Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Root beer was a hit in my class...mostly

I have a class of Junior High school girls that loves to talk about food.It probably partly can be blamed on the fact that they come to my class hungry. Anyway, I recently went to a mall and in the mall they have a shop that sells American sodas and snack food. I decided to buy 1 can of soda so they could try something new. I picked root beer. I poured equal amounts into glasses and brought the glasses into the class and gave them each one. They kept asking "nan desuka? (what is it?). Cola? I said it wasn't cola but it was a famous soda in America and Canada. They picked up the glasses and sniffed. They didn't know what to make of it as they had never smelled anything like it before. One girl took a taste and said "omoishiroi" (interesting) and "umaii" (delicious). 2 of the other girls took sips. They kept commenting about the interesting flavor. 1 girl could not get past the smell. She even tried to hold her nose and sip but that didn't work so well. I told her not to worry about it. They were really interested in the different flavors of soda in North America. I told them I will bring them cherry vanilla coke next-they are really excited!
I love sending my family interesting Japanese snacks for them to try but watching these girls try different things is sooo much fun!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Things you probably didn't know about Japan-miscellaneous #2

Ok....ate delicious sushi, prepared some orders and decided to write some more!

The picture above is a "ringo usagi" or apple rabbit. Moms cut apple pieces to look like rabbits!

Ok...more things you might not know about Japan.

1) Japanese people are very very nice (ok, I'm sure you already knew that). If you ask them where something/some place is, they will often take you there themselves even if it means walking in the opposite direction of where they want to go.

2)Japanese love shopping!! They also love name brands! I've heard that 40 % of Louis Vuitton's business comes from Japan! This would not surprise me as many young women (18 years old) have a Louis Vuitton something or other. Young women will even go without lunch or buy really really cheap food just to save up enough money to buy a bag.

3) Each area or big city in Japan has it's own unique food or snacks such as cookies, cakes etc. My city is famous for "mentaiko" which is tiny tiny spicy fish eggs (delicious). People who come to Fukuoka love to eat them or take them home as souvenirs. (see post below about the souvenir system). This is cool because when you travel in Japan you get to taste local specialties!

4) Most (ok....many) Japanese women can cut like a chef! Ok....maybe it is only my family and friends who can't but honestly I was shocked when I saw that all my older female students can seriously cut veggies and stuff like a pro. When I took cooking classes, I explained to my sensei that I can't cut like that. She said "ok"....I knew she didn't believe me and sure enough as soon as she saw me cut she kind freaked out!! ^__^

5) You need to carry tissues with you all the time in Japan as toilets don't always have paper. Things have gotten better since I have been here (10 years) but still, there are toilets that don't have paper. This is probably why you can get free tissues on the street. There are many people whose job is basically to hand out packs of tissues that have ads on them. I almost never have to buy the little packs of tissues-very handy!
Ok....gotta run.

Things you probably didn't know about Japan-miscellaneous

Ok....here are some more interesting things I have observed while living here.

1) Applying makeup on while on the train. I don't mean just a little touch of powder or lipstick! I'm talking about pulling out a huge mirror and a huge bag and starting from scratch! This includes using tweezers to remove things!! Ummm...hello!!

2)Japanese can sleep anywhere!!! I don't know about you but I never slept on buses in Canada (didn't take the train or subway much). I remember being shocked at seeing Japanese sleeping while standing up on the train. It took me 3 years before I could close my eyes on the train. I do kind of get it though....in Tokyo or during rush hour anywhere, you are literally on top of other people so closing your eyes (not sleeping) gives you some space.

3)Buses....In Japan the bus driver must tell us what they are doing ....for example..."turning right" , "stopping" etc. They also tell you what stop is next (ok this is kind of handy).

4)Starting around age 27 people start getting worried that they are too old to change jobs. Sad but true!!! Lots of job ads will state that they are looking for people under the age of 30. A friend of mine works at a nursery school and is 30 and thinks she can't switch jobs. CRAZY!!

5)Presents....Japan is interesting in that they don't give presents for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas etc (unless for kids) but they will go out of their way to buy "omiyage" (souvenirs) for all their neighbors/friends/families etc when they go away. Now by "going away" I'm not even talking about travelling to another country....I'm talking about going to another state or city. Like....say you are from Toronto and you go Elora (small cutesy artistic place in Ontario).....you would buy many people presents. Japan has the "omiyage" system down to a fine art. Most places (even the train station in the big city near me) have shops/kiosks etc where you can get beautiful boxes of food or a local specialty (paper, kokeshi dolls, cell phone straps). You just pick up boxes of the local cookies that come in a very pretty box and when you go home, you go to your neighbors house and give the present (with both hands) and say the equivalent of "this is a cheap little present for you". I'm not kidding. That is what they say. They never brag (I found a great present for you) or mention how great they are at something etc. Now...why do they give souvenirs? I'm still not sure but they have gifts like "girichoco" which basically means "obligatory chocolate" that you give your boss for Valentine's day so I really believe that a lot of the time it is not from the heart but rather because that is what should be done. As in you will be seen by those around you as a good person. Appearance and other people's opinion is VERY important here. Now I know that I sound like I don't like the system...which I don't because I like to give and receive gifts from the heart....but on the up side of this...almost any store you go to will ask you if what you are buying is a present. If it is...they wrap it for you.For free!! I love this!

6)I remember growing up and always going to the neighbors' houses ...not for a special reason but just to chat. To just stop by. Sometimes we would ring the bell and then walk in. If we were thirsty, we would go and help ourselves to a drink. We had parties....sleep over parties, birthday parties, neighborhood gatherings etc. This kind of thing almost never happens here. You rarely just "stop by" and even if you have known someone for 30 years, you would NEVER go into their fridge and get a drink. I remember when my co-workers from my nursery school came over to my place for a cooking class, 1 girl (who had lived in the States) walked over to my fridge and opened it....all the other girls where shocked!!! When I said it was ok...they all went over to check out what I had inside. They said it was their first time to do so. And parties....never. Ok...I know one family who has a Christmas party every year with their friends but they lived in Belgium for many years so they had been exposed to the whole "party" culture.

7) Japanese (contrary to popular belief) LOVE coffee, beer and meat. They do not live on just fish, green tea and sake!

8) It is super hard to be a vegetarian in Japan. I have known several and they said it is really difficult to eat here. I'm sure Tokyo has vegetarian restaurants but not sure we have any in the big city near us. Indian restaurants can be the best place for vegetarians.

Okay...I could go on and on but I will stop here for now. Of course, my stopping could have something do with the sushi that is about to be delivered!! ^__^

Friday, April 18, 2008

Coffee Jelly Frappuccino At Starbucks

Well, we went to starbucks and my honey decided to try their newest flavor-coffee jelly frappuccino. When I first saw the "coming soon" sign I wondered how this would work ...then I saw them in action scooping up this "kohi" (coffee) jelly into the cup. Didn't look good to me but then again, I hate coffee jelly (super popular here). My honey said it was good but you can't really drink it as the jelly doesn't melt. I'm pretty sure you can't get this in the States!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April = frustration for me in Japan.

Warning....rant is about to start!

Ok....I don't know about you but when you visit a store many times you know exactly where everything is, right? And that is a good thing, right? Well, in Japan they do this insane thing....they change the store around! So....the other day I walk into one of the shops I frequent A LOT and instead of a quick 5-10 minute shopping experience I'm there for 1 hour trying to find everything and the WORST thing is that the staff doesn't know where anything is!!!

I mean confusing a customer can't be a good thing but maybe they are all so used to it that it makes some kind of sense to them. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY!!!!

Does this happen in other countries? Stores (lots of them ) 2-4 times a year just moving all the products around? I want to say that I don't remember that ever happening in Canada. Sure, Christmas or a special holiday there might be special displays or areas devoted to those goods but to literally just move stuff around....no.
And why April? April is the beginning of the school year and graduates from University start their new jobs in April, employees are transferred in April and...stores move around their stuff in April.

Ok...Rant over!
Other news!

I'm sick....really sick! UGH! Some little kid gave me their cold and it hit hard and fast! Oh and for the next 2 months (so I've been told) my apartment building is having a face lift (see picture) so construction workers/painters are at my building way early in the morning (for me) so I can't really sleep in.

Oh and I got a gocco!! My honey and are really excited about this. We are planning to make our own products and sell them in our etsy store. We tried it out today and I LOVE it!! So....I won't just be a supply store but actually selling handmade goods! I love making things!!
Ok....off to bed as my head feels like it is about to explode!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Butter Shortage in Japan

The picture above is one I took at the local "sunlive" supermarket (I looked like a tourist!!). It basically says there is no butter available. WHAT?!!! I couldn't believe it. I mean no butter? Now, I know some of you might be saying "do Japanese use butter?" yep...they sure do. Perhaps not as much as we North Americans (and others) do but a lot of women bake...lots of baking gets done here and toast in the morning is pretty common too. How does a country basically have no butter? Well....talk to the government. Seems they told the dairy farmers last year they couldn't produce too much milk and then it was winter so I was told the cows didn't produce much milk. I'm sure there is more to this story but that is what I've been told.

Now...as for NO butter being available ...that isn't exactly true. At one store I found some "made in Hokkaido" (Hokkaido is in northern Japan) butter for about $5 for less than 1/2 a pound. I bought it and I bought margarine that "tastes like butter"-it even says it in English! I also bought a butter/margarine blend for baking. I asked my students about this and except for one student who is a baker...the others didn't care that much. They told me if there were no soy beans....then all hell would break loose since they use it to make everything-soy sauce, tofu, natto, miso etc. So as long as they have soy....most of them are ok. Considering they all love baked goods in this country I wonder if they will feel the same when the prices go up due to the butter issue?!!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Things you might not have known about Japan-Homes

I get asked questions about Japan so I thought I would share some rather interesting things I have learned about over the years. This one will be about homes.

1)Japanese homes go down in value over the years and are only built to last about 30 years. When you buy a house in Canada, you buy the house (in most cases). Here you buy the land so most people tear down the house,even if it is only 10 years old, and build a new one.

2)New houses being built today *might* have insulation but most don't. Walls are paper thin.

3)There is no central heat or air conditioning in most of Japan. It is cold enough to snow where I live but there is no heat. Every winter many old people die of shock in the bathroom and I totally understand why. When I take a bath or shower in the winter...I might as well be outside because the house is usually about the same temperature. Japanese heat each room individually so if you are in the living room, you might use the heat but there will be no heat in the rest of the house. It takes some getting used to!!

4)Many houses still have only 1 toilet-even if there are 5 people in the house.

5)Most houses are built like this....1 kitchen/dining/living room combination, a tatami room (a room that is covered with tatami, mats made of hard-packed straw covered with woven rushes), and some bedrooms. No basements, attics, play rooms, dens , laundry rooms,etc.In Canada an ad for a house reads like "4 bedroom 3 bathroom...2000 sqft" etc but in japan it looks like "4ldk" which means "4 rooms plus living/dining/kitchen" so those 4 rooms are probably 1 tatami room, and 3 other rooms which would mostly be used for bedrooms plus there will be a bathroom.

6) Bathrooms-bathrooms are divided in a Japanese house so that actually there is a "toilet"room and a "bath" room. The toilet is a completely different room so that someone could be in taking a bath and someone else can use the toilet. The "bath" area of the bathroom is meant to get completely wet as Japanese scrub their bodies with soap while sitting on little stools next to the tub and get in the tub after they have rinsed off. Everyone uses the same water in the bath (ok after 10 years I still think it is gross and I love my honey but I'm not using his bath water!). It usually goes like this....dad uses the bath first followed by the kids and finally the mom. The next day (as they always bathe in the evening/night), many women (notice I use the word women as most men don't do laundry) attach a special pump and tube to the bath and drain the water into the washing machine to clean the clothes. Very economical!! And that is why they don't use soap in the water while taking a bath.

7) Bedrooms-Many parents don't have their own rooms-it is still very normal for the whole family to sleep together when the kids are young. I'm not talking just about moms and dads sleeping with a new born in their room. I'm talking about parents sleeping with 2 or 3 kids ages up to 12 (one of students slept with her son like this) all sharing one big futon on the floor. This is probably why love hotels are so popular since getting some "love" time with your honey isn't likely to happen when your kids are in the same bed (and when the walls are paper thin)! This isn't true for everyone of course but it is the norm in Japan and some of my friends do this.

8) Most Japanese don't have dryers so they all hang their laundry outside which is great until it rains or snows or there is a typhoon. And don't forget, Japan has a rainy season!

So...there are a few things about Japanese homes that you might not have known! I'm sure there are more and I will post them when I remember them!


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