Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Japanese Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク

It's been a year since I first came to Japan. I arrived here last year, a few days before Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク and Japanese Golden Week begins yet again, today. That's right, it's vacation time. Eight full days away from class. It's a time to relax, sleep late, consume malt beverages and study some Nihongo and other things.

Here a video I made about my one year anniversary in Japan:
A Year in Japan

A piece of randomness:

I was looking from a free Kansai weekly paper and saw this. Actually my wife spotted it and pointed it out to me. Not the best selling point for a house I think!

I was in KALDI on Sunday looking for some peanut butter when my wife's keen eye noticed this. By the way, KALDI is a coffee shop that sells loads of foreign food items. There's one located in Motomachi in Kobe (close to Chinatown). So, I picked up a jar of Skippy Peanut Butter and this wine.

It's Sakura Wine. That's right, cherry blossom wine. There were actual cherry blossoms at the bottom. We tried it last night with dinner and both didn't like it. It was far too sweet. It actually tasted like liquid candy. I've never been a fan of sweet wines, but this one reminded me of bubblegum in a bottle...with flowers.

You can see the two cherry blossoms up close. Seemed like a great novelty item!

Ume Tonkatsu!

Just before we purchased the wine, we stopped for lunch in a small restaurant in Motomachi. They had some great eats for low prices. I tried the Ume(plum) Tonkatsu. It was basically deep fried pork cutlet covered with salty plum sauce. It was really crispy (how i prefer my tonkatsu) and the sauce added a very interesting and enjoyable flavour. This was a definite treat for me! The meal also came with a bowl of steamed rice and udon soup.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi's Naked Romp

This is big news in Japan.'s not big's the biggest news. One of Japan's biggest celebrities got loaded drunk, took his clothes off and danced around naked in a park. Honestly, what's the big deal? He was just wasted....doesn't everyone at some point get naked in a public park and bark at the moon?

Naked romp shames SMAP boy band star Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and puts media in spin

Times Online

The Japanese media world has been plunged into chaos by the humiliating arrest of Tsuyoshi Kusanagi — a member of SMAP, the biggest, best-loved and most successful boy band in Japanese pop history.

Famed for his boyish good looks, and a repeated winner of the “Mr Jeans Japan” accolade, Kusanagi was bundled into a police car after a night of naked, sake-fuelled mayhem in a central Tokyo park.

“What’s wrong with being naked?” the music and television superstar is said to have screamed as the arresting officers dodged his flailing fists and attempted to wrap him in a plastic tarpaulin. read more...

Japan pop star freed after arrest over indecency

A Japanese pop star was released Friday after being detained overnight for allegedly being naked and drunk in a Tokyo park, police said.

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, a member of hugely popular group SMAP, was arrested Thursday after neighbors complained to police that a drunk man was making a fuss in the park in a posh Tokyo neighborhood.

Dozens of reporters and photographers waited outside the Harajuku police station where Kusanagi was held. A silver van carrying him drove quickly away, its curtains tightly closed. Read More...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I am Skull

Just some silly Japanese diversions. that's all I have time to post today. I saw these socks in a shop in Sannomiya. Sannomiya is the main downtown core of Kobe.

I am Skull! WTF....

Saw this sticker for sale at Kobe's Tokyo Hands shop. Again...WTF????

Monday, April 20, 2009

Giant Spiders and Lunch

I'm supposed to have a picnic with my class tomorrow morning, but by the looks of the weather forecast, that won't be happening. Too bad. I worked my butt off tonight (I exagerrate)to make a bento box. I went to my local supermarket, bought a lunch box, came home and got to work. You can see the end result.

My wife tells me that I make a lunch box like a Japanese woman! I love a loaded compliment!

And in other news (not that the above qualifies in any way as news):

Giant 'spiders' march through Yokohama

Two huge mechanical spiders marched through the streets of Yokohama on Sunday as part of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the city’s port. The 12-meter-high, 37-ton spiders with eight legs, operated by members of La Machine, a French art performance group, paraded near Yokohama port. They were followed by musicians performing on raised platforms attached to accompanying vehicles. Read More...

English lessons by 91-year-old woman in Kagoshima gaining popularity


A 91-year-old woman, who spent her early years in the United States, is giving English lessons at her home in Kagoshima, which is gaining popularity among people who feel that regular English schools are difficult to follow. Hatsune Honda started the Grandma’s English Salon in June 2004. She was born in Taiwan on Dec 15, 1917 but grew up in Los Angeles until she turned 13 years old.

Honda was once an interpreter for Sean Connery when the Scottish actor was filming in Kagoshima in 1966 for the movie, ‘‘You Only Live Twice’‘—the fifth James Bond film in the series. For her, English is easier to speak than Japanese. Read More...

I posted a new You Tube video on my BusanKevin Channel last night. I was wandering around downtown Kobe yesterday afternoon when I stumbled across a samba party. Luckily, being the You Tube geek that I am, I had my camera in my pocket to capture the event.

Japanese Samba Party

In my quest to find more cool and informative podcasts to listen to, I downloaded a few episodes of Planet Japan Podcast and will give them a try during my commute tomorrow. This podcast won the "Best of the Best" award at the Japan Podcaster Awards last year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where do I park my car in Japan?

Most often, in Japanese cities, space is a luxury. What do you do when you buy that second car for your family, but your driveway simply can't accommodate the new vehicle?

I saw this somewhere in Kobe awhile ago. I've sen these contraptions in a few people's driveways. Cool!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Japanese lunch boxes 弁当

I'm pretty sure this past weekend will be the last Hanami for me. I'm now working 6 days a week and up to my eyeballs in work since the new school year just began. I cannot blog or You Tube as much as I normally do, but I still try to squeeze in a bit of "geek" time when I can!

Yesterday I went to the Mukogawa with my wife. It is one of the last weekends (if not THE last) with intact cherry blossoms. We had a great picnic. We bought obentos (lunchboxes) at Hanshin Department in Kobe. These ones were true "gourmet" lunch boxes, unlike the ones you can normally get at a convenience store!

This is what my wife's lunch looked like. It was heavy on the seafood.

Here was mine. It was a "gourmet" tonkatsu or breaded pork cutlet.

The inside of the pork cutlet (very lean white meat) had asparagus and cheese. It was AMAZING! The shop we got it from was KYK in Hanshin Department Store.

Just thought this Coke Zero ad interesting. "Wild Health!" This is Okinawan j-pop singer Namie Amuro and she is indeed impressive!

Here's my most recent You Tube endeavour. I was working on this collaboration video for a few weeks.
A Trip Around the World

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Home Made Okonomiyaki お好み焼き

Japanese food is great stuff and I'm loving the fact that it's everywhere here in Japan! Funny how that seems to work. You'd think that's a no-brainer, but for some expats, Japanese food is something they only eat when they go out to dine. Within the confines of their own apartments or houses, 'Western' cuisine or that of their own native countries is what they consume on a day to day basis.

when I lived in South Korea years ago, I attempted making Korean food at home. Normally it ended up a disaster and it took my stomach years to forgive me for it. I'm sure it was the gochujeong (hot pepper paste) that I toyed with in such a haphazard way that really did me in.

Japanese food seems to be far more forgiving. At least, when I attempt to cook it at home, it is relatively edible. Luckily, my wonderful wife (who happens to be Japanese) is a kick-ass cook. We normally take turns cooking. On Sunday night she whipped up a batch of one of my favorite Japanese foods and a point of pride for the people of Osaka; okonomiyaki.

According to Wikipedia, okonomiyaki お好み焼き, is a Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked" (cf. yakitori and yakisoba). Okonomiyaki is mainly associated with Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. Toppings and batters tend to vary according to region.

Osaka Okonomiyaki - Kansai (Osaka)-style okonomiyaki is the predominant style of the dish, found throughout most of Japan. The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, kimchi, mochi or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or a pancake and may be referred to as "a Japanese pancake", or even "Osaka soul food"

Let's take a look at what was happening in my kitchen last Sunday night and a few of the things you need to do okonomiyaki (Kansai style) right.

Some of the toppings (once the okonomiyaki is cooked) include "tonkatsu" sauce. This sauce is normally poured on top of "tonkatsu" which is a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet.

"Karashi" or Japanese mustard. it has a lot more kick that American style "French's" mustard! You mix it with the sauces that you pour on the cooked okonomiyaki.

Japanese folks love mayonaise (the white bottle). We also mixed "ousta" sauce (I think it's like Worcestershire sauce)with the tonkatsu sauce.

Okonomiyaki wouldn't be complete with a healthy sprinkling of dried sea weed (nori) flakes on top!

"Bonita" flakes. Dried smoked bonita fish.

The batter, pre-cooking. Some of the ingredients included, shredded cabbage, eggs, shrimp, green onion, noodles and pork.

The beautiful okonomiyaki after I added all the awesome toppings!

"Bon appetite!"

By the way, this food goes VERY well with an ice cold glass of draft beer!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sushi City

Yesterday's Hanami festivities were rained out. Instead of having the picnic we planned, it ended up being a leisurely stroll with umbrellas. Once we got home we had a lot of wonderful homemade sushi to eat. My wife is a spectacular cook and earlier that morning prepared an amazing feed of "norimaki" or "makizushi" 巻き寿司(sushi roll) and "inarizushi" 稲荷寿司 (stuffed sushi).

Makizushi (巻き寿司, lit. rolled sushi). A cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat, called a makisu (巻き簾). Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori, but can occasionally be found wrapped in a thin omelette, soy paper, cucumber, or parsley. Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order. wikipedia

Inarizushi (稲荷寿司, stuffed sushi). A pouch of fried tofu filled with usually just sushi rice. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, who is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The pouch is normally fashioned as deep-fried tofu (油揚げ, abura age).wikipedia

You can see the amazing inarizuzhi and makizushi I was able to wolf down for dinner last night. In the front is a bowl of miso soup.

Another shot of my wife's amazing zushi! By the way, "zushi" is the plural form of "sushi."

Sakura and Weird Japanese Candy

Yesterday was a rainy day here in the Kansai, but a nice one nontheless. I went to Nishinomiya 西宮 and to the Sukugawa (Suku River) to check out the cherry blossoms. This place is so famous amongst Japanese for cherry blossom viewing that the train station is actually called, "Sakura Station" さくら夙川駅. Most of them were out. Most people weren't able to have their Hanami parties, but some rather clever groups had jerry-rigged tarps over their heads and were able to party all afternoon!

Some sakura (cherry blossom pictures):

A few days ago I recieved a surprise package in the mail. I quickly noticed the name "runnyrunny999." I know him from the world of You Tube. He's a fellow v-logger here in Japan. Recently he hit 100 subscribers and had a contest. He was giving away odd and bizarre flavours of "Japan only" Kat Kat bars. I WON!! Thanks runnyrunny999. I he sent me a package of Carmel Corn, some Umeboshi (plum) snacks and the "Yuzu Hot Pepper" Kit Kats. Yuzu is a Chinese citrus fruit. It's a cross between a lemon and a lime.

Yuzu and Hot Pepper Kit Kats.

Here's a video I made last year where I taste tested some different "Japan Only" Kit Kat bars.
Japanese Snack Attack

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Learning About Food and Corn Pizza

I love Japanese food. Let my correct that, I love many types of Japanese food, but not everything. I will be the first to admit that there has been, somewhat of a learning curve for me when it comes to embracing all foods new. Point in case; fish. Fish is something that I doubt I will ever "love", but I am indeed growing to tolerate it. Some types I'm even beginning to enjoy eating.

Growing up, I could have been easily placed in the "picky little eater" category of Canadian food consumers. I'd like to blame it on my parents and geographic locale by saying thing such as, "I was never exposed to different foods." Or something like, "I only ever knew meat and potatoes before I came to Asia." I'd say those things, but they'd be outright lies. My parents valiantly attempted to introduce new and wonderful foods to my palate as a youth and I was only exposed to meat and potatoes.

Now, here I am. Living in Japan and exposed to a wide and fantastic cuisine. Previous to moving to Japan I spent more than five years living and working throughout South Korea. I consumed more vegetables than I ever thought humanly possible and ate things I never could have once imagined myself eating (I'm still not really into the kimchi thing though). Here I am, married to a wonderful Japanese woman who is doing her best to convert me to a new religion. That of, "Fish Fan." Will it ever happen? Maybe, maybe not. I am getting better though.

Along the theme of trying new things, there are some I have tried and feverishly see as wrong. Some foods are dear to me. Some foods are sacred. Pizza is one of those sacred foods. Those who have had the fortune to spend time traveling in Asia and have craved something they know, such as pizza, may have been in for a rude awakening at some point.

Corn on Pizza!

It's more common and well-loved here than you might think. It tends to be when you order pepperoni and cheese pizzas. They come slathered in sweet corn.I know what you're thinking! "That's just plain wrong Kevin!" And you are correct in that thinking. The sweet and spicy combination simply fails miserably in this case. At least to the "Western pizza fan" palate.

I took these pictures in my local 7-11 with my camera phone. This is "Pizza Toast", a popular snack here in Japan. Basically, it's bread, instead of crust, with pizza toppings. In this case you can clearly see the corn.

Here it is "up close!" Corn on pizza!! A travesty.

A few days ago I posted a BRILLIANT video of someone making "Korean Pizza." In that video you can see him adding the "very necessary" ingredient of sweet corn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Suicide Trains

My long vacation finished, I dragged my sorry bones out of bed earlier than normal. Even earlier than I normally would if I was heading to class since today I was heading for a day of training and workshops in Osaka. I don't work there, but the head office of my company is located there and it's the most central location for all teachers to meet. Normally, on a good day; it should take me about 90minutes to get there. I take the JR (Japan railway) then switch in Osaka to the subway.

As I raced through Sannomiya Station (the main JR station in Kobe) and pushed my way through the crowds (a technique deemed rude here, but one I perfected in Korea) I got to the train platform and foolishly realized I should have looked at the schedule boards downstairs before making my way through the turn-styles. The trains were all delayed by about one hour and the platform was a madhouse of black-suited salarymen looking more than a little stressed. I was forced to dash back out of the station and head to the Hanshin Railway, where I had the misfortune of taking THE most crowded train I've ever been on in this point.

I've gone through this drill before many times while trying to get to work. The trains are abnormally late, or at least what one might deem as abnormally late. For those wise to the ways of the riding the JR in Japan, you'll know there's only one reasonable explanation for your train arriving one hour later than scheduled...suicide.

Jumping in front of a JR train is one of the most popular ways of offing yourself in Japan and of course, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the entire world. People here, for a wide variety of reasons, take their lives and apparently the JR is a wonderfully convenient way to do it. What happens in the end? You have a dismembered lady or fella, a destroyed family left behind and commuter hell.

This REALLY pisses me off because it normally happens at least once or twice a week while I'm trying to get to work in the morning. I realize my opinion is quite cold and maybe even a bit on the "asshole" side, but there you have with it. If you have experience commuting here, you'd agree!

In the end, I got to my training session only 30 minutes late. Lots of people throughout the Kansai region got to work late as well. I'm just amazed at how common it really is. It's just a sad and inconvenient truth about being a commuter in Japan.