Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#8 Foods my island is famous for

I love Japanese food, both the main food items and the dessert items.  I have yet to be disappointed by Japanese food, provided it is Japanese food it’s trying to be.  When Japan produces a pizza for example, it tends to be sub-par.  It’s the same with bagels, though English muffins are okay.  Japan does have chocolate, but seems to fail at chocolate-flavored things like some cakes and cookies and breads that have only the slightest hint of chocolate flavor, or hardly has any flavoring resembling chocolate at all.

Anyway, what I want to talk about for this post is some foods the island I live on, in rural Japan in the Seto Inland Sea, is famous for.

First off, my island is known as the “Blue Lemon Island.”  I know what you’re thinking….blue lemons exist!?  Actually no they don’t.  That’s just how the word Japanese word Aoi (青い・あおい)gets translated.  It means blue usually, but it can also mean green.  Seems confusing, right?

The answer lies in history.  Did you know that the way cultures distinguish colors have changed over time?  I learned about this in linguistics class.  The first basic distinction between colors is white vs. black, which is more commonly understood as, light vs. dark.  The next color distinction people adopted was red, probably from seeing blood from their bodies.  The next color demarcation adopted was a term for either blue or green, meaning, a single term that represents both of them (think earth and sky seen together as a single category).  Thus, in the past, Japan simply had one term to demarcate both colors.  As the Japanese culture and other cultures around the world evolved, they adopted further distinctions, such as different wods for green or blue.  Now the old term simply means blue, while a newer term,  Midori (緑・みどり) means green.Thus, my island is called the 青いレモンの島 or “Aoi lemon no shima” which uses the old term that could mean either green or blue, and since today that term simply means blue, that’s how it’s translated.  However, the color of lemons my island actually produces are these:.

Because my island grows so many lemons, they use lemons for a variety of things, such as alcohol:

As well as an extremely delicious, moist, lemon cake in a sort of bundt cake shape.

Here it is in its package:

And here is how people usually cut and serve it:


Yesterday we actually had a slice of this cake in our school lunch.  Usually school lunches don’t have desserts, but when they do, it’s usually some sort of fruit like a small orange or apple slice, or maybe fruit jelly.  Cake is still fairly rare, even for my island, but it’s always a treat when it comes up

My island also sells a different variation on the lemon cake.  Instead of buying a whole cake you can buy individually packaged small cakes.  Instead of being just a slice of the bigger cakes though, these are shaped like a lemon and are frosted.

You can sometimes buy these individually, but I think they more commonly come in gift boxes:

(For those of you that can read Japanese/Chinese, I just realized that these packages use a different character for the “Blue” part.  Actually, I found these pictures online, so they might not be the exact versions sold on my island – I’m sure my island doesn’t have the monopoly on lemon products – other places must grow lemons too).

Besides lemon products (of which there are also things like jams, hard candies, tea, and lemon-flavored pork), my island has a specialty that I greatly enjoy.  It’s actually a type of food produced in other parts of Japan as well, and you can often get mini packs of them at convenience stores.  That food is…..drum roll please!

Candied French Fries!

I bet you’re jealous!  :-P  It’s a delightfully sinful snack consisting of French Fries coated with a sugar coating such that it makes them hard on the outside, but a tad bit softer (though not as soft as regular French Fries) on the inside.  I’ve shared these with some friends both in the US and in other places in Japan and they’ve all really enjoyed them.

You can buy them in bags at my supermarket or at the port building that look like this exactly:
These bags are also sold on neighboring islands.

You can also buy them by the box, which looks nicer and is more appropriate for giving as a present in Japan.

They are officially called either Imogashi (芋菓子・いもがし)which basically means “potato sweets,” or Kenpi (けんぴ)which I’m not sure the meaning of, but might be more just like a name.  I’m sure there’s a history behind it but I don’t know it.

Have you ever eaten anything like these candied French Fries?  Is the area you live in famous for any kind of food?  Do you absolutely love lemons and wish you were here?  Feel free to leave comments!  Thanks for reading.

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#7 Japanese Cell Phones

Japanese cell phones are great.
I really enjoy them.  There’s a whole culture that goes along with them.
For example, almost all Japanese cell phones are flip phones, except for iPhones and a few similar touch-screen smart phones that are just starting to come out (though I’ve only seen one single person who has one out here in the countryside).
Also, many people decorate their cell phones with stickers or other decorations.  Some people just do one or two simple ones, while others bling them out with jewels and all sorts of things, such as this beauty here.



It’s generally women in their 20s or so that bling them out.  But most girls (and some guys) tend to decorate them in some way.  Here’s what I did with mine:


I used ballerina stickers which I bought at Loft, my favorite Japanese store ever.  I liked them because of the purple/pink/silver color scheme and the fact that they were a bit raised and added a bit of texture.  Oh, and also they’re sparkly, which is a huge plus.

When I studied abroad, I also had a pink phone and decorated it with stickers, though not quite as fancy stickers.

Which brings up another point.  Cell phones come in a lot of different colors.  I think in the US this happens sometimes too, but here in Japan each cell phone model comes in at least 3-5 colors, sometimes more.  You can get all sorts of colors.


As you can see, there are simpler colors too, like black, white, silver, or gold.  My boyfriend has a gold cell phone, which he doesn’t decorate.


A lot of people text in Japan.  All cell phones (or at least most of them) have both English and Japanese menus, and whatever menu you have is the default language to type in.  I keep mine in English because it’s just easier that way, even though I can read Japanese.  When I want to type in Japanese, in the text window I just change the input mode from there.
Japanese cell phones have a lot of cute little icons you can input into your text messages.  Women and girls in particular tend to use a lot in their messages.


Each phone has a lot of icons, and I believe you can download more.  Some of the icons even move a little, as shown above.

Most phones also have an English<->Japanese dictionary.  Some women that came to my adult conversation classes last year would often look up words on their cell phones instead of using an electronic or paper dictionary.  Convenient, eh?

Now, these are a lot of awesome things, but there’s one more very important aspect of Japanese cell phone culture that I haven’t yet pointed out (though maybe you noticed it on the picture of my current cell phone), and that’s the use of cell phone charms.

Cell phone charms are called sutorappu ストラップ or “strap” – an example of made-in-Japan English.
Pretty much everyone has at least one, sometimes two or more on their phone.  An yes, even men.  They tend to have simpler or sportier items.  Women have decorations that include lace, fake jewels, cute characters, small stuffed animals, etc.  Actually the stuffed animals don’t even have to be small.

I remember once seeing a man on a train when I studied abroad in Kobe, that had a fairly large (maybe the size of one’s hand) stuffed panda sticking out of his pocket….attached to his cell phone.  Some people have all manner of “straps” on their phone so that it takes up more space than the phone itself!
I liked having a cell phone strap when I first studied in Japan so much that when I went back to the US to finish my college degree I decided I’d continue the tradition….only to be disappointed that my new US cell phone didn’t have the little opening in the corner of the phone to put one on!  How sad.  Though some US cell phones do indeed have them – it just depends on the maker or model I guess.

Anyway, besides personal cell phone straps in Japan, many stores sell paired cell phone charms, where a couple will buy them and put one on each of their phones to show that they’re together.  Sometimes it’ll be the same design but a different color; sometimes it’ll be two halves of something that come together like a heart, or sometimes it’ll be two little stuffed animals that attach via magnets when brought together.

My boyfriend and I recently bought ourselves paired cell phone straps.  They weren’t sold as a pair persay, but they were the same thing only in different colors, and we liked them.  We bought them in Yokohama.  Here they are, in the center of the photo (surrounded by our other charms):

Our individual charms, while not paired persay, are actually from the same shrine in Kyoto.  The shrine is called Fushimi Inari and is known as a Fox Shrine.  His is a key from this shrine with some sort of significance of which I don’t know about.  Mine is Hello Kitty dressed in a fox outfit.  I bought mine when when my boyfriend and I went on our weekend trip back in November 2010.

Which brings me to a whole other topic……  the fact that Hello Kitty is an extremely versatile character here, and has been recruited for some time now to be a mascot for various areas of Japan.  That is to say, when you go to any city in Japan and hit up one of their souvenir stores, they will inevitably have cell phone straps, pens, pencils, handkerchiefs and other goods that display a hello kitty wearing, holding, or doing something that represents that area.  As noted above, for the fox shine in Kyoto, you can buy “goods” showing hello kitty in a fox outfit.  For a city in Hiroshima near me famous for maple leaves, Hello Kitty holds a maple leaf.  This is a widespread phenomenon all across Japan, and is definitely something to talk about in a later post ^_^  Look forward to it!
As for Japanese cell phones and cell phone straps, I’ve only scratched the surface for the kind of variety and colorfulness that can be found here.  It’s always interesting to see people’s cell phones and how they decorate them.  If you want to see more yourself, I recommend searching for “Japanese cell phones” or “Japanese cell phone charms” on google and browsing the images on there.  Have fun!

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#6 “Made-in-Japan” English

If you heard “paper knife,” what would you think of?  A knife made out of paper?  A knife used for cutting paper?  Something else?

Actually, in Japanese, paper knife (ペーパーナイフ)means letter opener.

Were you surprised?  Actually, there are a TON of words like this out there in Japanese.

Another one of my all-time favorites is baby car (ベビーカー).

What do you think of when you think of baby car?

Do you think of a baby in a baby sized car?

Or perhaps a baby in a toy car?

Or maybe a baby driving a real car?

How about a baby driving its own stroller?

That last one was close.  Actually, baby car means stroller, carriage, or pram.  The kind pushed by someone and not actually controlled by the baby itself.

What did you think?

I find that the types of English words used in Japanese tend to fall into two types:

1) They use words that you don’t quite understand the meaning for, or that you misinterpret the meaning for, such as paper knife or baby car.

2) They use words they use means something entirely different in English than what they intended it for in Japanese.  For example, veteran.  In English, we usually use it as someone who has been through a war or perhaps through some ordeal, but in Japanese, it means someone who is an expert in their field.

Running across words like these are terribly interesting for us native English speakers (or at least I happen to think so).

The flip side though, is that many Japanese people believe these to be legit English words, in that if only they speak them with a more English accent they will be understood.  Actually, even that statement was a bit overambitious.  Many Japanese people believe that saying these words that have been conformed to the Japanese pronunciation system (as in paper knife being pei-pa-nai-fu), that THAT will be understood.

The technical term for these words is wasei eigo (和製英語)or English made-in-Japan.

Here’s a list of wasei eigo I particularly like or think is interesting, in alphabetical order.  The English translation/meaning of the item is in parenthesis next to it.  Enjoy!

1.    after service (customer support)
2.    bike (motorcycle)
3.    camping car (camper)
4.    cash card (ATM card)
5.    cider (soda)
6.    consent (electrical outlet)
7.    cooler (air conditioner)
8.    cunning (cheating)
9.    dubbing (copy – ie cd/dvd)
10.    free size (one size fits all)
11.    fried potato (french fries)
12.    fry pan (frying pan)
13.    handle (steering wheel)
14.    high socks (knee high socks)
15.    hot carpet (electric carpet)
16.    ice (ice cream)
17.    jet coaster (roller coaster)
18.    key holder (key chain)
19.    kitchen paper (paper towels)
20.    make (make-up)
21.    mansion (apartment, condo)
22.    my bag (eco bag)
23.    my pace (someone who is laid back, goes at their own pace) – but they say things like “he is so my pace!”
24.    nighter (night game, as in baseball)
25.    note (notebook)
26.    old boy (former member of an organization, alum)
27.    one piece (dress)
28.    post (mailbox)
29.    print (worksheet, handout)
30.    rinse (conditioner)
31.    roll cake (cake roll)
32.    salary man (someone who works in an office, white collar)
33.    season off (off season)
34.    sharp pencil (mechanical pencil)
35.    sign (autograph, signature)
36.    strap (cell phone charm)
37.    talent (tv celebrity)
38.    touch (high five)
39.    trump (playing cards)
40.    video deck (vcr)
41.    viking (buffet)
42.    virgin road (aisle – as in to walk down the aisle at a wedding)
43.    Yshirt (collared shirt)

There’s a ton more out there – many more that I’m aware of, and some I’m not.  I didn’t post the katakana version of all these words; if you’re interested in knowing them, I suggest looking them up on some online dictionary.

Also of note, I only included items that sounded English in the first place, but meant something different.  There are a TON more katakana words in the Japanese language that have been taken from other languages (such as Dutch, Portugese, French, etc).  Plus there are abbreviations like pasocon, which is short for personal computer: paso(naru) con(pyuta).  Or Comiket, which is short for comic market (a popular dojinshi event that happens twice a year in Tokyo and that I went to recently for the first time).  Even the uber popular pokemon is actually short for pocket monsters: poke(tto) mon(sta).

Anyone else have any particular made-in-Japan English they enjoy or want to share?

Alternatively, if anyone else has experiences with hearing English (or other foreign words) words in another language and wants to share about that, please do!

See you next time!

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