Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#30 Foods I will miss from Japan – Part 2

Here’s the next installment of all the delicious goodies I’ll soon be missing out on when I leave Japan.

CROQUET (コロッケ)

We’ll start with this one, since I mentioned it at the end of my last post and some of you may not know what it is.  I certainly didn’t when I first came.  The term is French, so perhaps it’s a French dish, and perhaps not?

It’s basically made out of potatoes, and deep fried.

It has such a hearty, sumptuous texture, and it goes really well with rice in my opinion.  I think generally there are vegetables minced up and added in, and it’s usually slightly flavored (sweetened?) as well.  There are also versions that have meat inside, but I don’t buy those.

SHOKU PAN (Meal bread? 食パン)

This is a chunk of bread, sold by the square, and is cut into either 4, 5, or 6 slices depending on which version you buy.  If you buy the 4 sliced version, the slices will be thicker, because it’s the same base cube you’re buying just divvied up differently.  I tend to buy the 6 slice one, or else it would be way too thick.

Shoku pan is generally used for breakfast, as a single slice either toasted or not, and then you spread something over the top of it.  It’s actually quite chewy and satisfying for breakfast.

On occasion me and my boyfriend have tried to make sandwiches out of this bread, since regular sliced loaves of bread such that you find in the US are non-existent here.  However, we’ve generally been dissatisfied with our shoku pan sandwich meals because there’s just far too much bread that it eclipses whatever you put in between.  Or, you have to put like twice as much stuff in between the slices to even taste it, often ending up with a very dense, high calorie, far too filling meal.

GOMA SOFT (Sessame seed spread)

Probably my favorite thing to spread on top of shoku pan is Goma Soft.

It looks quite scary at first, because it’s grey with black bits in it (sesame seeds), and hardly resembles food.  However, it’s incredibly tasty.  It’s basically tons of sesame seeds, sugar, some sort of sweetened syrup, vegetable oil, shortening, and a little bit of peanut butter.  I suppose it’s not the healthiest thing ever, but it’s really tasty.

TINY MUSHROOMS! – ENOKI

These are apparently called Enoki, and I buy them all the time.  They add delicious texture to any pasta, and they’re usually dirt-cheap, like 60-80 yen a pack.  On occasion I’ve even fried them up by themselves with a little soy sauce and mirin (sweet cooking sake) and they have made a tasty side dish on their own that way.

KINPIRA-GOBOU

This is a common Japanese side dish that is made up of Gobo (burdock root?), konnyaku (devil’s tongue?) carrots, and sesame seeds.  I guess because I’m a sucker for sesame seeds, it’s always SO delicious.

You can use it as it’s own side dish, or put it on top of rice, like I did here:

FISH CAKE THINGS

I pretty much only buy these when they’re on sale; this picture here shows a “half-price” sticker.  It’s ususally a cheap and easy way for me to fill out a rice-based meal with side dishes.

I’ve known people to not like fish-cake foods here, but I’ve always found them pleasant.  Basically there are a lot of variety of fish-cake side dishes, where fish I guess is ground up and then flavored and pasted together.  It usually ends up tasting both sweet and savory.  This particular one here has eda-mame (soy beans) clustered with the bits of fish cake, adding some extra nutrients.

NATTO! (Fermented Soybeans).

Now, we’ve reached the pinnacle of this post.

Natto, or fermented soybeans, is one of those foods that you either love it or you hate it.  Most foreigners are completely disgusted by natto, and I admit I was at first too.  Natto is offensive not in its taste, or even in its smell, but in its texture.  It’s slimy.  It sticks to your chopsticks in nebulous strings.  It feels all wrong in your mouth.

When I first came to Japan, and Natto showed up in the school lunches (which it did from time to time) I would usually try to eat it in big gulps, not thinking about it, and try to get it out of the way as soon as possible, followed by something much more savory and delicious to get the remnants of it out of my mouth.

Somehow, humans can get habituated to most everything, and at some point Natto started actually tasting pleasant to me.  A few months ago I actually started proactively buying Natto in the grocery stores.

I was converted to Natto (somehow I feel it needs a capital N) but many people aren’t.  Many Japanese people themselves dislike Natto (as well as sashimi or sushi – just because a food is prevalent in a culture doesn’t mean everyone likes it or will eat it).  My boyfriend still only suffers through Natto when it’s served to him, but will never eat it willingly.

When you buy Natto in the store, it looks like this:

It generally comes in packs of 3, each in their own Styrofoam box.

When you open the styrofoam box, there’s the natto covered with a sheet of plastic, and usually a packet or two of flavoring.  My favorite brand (this one) comes with some kind of sauce, and mustard.  It’s not uncommon to have grated daikon (Japanese radish) in a sort of sauce form to mix in.

You mix everything together still in the styrofoarm container.

Then you put it over rice, and you’re finished!  Ta da!

Natto is supposed to be very healthy for you, and here in Japan it’s also very cheap – about 100 yen for the pack of 3, sometimes even cheaper.

Now I’ve basically covered the Japanese foods I enjoy and will miss, except for one very important area: the bread.

I talked about Shoku pan in this post, about it’s chewy thick goodness (for breakfast), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  While Japan doesn’t do bread for lunchtime sandwiches, Japan does do bread for breakfast, or snacks, or even for meals themselves, very uniquely and deliciously.  The Japanese bakery is like nothing I’d ever seen in the US.  I will talk more about Japanese bakeries and Kashi pan (snack breads) as they’re called, in my next post.  Look forward to it!

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#29 Foods I will miss from Japan – Part 1

In leaving Japan, my lifestyle is going to change dramatically.

All of the foods I have gotten so used to eating I will no longer have access too.  Even the things I only ate occasionally here, will no longer be available, and that’s sad.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of the foods I’m going to miss.

BENTOS

You can pick these up really easily at any grocery store or convenience store.  Since becoming a vegetarian, I haven’t bought them as often as they often have some meat in them, like this one with a small hot dog.  But they give quite a variety of side-dishes and always have plenty of rice such that they are often satisfying and filling meals.

TAKOYAKI

These are delicious cooked balls of batter with little bits of octopus in the center.  The octopus is tolerable; if anything it adds a little bit of texture, but you don’t really taste it.  The deliciousness is in the sauce and the topics, and the battery goodness of the balls themselves.

RAMEN

No longer will I be able to get a solid bowl of ramen.  Though, ramen usually comes with meat, but I’ve found you can often request to have the meat taken out.

FRESH BOWL OF UDON

You can get dried Udon noodles in asian food stores in the US, but nothing beats fresh ones in broth with other ingredients mixed in.  This one has some green onions, a slice of fish cake, and some tofu skin thing, which are all pretty common things to add to Udon.

MIKAN ORANGES

My prefecture, Ehime, is well known for its citrus.  In the winter you can buy whole bags of mikan (6 or so) for about 100 yen.  It’s fabulous.  Sometimes I was even given some.  Mikan come in all different sizes.  Actually “mikan” is the name of one type. other types include Harehime, Dekopon (my favorite), Hassaku, etc.

TEMPURA

Delicious vegetables and usually a large shrimp fried up in tempura batter, sprinkled with soy sauce, and on top of a bowl of rice.  Tasty.

EEL (Unagi)

This picture is actually when I ate eel at a pretty high-class place.  I actually learned from that experience that the appeal of eel is less in the meat itself, and more in the delicious sauce that they usually lather on it.  So actually I prefer cheap eel with lots of delicious sauce, over abundant eel with less sauce!

MEALS WITH A BOWL OF RICE AND SIDE DISHES

This is a Japanese meal at its most basic; a bowl of rice with or without something on top (here I have a sort of tofu/carrot/konnyaku mix on my rice) as well as some side dishes (here I have a croquet and some cooked spinach).

Oo there’s so much more food I’m going to miss.  Tune in next week for part 2!

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Omake #9: A Typhoon is Coming – Yay!

I’m not at all being sarcastic about the title of this post. I am genuinely glad that a typhoon is coming.

Why? Well, it’s that special feeling in the air that something big is happening, as well as that relaxed feeling of “Awesome – life is put on hold for today.”

Starting a few days ago, people were watching the weather report like a hawk, seeing the progression of the typhoon. Usually when a typhoon is announced, it’s seen several days away from the coast Japan, and you can track it’s progress on the internet. The main place I’ve seen most of my teachers look is Yahoo Weather. When a typhoon is coming, there’s a special window on the right hand side showing the typhoon’s path and predicted path, marked with days and times so you can get an idea of what to expect.

Since the area I live in is pretty sheltered (the Seto Inland Sea) we don’t have to worry about tsunamis or any real big damage, since we’re shielded by Shikoku and mainland Japan (Honshu). Here’s a map found on the wikipedia article, that shows the area I’m living in.  I’m on an island towards the center of the inner strip of sea which you can see below:

Thus while other parts of Japan might have to be more concerned about damage from the wind or tsunamis, we don’t get too worked up about it.

But, of course strong winds and heavy rains can be dangerous, especially for young kids. When I came into the staff room this morning the TV was on and everyone was watching the warnings for our prefecture and keeping an eye on specific cities/towns. When it was announced, before school even started, that our town was put under a warning (警報・けいほう) which is apparently the “red category,” the principal and vice principal starting communicating with the middle school and the board of education, and it was decided that they would send everyone home from school as soon as possible. Special school buses were ordered up. Teachers ran around frantically checking in with their students, seeing if there would be an adult at home if they went home now, and making phone calls. The kids whose parents are believed to be out are kept at the school until probably their parents come pick them up, since the winds and rain will only get worse at this point and walking home might be a little treacherous. Most kids walk themselves to school, or take buses if they live farther away. Though in middle school, there are no buses, and even if kids live on the far end of the island, they have to bike to school, which could take a good half an hour or so.

The one thing that the adults and students on other nearby islands have to worry about in our area is when the boats stop running. Once the winds get even somewhat severe, the boats stop running for safety reasons. On my island, we rely entirely on boats. Some islands in the Seto Inland Sea are connected by bridges, but some, like mine, are more isolated. Thus the teachers that work on my island but live on another one, after corralling all of their students and sending them home, have to pay attention to when the last boat home will be so they make sure to catch it (or else remain stranded on my island and have to get a hotel room).

Those of us that live on the island we work on have to remain at work for our full allotted work hours, even if it means going home in treacherous conditions. I’ve walked outside in a typhoon before (having to go home after school during one last year) and the winds can get bad enough to blow around an adult. I felt like I really had to struggle against the wind, and it was a little trying, but I didn’t feel in any danger of being actually blown away.

I am thankful to not have to teach today though, since I was sick all last week and missed an entire week of school, and haven’t improved too much since then.  I had to go to the doctors twice – first to get regular cold medicine, and later to get antibiotics.  It was decided that I had “Mycoplasma” according to some blood test, which at first I thought they were saying “Microplasma” which made no sense to me.  I actually didn’t know what Mycoplasma was either and had to look it up.  Apparently it’s just some kind of bacteria?  Which has resulted in massive coughing fits for me, low to no appetite, and overall fatigue.

Anyway, I went into work yesterday, Monday, to make up my elementary day, and just ended up showing Doraemon VHSs and Anpanman DVDs for my classes, since my throat still hurt and I was too tired to flail around like I normally have to for elementary classes. To be fair though, they were VHSs and DVDs to teach English, so I wasn’t entirely slacking – the kids still got some English exposure.

But today I’m still not in good shape and I was supposed to have 4 classes, and I normally refer to such days as “hell days” because I usually teach 3 classes in a row, have lunch, then teach one more, all by myself, and it’s draining and my throat is wrecked afterwards. I certainly hope I don’t have to make up these classes, because my next 3 elementary days (my last ones – hooray!) are 3 classes, 4 classes, and 3 classes, so to sprinkle in an extra 4 amongst those would leave me with further “hell days” or, if teaching 5 classes, elevate it to “just kill me now” days. Maybe we can cancel the classes, or I can squirrel them onto the next ALT. Or maybe make it up on a different day – I usually go to the elementary school on Wednesdays for part of the day for planning and creating materials, so I’m technically available then too. I’ll save worrying about that for later though.

Now I will spend the rest of the day trying to look busy at my desk while coughing into my handkerchief (because I refuse to wear those dumb surgical masks that everyone wears here when sick, because they just make me feel worse and sort of feverish).

And that’s that.

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