Beach Cleaning in Matsue, Japan

Ocean trash
Ocean trash

Now that I’m living in Matsue, I often find myself not having much to do. Which means I’m usually sitting at my computer or sitting on my bicycle. One of my first destinations was the sea, which is about 10 km north from where I live.

The spot marked “須々海海岸” on Google Maps is overwhelmingly beautiful and saddening at the same time. While the pictures shared on Google Maps may show you that this is indeed a very beautiful spot, most of these pictures do not show that there is a lot of plastic trash on the beach.

So not having much to do, being somewhat young (28 back then) and being reasonably environmentally minded, I one day decided to see if I could maybe help clean this place up. Unfortunately, my Google queries for beach cleanup activities in Matsue didn’t yield any results, so I just decided to buy a pair of (gardening) gloves and a pack of large trash bags and get some cleaning done.

It turned out to be a great way to pass the time (in late spring, when it isn’t crazy hot and mostly not raining), so I kept coming back, and decided to continue until the tsuyu (rainy season) would kick in.

Ocean garbage collection application form
Ocean garbage collection application form

Just gathering the trash is of course not quite enough. You need to get it to the waste processing facilities. So I just went to the town hall and asked the person at the entrance what to do. I was told to go to the “volunteer” department at the 松江市環境センター (Matsue Environmental Office), where I had to fill out a form (pictured) with the following information: personal information, pick-up address (no house means no address, so this is a bit hard, but the guy at the counter really knew his way around town, and showing him the place on Google StreetView helped a bit too), the number of trash bags, cleanup date, next date in case rains gets in the way. After filling out the form, I got the number of Matsue-branded trash bags that I’d put on the form, at which point I had to explain that I’d actually already started cleaning, unfortunately using regular unlabeled trash bags. That was fine, but he told me to use the right bags next time. The form allows you to tick 自己搬入 (bringing in the trash yourself), but you’d probably have to explain yourself if you want to do that. I opted to have a truck pick up the trash I’d pile up at the side of the road, which usually takes place within one week after your cleanup date.

Some collected ocean trash
Some collected ocean trash

Not knowing much about the  recycling facilities here, I generally sorted the trash by type: plastic bottles (of which there are many, many), plastic bottle labels, plastic bottle caps, styrofoam, hard plastic (probably mostly originating from buoys), soft plastic (think polyester), random other plastic. I had no intention of taking care of tree branches/logs, and was in fact told not to pick those up, as they wouldn’t fit into the plastic bags anyway.

Random thoughts

  • Japanese beaches may have a lot of ugly フナムシ (sea roaches). They will definitely crawl all over your bags, so make sure to close them properly. :p
  • This place doesn’t have a lot of people come by, but the people I did meet were quite eager to talk. Mostly older guys who have come out to do some fishing.
  • Carrying the trash bags from the beach up to the road (which is probably a 20 m altitude difference) was pretty tough, but very, um, good exercise. Combined with the 10 km (very much non-flat) ride on the bicycle… it was pretty intense. :p
  • I’ll probably re-commence my cleaning activities when it gets a bit cooler, perhaps in September. Hoping the place won’t be infested by spiders.
  • One day, I found that someone had helped during my absence \o/

Cooking Western-Style in Japan

If you’re finding yourself longing for some western dish that is generally not available in Japanese restaurants, perhaps something your mom made when you were child, your only option may be to cook the dish yourself. Maybe this article will help you find the necessary ingredients? If you don’t find your answer here, feel free to leave a comment.


First of all, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, try a bigger supermarket. If you are in Tokyo, you may have some trouble finding a big one, so here’s a list of supermarket chains that tend to have bigger stores:

  • イトーヨーカドー (Ito Yokado)
  • マルエツ (Maruetsu)
  • ライフ (Life)
  • ダイエー (Daiei)
  • マックスバリュー (Max Value)

In addition, these two places have a strong selection of imported goods and are partially geared towards people buying in bulk:

  • 肉のハナマサ (Niku no Hanamasa)
  • 業務スーパー (Gyoumu Suupaa / Super / Supermarket)

Here are some well-equipped import stores:

  • 成城石井 (Seijou-Ishii)
  • Kaldi Coffee Farm (Weird name, but just a normal store)
  • Lapin (local chain in Matsue, Shimane) has a good selection of imported goods


This is a very popular stock for western foods: Ajinomoto Consomme. According to the ingredients it includes both chicken and beef extracts. There are other stocks available, including chicken, beef, and vegetable stocks, but not all supermarkets have all of these. Beef stock feels a bit less common, and vegetable stock almost rare.

Milk products

Milk products are quite pricy in Japan. You can get milk, yoghurt, cream, sour cream, and various types of cheese at most supermarkets. Butter is available, but often sold out. (Reportedly, especially before February 14.) The types of cheese available at supermarkets are as follows:

  • Shredded cheese (practically everywhere — usually imported and consisting of cheddar, gouda, mozzarella) (unless you buy in bulk, expect to pay 100-200 JPY per 100 g)
  • Those wrapped square processed cheese slices (practically everywhere) (about 200 yen for a pack of ~10 slices)
  • Cream cheese:
    • Philadelphia (available at most supermarkets) (about 400 yen for a 200 g pack) (you’ll sometimes find a cheaper, very similar product by メグミルク (Meg-Milk))
    • Camembert* (available at most supermarkets)
    • Cottage cheese (available at some supermarkets)
    • Mascarpone* (available at some supermarkets)
      * Not sure if these count as cream cheeses
  • Mozzarella (round balls) (available at many supermarkets, but about 300 JPY per 100 g)
  • Parmesan cheese (available at most supermarkets in powder form)
  • Cheese in tiny portions to be eaten as a tsumami (can be quite high-quality)
  • Cheese in small portions to be eaten as a snack (I recommend さけるチーズ (sakeru chiizu))

Bigger supermarkets may sell packets of non-sliced gouda and/or cheddar. For other kinds of cheese, you may have to try an import store or the basement floor of an expensive department store. (Note: you’ll pay about 1000 JPY per 100 g of cheese at the department store.)

By the way, here are the reasons butter is often hard to get (from what I’ve gathered):

  • Milk products are made according to a priority production system:
    milk, cream > cheese, yoghurt > butter
  • Low-fat milk isn’t very popular in Japan


Ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard are available, but Japanese mayonnaise is made differently and tastes a bit different. You can get western-style mayonnaise at import shops like 成城石井 (Seijou-Ishii). There are three types of mustard that are widely available in Japan: Japanese mustard (からし, karashi), French Dijon mustard, American yellow mustard. Karashi is similar to wasabi or horseradish in pungency. Ketchup appears to be about the same as everywhere else.

As for vinegar, you will find at least wine vinegar (red and white) and balsamic vinegar. I’ve never seen malt vinegar in shops, but it appears to be available on Amazon.
The most common types of vinegar are 穀物酢 (kokumotsu-su, grain vinegar) and rice vinegar. Grain vinegar is pretty cheap, but I wouldn’t recommend buying it over the slightly more expensive rice vinegar if you intend to use it in food. (Of course, our mileage may vary.)


  • Olive oil is widely available
  • Vegetable oil is widely available (often rapeseed or sunflower)
  • Flaxseed oil (亜麻仁油) is usually available in bigger supermarkets (very pricy though)

Aromatic vegetables

Onions, scallions, leek, garlic, green peppers, and carrots are all widely available. Celery stalks and leaves are often available, but I’ve never seen celery root. Shallots are rare.

Other vegetables

  • Widely available: broccoli, spinach, cabbage (red cabbage isn’t that widely available), lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, bell peppers, radish (daikon)
  • If you’re into pumpkins/squashes, Japan has kabocha: green outside, orange inside, both parts being edible. That’s the only type of squash that I’ve seen, but very widely available.
  • Slightly less common: cauliflower (expensive (300 JPY for a small head) in Tokyo, cheap (150+ JPY for a larger head) in Shimane), zucchini (usually not available in winter)
  • Usually not available in supermarkets: Brussels sprout, kale (I’ve seen both though)

Everything else may be difficult to find.

Canned vegetables

The Gyoumu Supermarket generally shines in the canned goods category.

  • Canned tomatoes are widely available, usually for less than 100 JPY
  • Canned corn is widely available (also the only item in this category that has a good chance of not being imported)
  • Canned/glass-jarred olives are often available at supermarkets. You can get them cheapest at the Gyoumu Supermarket.
  • Canned (white) asparagus is often available in supermarkets. Green asparagus is often available fresh, especially in spring. Fresh white asparagus is available sometimes, but a bit pricey
  • Canned/glass-jarred pickled cucumbers (gherkin) are available at many supermarkets, but pretty pricey. Try the Gyoumu Supermarket

Legumes (Beans)

The Gyoumu Supermarket shines here, too.

  • Canned kidney beans are available in most supermarkets. Some supermarkets may have dried beans. Definitely available at the Gyoumu Supermarket
  • Canned chickpeas are slightly less common than kidney beans, but still reasonably available. Definitely available at the Gyoumu Supermarket
  • Lentils are pretty rare. Try Seijou-Ishii and similar supermarkets. Not available at the Gyoumu Supermarket, as far as I know
  • Broad beans are sometimes used in Japanese cooking, and thus sometimes available fresh. Otherwise they may be available dried
  • Normal green beans (いんげん, the long ones) are available frozen at the Gyoumu Supermarket, and sometimes fresh
  • Regular peas are available frozen

Fresh herbs

Most supermarkets with a non-tiny vegetable section will have parsley. If it’s a bigger supermarket, they will probably have other fresh herbs. Basil is the most common. You’ll often find rosemary and sage.

  • Parsley (commonly available)
  • Basil (reasonably commonly available)
  • Mint (if basil is available, mint is probably available too)
  • Rosemary, sage, chervil (available in some stores)

Everything else may be difficult to find, but have a look at SB’s lineup of fresh herbs.

Non-fresh herbs and spices

Most herbs and spices that I’m familiar with are mostly available.
Here are some herbs that might be hard to find in stores: caraway, non-generic varieties of paprika, marjoram. (Try Amazon if you can’t find your favorite herb or spice in the stores.)
Most stores sell herbs and spices in tiny bottles containing 3-10 g of actual product. In the case of paprika, you’re likely to use up the entire bottle for a single meal. If you regularly use a certain herb or spice a lot, you may be better off buying in bulk from Amazon.
For curry mixes, you usually have two choices: Garam Masala and a typical mix that produces the flavor of Japanese curry.


  • Common mushroom (commonly available, but expensive, though much cheaper here in Shimane)
  • Oyster mushroom (ヒラタケ, hiratake) (commonly available, and not quite as expensive) (also used in Japanese cooking) (never used it)
  • Hen-of-the-woods (舞茸, maitake) (commonly used in Japanese cooking and therefore commonly available and cheap; works well in many western dishes)
  • Porcini are only available in dried packs, and most supermarkets don’t seem to have them


  • Beef is expensive, and often imported from the US or Australia
  • Pork feels neither expensive nor cheap, and is usually Japanese produce
  • Chicken feels very cheap, and is usually Japanese produce

You can get minced meat of all of the above. Occasionally, you’ll find a supermarket that doesn’t have minced beef. (This seems to be a more common occurrence in Shimane.) The most common type of minced meat is a mix between beef and pork.
Most supermarkets will also sell steaks, but you’ll probably pay 1000 JPY or more for a decent-sized one.
Wiener sausages are available at virtually all supermarkets. Most supermarkets will have a small selection of non-wiener sausages. If you want to eat decent sausages, I recommend the こだわり生フランク (kodawari nama-furanku) from the Gyoumu Supermarket. I think these are probably among the best sausages you can buy in Japan.
Other types of meat may be hard to find, but some supermarkets have mutton now.


Lots of fish in Japan.
Smoked salmon, canned tuna and canned anchovy are available. Herring is available, but soused herring isn’t. (Justification for this factoid: I know a Japanese guy who loves soused herring.)


All nuts that I’m familiar with, except hazelnuts, are available at most supermarkets, though (unless they’re peanuts) usually quite expensive.


Most supermarkets have only two types of flour: 薄力粉 (hakurikiko) and 強力粉 (kyourikiko). Hakurikiko is cheaper, and is usually used for cakes, cookies, okonomiyaki, and tenpura. Kyourikiko is used for bread. Both are non-whole-wheat. To get whole-wheat, rye, and other types of flour, go to Seijou-Ishii or similar import stores.


  • Japanese rice works just fine in western dishes (including risotto)
  • Potatoes are expensive. They’re more used as a vegetable, rather than a source of carbs in Japanese cooking
  • Frozen french fries are available. You can get them much cheaper at the Gyoumu Supermarket than at most other places
  • Pasta is available, but I have a feeling that the cheap stuff tastes a bit odd. ~100 yen per 250 g seems to get you good quality. (I kind of have a feeling that low-quality pasta tends to get some unwanted flavor from its packaging.) Small supermarkets often only have spaghetti or fast-cooking pasta
  • Cornflakes are widely available
  • Oatmeal is starting to appear in store shelves
  • I’ve seen couscous at Kaldi Coffee Farm and Lapin in Matsue
  • Bread is explained in the next section


Perhaps we’ve come to the most disappointing part of this article. (Note that I’m not trying to be objective in this paragraph.)
White bread that you would toast before eating is ubiquitous. Other kinds of bread will be harder to find. Bread that contains a small percentage of rye is becoming more common these days, but bread with a significant ratio of rye, let alone pure rye bread, is exceedingly rare. There are bakeries in Japan, but if you go into one, you’ll often find that filled bread is way more common than “naked” bread. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something without any fillings, but most will be white bread: baguettes, croissants. Many bakeries will sell something called パン・ド・カンパーニュ (Pain de campagne), which may be quite passable. (It uses sourdough.) If you don’t have an obvious bakery in your vicinity, try some of the chains:

  • Anderson is quite okay.
  • Linde ( in Tokyo has pretty good bread.
  • The best bread I’ve had in Japan was from Maison Kayser in Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. However, when I went to check them out (on May 28, 2017), they didn’t have any dark bread for some reason. :(
  • High-quality supermarkets like Seijou-Ishii usually have decent bread too.

By the way, this raisin and walnut stone oven bread tastes very nice and is possibly available at many Aeon stores.

So what to put on your bread? Japan doesn’t have a large selection of spreads, but peanut butter, nutella, (at least) strawberry jam, cheese (see above), and some types of meat are available at most supermarkets. In supermarkets, you’ll often see small Real salami is pretty expensive. Seijou-Ishii and the Gyoumu Supermarket usually sell bruschetta spreads.

You’ll often see peanut butter and strawberry jam being sold in small containers for about 120 JPY that look like in the image pictured here on the right. This stuff, especially the peanut butter, tastes pretty bad, in my opinion. The cheap price may entice you to buy this, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. :p










Living in Matsue (And/Or: Living in the Japanese Countryside, Living at Leopalace, Moving in Japan on the Cheap)

About 2.5 months ago, I moved away from Tokyo (Kawasaki actually). I now live in Matsue, Shimane prefecture. Matsue is the prefecture capital of Shimane, and is known for being the city that Matsumoto Yukihiro (the creator of the Ruby programming language) lives in, and for the sunset on Lake Shinjiko (宍道湖).

Update 2017-05-11: Matsumoto Yukihiro published an article on Medium (Japanese) shortly after I posted this one explaining his reasons for moving here.


Back in Kawasaki, I lived in a shared house. Now, I live in a Leopalace apartment. Leopalace apartments are (usually?) furnished and almost ready to live in. There’s an AC, a fridge, microwave, small desk, various closets (I like the one under my bed, real room saver). You will still need a futon, kitchenware, clothes, towels, toilet paper.

In Kawasaki, my rent was about 63,000 JPY per month. Now it’s around 53,000 JPY, and I have a lot more space, plus my own kitchen and bathroom. (I also have to pay for electricity, water, and gas however.) Leopalace in Matsue has much cheaper places too, but I prefer newer buildings with heat insulation and soundproofing. (Also, if you do not necessarily need a furnished apartment, you can find much cheaper places.) My building is from 2002, and seems to have pretty decent insulation. (I haven’t had to use my air conditioner in over a month.) You may have heard that Leopalace buildings have poor soundproofing, but that’s not really the case for my apartment at least. I can sort of hear my upstairs neighbor’s washing machine and (sometimes) phone vibrations, but no music or talking.

Working in Shimane

So how do you get a job in Shimane? Well, it turns out that Shimane has a lot of IT companies, and the prefectural government is pretty proactive about recruiting new people. I went to this event: GO島根!ITエンジニア転職フェア (held in Tokyo), talked to a dozen companies, and ended up applying at a handful, getting offered a job at two, and (obviously) taking only one. The event organizers use the label “UI-turn” (presumably from “UI” and “U-turn”) for the act of going (back in many cases) from Tokyo to Shimane for work. (Update 2017-06-20: it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with “UI” as in “user interface”. It’s just U-turn and inbound? turn.)

There’s a small problem with these companies: they’re mostly headquartered in Tokyo, so it’ll often feel like working remotely and you’ll probably be talking to people you’ve (almost) never met before, every day. Remember: communication can be pretty tough at the office, even when nobody’s working remotely. Having remote workers makes communication even more challenging. As with all things in life: don’t expect anyone to be an expert at handling remote workers, even if they seem like they should have a lot of experience.

Cycling around Matsue

I really like climbing mountains and riding bikes, and Matsue is pretty good for that. There’s a train line (Ichibata Line) here that allows you to bring your bicycle on the train without taking it apart and packing it in a bag, like you have to do at other train lines. Let me just quickly go off on a tangent: if you need a cheap bicycle that performs pretty well, I recommend giving ドンキホーテ (Don Quijote) a… shot. (Originally no pun intended.) Mine weighs about 12 kg and I bought it at Don Quijote for about 35,000 JPY. (Also the most expensive (non-electric) bicycle they had on offer.) Perhaps you don’t get super-high-quality components, but nothing too shabby, either. I had to replace my brake pads a bit sooner than expected, and my rear tire after about two years (which may be a bit out of the ordinary), but everything else is holding up pretty well. Note: I weigh about 65 kg, so your mileage (originally no pun intended) may vary.

Anyway, I take the bicycle to work, and my commute is about 2.2 km, and there’s an altitude difference of about 60 m. And that’s still a hundred times nicer than taking a Tokyo train during rush-hour. :P

Moving from Kawasaki to Matsue

When moving, your bicycle could cost you a lot. However, if you go to a local bike shop, ask if they have any boxes left that might fit your bicycle, and then pay them (I paid 1,000 yen) to take your bicycle apart and put it in the box (they just had to take off the front wheel in my case), you will probably save money. You’ll be able to send it using ヤマト便 (Yamato-bin), and it probably won’t cost a lot. I had several boxes, plus the boxed bicycle, and a boxed Clavinova digital piano (two boxes), and paid just a bit more than 20,000 JPY in total, which isn’t much for a distance over 800 km. (Note: The prefectural government is likely to reimburse your relocation costs, up to (currently) 100,000 JPY.)

Some friends at the shared house helped me pack the Clavinova. Separating the actual piano from the stand wasn’t that hard actually. Packing involved building two huge boxes out of smaller boxes to fit in the piano and the stand, and putting in a lot of cushioning. (We put my futon in there, and several blankets.) Don’t let anything poke out, such as the pedals, the feet, or the headphone holder. Take everything off and put these things in a separate bag. Putting the thing back together alone is pretty tough, so I contacted a local 便利屋 (benriya), and had a guy come over for a bit more than an hour for about 4,000 JPY. These things don’t have fixed prices, so if you like negotiating you can probably get a better deal. Make sure you put your screws in separate (labeled) plastic bags! Put effort into remembering how you disassembled everything.

Living in Matsue

Matsue has great soba (Izumo is right next to Matsue, and is famous for Izumo soba). Matsue also has Shimane University, and university towns generally, including Matsue, have lots of places to eat and karaoke. (I’ll probably post an article about the restaurants I’ve sampled here sometime in the near future.)

The only thing that doesn’t work out so well is the fact that it’s pretty lonely. There are only four people at my company’s Matsue office, and I’m perhaps a bit too old to have fun with university students, and there don’t really seem to be a lot of people my age (28). There seem to be Ruby-themed events, so maybe I’ll try joining one of those at some point. Also, Osaka and especially Hiroshima are a lot closer than from Tokyo. Unfortunately there is no Shinkansen, and the train system is a bit… useless? (Think one train per hour. Also Hiroshima is just ~180 km away, but the direct train takes about seven hours. Going to Okayama and then taking the Shinkansen is a lot faster but much more expensive.) All this means that people take cars and/or highway buses. From Matsue to Hiroshima the bus is about 3800 JPY, and takes only about three hours. I’ve even taken the highway bus to Tokyo a couple of times. (The normal way to get to Tokyo would involve taking a plane from the nearby airports (Izumo or Yonago).)

Izumo has a very famous shrine, the 出雲大社 (Izumo Taisha), and the neighboring prefecture (Tottori; the border is about 20 km to the east of Matsue), has several interesting spots worth visiting too: a port that harbors a lot of fishing vessels and even a regular connection to Korea and Russia: 境港 (Sakaiminato), the Tottori sand dunes (鳥取砂丘, Tottori Sakyuu), and a famous mountain called 大山 (Daisen). (Japan has a lot of mountains called 大山. The one in Kanagawa is a nice day trip from Tokyo, but the kanji reading is Ooyama.)