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Sakura-time at Starbucks 2017

As every year Starbucks Japan released their sakura products just two weeks ago. This year they have the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino and the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte. For sure I tried them and they tasted really nice. As their name says they are creamy, topped with a maple sauce-flavoured whipped cream, pink-colored chocolate flakes and small pink rice cracker balls. A pretty nice combination in my opinion. I personally like the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte better than the Frappuccino. The prices rank from ¥ 530 to ¥ 650 for the Frappuccino and ¥ 430 to ¥ 550 for the Latte. But if you want to try them hurry up. The sakura products are limited until March 14th. Furthermore they also have a Sakura Chiffon Cake which costs ¥ 380. However, for me, the taste was not so special. It is topped with a salty cherry blossom what felt a bit strange while eating. Japan really has interesting food combinations, doesn’t it? Who wants to have one of the sakura goods like tumblers, cups, glasses and more should be quickly. Many things of the first line “Harmony Collection” are already sold out. On March 1st the second line “Purity” will be released. How about you? Did you try any of the Starbucks Sakura products?

The Adventures of Banana Teacher 04 - Cold Weather Woes

One of the "strangest" things that I've encountered is how the Japanese deal with cold weather and how my students dress during said weather. Every morning my students enter school dressed for the polar regions. They wear jackets, sweaters, coats, mufflers, hats, gloves, etc. But, as soon as they get into the classroom, they change into their play clothes and go outside. Their play clothes consist of shorts and a long sleeved shirt. They proceed to go outside to play in only this. Then, they stand around shivering and bemoaning their situation while the Japanese teachers encourage them to run around to stay warm. This boggles my mind. I can't imagine this happening in America. Parents there would throw a fit.  I understand the reasoning behind this tradition, but I still feel bad for the poor little ones shivering while I wear 7 layers of clothing.                                  Me. Every. Day.

Can you understand Japanese English?

(My Home )This is a phenomenon that happens all over the non-native English speaking world, in many varieties. Of course there are tons of words loaned to the English language that are pronounced or used incorrectly, for example, the way we pronounce karaoke or tsunami, anyone? (Can we call that English Japanese?) There are a handful of English words you'll see or hear in Japan that aren't Engrish. They are English words, but the way they are used here is sometimes a little different. These range from tons of 'katakana English' loan words like 'teburu' for a western table and less recognizable words like 'pi-shi-' or PC (for personal computer) to words and phrases we use like, “Let's go!” Here are just a few examples of Japanese English I hear often, and in these cases I'm under the impression that Japanese people think they are correctly using English integrated into their language. Don't mind In English this phase is missing a subject, assumed to be “I” as in, “I don't mind.” This is not what Japanese people are going for exactly when they use this phrase. The meaning is more like, 'never mind' or 'don't worry about it.' (Pronunciation is more like, 'done mine, done mine.') Come on I first heard this in a Japanese junior high classroom as a student beckoned me to help with his handout. Within the context I completely understood that he meant as, 'Come here (please),' but didn't realize until later that 'come on' is used in this way in Japan. Come on can have a lot of meanings in English, from the phrasal verb meaning to flirt with someone, to expressing frustration when the other team scores a goal. Said in a sort of friendly and inviting way, as if to say, 'why don't you join me!' Ironically, one of the meanings of the phrase in English. Maybe this meaning is the origin of the usage in Japan. My home This seems simple enough, my house, right? Not exactly. This is used to mean a new home built for the person or family on land they bought. It's common to have your own house built here (new and modern, with the details you choose) rather than buying a home someone else has lived in. It's more like prefab - picking which designs you want from cookie-cutter options and not as expensive as building a custom home could be in some countries. 'My home' in Japan doesn't mean the same thing as my house, as in the place where I live, an apartment or the house I grew up in for example. There are so many others, so what is another Japanese English phrase you've heard?

It Means The Most When It Is Unsaid

The thing that I enjoy most about Japan is the harmonious co-existence of contradictions. While contradictions often create disagreement and chaos in many places, that is not quite the same in Japan. There seems to be this huge invisible force that mandates the opposites to get along with each other, to not interfere and to accept and make peace. I figured that it is this huge set of unspoken rues that guides the peace and these rules seems to reside in every Japanese person. A set of rules that regulates and controls every aspect of their behavior and ultimately forms their very strong social consensus.  “KY (kuuki wo yomu or “read the air”) – non Japanese do this as well, but in a different way and to a different extent. To (most of us) non Japanese, its obvious that we say, should not go to the bank in our pajamas. To a Japanese person, it is obvious in a similar way that in some situations a person who smiles too much is not to be trifled with”. (Kyle Von Lanken) While it is not impossible for one to live here without fully internalizing this mysterious set of unspoken rules, foreigners who are found ignorant or breaking these said rules can be pardoned, but that also mean an automatic exclusion from being “one of us”, a.k.a. Gaijin (an outside person). Social Manifestations Of The Unspoken RulesI reckon that there are a few very Japanese traits that best manifests the rules and also help set the foundation of this harmonious society.- Never be in the face of others- Don't cause inconvenience to others- Always seek agreement not discussion- You can never be too polite - When I doubt, just smile or laugh (politely)Hence it seems obvious that vagueness may be the universal answer to all the above. As long as you are vague (enough), you will never be in danger of breaking the unspoken rules.  Just How Vague Do You Have To Be?It is understood that at the root of all these vagueness, is the way the Japanese language is formed. The language itself is lacking of emotional descriptive, hence the display of emotions not on a verbal level but through explicit self expressions as seen in elaborate festivals, cosplay, anime, performance and art.Even in everyday lives, people don't really talk much.  My husband comes through the door and grunts something to the point of making his presence known.  Your neighbors nod good morning to you and avoid any lengthy conversations.  People answer "domo" to end any exchanges.  It sounds super cold but that's the way it is here.Important guidelinesWe can’t be truly Japanese but it is especially important that we abide by the unspoken rules of this society. Hence, to stay safe while exploring the perimeters of this “Japanese vagueness”, it may be helpful to bear in mind the following guidelines.- Always have inherent respect for others - always consider the comfort and convenience of others- Never impose your own opinions - always leave room for accommodations and self-interpretations- Nothing is being said as it is – always read in between the lines- Playing stupid or providing some kind of comic relief can enable easy exit from situations Hence in Japan, we shall say "Say little and live life!" ;)

Early Hanami in Saitama

Cherry blossoms or “sakura” are not just beautiful flowers but it brings me a certain kind of joy that no other flowers or trees do.  I remember my first visit here in Japan was during Spring of 2012. Together with my then-boyfriend’s mom (now my mother-in-law), I went to the nearest park where sakura trees lined up and we spent moments just admiring the trees.  We took lots of pictures, too.  I fell in love with the beauty of a fully-bloomed sakura tree on the first sight.  But getting a closer look on a single flower made me love it even better. Since then, I always look forward to Spring and witness sakura trees bloom.  This year, I got a pleasant surprise as some trees in our area already started to bloom.   And it's not even March yet.  I am so happy I didn't have to wait any longer.  Also, my mom who is on a one-month visit had a chance to experience cherry blossoms before she comes back home again next week.  Oh, what a joy!  ;) Here are some photos from our February 2017 “hanami” (flower viewing).  Also sharing some photos from my first sakura sighting on March 2012.

Fever Fever!

I don't get sick very often. Even when I do, I can work through most things. This is probably due to my obsession with perfect attendance. I loved getting that certificate at the end of every school year that congratulated me for not missing one day. There were times when my mom suggested that I stay home for my birthday, but I would always refuse because the certificate meant more to me than a shopping trip or going to the zoo. #nerd  My desire for this prestige is only quelled by a stomach virus or food poisoning. It's really hard to work or study with your head in the toilet (trust me I've tried).  So when I call my Japanese boss  and tell him that I can't come in because I am sick, I am truly sick. A normal response would be, "I am sorry you're sick. Get well soon." In Japan, however, my admission of illness is met with, "Yes, but do you have a fever?" It doesn't matter the illness. It doesn't matter that I have just puked up the yakitori that I ate two years ago. No fever = ganbatte. Okay boss, but I might just "ganbatte" all over the floor while doing the Hokey Pokey.

Birthday cake

February is the month of mid- wintery, reliably cold weather and unmotivational blues. All anyone wants to do is huddle down and stay inside. Especially if  there is a kotatsu, the draw of the warm cozy blanket is so luring, no one leaves home without good reason. The promises riding on the bitter cold winds that spring will soon start showing its lovely face are still just whispers between the howls through the empty branches of the trees. But February is also something else for me. February is my birth month.This means cake. Yeah yeah, I know. Shouldn't I be done with cake after Christmas in Japan? It was only a mere month and a half before. But those February blues, that cold melancholy grips me every year. And what better way to pull up from the dreary mundane of winter than by stuffing a sweet delicious and filling pile of cake in my mouth. But this is Japan, the land of light and airy fluff. Heck, Christmas cake is often mostly just whipped cream. Now don't get me wrong, cakes sold in Japanese cake shops are divine. But let us be honest, most of the time they aren't actually selling cake. The shelves are in fact stocked with some form of tort , or a pile of chestnut paste or a pudding even. And when it is cake. with an icing and layers, perhaps topped with glazed fruit so they will hold their perfect flawless shape and color, the texture can be so light it is almost like licking snow. Delicious fruit covered snow. But I don't want snow. It is cold and freezing to the bone outside. The wind is banging on my windows, rattling my walls, yelling at me. It is trying to tell me to brace myself against winter! Pack on some of that winter fluff! Have the calories and the fat. Get something full of butter and flour and sugar. Go for the fudge-y dense stuff. Eat something hearty and pretend you are a polar bear for your birthday, not some snow queen. Japanese cake just doesn't cut it. It's just a snowflake, beautifully crafted, but melts away to nothing all too fast. For my birthday, I need something that will sit in my stomach and last for days. Only then can I find a cozy space to hibernate under my kotatsu and ride out the rest of winter like a true bear would do. So what is a girl with a craving to do? Stare at pictures online of gorgeous cakes, and YouTube videos of how to make cakes more gooey, dense, fudge-y and delicious just with a few tweaks of the ingredients? There is nowhere close that could imaginably have dense rich cakes for sale. I’ve checked all the Japanese cake shops nearby. Delicious, but not dense. All I need is flour, sugar, oil and something to make it puff up. oh, and heat to start the chemical changes to give me something stiff instead of sweet soup.Luckily this girl has a semi-oven. The wonder of Japanese technology allows for one appliance to serve several purposes with just the push of a button. It’s like magic. My microwave is also my oven. I can reheat my coffee and then bake a cake. But my Japanese sorta oven lacks one magic I miss from the States, intense heat. At home, when I would make my birthday cakes in the past, I could feel the oven prepping itself for the batter while I assembled it. My back could feel the toasty waves of heat radiating from behind me as the temperature rose to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, after the batter is complete, I go hide under my kotatsu until the oven beeps at me saying it's reached 180 degrees Celsius, and I have to pop the small round cake mold that I bought from the nearby 100 yen store in as quickly as I can so as not to lose too much heat before closing the door. The room isn’t cozy, but instead full of dry bitter air. The microwave oven does a good job keeping all its heat to itself, sharing it only with my cake batter. Winter is still cold. But I can finally have my cake. All that is left is the icing, but again I am denied what I really desire. It is so sweet and probably just as terrible for you as would be eating a stick of margarine, but pre-made frosting in the cans sold by the boxes of cake mix at grocery stores in the states are just so gooood. I guess I can just settle for something actually tasty, like whipped chocolate ganache. Warm,moist and just out of the oven, my three layer chocolate ganache cake became a two layer cake because this polar bear couldn't hold out for the decoration stage. It really is the best way to somehow enjoy icy and unfriendly February. So, please, before this month ends, go out and enjoy some cake. You know, to celebrate my birthday, or maybe the ending of winter. Whatever excuse you want to give for having cake.

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