Saturday, 28 September 2013

Chateau Kamiya

Another trip out of Tokyo today, and probably a badly timed blog post for reasons I will explain below. Chateau Kamiya in Ushiku, about 50 minutes from Ueno into Ibaraki is a brewery, winery, fake chateau and gardens complex that produces some very easy drinking beers and sells them at great prices. I have been out there quite a few times since I came to Japan and it is always a fun trip. Don't be put off by the train journey to get there. From a time point of view, it's not that long, and they even provide toilets on the trains (particularly useful on the journey back). From a money point of view, you only need to have 3 or so drinks before you start saving money compared to drinking in Tokyo.
In the interests of brevity, I will largely ignore all of the complex apart from the restaurant as this is after all a blog about beer. Although I should mention that the shop sells bottles to take away, so might be worth having a look in there before you get to the restaurant. The restaurant itself is a pretty large place. It's difficult to judge how many seats there are, but it's quite a lot, well over 50 I would imagine. Whilst it is a large place, it is probably still worth booking, as you wouldn't want to travel out of Tokyo and find they were full that night. However in general, I would imagine you would be ok just turning up, particularly if you go during the day or at least before the evening. In the summer it can be a bit busier, probably due to their crazily generous nomihodai (all you can drink), which lasts 4 hours and costs ¥1500. Probably best to order some food too though, in order to not appear a beer savage. However, this has just finished for the year (hence this post is badly timed). It normally runs from June/July to the middle of September but maybe best to check the website.
So, onto the specifics about the beer. They have eight taps, and three of these are their regular beers, Helles, Dunkel and Pilsner. The other five are taken up by seasonals, and these seasonals do usually have some kind of relevance for the time of year. When we visited during cherry blossom time they had a couple of Sakura beers and on my last visit they had their Autumn/Oktoberfest style beer. The three regulars are always good solid beers and the seasonals are more variable, but often great. When it is nomihodai they give you a glass and then you just go to the bar and get your beers. For the rest of the time, there is table service, and beers are served in three sizes. The glass is kind of a fluted shape, probably round about 300ml, and costs ¥450. Then there is a jokki, about 500ml I reckon, which costs ¥680. Finally if you are in a group, or are very thirsty, they serve pitchers for ¥2100. Pretty good prices. The food is decently priced too and is good regular pub food stuff, pizzas, pasta, cheese, chips etc. Very useful for soaking up some beer.
Chateau Kamiya is a place that I have never failed to have a good time at. Maybe the regular beers won't tempt those drinkers who seek out extreme styles, but they are always well made and tasty. A little while ago you used to see their beers outside of the brewery, but I have heard that recently they have been doing this less often, so if you want to drink Chateau Kamiya beers you should probably go here. It's not so difficult to get to from Tokyo, Joban line from Ueno or Kita Senju and around 50 minutes. In addition to the restaurant they have gardens to walk round and when they reopen the main building (damaged during the earthquake) there will be a bit more to look at. Probably not somewhere you would go on a whim, as it closes at 9, but well worth planing a day out and paying a visit.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Chateau Kamiya


Opening Hours:
Daily, 11.30-21.00


Location/map:
3-20-1 中央, Ushiku, Ibaraki

Directions:
From Ushiku station leave via the East exit. Go down the stairs and you will come to a kind of drop off/bus stop area. As you look at it from the bottom of the stairs, you need to head to the top left hand corner of this area. Here you should be able to see a footbridge that crosses the main road. Take this bridge and follow it down to street level. Turn right here and carry on along this road round the bend for about 200m. You will see Chateau Kamiya on the left hand side just after the corner. 



Telephone:
029-873-3151

Links:
Ratebeer listing
Website

Friday, 27 September 2013

Craft Beer Bar

The last of my brief flurry of Yokohama places (there are more to do, but that will require another trip). Today, it's the right to the point named Craft Beer Bar. This is another place in easy walking distance of Kannai station. This seems to be a really good area to have a drink or two. Before I go any further I should point out that outside this place there is a sign stating that no English is spoken here. I am pretty sure that this is for information rather than discrimination purposes, as I have always found it a very welcoming place with a friendly master, but it is not worth you going here if you can't speak any Japanese.
I appreciate that I always say this, but Craft Beer Bar is really the type of place I would love near my house. It's fairly typically sized for a Japanese bar with counter seating for around 10 and about the same at tables. The atmosphere is very calm and cosy, with quiet jazz music playing and subdued lighting. Every time I have been here there have been a few people here spread along the counter, so I guess they are doing something right. There is a big wall of bottles of whisky as this is another house speciality along with the beer and some grilled food (not suitable for vegetarians, so I didn't pay much attention, sorry).
On to the beer. There are 11 taps of Japanese craft beer, pretty much dominated by Shiga Kogen, which can't be a bad thing. Six of the eleven were Shiga Kogen, and I was happy to see the House IPA among the selection. The other five were a mix of decent breweries and good beers. Unlike some other places there didn't seem to be any fillers on the list. Perhaps it is better to have 11 well chosen taps than 20 where 5 are not very nice. In any case, I have never had any problem finding something to drink here. Beers are served in two sizes, 500ml and 320ml and are all priced the same (¥1000 and ¥700 respectively). The glasses used are particularly thin, apparently this is for taste reasons but I suspect they break a few whilst washing up. I would like to do a glass taste test some time, as I always find this kind of thing interesting. There was a decent range of beer styles on offer too.
So, a place I really like. It also has the advantage of opening a little bit before other places in the area, so is a good location for an early drink. I have always visited fairly early and have never had any problems getting a seat. If you can speak a bit of Japanese or at least enough to order a beer and pay for it, I would definitely recommend Craft Beer Bar. I can't exactly put my finger on why I like it so much, but it just feels right to me. It will never be a raucous party venue, and if you are looking for somewhere a bit more noisy, there are definitely places like that with good beer in the area. But if you are looking for a nice beer at a decent price in a relaxing place, I can't think of many better places to go.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Shiga Kogen

Minoh
Baeren
Swan Lake
North Island
Outsider  

Opening Hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 16.00-23.30

Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, 12.00-22.00
Closed Monday

Location/map:
コーポサンライフ太田町 102, 2-31-3 太田町, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa 

Directions:
For the sake of simplicity, let's go from Kannai JR station again, and from the same North exit. This time turn left out of the barriers and then right on to the street. Take the first left and then continue along this road for about 300m. If you want to count the side streets, you will be taking the 11th right. Seems that the pattern is one small side street and then a larger road repeated all along this road, but in reality, some of the larger roads are not so big. The thing to look out for is the pedestrian crossings as the side streets don't have them. So basically, five pedestrian crossings and then the next right. The 11th right is a small side street and Craft Beer Bar is on the left hand side after about 15m. 



Telephone:
045-651-0440

Links:
Ratebeer listing
Website

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Keyaki Hiroba Autumn Beer Festival

Just a quick post today to mention the upcoming Keyaki Autumn beer festival (hope they don't mind me using their picture above). The Spring version was my first Keyaki and since then I have been excitedly awaiting this edition. The Spring festival was great with loads of great breweries and beers and a really nice atmosphere with people just spreading themselves all over the plaza type area around the festival. This time they are moving indoors to the Saitama Super Arena. I suspect this has something to do with it being less at the mercy of the weather and perhaps also to do with toilet provision, which could have been my only complaint about the Spring event (the queue was pretty long so you had to end up predicting when the need would arise, and given that lots of beer was being consumed, this became quite often). I guess it might not feel the same indoors, but I am sure it will still be a lot of fun!
This edition of the festival is held from the 2nd to the 6th of October, each day opening at 11.00 and closing at 21.00 (apart from Saturday, which closes at 22.00 and Sunday, at 19.00 though, so be prepared). There are hundreds of beers to try, the vast majority of which are from Japanese Craft Breweries. You can check a list of some of the beers available here. There are some imports too as you might expect (mainly Belgian and US stuff from some of the regular importers). A lot of breweries do tasting sets so you can try a selection of their beers without having to drink a regular sized glass. And there is also a large range of food available. I guess exactly what you might expect from a beer festival. 
The event should be pretty easy to find. Just get to either Saitamashintoshin or Kitayono station and head for the Saitama Super Arena. There's no entry fee or buy a glass stuff, you just pay for the beers you want to drink which makes a nice change. I can't think of a good reason not to go, and consequently will hopefully be making it to two days this edition. See you there!

Festival website


View Tokyo Beer Drinker Map in a larger map

Monday, 23 September 2013

El Nubichinom

Yokohama again today, and a place that might now get overlooked because of all the places opening with lots of taps. El Nubichinom is tiny. Standing only with not really much room for more than 7 or 8 people at a push. Situated next to a canal, which sounds very picturesque, but it's in a bit of a shady area, so might not be the idyll you are imagining. This place is on this blog mainly for its atmosphere, although I have never been in the evening, as it's a pretty nice place to have a drink in the afternoon and has the bonus that it is open relatively early.
The area of town that El Nubichinom is in is one that is heavy on massage parlour type places and hostess bars, so a bit dodgy, although in the afternoon this just amounts to a lot of closed shopfronts, so not really scary. I have heard that there is not a big crossover of customers between this place and the other local businesses, partly due to the difference in opening hours. El Nubichinom is open from 15.00 to 21.30 daily (apart from Tuesdays), so is a good option for an afternoon drink. Saying this, it does seem to close for various reasons from time to time which makes it a bit more difficult to get in. My first two attempts were unsuccessful. The first time this was due to the place being booked for a private party (although the master was kind enough to sell us beer to take away), and the second time, closed for a holiday. The third time I thought I was going to fail again when I tried the door, and it wouldn't open. Thankfully, due to me lingering and cursing my luck, the barman demonstrated the sliding door, which naturally did not respond to me pushing or pulling it. Whilst I was drinking the same thing happened with another customer, making me feel not quite so stupid. And even if you do find it closed, there are quite a few places in the area, so probably worth popping here first and checking, rather than depending on it being open to round off a lengthy pub crawl.
So, on to the beer. When I visited, there were five taps on. I believe that sometimes there might be six, but you won't get more than that. The choice was not amazing, with a couple of beers on that I was not interested in, but there was still a few good options. On the day of my first unsuccessful visit involving the takeaway beers, the choice was a lot better, so I am not going to be too hard on it. In spite of it being so small, it also serves food as well as beer. When I arrived I was given a small piece of cheese which I presumed was going to be because of a cover charge, but it seemed to be just a taster, and it was delicious. If I was hanging round much longer I would have ordered some, so it kind of worked but maybe not exactly to the extent that they might have hoped. The beers are served in two sizes and the prices are the same for all beers (choose carefully!). The small is 200ml and the large 420ml. The strange opening hours and local colour have lead to an interesting pricing policy. The menu lists the two sizes as costing ¥700 and ¥1400, which for the larger size in particular is very expensive, even for Japan. However, there is a 'happy hour' which runs from opening to 21.00, so effectively the whole opening hours apart from the last 30 minutes. I have to admit I quite enjoyed the idea of this. I guess they don't want people hanging around after nine. Certainly came as a relief as I had ordered a large without first checking the price list and when I saw the ¥1400, I swallowed something hard and jagged.
Not really much else to say about this place. I had heard good things about it, and especially about how unique it was, and on that level it certainly did not disappoint. Whilst the choice was a little underwhelming when I was there, given that there is no cover charge, there is really nothing to stop you leaving after having what you want and moving on to one of the other good places in the area. The barman on the day of my visit was standing in for the owner who was at the Yokohama beer festival, but was still very friendly and helpful. I would definitely have stayed and chatted if I hadn't been on a tight schedule. I will definitely pop back here for another one again as the place just feels nice and I would imagine it is a good place to go for a different kind of Japanese bar experience.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Yokohama

Shimono Loco
Fujizakura Kogen
Johana
Harvestmoon

Opening Hours:
Daily, 15.00-21.30

Closed Tuesdays

Location/map:
都橋商店街 117, 1-1
宮川町, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa 

Directions:
Once again, out of my directions comfort zone as I am not a Yokohama resident. I can't say this is the best route, but it is the one that I take and you will go just past Antenna America (so the first bit of the directions is the same). From Kannai JR station, leave via the North exit. After you come through the ticket barriers turn left and then left again out of the station. When you get to the main road, cross it and turn left again and walk under the railway tracks. As you come out from under the tracks cross the even bigger road and at the other side, turn right. Carry on up this road until you cross the river. Turn left at the small police station on the corner down the side street and follow it down. El Nubichinom is on the left hand side a little way down. Best check the picture of the outside above. 



Telephone:
045-231-3626

Links:
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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Thrash Zone

Today, a place that probably should have been on here already by now. No trip to Yokohama would be complete without finishing off the day with a quick pint or two or three at Thrash Zone near Yokohama station. My excuse for not writing about it yet is due to my inability to take a photo of the place. I admit that the photos on this blog definitely leave a lot to be desired, in part due to me often only remembering to take the photo after sampling the wonderful beers offered in the establishment. But until now, the photos I have had of Thrash Zone have been nothing short of terrible, so it was essential that I went back last week and got a decent(ish) photo.
You would have thought that Thrash Zone would be a somewhat divisive place. The decor is pretty plain concrete apart from the metal paraphernalia, which actually takes up quite a large amount of the wall space. There are stools at the bar for around 15 and a couple of tables, but this is predominately a standing place. It will come as no surprise to hear that the music policy is metal orientated. However, sometimes I feel it errs on the side of being a bit tame mainstream stuff rather than the thrash that you might expect. On one visit they seemed to be playing exclusively Scandinavian hardcore which was pretty fun and a nice change from Ozzy Osbourne which I think is a bit tame. However, in spite of these potentially off-putting (for some) characteristics, everyone who goes there seems to really like it. This is probably something to do with its unique character. And also, quite a lot to do with beer...
So, the beer. Thrash Zone specializes in hoppy, bitter and fairly high strength beers. Understandably this often means US imports. However, there are also Japanese variations with these characteristics too. It's not all IPAs though. They often set aside a few taps for different kinds of beer. I remember seeing Minoh's Stout here, and on my last visit they had Old Rasputin on tap. There are 15 taps and these are split fairly evenly between US imports and Japanese stuff. Check out their website for what's on at the moment. Amongst these Japanese variations are Thrash Zones house beers. They used to just get their DIPA Hopslave brewed for them at Atsugi, but in the last year or so they have started brewing their own. There are usually around 5 of the Thrash Zone Brew Labo beers on tap, almost exclusively bitter, hoppy and strong, but with variations in styles as much as these characteristics allow. Beers are served in two sizes, the smaller being a fairly decent size (maybe around 300ml, my volume estimating skills once again are weak) and the larger is US pint. The prices are often astoundingly cheap: small from ¥500-600 and large from around ¥700-1000. This is not just for their own beers (which are at the lower end of the range and also very nice) but also the US imports. This makes Thrash Zone one of the cheapest places I have ever been to in Japan.
So, definitely a place that everyone should try at least once. I know a lot of people who love this place. I always make a point of coming here when I am Yokohama, and given it's location near the main train station it is usually where I end up before getting on the Toyoko line back to Tokyo (and struggling not to fall asleep). It is definitely a pretty unique place and I am sure that people who may have been put off by the metal theme, find themselves reassured by the good beer selection and excellent prices. On occasion it can be pretty loud and noisy (apparently visiting navy people sometimes come here) but equally I have been here and been one of only two customers, the other being a young well-dressed lady. So, all in all, pretty unpredictable. Apart from the fact that beer will be good and cheap, so sometimes such predictability is not such a bad thing.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Thrash Zone Brew Labo

Minoh
Nagahama
Hidatakayama

Opening Hours (temporarily amended opening hours):
Monday-Friday, 16:00-23:30

Saturday, Sunday & Holidays, 12.00-23.30

Location/map:
2-10-7
鶴屋町, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa

Directions:

Hmmm, Yokohama, another station that is a bit of a maze. If you are coming from the JR lines it is maybe a bit simpler if you leave by the North Gate. When you are outside the ticket barriers, and equally if you are arriving on a different line, the best advice is to head for the North West exit. Good luck. When you get to this exit, and are outside at street level carry straight on. Join the road and take the first right over the river. Continue straight on until you get to a main road where there are pedestrian crossings. Cross this road and carry on again down the smaller side street. Thrash Zone is on the corner on the right. Look out for the small guitar amp outside.



Telephone:
045-514-9947

Links:

Website
Ratebeer listing

Monday, 16 September 2013

Ogikubo Beer Kobo

Today, the latest in a chain of Chuo line 'lots of wood' brewpubs. It is fair to say they are quite a lot of similarities between this place, Bakushu Kobo in Koenji and Bakushu Dojo in Asagaya. My limited knowledge of the history of these places amounts to the fact that Koenji was first and then Asagaya was run by the brother of the guy behind Koenji. Ogikubo is the latest of the three and I didn't see one of the brothers there, but it is quite clear that these are all places in the same group. I wish someone would do this along the Odakyu line!
So, Ogikubo. As you would expect from the other two, this is a brewpub with lots of wood decor. This time the place initially seems smaller, with a ground floor with a small counter for three people and seating for around 14. However there is an upstairs, which I didn't get a very good look at, but seemed to have seating for about 20 and another bar area. I am not sure if you can get all the beers upstairs, but I would imagine so, as the staircase is pretty steep and I wouldn't fancy negotiating it with a couple of glasses. It was always a shame that at Asagaya, if you wanted to drink any of their own beers you had to go downstairs to get them, and that it was only the Kirin stuff that they had on the 2nd floor (don't know if this is still true, as I haven't been there for a little while). Once again, it is self service, so order beers and food at the bar. They are happy for you to pay as you go, or at the end.
So, on to the beers. My first visit to Asgaya was a little disappointing as they only had one of their beers on to start off with. Ogikubo has got going a lot quicker though it seems. When I visited they had three of their own beers on, and I think one had just run out. The line up was Blonde Ale (¥390), Bitter Pale Ale (¥590) and Strong Ale (¥690) all served in Jokki size, so a decent size serving. They also serve in Carafe and Pitcher sizes. The beers here seemed to be a bit different from the other two places. I am unsure who does the brewing at the various places, as they all seem a little different. Clearly Koenji being open the longest has had plenty of time to bed in their equipment and tweak their recipes. Asagaya surprised me last time I went with an Imperial Stout (a surprise given that all of the other beers at both pubs were normally lighter coloured). Ogikubo's beers seemed to have a bit of a different feel to them, the Bitter Pale was in the US style and the other two had what I thought was a bit of a Belgian influence. The Blonde was really good and had loads of taste for its strength (5%). It was the one I went back to try again as my last beer. Strangely it was copper/amber coloured, but who cares if the name doesn't reflect the colour as long as it tastes good.
A quick word about the food. It was maybe the best of all three of them for me as a vegetarian, but I guess if you are not a vegetarian this fact may not be of much interest to you. It was generally Japanese style but with a few German and Czech pub dishes thrown in (the fried cheese was great!). To be honest it is probably exactly what I want to eat when drinking. The dips with the fried gobo were great. But anyway, what is this blog? Tokyo Pub Food Eater?
So, another winner from these guys. I guess with three places now, it has to be called a chain. But this is the kind of chain that would be welcome anywhere. Whilst the beers might not be in the styles that some beer drinkers go for (very hoppy IPAs and barrel-aged imperial stouts etc.) they are good and tasty and the type of thing that you could get a friend who is scared of Ji-Biru to drink. Gateway beers! They had 11 taps downstairs, so there clearly is some room for expansion if they want (update: when I visited again in mid November, they were up to six of their own beers on tap, so things are growing). There were a few Kirin options on too, but maybe one day they will have a couple more of their own beers on. I really like these places, as they are pretty different from a lot of the recently opened places in Tokyo. The clientele seemed to be mainly local, and I think this is part of the plan. They are not chasing the beer geeks, and given the amount of competition around, I think this is wise. Not saying that a beer geek wouldn't be happy here though. I guess I fall into that category and I keep going back to these places. So, now I just need to find a wealthy and bored person and convince them to start a similar chain along the Odakyu line, starting in Yoyogi Uehara. Come on!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Ogikubu Beer Kobo

Opening Hours:
Tuesday-Saturday, 17.00-23.00
Sundays and public holidays), 15.00-21.00
closed Mondays

Location/map:
5-23-6 荻窪, Suginami-ku, Toyko, 167-0051

Directions:
From Ogikubo JR station head to the East gate and then the South exit where you will pass through the metro station's ticket hall area. Leave via 'South exit b'. At the top of the stairs turn back on yourself and walk a little way along the street. You should pass a Mistubishi Tokyo UFJ bank on your left and then shortly afterwards turn left down the first side road. Bear in mind that it is quite a small road. Carry on over the first junction and the bar is on the left hand side. Very close to the station! 



Telephone:
03-5397-1205

Links:

Website
Ratebeer listing

Monday, 2 September 2013

Kraft Work (Banji Kaichou)

Finally, a new blog post, after a brief hiatus where I returned to Europe for a little holiday and drank far too much for me to even want to think about beer for a while after returning to Japan. Today, Kraft Work in Ikebukuro which I have been meaning to try for a while, mainly because of the name. On my first attempt to visit, it was fully booked, so once again this is a place where you would be advised to book in advance or turn up just as they are opening. This is possibly the curse of the Tokyo Craft scene at the moment (along with, in my opinion, cover charges). There has been a lot of talk recently about the world Craft Beer scene reaching saturation point, but the fact that Tokyo places are always busy suggests that we are not there quite yet. Although, it could be that Japanese beer bars are usually a lot smaller than their European counterparts, and are generally more geared towards food and drink rather than drink and a little bit of food as you might see in the UK. Anyway, back on to the topic of the day...
Ikebukuro seems to have quite a lot of good places to drink nowadays, quite a few of which I still haven't tried. Kraft Work was high on my list because of the fact that they do craft beer and craft sake (along with the name of course). On my visit though, I concentrated on the beer. They have 10 taps of craft sold in two sizes (275ml and 450ml). Stronger beers are just sold in the smaller size. The prices are not the cheapest around, the smaller glasses ranging from ¥650-¥750 and the larger ones from ¥1050-¥1150. All the beers were from Japanese breweries and apart from the decor (which is quite mod influenced and has lots of musical stuff round and about) the place does have a real Japanese feel.
The food is pretty much all seasonal Japanese dishes and not the regular cheap pub stuff and is again possibly a bit more expensive than other places in Tokyo, but the atmosphere is really nice. It is not the biggest of places (no surprise!) and there is seating for about 10 at a couple of counter areas and maybe 20 more at a range of tables. Pleasingly, the place is no smoking, but from time to time smoke does drift in from the smoking area outside the front door. Although given the smoking policy of some places in Tokyo, this is easy to put up with.
So, a place that I really liked, but with some reservations. The prices are not the cheapest (particularly the food) and you could say that the beer selection is not the widest but there was definitely good stuff to drink. And they do have a ¥300 cover charge. However, it does really have quite a special and unique feel. A lot of places in Tokyo could have been transplanted from elsewhere in the world, but Kraft Work has a real Japanese feel. Also there are a lot of places around that are really trying to be classy establishments, but sometimes feel a little bit sterile. Kraft Work is the opposite in that it feels comfortable and with lots of atmosphere, but with good quality stuff on offer. I will definitely be going back!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Shonan
Baird
Shiga Kogen
Noboribetsu
North Island
Outsider
Minoh

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, 11.30-14.00, 17.00-24.00
Saturdays (and Sundays before a public holiday), 17.00-04.00
closed Sundays

Location/map:
2F, 1-47-5 東池袋, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-0013

Directions:
Ikebukuro station is a bit of a maze, so good luck. Ideally leave the station by exit 23, although this is easier said than done. As a rule, you need to head for an East exit. There are lots of different 'passages' in the station, but I think the direction I normally head for is central passage East exit. So presuming you manage to find exit 23, come up the steps and head straight along the main road. You will go past a big Bic Camera and a big Labi/Yamada Denki. After about 250m you will see on the right hand side of the road a fairly big government building (Toshima ward office) and a Family Mart on the left hand side. Take the left turn after the Family Mart. If you get to where the Expressway crosses overhead you have gone too far, so turn round and go down the first side street. Once you have made the turn, continue to the junction and you should be able to see Kraft Work opposite you on the second floor. Look out for the mod looking circle logo. Good luck! 



Telephone:
03-6907-3899

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