Tuesday, August 30, 2011

雪の宿, "yuki no yado" Snow House Senbei

雪の宿, "yuki no yado" is probably my favorite Japanese rice cracker. Yuki means snow and yado means cottage or house. The image is a snow covered house. It's a salty "salada" senbei cracker covered with a thin, hard, white frosting on one side. It's salty and delicious with a hint of sweetness. A perfect balance. There is also a brown sugar version that is great.

There is an infinite variety of senbei or rice crackers. This is one of the best and most popular. Watch out for more senbei on this blog.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

動物ヨーチ Doubutsu Yo-chi (Animal Crackers)

Doubutsu Yo-chi are one of my favorite Japanese cookies, known by the British expression "biscuits" in Japan. Doubutsu means animal. Think of them as really thick animal crackers with a hard pastel frosting on one side.They're really sweet and the taste reminds me of cookies I've had in the States, like the kind Cookie Monster used to always eat. They come in many shapes, not only animals and the frosting is pink, yellow, white, or green. However, I always have trouble telling what kind of animal they are. It's not always clear by looking at the frosting side. The cookie side sometimes gives you a clue. I've seen shells, cats, bears, elephants, a hippo I think, and a chestnut. This ambiguity is actually part of the charm and you can interpret them differently like watching clouds.

Japanese Facial Expressions: Pucker Up

As I mentioned in the previous post, Japanese men do not puff out their cheeks to show anger as women do, but all Japanese will pucker their lips to show frustration or when contemplating over news just received, especially if it's something they didn't want to hear. They've hit a wall, and this face means their thinking about how to respond or what to do next. "what's plan B?"  It's very common, and I find myself using this gesture unconsciously.

It may also come with a very audible sound of sucking in air through the teeth. This also shows contemplating what's next or if their uncomfortable in a conversation.

Japanese Facial Expressions:The Pouty Face

When I first came to Japan over a decade ago(oh, my god!), one of the first things that confused me and I thought was  funny was seeing adult Japanese women making this silly pouty face. I couldn't understand it. They'd scowl and puff out their little cheeks like chipmunks. Where they joking? In the west, only little kids act like that. Well, now I know better. It may look childish to us, but watch out guys. If your Japanese girlfriend shows you this face, it means she is genuinely angry with you and should be taken seriously. The Japanese are not usually overly emotional in public and this face is a socially acceptable way for women to show their anger without looking too angry. And anyway, it is kind of cute.

I can't take credit for these photos. I found them online because I couldn't get anyone to model for me. By the way, you never see Japanese men puff out their cheeks like this, at least not if their straight.

Junko's Present

As you may or may not know, my wife Junko is also an English teacher. Actually, she is an assistant teacher at Hana's eelementary school. She recently completed a correspondence course especially for teaching English to eelementary students. Teaching English in elementary school is new to Japan and started nation wide this year. As regular eelementary school teachers have limited experience with English, there is a great demand not only for native ALTs, but also for Japanese assistant teachers to act as a go-between and help develop lesson plans. And now, with this certificate, my wife may be in greater demand.

To celebrate, she wanted to get an eelectronic dictionary. She describes herself as an analog person and is the only teacher she knows who doesn't have one. We bought it today at Yamada Denki electronics store. It's pretty snazzy. It not only has dictionaries of numerous languages, but also programs on English grammar, tests, and also lots of cultural information in English, so I can use it, too. Han was keen to try the English test questions. The screen is in color and has sound. So, starts a new phase of the Winter's working life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Japanese Gestures: "Money"

In Japan
 In America, to gesture "money", we rub the fingers together as if rubbing money bills together. In Japan, they make a circle with the thumb and index finger that looks like a coin.

In America

Mystery Pigeon house

There is a house nearby that I can see from my balcony which perplexes me. Every day, I see a whole flock of pigeons resting on top, particularly in the morning and around 3 o 4 o,clock p.m. The whole flock will fly around in circles near my apartment, but always centered on that house, where they periodically land. Even more perplexing, is that in the smaller building next to the house, I can see pigeons inside the screen of the window. Every time I see it, it makes me think of the people on rooftops in New York who raise and train flocks of pigeons. I actually walked around to the front of the house when the pigeons where there, but I didn't see anyone outside or on the balcony directing them. I'm of half a mind to just march up to the front door and ask the owner about it. I'll let you know if I learn anything further. Life in Japan is always interesting.

Japanese Gestures: "Girlfriend", "Boyfriend"


For life in Japan,  they have gestures for "girlfriend" or "boyfriend". Girlfriend is made by extending the pinky finger. It's sometimes used in a slightly lewd way to indicate a mistress or secret lover. I've seen this gesture many times.

My wife tells me there is a similar gesture for boyfriend by extending the thumb. I've never really seen this, though I'm not a girl. I suspect it's not as common because it might be confused with "Thumbs up".


The origin of these gestures might be the meaning or names of the finger "family". There is a member of the family associated with each finger of the hand:

Thumb- "Otosan yubi" Father finger. (Also known as the Parent finger)

Index Finger- "Okasan yubi" Mother finger

Middle Finger- "Onisan yubi" Brother finger

Ring Finger- "Onesan yubi" Sister finger

Pinky- "Akachan yubi" Baby Finger

There are superstitions associated with the thumb or parent finger. For example, if you see a hearse, you should hide your thumb or you won't see your parents when they die. To read more, check out my article on Japanese Superstitions.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Japanese Gestures: Counting to five on the hand

 In America, if you count to 5 on the hand, we start with a fist. Then, extend the index finger(pointing finger) for 1 and after, extend each finger in sequence, finishing with the thumb at 5 with an open palm.

In Japan, many people do almost the opposite. They start with an open palm, bend the thumb for 1, then the index finger for 2 and so on, finishing with the pinky at 5 with a fist. Again, my wife objects saying not all Japanese count like that and many do the American way. But, I have seen this so many times in my classes or on TV. It's very common. And, I have never, ever seen this way to count in America. Personally, I can't count like this. It doesn't feel natural. If I don't look,
I can't remember what number I'm on. This way of starting with the thumb might come from the fact that the  thumb is known as the "Father finger" or "Parent finger" and is considered the most important. Japan is a country where honoring one's parents and ancestor worship are extremely important.





Hana's Breakfast 2

 As part of Hana's Summer school homework, she had to cook breakfast a number of times and report to her teacher. Here's what she made the other day; rice, miso sop with potatoes and green onion, chikuwa, a kind of fish cake tube with cucumber inside, tomato, and sausages. Absolutely scrumptious! Great job Hana.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Japanese Gestures: "Don't, No"

In Japan

 In America, if you want to gesture to someone, "No", or not to do something, particularly to children, we wave our index finger back and forth. In Japan, they wave the whole hand back and forth in the same meaning, but it is used in many more situations. It is used to mean a negative response to a question like, "No, it wasn't me.", "I didn't do that.", or "That's wrong." It's a very common gesture used with adults, not just used to scold children.

In America

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Japanese Gestures: "Who me?"

In Japan

 In America, if someone is calling you, and you say "Who me?", we gesture by pointing to the chest. In Japan, they point to the nose or face. My wife insists she never uses this gesture, instead opting for the western one, but it is common, believe me. 


In America

Karintou manju

 Manju is the generic name for a kind of traditional Japanese sweet. Manju is usually made with a sweet red or white bean paste, covered in a rice powder or breaded covering. Manju comes in an infinite variety of shapes and tastes. You're going to see a lot of manju on this list. This particular one is karintou manju. Karintou is the name of a different crunchy, breaded sweet and this manju has a similar taste. It took me a while to get to like manju. For westerners, it's not very sweet and the texture is  little strange, but I love it now. This was a real good one.

Bota-mochi or Ohagi

 This is a traditional sweet in Japan called ohagi or in this area, bota-mochi. Junko's mother made this. It's one of her specialties. It's made with sticky mochi rice or mochigome. The rice is pounded, but not completely as in proper omochi rice cakes. The outside is covered in anko, a sweet bean paste. I believe this is a homemade variety. There are many traditional sweets made with a red bean paste. I never knew beans could be a sweet until I came to Japan. Bota-mochi taste good. They are pretty sweet and thick and chewy. I cut this one in half to show you the inside. She makes another version with a sweet paste made from green peas.

Homemade Ice Cream in a can!

 In preparation for a cooking lesson at my school, I made homemade ice cream for the first time. It was relatively easy an fun. It was adapted from a recipe I found online. It originally called for using two large coffee cans, a 1pound and 3 pound, but those are hard to come by in Japan. I used a small storage tin and a large tupperware cylinder. Here's the recipe:

2 cups of light cream, half and half.(I used 1 cup cream and one cup milk)

1/2 cup of sugar

1-1/2 Teaspoons of vanilla




1. Mix all the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the smaller can. Tape down the lid. (I placed Saran wrap over the opening of the can before putting the top on just to be extra sure)

2. Layer  the large container with ice and salt. Put the smaller can inside. Fill with ice and salt. Put the top on and tape shut.

3. Roll or kick the container around, wrapped in a towel. or a plastic bag if you do it outside. Roll for 15 minutes, then check and refill ice and roll for another 15 minutes. It's probably going to leak a little bit. It gets a little messy inside. For round two we took it outside and kicked it around. Great fun.

It worked. We made vanilla ice cream that tasted great. The second time, I only used milk and added an egg from a different recipe. It didn't work quite as well, but not bad. I want to experiment more and I can't wait to try it with the kids at school.

Tofinek Carmel wafers by Tago

 These are one of my all time favorite snacks in Japan. And guess what, they're made in Poland. These are thin, chewy, carmel wafers. Again, these import items come from local discount supermarket Lamu. According to the package, they're designed to be put on top of your cup of coffee to warm them and then dip. I just eat them out of the package. And at 28 yen (about 30 cents) a pop, they're pretty affordable, too. I love the taste, chewy, carmelly sweet. Great for a snack anytime. Check them out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Deru kui wa utareru .出る杭は打たれる

Whereas in the West, we have the saying, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." In Japan they say Deru kui wa utareru, "The nail (stake)that stands up gets hit/hammered down". It is often quoted by foreigners(a little too often, I think) and seems to imply what is wrong with Japan. Japan is a country of conformity and thinking as a group. In this culture, someone who is too different, opinionated, or outspoken might be viewed as a selfish show off and potentially a threat to the rest of the group. I've noticed this with high school students. The system does it's best to bring up the underacheivers, but at the same time, in a culture where praise is rare, you get the feeling they discourage the exceptional students from being "too smart" or at least showing off about it. If you get to full of yourself, society has ways to bring you down a peg or two.

"nanakorobi yaoki" 七転び八起き

Nanakorobi yaoki means "Seven times down, eight times up." Nana is seven, korobi means fall down, yao is eight and ki is get up. It is a saying about perseverence and never giving up no matter how man times life knocks you down. This proverb is often associated with the daruma "wishing" dolls that are modeled after Bodhdidaruma the legendary Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to Japan via China. It has taken on new meaning recently after the devestating earthquake in Fukushima earlier this year. Never give up.

"Home on the Range" in Yonago, Japan

My Kansas City friends will be glad to hear this one. When I first came to Yonago over ten years ago, I found that they play a different tune of instrumental music over a PA system to be heard through out the city, every day at 8:00 a.m, 12:00, and 5:00 for about thirty seconds. This music is to mark your day, when to get ready for ork or school, lunch, and going home. But to my surprise, at 5:00 everyday they play an instrumental version of "Home on the Range." Well, that's a song I know well. I'm from Kansas and that's our state song. I had to learn it in elementary school. My Japanese friends and students were surprised to hear I knew it and it was an old cowboy song. I often taught the words to my students. What are the chances? I don't know if many cities in Japan have a similar custom of playing music though out the city. I know all don't. Many Japanese I met who came from somewhere else were just as surprised as I was. Incidentally, in Japan, they play "Old Lang Syne" to mean a store is closing, like we play "Happy Trails to you". 
Here are the lyrics to Home on the Range.

Home on the Range
Oh, give me a home,
Where the buffalo roam.
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard,
A discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day,

Home, home on the Range,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word,
And the skies arte not cloudy all day

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Parenting: Bedtime Tips

I love my little girls Hana(6) and Rika(3), but I'm constantly frustrated at bedtime because they don't want to brush their teeth. If you're like me, here's a tip that worked. I told Rika, "Let's play a game. Let's brush your teeth, but not in the bathroom. Anywhere you want." Rika got excited, "The closet?" I said "OK". I brushed Rika's teeth sitting in the closet and Hana's upside-dow in the bridge position from gymnastics class. I told them they can choose a new place tomorrow. We'll see how long this lasts.

Another tip about putting pajamas on. I told Rika, "Let's play Rock, Paper, Scissors(a game they love). If I win, I put on your clothes. If you win, you put on your clothes." It worked! For a three year old, that logic makes sense. We play for each piece of clothing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Good luck dads. I'm definitely a graduate of Bugs Bunny's school of reverse psychology.

Treu Teru Bozu

What's this cute little thing? Well, it's called teru teru bozu. It's a little doll made by children to ward off the rain. Little kids make these dolls out of cloth or just tissue and hang them up in the window on rainy days. They might look like ghosts that have been hung to death, but they're not ghosts at all. "teru" means sunshine and "bozu" meas a buddhist monk. They mean the monk will bring sunshine to you. Today, "bozu" is a slag expression that means bald (like a monk). I was bozu for a while earlier this summer. They say if you hang the teru teru bozu upside-down, it will bring the rain. There is also a cute little song and rhyme sung by children. Check out the video. Maybe a fun craft to do with the kids.

Daruma Dolls

These are daruma dolls だるま. They are a common sight in Japan . They are a paper mache doll used for making a wish. They are modeled after and take their name from Bodidharuma, the legendary Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to Japan from China. The dolls are hollow paper mache with a weighted bottom so the always turn right side up like roly-poly or whebble-whobble dolls. When you buy them, the eyes are blank. You paint the left eye black to make your wish or set your goal. You paint the right eye after it comes true. They are a common gift for new businesses, politicians during a campaign, or for students before a big test. They have different kanji or Chinese characters written on them for different occasions, but are often associated with th phrase "nanakorobi yaoki" 七転び八起き which translates "Seven times down, eight times up." which basically means never give up no matter how many times you fall down. You can buy them anywhere, even at the 100 yen(dollar) store. They are usually red, but I saw a show on TV, that in Hokkaido and northern Japan, they are usually blue. They are beautifully designed and definitely show a Russian influence. Recently, it became popular to paint them blue like the Japanese soccer team uniforms before the Women's world cup. They won, I guess maybe the daruma worked.

Day "Bug" Camp at Mt. Daisen

Today our school had it's third and final summer camp excursion. We went bug hunting at Mt. Daisen with, yet again, Mr. Tahara, one of the very friendly and knowledgeable staff at Mori no Kuni camping resort area. In the morning, we went hunting for cicadas and other bugs I caught a frog, the giant oniyanma オニヤンマ dragonfly known as the banded dragonfly, the largest dragonfly in Japan, as long as my hand. And the scary looking kamikii mushi  カミキリムシ  or Asian long horned beetle. Other kids caught lots of cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets, prayng mantises, an one girl caught a small  kuwagata クワガタ or stag beetle, highly prized among Japanese kids.  I eventually let the oniyanma dragonfly go, but kept the frog and beetle. The kamikiri mushi is a rather large beetle, black with white spots, long antenna, and a wasp like head with scissor like jaws. Despite it's appearance, it's harmless and feeds on trees. 

After a lunch of yakisoba, fried noodles, we went to the river to hunt for fish or other creatures. We all had a grand time. Here are good pics of the bugs, not mine:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hana's Gymnastics class

 Here are the girls at Hana's "ShinTaiso" rythmic gymnastics class. She' cute in her leotard. She started a couple of months ago. At first she wanted to do Shoenji Kempo, a Japanese form of Kung-fu, but eventually opted for gymnastics. She has it once a week for an hour. It's mostly stretching and warm up with only the last few minutes using equipment like ropes, hoops, or balls. During class, Rika just runs around making herself tired. It's really a beginners class for people who are not too serious yet. But Hana has long limbs, great flexibility, and good muscle tone and has potential, I think. Later, she might move to the more intense three hour class and have performances. Is there Olympic gold in our future?

Pacific Aquarium in Sakaiminato

 After going to the beach twice, the last big event for the Winter's Summer vacation was visiting the aquarium event in Sakiminato, a port town 20 minutes away. It was a small, traveling aquarium called 太平洋の水族館 "Taiheiyou no suizokukan". Taiheiyou means Pacific ocean and suizokukan means aquarium. We went to almost the same aquarium last year, but at that time, it was called the New Caldonia Aquarium, though I know many of the fish were the same. It was held at Yumeminato tower, a former expo building in Sakaiminato. The aquarium was open for about a month. The local newsapaper Nihonkai Shinbun(Sea of Japan Newspaper) had a promotional event, if kids drew and submitted a sea life picture, you got a free ticket. Both Hana and Rika drew pictures, so we got two tickets. It seemed smaller than last time, and we went through the whole thing in about twenty minutes. At least, I think the sea turtles wading pool was a little bigger. Probably most families in this area went. At the end, you come out into the gift shop. The girls got a few toy souvenirs. It was fun. The sea turtle was probably the best thing. Afterwards we went to an "obake yashiki" or haunted house on the 3rd floor. It was a short maze, probably scarry for little kids, though Junko screamed the loudest.

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