub, the stately Egeresuya honten (英吉利西屋) Japanese/British pub next door and American bar Shooters.

Chiyoda Hotel Fushimi Nagoya Aichi Japan.

The staff at the Chiyoda are cordial and efficient and can point you in the right direction for travel or tourism.

With room rates around 60US$ for a single or double that for a twin, the Chiyoda is one of the best value accommodations close to Nagoya Station without the slightly sleazy atmosphere prevalent just south of Meieki.

Chiyoda Hotel Fushimi Nagoya Aichi Japan.

Fushimi Station on both the Tsurumai and Higashiyama lines of the Nagoya subway is the nearest station. Fushimi Station is one stop from Nagoya Station on the Higashiyama Line.

Walk west towards Nishiki Bridge when you exit Fushimi Station.

The Chiyoda Hotel is only a 10-15 minute walk from Nagoya Station walking east.

Chiyoda Hotel Fushimi Nagoya Aichi Japan.

Chiyoda Hotel
Nishiki 1-16-10, Naka-ku
Aichi, 460-0003

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Japan News This Week 4 December 2016


Japan News.
Aquarium on Ice, a Lure for Skaters in Japan, Appalls Them Instead
New York Times

Japan's caviar set to give Russia a run for its money

Brief encounters: Japan's love hotels – in pictures

Lower House panel clears casino bill; opposition walks out in protest
Japan Times

American Fire Bombing and Atomic Bombing of Japan in History and Memory
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The number of non-full-time employees in Japan has risen from 20% of the workforce in 1990 to almost 40% today. That means that 4 out 10 workers are part-time, dispatch, and temporary employees.

Moreover, in terms of pay, Japanese non-full-time employees earn considerably less than their peers in other countries.

The average salary and remuneration for Japanese non-full-time workers is 59% of full-time workers. That is, they earn 59 yen for doing the same work as a full-timer who earns 100.

Below are examples from other countries:

Germany: 79.3%
France: 89.1%
Sweden: 83.1%

Source: Asahi Shinbun, November 25, page 13

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Frenz FrenZY Rainbow Haven Gay Bar in Osaka for Friends and Fun

フレンズ ゲイバー 大阪

If you want your drinks cheap and strong, want a bar space more crowded than a Japanese rush hour train, but with a booming sound system and light show, then Frenz (full name: ”FrenZ FrenZY Rainbow Haven”) is your place. If you are looking for a space to quietly get acquainted with some new folks, well, Frenz is not going to be your place.

Frenz (Frenz FrenZY Rainbow Haven) a gay bar in Osaka, Japan.
Rainbow door to Frenz gay bar, Osaka
You’re still reading, so we’re on the same page. Beers for 500 yen, and mixed drinks with an ingratiating number of shots – three? four? more? – are at the ready, and there’s no cover charge either. This could be a recipe for disaster, or it could be a recipe for lots of new friendships. It is a gay bar, after all, so it could also easily be a recipe for something a bit more than nascent friendship. Not that you have to be gay or lesbian to get in; Frenz has an open door policy when it comes to who they welcome.
Frenz gay bar, Osaka - the red-lit bar.
A red light district - the bar at Frenz, Osaka, Japan.

The crowd at friends is almost certainly the highest concentration of foreigners you will even see in a single Osaka locale. What local Japanese you may see almost certainly speak English, so if you are a bit shy with your Japanese, this is a great place to stop by. The owner is also a foreigner, and quite notorious amongst gay circles in Osaka. He is there most nights, and will welcome you with a hearty smile. They don’t call it “Frenz” for nothing.

The disco ball spins all night long at Frenz gay bar in Osaka.
Disco ball at Frenz

Friendly foreigners and stiff drinks not enough? In addition to bar seating, there are comfy couches to lounge about on, and a veritable light show that extends from the front door all the way to the restroom. Slower nights allow for karaoke, but if you go on a weekend, expect Frenz to be convivial to the max.

Put it all together, and you have a great place for a cheap drink in a boisterous atmosphere. It’s probably going to be the least Japanese feeling of any gay bar you will go to in Osaka, but that won’t take away the fun. So grab one of those 500 yen beers and drink it all in!

Frenz gay bar, Osaka, Japan - at the bar.
Blue Boy - the owner of Frenz at the bar.

Kamiyama-cho 18-14, Kita-ku, Osaka  (first floor)


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