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Whose food is it anyway?

A country`s food culture is like a window into the heart of the people who live there. You can tell a lot about people from what they eat. Italians like to have longwinded conversations, much like the spaghetti they eat, Russians have heavy personalities, like stroganoff, and Americans are like tater tots. You can`t just have one. And if it wasn`t obvious before, I just made all that up. I am a simple man. I come from a small country with a rather limited food culture (amongst other scarcities). So my knowledge is limited in the culinary aspects. If someone tells me a food comes from some country, I will believe that with all my might. I will take that information to my grave. So imagine a 20-something man in his first ever ALT teaching job in an Elementary school. Bright eyed, full of hope and wonder, wanting to make a difference in the world of children. “Let`s do self-introductions” the homeroom teacher shouts and everybody thinks that is a great idea! The kids want to know what strange and weird and possibly horrifying likes and dislikes this Non-native, but still somehow innocent looking enough English teacher has. “What Japanese food do you like?” They shout in unison (because I made them to) and I answer with full confidence “I like Ramen!”. …Silence in the classroom. The longest three seconds in this new teacher`s life. Oh-emm-gee, have I said something to offend? Have I possibly struck a sensitive cord that will inevitably result in my expulsion? Has the Japan dream died before it started? …no. Of course not. But I did get a room full of 10 year olds explaining to me that Ramen is in fact not Japanese, but Chinese instead. So I learned a valuable lesson that day. Until I went on Wikipedia and read that ramen is a Japanese cultural icon! Now I don`t know what to think anymore. So here I want to explore some staple food of Japan, find out its origins and whether it can be considered Japanese food (Read: What I can and cannot say in front of 10 year olds) 1. Ramen (Definitely Japanese) As I said before, it most definitely is Japanese food, gosh darn it. Whatever the kids these days say. It IS true, however that the noodles themselves come from China. The word Ramen even comes from the Chinese word “lamian”. Now I don`t think I need to sing its praises or anything; I`m sure we all have a small, emergency ramen stash (or in my case, an entire full cabinet) but that`s just the instant stuff.  The thing about Japan however, is whenever they get something new, they do not mess around with it. It is either fully in or out. So they took ramen, put it through its paces and created local varieties with flavors complementing the area. Don`t think you need to visit every small inaka town in Japan to be able to taste the variety however. (Well, you can, and if you do, please write an article in City Cost for each one). For example, on the 10th floor in Kyoto station, you can find a Ramen street, a collection of ramen shops from different areas of Japan. I recommend “Ramen Todai” since I love everything to do with pork. (The vending machines also have English language support).   2. Tempura (possibly Japanese) Before the Portuguese came to Nagasaki in the 16th century, the Japanese “tempura” was just deep fried food, without any eggs or even flour (sometimes rice flour). I don`t know about you, but the batter made from flour and eggs are what makes tempura the irresistible delicacy that it is. Never mind what is inside the batter. If the crunchy, oily stuff on the outside isn`t there, I wouldn`t touch it with a ten foot chopstick. 3. Curry (absolutely Japanese *terms and conditions apply) So I come to my Junior High School one day and half the school is missing. I ask the remaining teachers and they inform me that there`s a school trip. Kasajizo: Where did they go? Teacher:To the countryside. Kasajizo: Why did they go there? Teacher:To make curry. Kasajizo: Why curry? *teacher shrugs and walks away. Need I say more? (I also have a stash of curry roux in my other cabinet) Never mind the fact that the Japanese curry we know today was not available in supermarkets until the 60s. Today I think a household in Japan without at least one packet of curry roux is extremely rare. In short, Japan can call any food they want Japanese if they want. There is a certain separation from “Traditional” Japanese food, called Washoku and the western one called Yoshoku, but how far you have to look back for a food to become “traditional” requires a level of research that is beyond me. Post script: For the sake of weirdness, here is a picture of the strangest drink I have ever bought. Orange juice with rare cheese flavor. And yes, it tasted just as you would expect. Disgusting.

Memories of an Unexpected New Year's Eve at a Small Temple in Kyoto.

            New Years Eve is always a really big deal for me; I love the feeling of celebrating and reflecting on what's been and looking forward to, and creating new dreams and resolutions for the year ahead. Every year I try to mark it by doing something different, and I've found that Japan holds an attractive array of both traditional and less-traditional options up its sleeve for me to be able to achieve that. From the traditional Oshogatsu traditions, to countdown parties, to live shows , to early morning hikes for the purpose of getting that all important first glimpse of the year's first sunrise (Hatsushinode) - there really is something to cater to every taste.One of my most memorable New Year's Eves here sort of came about by accident in Kyoto on the turn of 2012 and 2013 . The plan had been to head to the city's much-famed Chion-in Temple to bear witness to the ringing of it's seventy ton bronze bell. The bell is one of the largest in Japan, and every year it takes 17 monks  to perform the customary Japanese New Year ritual: 'Joya no Kane' which involves striking the bell 108 times; making it  one the most sought after New Year spectacles in Japan.This reputation together with Kyoto's own reputation for being the place to go to for an authentic Shogatsu experience means that every year the temple is descended upon by thousands of people, which can often lead to overcrowding and many people being turned away at the gate; which proved to be the case for me and hundreds of others others who had failed to read the subconscious small print saying: 'get there early to avoid disappointment'. Luckily for us the Maruyama park area (where the temple is located) had several much more localized smaller temples tucked away in it's streets. The kind of temples that usually get overlooked by visitors to the area in favor of the area's more celebrated venues like Chon-in and nearby Yasaka Shrine.To this day I still don't know the name of the temple I ended up at.  I just remember walking off into the area's adjacent side streets and joining on to the first line I saw, hoping for the best with a sense of not really knowing what to expect. Although, One thing I did know was that rather than watching hatsumode rituals being performed by others, I was now  on the verge of fully engaging with Japanese New Year tradition by actually ringing a bell at a temple on New Years Eve myself; a custom which I'd be partaking in for the very first time. I'd visited shrines in an around Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo during the first few days of January before, but never a temple on New Year's Eve.Once midnight came about a group of well-meaning French tourists attempted to encourage a countdown and then proceeded to crack open a small bottle of champagne. Coming from a culture of New Year countdowns and parties, I desperately wanted to join in, but given my position as part of a peaceful line waiting to enter a temple, it just somehow didn't seem entirely appropriate, so I just joined in with a light applause of solidarity along with a few other people waiting alongside me.One hour later, and I was still yet to step foot on to temple grounds. By this point my toes despite being comfortably cushioned in what deceivingly gave off the look of being super warm ugg boots were cold to the point of pain. Part of me did contemplate giving up and heading to one of the nearby shrines to observe happenings there, but I'd made it this far and didn't want to walk away from something that I knew could potentially be a special and memorable experience. As the long wait continued a very sweet Japanese family decided to strike up a conversation with me. I think it was my jumping up and down in an attempt to keep my feet warm which caught their attention. Our short conversation though, was a nice way to pass the time, and before long we soon found ourselves finally making that long-awaited step through the temple gates.The next big moment of excitement came when we were finally able to get our first glimpse of the temple and  its bell ringing platform. As we gradually moved closer the sound of the bell's distinctive chimes  grew stronger and the anticipation and excitement for what we were about to experience grew more powerful.Lining the path to the bell were several monks bowing and welcoming worshippers one by one, which added a more personable feel to proceedings. There were also several fires lit inside medium-sized metal cans. Walking past them was definitely a source of warmth on what was a freezing cold night, but I knew that that wasn't their purpose.The Japanese family who I'd spoken to earlier explained that the fires were placed there for people to burn their omamori (lucky charms) from the previous year which are purchased from shrines every year. Anyone who has seen one of these charms will no doubt  describe how gorgeously crafted they are through a combination of silk and beautiful kanji inscriptions.I asked the mother from the family in front of me if she ever 'felt sad about throwing such a beautiful object into a fire?' She explained that when she buys them every year she becomes attached to the charm's meaning and not to the charm itself. She then went on to tell me a story about a time  when she had once sent an omamori to her friend in Germany as a gift. Her German friend responded with a card 'thanking her for the beautiful gift, with a promise to treasure it forever'. She smiled and said that 'it all made sense now'. I smiled too, our difference in thinking was enlightening.After almost three hours of waiting, and  with my toes now surely on the cusp of frostbite, I was now just eight people away from ringing the bell.  I felt a sudden wave of panic as I realized that I wasn't actually sure what I was supposed to do:  I observed closely the people in front of me for tips on the correct bell ringing etiquette to follow: from what I could gather from my crammed moments of on-the-spot study, it seemed to be prey and bow once, ring the bell, bow and prey again before making way for the person waiting  behind.Typically, my own encounter with the bell ringing process ended up being a lot more comical than it should have been: as I readied the bell pull, the bakers boy hat which I somehow managed to forget I was wearing fell off rather awkwardly in slow motion. It  was picked up for me  a few moments later by the lady following me on to the bell ringing platform. I thanked her, bowed politely and left feeling slightly embarrassed, but also fulfilled having finally sampled a New Year's Eve in Japan in true Japanese style. With the wisdom of hindsight, I now realize that I should of taken the hat off, out of respect more than anything else.The streets  that greeted me outside the temple were filled with people making their way to other nearby temples and shrines to complete their own annual Hatsumode rituals. There was also a line of yatai (street food vendors) which are always a much welcome and common sight at most festivals in Japan. The New Year festivities were now in full swing, and the atmosphere was suitably festive and full of optimism and mystery for what the new year  would bring. I stopped off at one of the yatais for some Takoyaki before taking a relaxed and appreciative stroll back to the station and making my way back to Osaka just in time for first sunrise of the 2013 over Abeno Harukas. 

The grievances of 2016 that weren`t

This year has been a remarkable one. With celebrities dropping like flies and America`s political biosphere on fire, it is good to look back and reflect on all the good and bad things these past 365 days have brought. Of course, living in Japan is a whole other story. When you stay here for long enough, the outside world starts to look like some distant memory; nothing can touch you. For some, this means the stress of war, turmoil and new presidents (not necessarily talking about Trump here. Iceland also got a new president this year, albeit one with less fabulous hair). Some people come to Japan to run away from their problems. The problem is that this country is not free from its own problems. Troubleshooting in a completely different environment is not for the faint of heart, and many well-meaning individuals buckle under the pressure and leave within a few months. There is a term I often refer to when discussing the expat experience: The Honeymoon Period. For those not familiar with the term, The Honeymoon Period is the time period in the beginning of your stay somewhere unfamiliar, where everything seems perfect. The flowers smell fresher, the air is cleaner, the people more polite, trains on time and the food. Oh my Glob, the food! Like an explosion of feel-good senses burst from your brain and permeates everything you see. Even the homeless people seem to be smiling. Now, as we hopefully know by now, all good things come to an end. It is sad but true. You wake up one morning and you find an uncooked rice in your bowl of gyudon. You drop your change from the conbini because the teller put the coins on top of the receipt again. Some kid yelled “Why Japanese people!” at you for the three-thousandth time and something inside you. Just. Snaps. This is when the honeymoon period ends. The time it takes differs between people. For some it takes only a few months. For others, a few years. The most common timeframe I`ve heard is two years. It seems that the second or third year for expats is the hardest one. I guess it has something to do with starting to see patterns in life. You`ve experienced the same things before, the veil of freshness drops and your brain starts getting bored. And when it gets bored, it starts focusing on the negative parts in life. And that`s when you`re in trouble. For myself, I have no idea where I am on the “honeymoon-period-curve”. I am on my third consecutive year in Japan, but my fourth in total. I have experienced some hardship and annoyances during that time, but never have I gotten close to saying “well, it has been fun. I`m leaving. See ya never!”. So for the difficulties of 2016, I would only count the minor grievances as a collective, rather than one big event. And even then, these annoyances don`t add up to me wanting to pack my bags.   So, without further ado, I present the top 5 gripes of 2016 in no particular order. 1. The amount of people (hito-gomi). There are so many people in Japan. There are so many people in the cities. There are so many people in my train station. Why can I not get a seat on the train at 7:30 on a Wednesday in the most populated station in West Japan? Why is everybody pushing me? Why is that person running? What does he know that I don`t? Don`t you dare steal that seat. I saw it first! What`s that smell? Why is a school baseball team taking the train now? Despite all that, I actually really like riding trains. 2. Polite versions of already polite enough words There`s the plain form, there`s the polite form, there`s the super polite form and probably twenty more forms. I barely mastered using the desu-masu forms, and the teller in the Disney store just asked me something I couldn`t understand. I say “eh?” and the teller replies “puresento?” like I`m a damn fool. Even now, I cannot recall what she actually said, but I know it was not a “masu” form of any word I know. Or maybe it is. Now, the real reason I don`t understand is because I haven`t bothered to learn as much as I should have. That doesn`t make me feel any better, you know! 3. The lack of sleep Japan has such variety. There are so many things to do here. Everything is available almost any time of the day. 24/7 entertainment. Why would you want to leave? Why would you want to sleep? So what if you have to wake up at 6:30 to dance in front of hundreds of 6 year olds. You can survive on 3 hours of sleep and coffee. There is no escape. Sleep or boundless entertainment. Choose one and regret the other. 4. The variety Why buy this when you can buy that? This place has a discount, but this place uses point cards. If you sign up now, this place offers a free takoyaki machine with your purchase. Options, options, options! Sometimes I wish for a world that has just ONE STATE APPROVED TOILET PAPER TYPE. And then I remember that I actually like takoyaki. Oh well. 5. The weather It`s too sunny. It`s too cloudy. It`s too rainy. It never snows! It`s too cold! Why can`t it be summer in wintertime and winter in summertime? Why is the weather not like it used to be back home? What? It`s because I`m not home? What`s this nonsense? Now, as you may have noticed, these are extremely minor annoyances. Barely worth mentioning. And all of them can be summed up to my own personal view of the world. My own failures as a person, my own inexperience and my own irrational, egotistical ways. And that is the way of the world. We all get upset sometimes that the world doesn`t revolve around us. And that`s quite alright. As long as we recognize and deal with our feelings in a productive, safe manner (Batting center!), it`s alright to feel the way we feel. If you start feeling overwhelmed and alone, just remember that there are options (options, options, options!). We all get into a slump every once in a while. As Doctor Seuss said, there are plenty of ways to “unslump” yourself. 2016 is coming to an end. The next year will promise another four seasons and a whole lot of reasons to leave the country. It also gives us just as many reasons to stay. So let`s rejoice and count our lucky stars we`re not celebrities.

Oshogatsu ( New Year ) in Japan

In Japan they spend their new year in visiting a temple. In the midnight of Dec.31st the temple bell begins to ring . And they pray for a good health and prosperous for the coming year. And some of them went to a mountain to witness the first sunrise of the year.

Temple visit for autumn colors

Autumum colors make us reflesh.Therefore, currently Kyoto has full of tourists especially the locations of popular places to visit .As majority of international travelers checking guidebooks like lonely planet.If you want to avoid too many international tourists especially when you prefer to experience something more like locals or only somebodies domestic travelers come to visit ,suppse nice to visit somewhere out of city Kyoto but close to city Kyoto .They have community festival sometimes and some of them are open to public .They have events for craft markets , local traditional plays etc, There is also trail . If you want to hike / heal ,I would recommend you to visit this small temple ."" Please follow to some rules . Good manners are very appropriated"""".*** They says "" NO POKÉMON GO "" please ! ****

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Ways to Live in Japan (The Good)

Japan is always full of awesome things. It is old, modern, traditional, and sometimes downright bizarre. That is why people want to come here. They really want to experience this for themselves. Of course it's not all just plus, plus, plus. There are some downsides to living here, and some really big downsides to living here. I would like to explore all of these things over the course of a few articles.Let's begin with the good about living here!10) Super Cute Cafes!!!!Do you love cats?  Do you like dogs, owls, snakes, goats, or any kind of animal? Then Japan is definitely something you might want to consider. They have a plethora of animal cafés. The animal cafés are generally catered towards the tourists that come to Japan. Most of the cafés are actually bilingual, and they are more than happy for you to come and play with the animals, drink coffee, and take photographs.  The only downside to this experience is that you may come out smelling a bit like an animal, and a lot of cafés expect you to pay a high price to cover charge. If you are willing to pay it for the cuteness overload, then do it!  Animal cafés are really not hard to find in Japan. 9) Famous Sights Most people come to Japan for the anime on the manga. Yes yes that is great. However, they generally do not know what else is lying underneath until they get to Japan. That is the sights. Japan have some really spectacular  famous sites. The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree,  and many others. They are very picturesque. 8) Purikura, Bags, Robots, and DeerPurkiura is just plain fun! The bags here are super cute, and the deer just roam the streets in Nara. There is also a Robot Restaurant. Enough said about that one! Oh, the have some really cool optical illusions museums as well.7) IlluminationsOne thing that the Japanese do really well is their illuminations. Their illuminations really do rival other countries. In particular my own. Some of the best time of year to see their illuminations is at Christmas and New Year. They illuminate the cities and put on special illumination displays all over Japan. When they are not illuminating at Christmas and New Year, they illuminate special tourist spots. Oh, and don't forget those firework festivals in the summer!6) A Nice Potty for your BottyWant to feel like a queen on a porcelain throne? Japan is very concerned about health and hygiene. Latest modern toilets and bathrooms come separately. Out in the public, the toilet has gone from the good old squat to a lady of the highest order. The most highest tech of toilets come with lids that automatically rise, a toilet seat for the potty training child, heated toilet seat for the ladies, automatic flush (be careful not to get an accidental bottom wash), bottom wash, bidet, hot and cold water options, and heated seats. Sorted!5) Shrines and TemplesJapan is steeped in history. The one history that they really set by is there shrines and temples. You can find some of the most famous shrines and temples in certain areas of Japan. Temples will normally have a pagoda nearby. Shrines are easily recognizable as they will have a large gate (torii gate) placed outside of all the entrances. These gates with be either bright red or stone colour. If you are lucky, then you may get to see monks putting on a service.4) Matsumoto / Matsumoto CastleMatsumoto is a very severely underrated tourist spot. That in itself is actually quite sad. Matsumoto is one of the most quaintest old cities that there is in Japan. It's quite close to Tokyo, and that is generally the reason why it is overlooked. It really shouldn't be. It sits in the mountains, and it boasts a large castle which is illuminated at night. It also has a quirky art museum and a miso soup museum where you can eat miso flavoured ice cream.3) Bullet TrainThe one thing every foreigner must try is the bullet train. Expensive it may be, but if you have yourself a JR pass, then Japan is your oyster and you can travel as many times as you like on it.2) Food and Drink Yes, Japan is very good for food. Sushi, donbori, soba, sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured soba, sakura pepsi, green tea senbei (rice cracker), plus normal foods. They also like to make food into characters such as Anpanman or Kitty. You will never be dissappointed.Oh in that picture above, the chocolates in the box and big hearts are nama chocolates, the chocolates on the plate are almond and coconut chocolates, and the chocolate in the bag is vegan chocolate. I made all of these. My own recipes.1) Seasons and LandscapesThis makes number one. Japan has amazing views in all seasons. The most famous is cherry blossom season, but autumn, winter, and summer all yield great photographic opportunities. My favourite though is landscapes. My most favourite landscape is on Miyajima Island.So that was the good. What about the bad?

Kyoto : Inari Taisha

Kyoto : Inari Taisha

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