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A Unique Way to Apologise - no bloodspill required

Committing suppuku (ritual suicide) seems a bit of an extreme way to show remorse for a mistake or wrongdoing to me. Thankfully a creative Tokyo confectioner, 3rd generation owner Yoshihisa WATANABE, came up with a slightly less life altering way to offer one's apologies.  Enter, the seppuku manju, a Japanese-style sweet produced by confectionary company Shinshodo.  Sinshodo is located in Shimbashi, Tokyo, near a stone monument marking the place of death of Lord ASANO Takuminokami.  Asano-san was ordered to commit ritual suicide after attempting to his instructor with a sword.  He killed himself in a garden what was not too far from the the stone monument erected in 1940 in 4-chome Shimbashi, on Hibiya-dori. The popular "seppuku manju" is made with a red bean paste oozing out from a crisp outer shell.  Biting into the sweet, you discover a soft, chewy white mochi (sticky rice cake) in the centre.  Visually, the sweet is a representation of the bloody deed.  These days, business people who need to apologies to a client for example, will produce a box of these sweets to show their remorse. Traditionally, the most common form of ritual suicide is harakiri, also known as seppuku. Harakiri (腹切り) and seppuku (切腹) are both written with the same characters.  腹means "belly" (stomach) and 切 means "to cut".  Harakiri is a slightly less formal way to refer to seppuku. ShinshodoHours: 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM (open until 5:00 PM on Saturdays).Closed:Sundays and holidaysAddress: 4-27-2 Shimbashi; Minato-ku, Tokyowww.shinshodoh.co.jp/

A Guide to Crane Games

    Stuffed toys. Chocolate. Replica katana. Wireless keyboards. Pocket watches. Anime figurines and models. Fukubukuro. Snacks. These are just a handful of things I have seen offered as prizes in the crane games inside of Japanese gaming centers. Some are bizarre, some enchanting, but most are deceptively difficult to deliver. Here are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your crane-gaming experiences in Japan.    First, let's look at the variation of crane games currently offered. I realize that not everyone spent hours of their youth in the cheap arcade of a Texas bowling alley, mastering the art of the claw machine, but that lack of experience doesn't mean you can't win anything. While winning might not be easy, there are many variations of the machine and strategies to win. Let's start with the basics.    The most traditional model of the claw machine has a three pronged claw which is controlled by a joystick or button panel that move it into position above the desired prize. The claw then drops and clamps the prize, bring it up and into a prize chute or tilting it over an edge into a prize chute. In a perfect world, it's just that easy.    The tricky part?    In larger machines, the claw's tension can be loosened so its grip on the prize is tenuous at best. This means a one shot win is next to impossible. The loose claw prevents a proper hold from forming and may swing the prize in a number of not entirely intended directions.    Solution: Use your plays to lead the prize closer to the chute, placing the claw in a position to overlap the prize and the area between it and the prize chute, so the sloppy grip might still pull the thing closer to winning by your third or fourth attempt. This may sometimes backfire as the loose grip might swing the prize back away from the chute.    The 2-claw machines are frequently used for smaller plush toys or items in long containers that have to be pulled, tilted, or slid from their perch into the prize chute. Thinking about the weight distribution of the prize can be helpful here as a good grip on the heaviest area can knock the prize off balance and lead to an early win. With the box prizes, if there appears to be even weight distribution, think about physics. Where would a little claw pulling slightly upward do the most good? Guessing and checking is sometimes necessary to attain these prizes.    Positioning is also important in the little games as only the prizes in the very front are generally attainable. If you have your eye on a prize in the back, ask a game center staff member to come and help (just pointing at the prize can be helpful) or come back later to see if your prize has made its way to the front.    The final claw option is the one-claw machine, like a half-functional version of its two-armed sibling. The prizes are often marked by a small paper circle, which sticks out from the prize, waiting for the one claw to be perfectly positioned above it. Even when this happens, the result may only be a move of a couple of inches at the most, meaning this prize may be a significant expenditure of money, time and energy.    There is a minor cousin of the one-claw, which I call the scoop. These are usually little machines in the center-front of the game center, offering small toys or chocolate piled high on 4 plastic platforms, each emptying into its own prize chute. Below the evenly placed platforms, a conveyor belt of similar prizes rotates. For 100 yen, a player may use the one scoop attachment to scoop up prizes from the conveyor belt and drop them onto the platform, hopefully taking up enough space to knock over and win the tower of prizes. These take a lot of time and money to win, and usually the prizes can be purchased elsewhere cheaper, which is why these are usually the favorites of small children. That said, I did knock over the tower of chocolate wafers in a tiny game center in rural Gifu in 2008. It was glorious.    The last game on my list is the one at which I am the worst. The pincer game involves positioning a small set of pincer-scissors exactly behind a small exposed section of string connected to the desired prize. As you can see by the fraying of the string in this picture, even getting the thing into the right position does not necessarily guarantee a win.Whatever your game and however you play it, good luck and have fun! Remember: if you don't win, you can probably buy the prize at BookOff later anyway.

Karee-meshi: Instant cup curry and rice

I'm a fan of cup noodles, for their convenience and the taste too. However, having noodles all the time can get boring, so this item of an instant cup curry and rice caught my eyes as it seems to offer a change. I gave it a try, and the result was.... interesting.This little quick meal is sold for around 200yen, and is available in most supermarkets and convenient stores too. All you need is some hot water and a patience that lasts around 5 minutes before you can dig in.Open the package, and you can find a block of Japanse curry, some "beef like things", and some rice that looks like space food.While the curry tastes pretty good after a quick stir, what I couldn't get over with was the space rice. It felt like some air-dried rice that got soaked up with hot water, not in a good way. For a quick meal, it tasted not bad, but if you're looking for some fluffy rice, the instant cup rice option is still not that feasible yet, unfortunately.

Tulip Collection 2017!

Sakura Shots

City or Rural?... or the 3rd Option?

City or rural, that is the question. When foreigners look towards the East and see Japan, the most common image that comes to mind is Tokyo: The Shibuya crossing, Akihabara, Shinjuku station, the night scene of the lit-up Skytree. Those who dug deeper into the culture of Japan see a different picture: the grandmas working in the rice paddies, the trees along the little creek, the old wooden houses with paper doors and the children playing outside as the cicadas sing (or scream, depending on your perspective).These two images resemble the two very different sides of both. Both are part of the country, but they don't co-exist close to each other, so many visitors in the country as well as local citizens all have this question to settle on: Do they want to live in the city, or the rural side of Japan?Living in the city is of course, all about its conveniences, energy, and opportunities. To reside in a place like Tokyo means that the city never sleeps, literally. Any part of the city is within the reach of a couple train transfers, so there are always activities for you to do. You can spend your morning in Ueno park, hop over to Shibuya for a quick lunch and shopping, then travel to Roppongi for a beautiful and romantic dinner. And if you're not quite ready to go home yet, you can stay out and keep drinking until you've had enough and want to spend a night at karaoke or a manga cafe. These can all happen spontaneously, because that's just how convenient the city is.There are, of course, a whole lot more job opportunities too in cities. While English teachers are needed all over the country in private and public institutions, jobs of other fields, especially the more focused careers will likely have their headquarters in cities like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and others. Many choose to live in or at least close to these places just to open themselves up to opportunities to fulfill their ambition in life.Life in the countryside, on the other hand, just isn't the same, because people who live there aren't seeking for the same. At least, I hope they weren't. Living in the rural side of Japan is all about the peace, harmony, and nature. Being satisfied with what is around you so you can focus on the blessings you have in life and earth, rather than chasing after the shining lights and booming echoes. Surely it isn't convenient, but when peace and time is what you have, there is no need for convenience and there isn't anything that cannot be handled. People in the countryside are also much nicer and more open to each other because they understand the importance the humanity better when they don't live a life that requires you to squeeze your arm and leg onto the next rapid train to attend the next business meeting. A few people may have chosen the rural side for saving money, but even more people are there to save time and space in their heart for peacefulness.As a man who has lived in both, I have experienced and understood the merits of each. They are entirely different from each other, and being as greedy as I am, it is really difficult to select one over the other. Deciding where I want to go next is a constant struggle, and I imagine this struggle applies to people alike not only in Japan, but anywhere in the world with a developed city-side. However, I also believe that there's the third option, the Suburban area. The outer edges of Tokyo, for example, provides some of the nature and peace that I long for from the rural side of Japan, but at the same time, a quick hop onto the train with some extra minutes will take me out into the heart of the city, where I can feel rushed and energized until I've had enough and decide to head back home to calm down.I used to live in Saitama, and personally, that was the perfect balance for me. I didn't have the extremes of either side, but I also didn't want them. It was convenient enough, it was peaceful enough, it was just enough for me, and I imagine that other surrounding prefectures like Kanagawa and Chiba, or other prefectures or outer edges around other major cities in Japan can offer similar feelings for those who have experienced the goods of both the city and rural side and just couldn't give up either. Thanks for reading.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Follow me for more of the little everyday magic I encounter in Japan.

The Adventures of Banana Teacher 06 - Stick Kid pt. 1

With both graduation and entrance ceremonies behind us, the kindergarten I work at has returned to normal. The new students are adjusting to their new environment and the returning students are adjusting to their new teachers. I usually spend the first few weeks of a new school year teaching procedures and rules and getting the kids used to my classroom. Things were going great... at first. Now, it isn't uncommon for new students to join a few weeks after the new year has started. So when I saw an unfamiliar face peering into my classroom, I knew that I would be getting a new student soon. The school's principal came in and introduced me to said strapping young lad and his father. I said the normal "hajimemashite" and continued on with my class. The kid seemed okay. He looked a bit overwhelmed and didn't understand any English, but this is common and easily resolved. The principal directed the student and father into the office to fill out paperwork. Since  my class was over, I walked down the hallway and noticed that said child was currently hitting his father with a rather large bamboo stick while the father tried filling out the paper work. I tried to engage SK (stick kid) so that his father could fill out the required documents in peace, but my attempts were in vain. While trying to communicate with SK, two of my students passed by. They tried to be friendly by giving their blunt object wielding classmate a grand, "hello"! Uninterested in the other children, SK continued with his life's mission: hitting his father with the stick. My students continued to say, "hello", but SK wouldn't even give them the time of day. Feeling defeated, they began to walk away, but not before So-kun exclaimed loudly in Japanese, "He must be a baby. He is so rude." While most children object to being called  a "baby" by telling the teacher or yelling back, SK reacted in what I can only describe as a fit of pure animal rage. He proceeded to stand up on the chair and jump down, all while waving the stick and shrieking. My students, fearing for their lives, ran away screaming as fast as their little legs could carry them. Luckily the school secretary was able to grab him before he could hit either of the other kids, but this earned her a few jabs in the behind with the stick. I stood there stunned and terrified. I made sure that the principal and secretary knew that I don't allow sticks in my classroom and to make sure that the father understood this. I then walked away shaking my head and questioning my career choice.My new wine glass...

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