Thursday, August 12, 2010

Burping, Sneezing, Etc. :)

Since lots of people have been asking, here's the answer to the question "What do they say when someone burps/sneezes/farts in Japan?"

Over here, we're pretty much used to saying "Bless you," when someone else sneezes and "Excuse me" for the more noxious bodily exports. However, in Japan, they say nothing. Unless the sneeze or what have you is particularly disruptive to an ongoing conversation, at which point they will say sumimasen (excuse me).

Oh, you know you were wondering about it. :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kaitenzushi at Kantaro

During the last week I was in Hakodate, my friends and I finally made our way to Kantaro, the best sushi place in town. Kantaro is a kaitenzushi restaurant -- the sushi chefs stand in the middle of a circular bar, and there's a conveyer belt going around the outside. They make the sushi, and then set it on the conveyer belt, and guests can grab what they want as it goes around.

Kantaro is a popular place, so we had to wait first.
Meagan and I have both resorted to picture taking while waiting

Cool window next to the waiting room

An antique tea set

The wait wasn't too bad (it helps to have company) and then we got to head in.
Here you can see the bar-style side, and on the far side are booths

Sitting at our booth

The green tea and the mugs for it were already at the table. There was a little box with the powdered green tea that you could put in your mug and then fill up with hot water at the tap on the side of the bar. And of course there were ginger, soy sauce, and chopsticks. :)

A look down the conveyor belt

A melon goes by

Here's some of the stuff my friends and I grabbed.

You can tell how much something costs because the plates are color coded. The green rimmed/flowery plates, for example, were 125 yen each, whereas the dark green with gold squiggles was one of the more expensive plates at about 300 yen. (However, there were also 400 and 500 yen plates. These five college students did not partake in those particular plates.)

Once you're done, the waitress/waiter comes by, counts up your plates, writes down how many you had of each, and then you bring it to the cashier to ring out.

Unfortunately the only sushi place with kaitenzushi that I know of here in the Boston area is Fugakyu up in Brookline, which is about an hour drive. :(

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Longest Saturday of My Life

August 7th will officially last 37 hours for me. (17 hours in Japan, 12 hours on the plane, and then 8 hours in the eastern time zone).

Y’all are in for a treat. I’m writing this in Toronto airport because I really have nothing better to do during my 5 hour layover, except feel assured that my check in baggage will have time to make it to my plane. (Ok, side rant, but I had to pick up my luggage from one of those conveyer belt contraptions, run it through U.S. customs where they did absolutely nothing other than look at a paper I had filled out and then ask me why I had been in Japan, then re-check it and go through security again. I’m bitter about being back in the States already and I’M NOT EVEN THERE.)

I should also note that I have been up for 26 hours at this point. And I just decided to get a Starbucks mocha frappucino – or however the heck you spell that. Y’know what I mean. Anyway, my caffeine tolerance is pretty low so prepare for one really fun post…

Sudden realization. I have nothing legitimate to post about. Except maybe airports. I finally figured out who shops at all those little chintzy boutiques and overpriced food places. It’s people with 5 hour layovers. (Though granted U.S. customs did their darnedest to keep me entertained waiting for my baggage and waiting in line as long as possible).

I was actually considering a ten minute manicure, but the store girl just wrapped up shop.
Well, anyway, the legitimate posts will continue once I’m a little less sleep-deprived/cracked out on caffeine.

But, oh hey, I have free wifi! :D

Friday, August 6, 2010

Last full day in Japan...

(Sorry guys, no fun pictures with this one...)

Today is my last full day here in Japan. My classes are over, my final exam is taken, and all that remains today is a closing ceremony and farewell party. After that I intend the rest of the day leisurely with my host family. (Most of my things are already packed as I had to send my large suitcase via delivery service to Narita Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday. Though I’ve had to live on the bare minimum since then, it’s nice to not worry about packing today).

Tomorrow morning I will be leaving on the 7:00 AM train from Hakodate, and thus will begin a 30 hour journey to get back to Logan Airport in Boston. (Oh fun…) (But I am looking forward to watching movies in English on the plane).

There will be lots more blog posts to come once I’m home since there’s still a lot I just haven’t had the chance to post about but intend to. But I figured I would make this an actual timely post.
As my time left on this side of the world has dwindled, I’ve been thinking about things I’m going to miss here in Japan. But, of course, at the same time, there are lots of things I’m looking forward to at home and a few things I won’t miss about Japan.

Things I’m Going to Miss About Hakodate, Hokkaido
  • Onigiri
  • Milk tea
  • Being able to walk or take public transport wherever I need to go
  • Practicing Japanese conversation every day
  • The occasional times the band at the high school next door stops making random noise and gets together to play some music like the Mario theme song or the James Bond theme song
  • Ume boshi (sour plums)
  • Sushi (delivery, kaiten, and just really fresh, delicious sushi in general)
  • Squid
  • Ramen shops
  • Heated toilet seats
  • Ofuro
  • Meeting random friendly cats on my walk to school
  • Running around Goryokaku Park and seeing water lilies, fish, and turtles in the moat
  • Black sesame soft cream
  • Green tea soft cream
  • Hakodate milk soft cream
  • Getting to use chopsticks all the time (though now that I have two portable pairs in my possession I might just whip them out whenever I get sick of forks). (Chopsticks are way more fun. Also, forks are too big and unwieldy.)
  • Conbini (convenience stores) – These are so much better over here. They’ve got yummy bentos and onigiri in addition to alcoholic beverages and fireworks. Yes, you read that right. Fireworks in your local 7-Eleven. :)
  • Taking pictures for this blog :(

Things I’m Not Going to Miss
  • The exchange rate
  • The rarity of soap in bathrooms
  • Japanese style toilets
  • Wearing the same 7 shirts
  • Doing so much homework
  • Using an adaptor for the three prong plug on my computer power cord

Things I’m Looking Forward To
  • Friends and Family (I know, I’m such a sap).
  • Getting back to the dojo
  • Green apples!!!
  • And other fresh fruit and veggies in general
  • Giving out souvenirs and feeling like Santa :)
  • Being able to use my cell phone for something other than the alarm clock
  • T.V. in English
  • Exercising more because I have more than two sets of workout clothes!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Squid cooking!

On Tuesday I along with some other HIF students got the chance to take a squid cooking class here in Hakodate. We made ikameshi, which is squid stuffed with rice, and ikasashimi, which is just raw squid cut up all nice. :)

First things first, we got our game faces on. And our aprons. And our bandannas.

Then we got our cutting boards and knives.
Isn't it cool that they trusted me with such an absurdly large knife?

Then we got our squid. We each got three.
Unfortunate cephalopods about to become hapless victims to our inexpert cooking skills

Then our cooking Sensei demonstrated how to properly rip a squid apart with your bare hands. :) Then he cut the not tasty part of the tentacles off and squeezed out the squid's beak, since that would be pretty unpleasant to eat.

We did the same, but I don't have any pictures of me dissecting my own squids because I didn't really want to get squid goo on my camera... We then took the tentacles and boiled them for a bit, added a bit of spice and sauce, and enjoyed. :)

Then we made ikameshi. Basically you just clean out the part you see here and then fill it with rice. The top gets closed off with a toothpick, and then the entire thing gets cooked for about an hour. (No picture of the finished product, sorry guys!)
About to boil the prepared squids. (This was Sam's reaction to my prompt "Quick, look culinary!")

Our final task was making sashimi. I first prepared my squid by threatening it with my absurdly large knife.
Credit to Caitlin for being an accomplice and taking the picture for me.

After I finished doing that, I actually set about slicing and dicing my squid the proper way. This was the final product:
Very yummy! I'm going to be a bit bummed out when I get back to the States and can't get squid so regularly...

Monday, August 2, 2010


Chanoyu is the Japanese tea ceremony. It began in very different form way back when tea first made its way from China to Japan. At first tea was limited to the temples and the courts, but soon made its way to the warrior class, who made it a lot more fun. (Insert gambling, excessive amounts of alcohol, contests to try and identify different types of tea after excessive amounts of alcohol). (For a side note about another possible samurai drinking game, see the end of the post).

Over time the tea ceremony mellowed out, however, and over hundreds of years was developed into an art called Cha-do that has several different schools with varying techniques and rules of etiquette. Each school has a grandmaster as well. I found it really interesting that the way of tea’s hierarchy is almost exactly the same as the way of open hand (meaning karate-do for all those non-dojo folk out there).

At HIF we were able to get a crash course in the basics of one of these tea ceremonies.
Sensei explains the tools of the trade before we get started

Our first challenge—properly taking two sweet beans from the serving dish and putting them on our individual paper.

One of Sensei’s helpers demonstrates the making of the tea. Here she’s cleaning the tea making tools, even though they’re already clean. (It’s part of the show of the tea ceremony).

We each get our own bowl of tea to try. There are three set phrases you have to say before you drink it—one to the host making the tea, one to the person on your left who got tea before you, and one to the person on your right who go tea after you. Also, you’re sitting in seza the entire time (that’s the formal sitting position where you sit with your feet tucked under you.) Then, once you pick your bowl of tea up, you have to rotate it twice, finish it in three sips (making the last one slightly louder so the host knows you have finished), rotate twice the opposite direction, and put it back down. (I totally forgot the rotating thing when I did it…)

We also got some yummy nerikiri. (Same thing as what we made in the wagashi class, only by people with considerably more skill.) I had one of the green ones. As expected, it was pretty much pure sugar and a little bit of bean paste.
At the end we got to try to make our own tea. It’s pretty simple—you put two little scoops of the tea powder in the bowl, add hot water, whisk it with your chasen (tea whisk), and then enjoy. :)
A small bowl, a wooden scoop for the tea powder, a round black box with the tea, and the chasen (tea whisk).

My classmate, Mitchell, experiences some difficulties.

Hopefully I’ll be able to bring some of Japan’s green tea back with me to the U.S. It’s much better than the bag stuff!

Side note - Samurai Drinking Game?

I was walking back from the beach this last Saturday and I saw a small outdoor celebration going on outside one of the houses I walked past. There was a party game going on involving a watermelon and a small child armed with a shinai (practice sword made of bamboo). The girl had the obligatory blindfold on to give the watermelon a fighting chance against her surely ferocious strikes. It looked like the Japanese version of a pinata.

Having just written up this post about tea ceremonies actually being rowdy warrior class drinking parties, I wondered if this too would have been a drinking game. Take the melon intended for dessert, find a particularly drunk comrade, blindfold him, hand him his katana (real, of course) and then set him loose. There's possible limb loss in this scenario, but also the possibility for good, wholesome fun. :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010


I have to admit that the events of this post took place more than a week ago, but I’m only getting around to blogging about it now. As my last week in Japan starts, I’m getting pretty busy with classes, packing, and, you know, enjoying my last week in Japan. So you can probably expect lots of belated blog posts after I get back to the U.S. next Saturday.

So one of the extracurricular classes that we got to take was a class on the game of Go. This is the Japanese name for the game—it was started about 4000 years ago in China, and reached Japan and Korea soon after. The basic tools of the game are ban (a square-ruled board) and black and white ishi (stones):
9x9 for us beginners, 13x13 for intermediates, and 19x19 for the pros

We didn’t get to play right away though. First we got the rules of the game explained to us in Japanese. (He was contrasting the language used to describe Go on the board with the language used to describe Chess, hence the bit of English up there. Where we use the verb “to play” to describe the act of chess, the Japanese use the verb that means “to strike” to describe Go. It’s because of the way that you definitively and confidently place your stone on the board once you’ve decided on where to put it). (It makes a really nice, satisfying tap. You put one down and feel like you’ve accomplished something). (Even if you still have no idea what you’re doing….)
Then there was the explanation of more advanced strategies, and some students got the chance to go up to the board and make the wrong move (which they thought was right since the sensei was leading them into it). Then the Go sensei would explain the more strategic move.
It appeared that after a day of classes the strategy explanations may have been too in depth for Samik and Sandra, who developed their own use for the ban and ishi.

Finally, for the last half hour of the class, we were able to attempt our first haphazard games.
Meagan: Wait, is the game over now?
Veronica: I have no idea… yes… no, wait… oh yeah, I think it is….maybe…

At any rate, it was pretty interesting. I think I’ll stick with chess and checkers though. :)