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100 Yen Heat Hack: The Frozen Towel

       When humidity so intense that your clothes are drenched in sweat before you walk for more than ten minutes combines with record high temperatures to create a truly uncomfortable summer experience, you know it's summer time Japan. There are a number of ways to deal with this problem, including hiding in the air conditioning or under parasols whenever possible and wiping down your brow with the wash-cloth sized towels everyone seems to carry. These are great answers, but my solution is a bit different.    My solution may appear strange to some and probably won't be the favorite of any fashionistas, but it works well enough for me. If you have a day planned in which you do not need to wear professional business attire and plan to be out in the sun for a few hours or more, this may help in keeping you cool.     First, buy a towel.     Douglas Adams's adage regarding towels hold true. You should always know where your towel is. Towels are really terribly useful things. First, let's go towel shopping. Your towel needn't be fancy, but should be long, like a face towel. Your towel should be long enough to drape over the back of your neck as that is exactly what it is meant to do.          Material is important as well. We need the towel to be absorbent, so materials like cotton are the best bet. The fluffy micro-fleece varieties work well enough for most home uses, but will not be helpful to us in this venture. If you're not sure the material, check the back label. You can see here that the pink towel is 100% cotton-- perfect for our purposes. The blue micro-fleece towel is not going to soak up what we need it to.  Wet, folded incorrectly.    Take your towel home. Remove the packaging and throw it in the wash if you like. Then, when it  is clean and dry, fold the towel into a smaller form, keeping it as long as possible and dampen it in clean water. The towel should be thoroughly wet, but not dripping. Wring it out if necessary. Now put the towel in your freezer and leave it for a few hours, preferably overnight.     As you can see, I folded it wrong and left it too wet.     Just before you leave, take the towel out and unfold it. It might be a bit stiffened from the freezer, but should become more manageable as it warms up. Once you can, lay it across the back of your neck and enjoy! The ice cold should keep your blood temperature chilled for a bit and once the towel dries in the heat, it will be helpful in wiping away sweat as well.This is the shape you want. If you made the same mistake I did, you might have to pull it in a few directions to get it to do this, but once you do, you can drape it easily across your neck for a rush of cool comfort, or loop it over like a scarf of frozen delight.               Caution: it will leave your clothes moistened! This will also dry in the sun, but if a wet spot on your chest or neckline would be more terrible than extreme heat, perhaps you are better off with a parasol. 

An indication of just how safe Japan is!

My husband sent me a link to this story today, which really made me grateful for living in Japan and the safety I feel here.Someone borrowed this person's bicycle without asking - but upon returning it, they wrote a lengthy note explaining about how they really needed the bike, and to please forgive them and accept this token as a thank you. It was a watermelon (and you know how pricey those babies can be here!)It got me thinking - have you ever had an experience that really gave you that "wow!" moment about how safe/polite/respectful Japan seems to be on the whole?When we first moved here I remember seeing kids of only about 5 or 6 years old on the train alone, and thinking to myself "oh my gosh, are they lost? Where are their parents?!" because you simply couldn't do that back home where I am from. I've also had plenty of people I know that have left iPads, iPhones and so forth on the train by accident - and they've always been returned. I feel like anywhere else in the world, that would be a case of "sayonara expensive electronics!"...but not here!I would love to hear your experiences!

Pikachu McFlurries make everything better!

I've been slow with blogging lately because moving (with two young kids + this stinking hot summer weather) has been zapping every ounce of my energy! What better as an energy pick me up though than a limited edition McFlurry? McDonalds started selling these Pikachu McFlurries on the 14th of this month. I'm a sucker for seasonal stuff or limited edition goodies so I had to try it. It's chocolate banana flavored and it was actually super good. If the summer heat is wearing you down too, give one of these a try if you have a McDonalds nearby! It was 290 yen, so not the cheapest sugary ice cream fix out there - but it wins the adorable stakes!

Costco Products without the Membership

One of the chain supermarkets in our area, Yutoku, sells limited Costco food products. Without going all the way to a Costco location, and for the same price, we can can buy some Costco items without a membership card. There are usually packaged things like tons of kitchen towels, hot cocoa packets, and teas available. In addition I've seen huge (normal in the US) two-packs (1.36 Kilograms each jar) of Skippy peanut butter – for about 2000 yen. I'm tempted to get this because I like peanut butter and it's so cheap compared with buying tiny jars (the 340 g size is usually around 500 yen). The problem is, it's So Much peanut butter, and my husband doesn't really like it. I'd be on my own and it would take forever to use it all. (Or I'd eat a ton of it and gain weight, which is what I'm scared of when I see most of the products from Costco). I'm considering finding someone to split the two-pack with. It's not on a normal schedule that I know of, but one time, I saw some extra Costco products in the bakery section. I was a little shocked to see six packs of giant muffins, bags of dinner rolls, boxed croissants, a giant cheese tart, big tiramisu and berry cakes, and 'Round Pizza.' So... the Costco pizza they were selling was too big. It was take and bake style, and if you don't even have an oven in Japan, that's sort of normal. If you do, chances are it's the size of a dorm microwave in the US. I measured the inside tray in our convection oven / microwave and it's 20 cm across. These pizzas were 40 cm. They were not a bad deal at all, but it would be impossible for me to bake them without cutting them into quarters first. Maybe that would be the perfect amount and we could freeze the rest? How do normal people do this?  In conclusion, it's kinda cool that I can buy Costco products at the local store. But... I probably won't because: A. They're way too much food / too big, and B. I don't want to get fat.  

My thoughts on the Mister Donuts Curry Donuts Line

Sprinkles. Chocolate or Strawberry icing. That's what I think of when I hear the word donut. You can bet that I was a little shocked (and intrigued, too) when I saw the new Mister Donuts line of curry donuts. I naturally had to head to my local store - for research purposes - and try one out.There are several different types featured on their menu right now, including Keema Curry, Green Curry and one they have called Euro Curry. Not going to lie - my expectations were pretty low here. I guess in my head all I could think was that a sweet donut with curry inside sounded terrible. I was actually rather pleasantly surprised, though! The taste was more in line with a curry pan than it was with what you'd expect from a sweet donut, so it wasn't nearly as weird as I would have thought. At less than 200 yen I would get one again if I was in the mood for something savory to eat and there was a Mister Donuts nearby.Have you tried any of the Mister Donuts curry donuts range? What did you think of their offerings?

Morinaga Pineapple Caramel

For the first time I saw Morinaga Caramel in Okinawa Pineapple flavor, so I gave it a try.It was good, like the regular caramel, but with a nice pineapple taste that sort of lingered. My husband said it tastes the same as the normal caramel flavor - the pineapple isn't overpowering for sure.I got this for 108 yen including tax. Have you seen this or any other local Morinaga Caramel flavors?

Books what I have read to me help me understand Japan: AA Gill is away

I consider myself something of a “reader” and I’m interested in the pages being turned by others so to this end I’m going to try and put together a small series of posts about books that I’ve read about Japan in order to have prepared for and / or help me to better understand Japan (or at least get some other perspectives on living and travelling here). However, despite a fondness for a bit of a read, as will soon become abundantly clear, I’m no literary critic so please forgive me as I try and fumble through my opinions on the following texts, the first of which is "AA Gill is away", by AA Gill.  Oh, and the grammatical error in the title of this post was made with purpose.AA Gill (Adrian Anthony) was a British writer who, during his peak was probably one of the most widely read columnists in the land with his critiques in the Sunday Times sparking laughter, anger, emphatic agreement and equally emphatic opposition. AA Gill didn’t hide his opinion and when he wrote it down he amplified it tenfold. Whether you agree with him or not, what can’t be disputed is the unique way he handled the English language. So unique in fact, that Gill himself admitted to at times just making words up. Personally, he was a great influence on me. I love the way he makes scholarly prose accessible like a tabloid newspaper. And he really is laugh out loud funny. Technically that “is” should be a “was”. Gill died in December 2016 after suffering from what he described as “the full English” of cancer.“AA Gill is away” is actually a collection of travel articles written by Gill. The book was first published in the U.K. in 2002 by Cassell & Co. I have a paperback edition published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks in 2005. I bought it from the books section that used to be on the top floor of the Tower Records in Shibuya. I wasn’t looking for it, back then I was a fan of anything “travel” and was also drawn to it by its simple black cover. (A reflection of Gill’s humor, perhaps?)Among the articles in “AA Gill is away” is one entitled “Mad in Japan” written about a trip to Tokyo Gill took in September 2001.In "Mad in Japan", after an initial, and unusually gentle, comparison between the Japanese and the British (island nations and all the rest of it) Gill launches into his typically brutal observations bringing regular readers back to familiar territory. Of the Japanese, “ … after ten minutes in the land of the rising sun, you realize the Japs are off the map, out of the game, on another planet. It’s not that they’re aliens, but they are the people that aliens might be if they’d learnt Human by correspondence course … “.  Of course, one can’t make such extraordinary claims without backing them up. (Although how many of us have been guilty of the occasional lapse into lazy “weird Japan” social media contributions?). And back them up he does, in his own way. Falling victim to Gill’s vicious pen are the toilets (“... twenty-first-century bogs and thirteenth-century bog roll.”), and the plastic food displays (“Only a Japanese person could see a plate of propylene curry and say: “Yum, I’ll have that.”). But these can really be taken or left behind, they are of little importance. What Gill gets his teeth into are the people and Japanese society as a whole;“How come Japan has such commercial success but still manages to be a socially weird disaster? Because, have no doubts, they’re not happy.”.I think until I had read this line, I’d never really thought of a nation’s populace being collectively unhappy. I mean, we see nations at war on the TV and are shown lots of images of people looking unhappy (to say the least, and very understandable) but one always has the feeling of hope, that this will end, that things will get better. Gill seems to be saying of the Japanese that they are an unhappy collective by default, or nature even. The key reason for this he thinks is religion. He’s critical of Shinto for lacking “the most rudimentary theology” and that oft used turn of phrase about the Japanese being born Shinto, married Christian and buried Buddhist, Gill states has the consequence of the Japanese believing “everything and nothing”. I’d have to agree here. I’m not religious myself but this pic n mix approach to theology, from a distance, looks like playful habit, like putting out a mince pie for Santa’s reindeer at Christmas, rather than getting to the crux of anything spiritual. Not that I see anything wrong with this and nor would I cite it as causing the Japanese be miserable (which I don’t think they are).One wonders how Gill would see the role of religion (or lack thereof) in Japanese society now at time when increasingly vocal atheist intellectuals, lead posthumously by Christopher Hitchens, are proscribing less religion as a cure to the world’s ills (sometimes citing Japan as an example of how good things could be).  Still, it’s a lack of religion, or at least genuine spirituality, that is at the core of Gill’s further biting observations about the Japanese and their society; the lack of individuality where a person’s only self worth comes in the form of a job but that same job existing in a culture of work that is based on a fear of shame.In one of Gill’s more interesting observations about Japan he is informed that there is, “worryingly”, no indigenous word for the female orgasm. “Worryingly” sets the tone for the following passages about Japanese attitudes towards sex, femininity and a male-dominated society. He attacks the vanity of the Japanese male; “Hairdressing, waxing, face-packing, ear-grouting and general pandering and pampering to aesthetic hypochondria are multimillion-yen businesses.” But this pales in comparison to his anger at the treatment of women in Japan which he writes is on display in the “dehumanizing view of women in manga”. Now, anyone who’s kept at least one ear to the news in Japan over the last couple of years will have heard the term “womenomics”, prime minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign to address gender inequality. How this is getting on, I would be lying if I said I knew. There are those who will likely see it as empty promise as there are those who will likely cite success stories. One thing that we can be sure of though, is that womenomics has done nothing to address the distressing treatment of the female characters in manga. If Gill were able to come back to Japan today, 16 years on, he would see little change in the nation’s comic books.  Earlier this month, Japan passed a new law regulating underage schoolgirl dating services which now prohibits girls younger than 18 from being employed by “JK businesses”. (JK - joshi kosei - high school girl). That it’s taken until 2017 for the powers that be in Japan to even “regulate” such a nefarious industry should send a shiver down our spine. Gill made a similar observation in 2001 in what he described as “the violent sexualising of their youth” when talking about the behaviour of younger girls in Japan. The consequence of this, he cites, is that “they consume; they shop with myopic concentration.” And this is true to a certain extent - the Japanese do love a good shop. It had never occurred to me that in a certain demographic of shopper the reason behind it might be so depressing.By the end of Mad in Japan we’re hoping / thinking that maybe Gill might surprise us and say something positive about Japan. He doesn’t. In fact he arguably saves his most brutal observation for last;“You never feel love here. They have obsession, yearning and cold observation - even beauty and devotion - but nothing is done or said with the spontaneous exuberance of love … “.Clearly Gill only spent a short time in Japan (he openly admits in the book’s introduction that he doesn’t stick around) and I’m fairly sure that most people who’ve spent a good bit of time here could categorically show this "lack of love" to be untrue. I know that I can. And anyway, I think I can detect a sense of genuine care and concern in Gill’s words here, although I would speculate that he wouldn’t want to admit to this. Gill thrived on getting his readers wound up and seemed not to care about seeking sympathy or agreement.  “Mad in Japan” is only about twelve pages of a book, but it’s possibly the most unique twelve pages I’ve read about Japan, anywhere. I don’t agree with half of what AA Gill says and I know he’s trying to wind me up, but none of this stops him being laugh out loud funny. All of “AA Gill is away” is a great read. Just take it with a pinch of salt.I’d really like to know what books about Japan you’ve read and if you’ve got any recommendations.


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