Archive | February, 2008

White Gloves

20 Feb
There are many curious things which you see in the land of the rising sun. One such oddity I will simply call ‘the white glove curio. Seeing men and women – though particularly man wearing these white cotton numbers is a common occurrence: riding a bicycle, walking the dog, taking the train, repairing a bicycle, vacuuming the car or just for keeping the hands warm during a winter walk or run – you will see the magic white gloves. I myself have worn them whilst running and they are great. Rice farmers, traffic controllers and road workers also all sport them and they can be purchased in the large hardware-type shops like Home Center, Cainz Home etc. This is something I’ve only seen in Japan – maybe this curio is a spin-off from the obsession many Japanese have with cleanliness? You decide….

Kids Playgrounds

20 Feb
Some of the playgrounds and parks in Japan are a kid’s paradise. Swings, tunnels, learning activities, ropes to climb etc and my favorite – the big slides they build. They are in theory similar to the old ‘rolling pipe’ system used in factories which was how boxes were moved from one location to the other; and this simple concept is how these slides operate. You just sit down at the top and your body weight moves you along the slide – there is metal framework on either side so you don’t fall out. These are a ton of fun ! Unlike other countries, playgrounds and parks in Japan are seldom vandalized so we offer another thumbs up for that! Some of the parks in Japan have lakes filled with fish – usually giant carp of all colors – and you can often purchase fish food to feed them. The parks are well maintained and some contain flower beds which are a delight to see when in bloom. So be sure to look out for this unique slide next time you take your kids to a park in Japan.

Kara age

20 Feb
I am writing here about what is possibly my favorite Japanese food – and naming it as my first choice is by no means an easy decision. It just pipped gyudon and sashimi into the number one slot, which was quite a feat believe me. Gyudon was the first Japanese food I got hooked on – and I would eat a lot of meals at Yoshinoya – but I will write about the great Yoshinoya experience at another time. I’ve heard Kara age referred simply as ‘Japanese fried chicken’, but to easily dismiss it with that label is doing the dish a great injustice. When you buy Kara age you don’t get wings or legs – and sure it is fried – but it’s the preparation and the way it’s cooked which makes it so tasty. Good Kara age is marinated for some time, and then fried twice to ensure crispiness. On a cold winter’s night, this dish – served with boiled rice, diced cabbage and topped with kewpie mayonnaise – is the best meal I can imagine. Some nights after work I used to stop off at my local Hokka Hokka Bento shop and the lady who did all the cooking would cook me up a mean Kara age bento, and besides the rice and diced cabbage, it would also contain sliced pickle. So forget about sushi, sashimi or any other meal when you first arrive in Japan – be sure to order Kara age. Oishi desu ne (tasty isn’t it).

World of Coca Cola

12 Feb
Firstly, I should state that this World of Coca-Cola store in Odaiba, Tokyo closed its doors in January of 2007 after opening in 2001. I was lucky enought to visit there and what follows are my memories of my visit there a couple of years back. The store was located in the Odaiba City complex where you can easily spend a whole day sightseeing – if you see the amazing looking NHK buildiing, you know you’re in the right place. Be sure to check out the amazing Statue of Liberty Replica which overlooks Tokyo Bay and The Rainbow Bridge – for a moment you’d swear you’re in The Big Apple (I will post something about the statue and the Odaiba area down the track). The museum was a unique place to visit, even if you were not a coke addict. A for Awesome and F for Fun. It was flashy and modern – as you’d expect in Japan, with all kinds of neat stuff on display. Old coke paraphanalia, TV commercials, vintage cans and bottles, vending machines and a great display of yoyo’s which brought back images’s of my own late 70’s yoyo fixation. (I’d forgotten that the Coca Cola yoyo team actually visited and perfomed their magic at my school way back when which left me truly amazed). They even had a shiny red Coca Cola bicycle on display ! There was so much to see within the museum – entry was free which was a bonus. You can’t visit and not endulge in the black fizzy stuff, and there was a 50’s style counter serving ice cold cola – shut your eyes and imagine you are sitting with Potsie and Ralph Malph in your letterman jacket – as Fonzie hits the flippers on the nearby pinball machine. Aaayyy. I believe that the Coca-Cola store at Haneda International Airport has also closed so if you’re the kind of coke fiend who enjoys this kinda thing – it would appear that the coca cola museums in Las Vegas or Atlanta are your next bet. For further info read the wikipedia entry or click here

Ojizosan

12 Feb
These miniture statues are known as Ojizosan and can be found all over Japan. Most often they are dressed in knit caps, or miniture jackets. They are dolls created from pottery and have spiritual powers – protecting children mostly, but also travellers and the elderly – they are meant to watch over something or someone and I think that it their main purpose. They also watch over the spirit of children who have died young and are dressed so accordingly. The image was taken very near the Tokyo Tower. There are pottery places (I think in Kyoto but most likely other towns) where you can partcipate in creating your own Ojizosan. Please show respect when you see and photograph Ojizosan.

Akihabara

11 Feb
A visit to Tokyo is not complete without a stop at Akihabara, the electronic capitol of the world ! By day it’s a bustling sea of people, with shops and department stores selling all range of electronic gadgets. At night the neon signs shine bright with just as much pandemonium and bartering occurring in street stalls and big department stores. Near the station you will find back streets crammed with vendors selling everything from cameras, watches and handycams to minute gadgets and electronic parts. I’ve often sat down amongst the sea of people and imagined what this place would’ve been like, say 20 or 30 years ago, with the stock on display telling a tale of how technology has changed….ie street sellers trying to offload the latest TVs back in 1970, or a walkman in 1981. Nowadays it’s MP3 players, USB storage devices, DVD recorders, cell phones, digital cameras etc. I like to check out the large electronic department stores in Akihabara where the volume of items on sae is overwhelming. Floor after floor of computer software and hardware, digital and audio devices; if you can’t find what you are looking for here – they don’t have it. To give you an example, mouse mats – not just one – but a whole row of the things ! Same goes with laptops, clocks, MP3 players and the like. Same goes with mobile phones here – the range to choose from is mind boggling. Do you homework before you arrive here – be prepared to shop around and then haggle on the final price; with competition from other retails so fierce, you will be surprised what a bargain you may walk away with. I’ve always wanted to find a TV wrist watch but am yet to locate one. Oh and if girls in french maid outfits is your thing – they are usually found outside the station most evenings.

Gyoza

10 Feb
A staple of the japanese diet is gyoza – those tasty, meat filled pastries which are often served as an entrée, a side dish, or as a meal themselves with rice. These are similar to Chinese dumplings or boiled dumplings. However I believe that the main difference is that in Japan, the bases of the dumplings are fried in oil first, which is a slighty different method to how the Chinese cook them. I usually eat them before a bowl of Ramen, and on a cold winter’s day, it’s the best combination I can think of. They are relatively inexpensive and are best eaten dunked in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. If you wish to attempt to cook them at home, you should be able to purchase the ingredients at your local Asian grocery store. Be sure to add gyoza to your list of foods to try when you visit Japan ! I quite enjoy the gyoza and ramen served at Ichibantei – a Ramen chain restaurant found in many locations throughout the country. Itadakimasu !