Dec 10, 2013

Let's go to temple & shrines! : Nezu Shrine (Tokyo)

Hi everyone!

If you are not particularly interested in Japanese traditional culture, almost all the shrines and temples may look the same, or similar, to you. Most of my students cannot even tell which one is temple and which is shrine.

I'm not blaming you at all. It is natural. I still remember an American guy said to me, "When I saw a gorgeous temple or shrine for the first time, I thought wow, it's great. But after visiting two or three, I was getting tired. They are the same anyway. Now I think you should not visit more than two temples or shrines on the same day."

Well, I agree. One per day is probably enough, but there are so many interesting shrines and temples worth visiting. Even today these religious places are considered as power spots. If you are a spiritual person, you may feel something.

Unfortunately I'm not very religious person and don't care about spiritualism either. Even so, I feel like visiting such places occasionally to wish happiness and health for someone, or for no special reason.

The other day, I visited the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo, well-known for the big festival that takes place in September. It is also famous for its azalea garden and many people come and see the flowers in April and May, but usually the shrine is very calm and quiet despite its historical value.

This is the torii gate of Nezu Shrine. Torii is built at the entrancence of the shinto shrine to mark a sacred precinct. If you see a structure like this, the place is not a Buddhist temple but a shinto shrine.

Shinto is Japanese indigenous religion that worships holy spirits or deities called "kami." In Shinto they say there are 8 millions of kami in this world, implying there are too many to count. It resembles Greek myth a little, but not all the shinto dieties take human forms. In many cases they are the spirits of ancestors, or even just concepts important to people such as fertility and prosperity, therefore invisible.        

The main shrine building of Nezu Shrine was built at the present location in 1706 by order of the fifth Tokugawa shogun Tsunayoshi. 

The deity enshrined there is Susanoo no Mikoto, the rowdy god of  storm. According to the myth, Susanoo is a brave hero who successfully killed Yamata no Orochi, the eight-forked serpent which was devouring villagers. Many ancient warlords worshipped this deity and prayed for the victory in wars. It is believed today that you'll be protected from evil spirits after visiting this temple.

This is the image of Suranoo no Mikoto. Looks a little like a hippie though...

Actually, while vast urban area in Tokyo was burnt down by the Great Tokyo Air Raids in 1945, this shrine miraculously survived, and it has been designated as the nation's important cultural property.  Some people say the shrine was able to keep off  bad luck by the protection of the deity.

If you want to be protected from evil and disasters, why don't you buy a charm at the shrine? 

This "Romon" or two-story gate with a roof is also the country's important cultural asset.

In the precinct, there is another smaller shrine called Otome Inari, where Uka no Mitama no Mikoto (what a long name!), a god of crops and commerce, is enshrined. At Inari shrines, a pair of fox figures are placed, instead of komainu (guardian dogs).

As many merchants who worship this god of commerce have offered torii gates, some Inari shrines have a vermillion tunnel called Senbon Torii (thousands of torii gate) like this. Very mysterious looking...

1-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
tel: 03-3822-0753
5min. from Nezu or Sendagi station on the subway Chiyoda Line, or Todai-mae station on the subway Nanboku line.

From here I'll write in Japanese.



伝統的 でんとうてき traditional
文化  ぶんか culture
興味(きょうみ)がある  be interested in
寺 てら  Buddhist temples
神社 じんじゃ shinto shrine
違い  ちがい difference


見るべき (みる~) should see
時々 ときどき  occasionally
紹介(しょうかい)する  to introduce


根津神社  ねづじんじゃ  Nezu Shrine
行われる  おこなわれる  to take place
満開  まんかい  to be in full bloom
つつじ  azalea
庭  にわ  garden
有名  ゆうめい  famous
普段  ふだん  usually
静か  しずか  quiet


場所  ばしょ  location
建てられる  たてられる  to be constructed
年  ~ねん year
将軍  しょうぐん  shogun
徳川綱吉  とくがわ つなよし name of the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.


奉(まつ)られている  enshrined
神(かみ)さま  deity
嵐  あらし  storm
蛇 へビ  serpent
英雄  えいゆう  hero
災難  さいなん  disasters
お参(まい)りする to visit shrines
守(まも)る  to protect


乙女稲荷  おとめいなり  the name of the shrine
赤い あかい  red
鳥居 とりい
面白い  おもしろい interesting

Dec 6, 2013

Traditional Japanese sweets I'd like to recommend 1: taiyaki

Hi everyone!

Have you ever tried 鯛焼き(たいやき、taiyaki) , or a fish-shaped pancake with anko somewhere? Don't worry, it has no fish in it, and doesn't have fishy smell either.

The "skin" part is made of flour, baking soda, sugar and water, very close to regular waffle or pancake batter, and the filling is commonly anko, or sweet red bean paste.

I personally like anko, but I'm not sure if you like it. Many of my students from "Western world" say they don't find it tasty, while Asians generally love it.

If sweet bean paste does not stimulate your appetite, you can ask for different fillings if they have, such as custard cream, sweet potato cream and chocolate cream.

Taiyaki is perfect snack to nibble when you are a little hungry between meals. It is tasty, cheap -- usually priced at 100-150 yen, and you can easily find the taiyaki shops near railway stations,  in the supermarkets or department stores. 

You can take taiyaki home and warm it up using microwave and toaster-oven (use the microwave first to warm inside and then put in the taster-oven so that the surface becomes a little crispy), but eating the freshly made hot one on the spot is the best. 

By the way, do you know that taiyaki are modeled after sea breams? "Tai" of taiyaki is sea bream, and "yaki" is grilled or baked in Japanese; therefore, taiyaki literally means baked sea-breams.

Sea breams are special fish for Japanese and they have been traditionally served on the auspicious (medetai in Japanese) occasions such as weddings and new year's day, because the sound "tai" reminds us of "medetai". Yes, it is just a pan. I'm wondering if our ancestors found sea breams especially delicious, though it has been always expensive.   

I've never made taiyaki at home, but it is not difficult to make if you have the mold. (Fish shaped taiyaki pan are available on the internet.) My friend occasionally makes taiyaki, using pancake mix as the batter and canned anko, and is always satisfied with the results.

Don't think of making anko from scratch, as it is very time-consuming. In Japan anko is sold in can or plastic bags at any supermarkets and even at some convenience stores, but if you are living abroad and hardly find those thing, why don't you put Nutella or your favorite jam as alternative? My friend says it is pretty good! 




鯛焼き  たいやき
伝統的 な  でんとうてきな  traditional
形  かたち  shape
お菓子 おかし  sweets
普通は  commonly, normally

~の代(か)わりに  instead of


あちらこちら everywhere
お腹(なか)が空(す)く   to get hungry
ぴったり  suitable


鯛 たい  sea breams
言葉 ことば word
めでたい  auspicious
連想する  れんそうする  associate something with...
結婚式  けっこんしき  wedding celemony
正月  しょうがつ  new year's day
特別  とくべつ  special


型 かた mold
簡単 かんたん  easily
大変 たいへん  hard, difficult
缶詰 かんづめの  canned

Nov 8, 2013

Tokyo towns you should visit ①: Yanaka, the cats' town

If you are a tourist who visits Tokyo for the first time, you'd probably go to Asakusa, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara and Roppongi.

Many Tokyo travel guides suggest you go to Asakusa to take a look at traditional side of Japan, to Shibuya and Harajuku for young culture, to Akihabara to buy electrical appliances and experience a little bit of the Japanese otaku (manga and anime) culture and to Roppongi for a night out.

They are all nice for "beginners," but if you have already visited these places and are looking for somewhere less touristy, why don't you visit "Yanesen" area?

The name "Yanesen" (ya-ne-sen) was made up by putting the first letters of neighboring towns Yanaka (谷中), Nezu (根津)and Sendagi (千駄木). During the World War II many parts of Tokyo were burnt down by bombing, but this Yanesen area miraculously escaped war damage despite its old downtown location.

If you visit Yanesen, you'll see what Tokyo's shitamachi (下町) is like. Literally meaning "downtown," shitamachi usually indicates the areas where commoners like merchants and craftsmen were mainly living in the Edo Period, while Yamanote (山の手) was the residential area for upper samurai class.

I recently went to Yanaka, one of the Yanesen towns.  There are actually two famous spots you should not miss. One is Yanaka Reien (谷中霊園), a huge cemetery where the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu was buried. It is also well-known for cherry blossoms. If you happen to be here in April, why not enjoy flower viewing in the cemetery? 

And the other touristic attraction is Yanaka Ginza (谷中銀座)shopping street with approximately 60 small shops and restaurants. It is small, but always busy with local shoppers, tourists and cat lovers.  Why cats? Because alley cats living in this area are considered as mascots of this shopping street.

This is the entrance of Yanaka Ginza taken from "Yuyake dandan," the stairs on the way from the JR Nippori station to the shopping street.  It is said that the sunset views seen from these stairs are very beautiful, although I've never seen them.

Look! A white cat is sitting on the roof of a tempura store, looking down at shoppers... oh sorry, it is a cat figure. Doesn't it look very real?

What about this one? ... It is another fake cat.

 This is the wooden signboard of a shop called Kittens. I forgot what they are selling...


These two cat dolls are placed in front of a store. Traditionally shopkeepers often put a cat figure called 招き猫(maneki-neko, or beckoning cat) in their shops, since the one with the right paw raised is believed to bring money and the one with the left paw raised brings people, or customers. The cats in this photo don't look like typical beckoning cats, though.  

Strolling in the town of Yanaka,  you may feel as if you have slipped back into the good old Japan. But maintaining this unique atmosphere always requires the efforts of townspeople.

For example, this temple-like building (photo below) is actually an elementary school (谷中小学校 Yanaka Shogakko). It was reconstructed 22 years ago, so as to blend in with the shitamachi surroundings.

From here, I'll write in Japanese.


浅草 あさくさ
渋谷 しぶや
新宿 しんじゅく
秋葉原 あきはばら
飽きる あきる  to get tired 
今度 こんど next time
谷根千  やねせん


谷中 やなか
根津 ねづ
千駄木 せんだぎ
戦争中 戦争中 during the war
空襲 くうしゅう  air raids
被害 ひがい damage
下町 したまち
町並み  まちなみ  streets


江戸時代 えどじだい the Edo Period
商人 しょうにん  merchants
職人 しょくにん  craftsmen
暮らす くらす  to live
庶民 しょみん  common people
上流 じょうりゅう  upper class
武士 ぶし  samurai
山の手 やまのて  
地域  ちいき  regions


先日 せんじつ the other day
有名 ゆうめい  famous
霊園 れいえん  cemetery
谷中銀座 やなかぎんざ
商店街 しょうてんがい  shopping street


野良猫 のらねこ  alley cats
住み着く  すみつく  to live
存在  そんざい  existence


置物  おきもの  figures
看板  かんばん  signboards


面白い  おもしろい  interesting
校舎  こうしゃ  school building
雰囲気  ふんいき  atmosphere

維持する  いじする  to maintain


Nov 7, 2013

Japanese chocolate snacks you should try ①: Pocky

Chocolate, cheese and wine -- these tree things are what I miss the most about France, where I lived for 3 years. When I came back to Japan and ate a chocolate from my neighboring konbini (convenience store), I almost spat it out! I thought I had a piece of plastic or soap (although I have never had either of them). Unfortunately, I have to admit that Japan is no match for Europe when it comes to chocolate quality.

Even if Japanese chocolate itself may not taste great, however,  Japanese "chocolate snacks" are not that bad.

I don't know if  "chocolate snacks" is correct English, but here in Japan it generally means any sweet things with chocolate, such as chocolate-coated cookies and chocolate-stuffed pies, and normally it refers to the mass products available at any supermarkets or conbini for relatively low price.

I'd like to introduce you some long-sellers that have sold for nearly 50 years. Today, I'll pick chocolate-coated pretzel Pocky by Glico, first appeared on the market in 1966. Similar ones are sold in many countries under different names, such as Mikado in France, but this is the original.

Do you know there are several different types of Pocky here? Many Japanese confectionery makers develop new versions one after another once they create a hit product.
For example,  the following is my favorite "Almond Crush Pocky,"  sprinkled with coarsely chopped almond (left), and almost the same version using  coffee-flavored pretzel called "Crush Pocky Almond, Coffee-shitate" (right) , both of which were put on sale in September of this year.
アーモンドクラッシュポッキー アーモンドクラッシュポッキー<6袋>

And they have strawberry-flavored Pocky, which I believe I have had long long time ago, and its new version that has been sold only at convenience stores "Tsubu tsubu ichigo Heartful" (heart-shaped pretzel coated with cream containing strawberry pulp). Both definitely target young girls who consider anything pink cute. I'm sure many men need the courage to buy them.


 They have thicker types using biscuit instead of pretzel coated with more chocolate than others, called "Pocky Midi Potteri Chocolat" and "Pocky Midi Potteri Matcha (Green Tea). "Potteri" means plump, chubby or fat in Japanese, but I'm not sure where "Midi" comes from.  "medium size" ?   They taste good, but to me, it is not Pocky any more.

ポッキー ミディ〈ぽってりショコラ〉ポッキー ミディ〈ぽってり抹茶〉
Some men love plump girls, and some others prefer skinny girls. Yes, Glico, trying to meet every customer's demand, developed "Gokuboso Pocky" or Super-Slim Pocky as well!!


Sweets are not only for children. As everyone knows, Japan's birthrate is declining and confectionery makers have to find a new market to survive. It is no surprise that Glico has developed adult-oriented Pocky, right? Yes, of course they have one. Called "Pocky Otona no Milk," it uses pie-like layered pretzel coated with rich milk chocolate. I tired and found it good, I don't understand why they named "otona no (for adults)". 


Actually there are more, but I'm getting tired... If you are living in Japan or plan to visit here, please check with them at a neighboring supermarket or konbini!

From here, I'll write in Japanese.


お菓子(おかし)     sweets, confectionery

発売(はつばい) put on sale
なんと   surprisinly
近く (ちかく) nearly


色々な(いろいろな)  various
種類(しゅるい)  kinds


例えば(たとえば)  for exmaple
粗く(あらく)  coarsely
刻む(きざむ)  to chop, mince
味 (あじ)  flavor

「いちごポッキー」とコンビニ限定販売の「つぶつぶいちごポッキー ハートフル」(プレッツェルがハートの形をしています)。

いちご  strawberry
コンビニ限定(げんてい) limited to convenience stores
販売(はんばい) sell
形(かたち)  shape

チョコレートを太くて短いビスケットに、たっぷりかけた「ポッキー ミディ」シリーズ。反対にとても細い「ポッキー 極細」もあります。

太い(ふとい)  fat
短い(みじかい) short
たっぷり  generously
かける  to pour
反対に(はんたいに)  to the contrary
細い(ほそい) thin
極細(ごくぼそ) extremely thin

最近では大人向けの「ポッキー 大人のミルク」も発売されました。どうして大人なのか、わかりませんでしたが。

最近(さいきん)  recently
大人向け(おとなむけ)  aiming at adults

Sep 27, 2013

Yuru-kyara "Funassy" is sweeping the country

Hi everyone.

About half year ago I wrote about Kumamon, a yurukyara (local mascot) of Kumamoto Prefecture. The cute bear character is still popular, but it does not appear in the media as often as before.

Yes, Japanese are so fickle and we have found a new mascot that enthuses us. So, who took the place of Kumamon, the champion of Yuru-kyara Grand Prix 2012?

It is ふなっしー(Funassy), a pear-shaped unofficial  mascot of Funabashi City (Chiba Prefecture) ! He (she? it?) won the ご当地キャラ総選挙2013(Gotochi kyara sosenkyo 2013),  a local mascot competition sponsored by the Japan Department Store Association. 

That's Fnassy. He calls himself a "fairy of pear"and his name is made up of Funabashi City and nashi (梨、pear in Japanese), the city's special products; however, he is not authorized by the city as its official mascot, despite his tremendous popularity.

When he first appeared in the media, many people, including myself, found him bizarre rather than cute, because he was too far from the common image of yuru-kyara.
In general, the yuru-kyara mascots don't talk at all, and move relatively slowly and in a lovely manner, while Funssy restlessly jumps up and down, screaming in a high-pitched male voice, and talks... "a lot."

When he began to appear on TV as one of the yurukyaras, many people were surprised at this unexpected character setting. I still remember several TV show hosts said in astonishment -- "Do you talk?"

Actually, he has a good sense of humor and makes people laugh, which grabbed people's heart and made him popular rapidly, although the he is a bit too unsophisticated in design.

Check him out on Youtube below.  This is the promotion video of his fist DVD released in July by Pony Canyon, a major music and image software company. I heard it was successful in sales. What a surprise...

Not only this DVD, but also other products using his image, such as mugs, pillows, towels, stuffed toys, etc. are currently available at stores and on internet.

As I mentioned before, however, Funabashi City has no intention of authorizing him as its official character. I was wondering why and one day I happened to find an article on this matter. According to the article, a spokesperson of the city government explained that Funassy was a character created by an individual, not officially chosen by public; and that pear production is not only thing Funabashi can be proud of.

Umm... Funabashi municipal government seems dislike Funassy for some reason. Recently they created an official yurukyara, going through a proper procedure. See the image below. That's him, Funaemon!! Looks like a good boy, but he is not as appealing as Funassy. What do you think? 



ゆるキャラ                         local muscot
一番(いちばん)        No. 1
人気(にんき)            popular
熊本県(くまもとけん)     Kumamoto Prefecture
今(いま)            now
船橋市(ふなばしし)            Funabashi City


市(し)              city
特産(とくさん)         specialty
梨(なし)             pear
妖精(ようせい)         fairy
多くの(おおくの)        many
可愛らしい(かわいらしい)  cute
動き(うごき)          motion
~に対して(たいして)     while
甲高い(かんだかい)      high-pitched
声(こえ)             voice
叫ぶ(さけぶ)          scream
せわしなく            restlessly
跳び回る(とびまわる)     jump around


驚き(おどろき)         surprise
しゃべる             talk
それに              in addition


~らしくない           not like
キャラ(キャラクター)      character
うける               be accepted
今年(ことし)           this year
ご当地(ごとうち)        local
総選挙(そうせんきょ)     general election
優勝(ゆうしょう)         get the first prize


それに               moreover
発売(はつばい)される     be released


正式(せいしき)に        officially
認める(みとめる)        admit


ちなみに              by the way
公認(こうにん)          officially authorized
船えもん(ふなえもん)      name of a yuru-kyara

Sep 15, 2013

The season of sweet potatoes has come!

Hi everyone. This summer was hotter and longer than ever, but since last week the temperature has gradually begun to drop and we can sleep without air conditioning these days.  Ah, finally!!

Yesterday I really felt that autumn has come when I found beautiful satsuma-imo (sweet potatoes) sold at a nearby vegetable store. The vivid red skin tinged with purple drew attention of many shoppers, including myself, and I could not pass by without getting one bag.
Look what I got. It is Beniazauma, a kind of sweet potato produced mainly in the Kanto area, and very sweet and tasty.

Satsuma-imo is a plant native to South America and is believed to be brought to Japan via China in the 17th century. Easy to grow, it was encouraged to cultivate as a counterpart against famine. Nowadays, it is grown in many parts of the country, but as the name indicates (Satsuma is the ancient name of Kagoshima Prefecture, and imo is potatoes), about 40 percent of satsuma-imo cropped in Japan is from Kagoshima, southernmost area of Kyushu Island.

There are so many types of sweets using satsuma-imo, and I'll introduce you some goodies that I recently ate. 

At this time of year many bakeries start baking their original bread and pastry with this seasonal ingredient, like the photo below. This is "Naruto Kintoki Bread," containing diced naruto-kintoki (a kind of sweet potato) grown in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture. Natural sweetness of the satsuma-imo goes very well with the fluffy bread sprinkled with sesames. I really liked it!

When I think of sweets using sweet potato, what comes uppermost is this "imo-yokan" of Funawa, old confectioner established in 1905 in Asakusa, Tokyo. I've had it so many times and I always find it good.

The making process is very simple. It includes mushing steamed satsuma-imo, adding sugar and a little bit of salt, mixing it well, putting it in a square mold and chill it. That's all! No synthetic additives such as artificial colors and preservatives are used.

You can easily imagine what it tastes like, can't you? Nothing surprising, but if you like sweet potatoes, it will never disappoint you. Actually, its simple flavor has been long loved by people of all generations. Available at major department stores and airports, not only in autumn but throughout the year.

At last I'll show you my favorite snack food "imo-kenpi," candied strips of satsuma-imo. I have loved it since I was a small child. You can buy it almost anywhere for only  100-200 yen for a bag. In the photo below, they may look like McDonald's french fries, but actually it is totally different. Coated with sugar, imo-kenpi is very hard, crunchy and addictive. Once I start eating, I can never stop, knowing it is relatively high in calories (sigh...).

If you feel like making some goodies at home, I'll recommend you daigaku-imo, literally meaning university potatoes. I heard that this snack goes by this strange name because it was very popular among university students in Tokyo when it was invented in the Taisho Era (1912-1926).  Here's the youtube video that shows how to make it. Enjoy!

From here I'll write in Japanese for Japanese learners.


日本  にほん Japan
ようやく  finally
秋 あき  autumn
先日 せんじつ  the other day
近く  ちかく nearby


早速  さっそく immediately
関東地方  かんとうちよう  Kanto area
採れる  とれる  can be cropped
品種  ひんしゅ  kind
甘い  あまい  sweet


最近  さいきん recently
いくつか some
紹介  しょうかい to introduce


まず first of all
鳴門金時 なるときんとき kind of sweet potato 
ブレッド  bread
角切り  かくぎり  diced
徳島県  とくしまけん  Tokushima Prefecture
パン  bread


舟和  ふなわ  name of the confectioner
ようかん a kind of Japanese dessert
ふかす  to steam
つぶす  to mush
砂糖  さとう  sugar
塩  しお  sult
混ぜる  まぜる  to mix
型  かた  mold
固める  かためる   make it firm
素朴  そぼく  simple
昔  むかし  long time ago


最後  さいご  at last
細く切る  ほそく きる to cut into thin and long strips
油  あぶら  oil
揚げる  あげる to deep fry
表面  ひょうめん  surface
コーティング  to coat
子供  こども  child
お菓子  おかし sweet
スーパー  supermarket
コンビニ convenience store
値段  ねだん  price
一袋  ひとふくろ  a bag
固い  かたい  hard
カリカリ  crispy


大学  だいがく  university
簡単に  かんたんに  easily
作り方  つくりかた  how to make

Sep 5, 2013

Furano: flowers, melons and wine

Hi everyone!

These past few years I spend my short summer vacation in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. There are a couple of reasons I repeatedly go there -- 1) It is much cooler and less humid than any other parts of Japan. The temperature in Hokkaido is about 10 C degrees lower than Tokyo. I need to escape from this obnoxious heat even for a couple of days.  2) I have a close friend living in Sapporo, Hokkaido's prefectural capital. I want to see her .  3) Foods are great. You can enjoy fresh crabs, melons, dairy foods, lambs, etc.   

If you are a hardcore ski/snowboard fan, you'd probably heard of Niseko, one of the most well-known and popular skiing resorts among foreigners for its snow quality (very powdery!) and English-speaking environment.

But don't think that Niseko is the only place worth visiting. Hokkaido is a big island -- actually the second biggest island among over 6,800 islands making up Japan, next to Honshu Island (main land). It has many touristic sites, such as prefectural capital Sapporo, old port town Otaru, historical landmarks in Hakodate City, Kushiro Wetland designated by the UNESCO as world natural heritage, and more.

This year I visited Furano, whose name became known throughout the country after TV drama series "Kita no Kuni kara" (From the Northern Country) were made 1981-2002. The touching story is about a divorced man who raises his two children in the beautiful wild nature of Furano with the help of his neighbors. The success of the drama turned the depopulated village into one of the most popular tourist sites in Japan.

I have to admit that there are no historically important landmarks in Furano. There are nothing but beautiful nature there. If you are from somewhere rich in nature, you might not find Furano interesting, but to someone living in a big city like myself, the scenery of Furano that somehow reminds me of France is very relaxing and attractive. If you are lucky, you can see Ezo red foxes. (I saw one on the roadside. Very cute!)

One of the attractions of Furano is flower fields. Lavenders are especially famous, and the fields are covered with the purple flowers from the mid to the late July. Unfortunately when I went there in mid-August, the lavenders were half dead. I took the photo below at Farm Tomita, where they had reaped most lavenders to make products. 


If you visit there at the right time, you can see the scenery like the photo below. I found this in a tourist information site MAPPLE.
提供 mapple
Sai no Kuni Sasaki Farm    Photo: MAPPLE
At Farm Tomita, you can try lavender-flavored soft serve for 250 yen, if you find the lavender fragrance appetizing. 


To me, lavender is not something to eat, so I had melon soft serve, which tasted real melon, not artificial flavor. Very delicious. Sorry for the blurry photo (again).

Furano is famous for melon cultivation as well. At Farm Tomita's Melon House... 

...they are selling melons ...

...and products related to melons, such as melon-pan (photo below). Normally melon-pan does not taste like a melon but shaped like a melon. I don't know if they are really using melon for making their sweet buns.

In Furano the market price of a melon is 1,000 yen per kilogram. Therefore, a big one weighing 1,5 kilo is 1,500 yen. Do you think it is still expensive? We don't think so, because we know how expensive melons can be in big cities like Tokyo. If you buy a beautiful melon at Nihonbashi Sembikiya, Japan's oldest and most luxurious fruit shop, you have to pay more than 10,000 yen! For one melon!! Outrageous!!

Cherries are pricy here. Especially "Sato nishiki" cherries produced in Yamagata Prefecture are often sold for more than 5,000 yen per kilogram. However, if you buy them on the roadside in Furano, they are surprisingly cheap. (Sorry, I forgot the exact price but I think they are about 1,000 yen.)

After enjoying flowers and fruits, my friend took me to some wineries. In Hokkaido, especially in Furano and its surrounding area, wine production is becoming bigger these years. Frankly speaking, the quality of Japanese wine has not reached the international level yet, but I realized this times that vineyard farmers and wine producers are working very hard to improve the taste. I hope they will produce internationally renowned wine someday in the future.

At Housui Winery you can do a wine tasting (photo below).

OK, from here I'll write in Japanese.


毎年:まいとし  every year
北海道: ほっかいどう
旅行に行く : りょこう  に いく go on a trip
涼しい: すずしい  cool
仲が良い: なか が いい  close


今年: ことし this year
富良野: ふらの 
遅すぎる: おそすぎる too late
半分: はんぶん half
枯れる: かれる  (plants) die
花畑: はなばたけ  flower field


ファーム富田: ファーム とみた
味: あじ  flavor

富良野はメロンの産地なので、安くておいしいのです。相場は一キロ1,000円。高いと思いますか?日本ではメロンがとても高くて、高級果物店では1万円以上するメロンもあるので、私は 安いと思いましたよ。

産地:さんち producing district
相場: そうば market price
高い: たかい expensive
高級: こうきゅう top quality
果物店: くだものてん  fruit shop
以上: いじょう  more than
安い: やすい reasonable


道端: みちばた roadside
さくらんぼ: cherry
売る: うる  to sell
佐藤錦: さとうにしき 


特に:とくに  especially
周辺: しゅうへん around
ワイナリー: winery
歴史: れきし history
短い: みじかい short
正直: ショウジキ frankly speaking
まだまだ: far from good
生産者: せいさんしゃ producer
将来: しょうらい in the future

Aug 7, 2013

Go to kissaten, Japanese coffee shops!

I'm always wondering why my foreign students (I'm a Japanese teacher) loves Starbucks Coffee so much. They hang out there very often, which is not bad at all, but Starbucks is everywhere in the world. As many of them will leave Japan in a couple of years, I'd like to say to them: "You are living abroad. Take advantage of this precious opportunity. Do something new or different!" 

I'm not saying they should learn karate or climb Mt. Fuji, which may be too tough, but they can have coffee at some Japanese kissaten (coffee shops) instead of the Seattle-style cafe once in a while, right?

My recommendation is Komeda's Coffee  (コメダ珈琲店, pronounced Komeda Kohi-ten), a Nagoya-based coffee chain with nearly 500 franchise stores around the country, mainly in the suburbs where they can secure a big parking space. All the stores feature comfortable high-back sofa seats and "interesting" Nagoya-style menu items.

Look at the photo below, for example. This is "misokatsu sand (=sandwich)" that I had the other day at Komeda's. Misokatsu, or a tonkatsu (deap-fried breaded pork) with miso-based sweet sauce, is one of the typical Nagoyan local dishes. The misokatsu, shredded cabbage and fluffy bread surprisingly go well.

But the most popular food at Komeda's is not misokatsu but  "shiro-noir," a warm brioche bread with cold soft serve ice cream on the top. I don't know why it is called Shiro-noir. Shiro means white in Japanese and noir is black in French. It does not mean anything. Strange name, but definitely  worth tasting. The warm bread melts the cream very quickly like the photo below, but this hot-cold combination is interesting and addictive.  

Oh, I have to say this: Komeda's Coffee is one of the best places to have breakfast. If you happen to find one of the chain shops before 11 a.m. and you are hungry, don't hesitate to go in and ask for "Morning sevice." Why? Because, like many other kissaten (Japanese-style coffee shops) in Nagoya, Komeda would offer you a slice of toast and a boiled egg for free if you order a drink. If you want, you can have a mini salad if you pay 200 yen extra.

To check the menu, please click here. It is all written in Japanese, but photos would help you to understand what it is like.

From here I'm writing in Japanese for someone learning Japanese!


生徒: せいと students
悪い: わるい bad
世界中: せかいじゅう all over the world
どこでも: anywhere


新しい: あたらしい new
喫茶店: きっさてん coffee shops


おすすめ: recommendation
珈琲: コーヒー 
名古屋: なごや name of the city
全国: ぜんこく the whole country
約: やく about
背が高い: せがたかい tall
座り心地がいい: すわりごこち be comfortable to sit on
独特: どくとく peculiar
特徴: とくちょう features, characteristics


写真:しゃしん photo
この前: このまえ the other day
甘い: あまい sweet
味噌: みそ soy bean paste
たれ: sauce
千切りの: せんぎりの shredded
柔らかい: やわらかい soft


人気:にんき popular
温かい: あたたかい warm
冷たい:つめたい cold
乗せる: のせる to put
組み合わせ: くみあわせ combination
くせになる: addictive


そうそう: by the way
お得: おとく bargain
注文する: ちゅうもんする  to order
無料: むりょう free of charge
ゆで卵: ゆでたまご a boiled egg
頼む: たのむ to ask

Aug 2, 2013

Edamame beans are the best nibbles to go with beer!

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't posted for weeks. Are there still someone interested in my blog?

From now on I'll write this blog both in English (probably full of mistakes though) and my native language Japanese. As you can see in my profile, I'm a Japanese teacher and I suddenly felt like doing something a little more beneficial for those studying Japanese.

The Japanese text probably intermediate and advanced level. 


Today's topic is "edamame," young green soybeans usually served in the pod. It is the ever-popular appetizer that goes very well with beer. When we sit at a the table of an "izakaya,"  a type of Japanese eating establishment that serves a great variety of foods as well as alcohol (and non-alcohol) beverages, many of us half-unconsciously order a jug of beer and edamame.

I suppose that edamame is now eaten not only in East Asia but also in some Western countries where Japanese foods are accepted. For example, when I was living in Paris, I often bought edamame at Picard, French frozen food store chain, and I found their made-in-Thailand edamame very delicious, probably even better than average Japanese edamame beans.

Frozen edamame is available all year around, but you should buy fresh ones in summer, found at any supermarkets and vegetable stores. This time I bought the ones still attached to the branches. It was 390 yen at a nearby store, a bit more expensive than the average price for edamame.  

This is how it looks when you remove the plastic bag. I can tell it is still very fresh from the look of the leaves. Not bad at all.

Cut off the pods from the branch with scissors. It would be better to cut off one or both ends of the pods, so that the salted water comes in the pods when boiling them.
Like this...oops! Sorry the photo is blurry (again). I cannot blame for these bad photos on my camera, because it is new..

Wash edamame beans with running water, and then rub the pods with about 10 grams of salt to remove fine hair covering the surface. Don't rinse after that.

Boil 1 liter of water and add 40 grams of salt. Put edamame in it and cook 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to overcook to keep the texture.
Drain edamame in a colander and cool it as quickly as possible to keep the green vivid color. In this photo, I'm fanning edamame with a ”sensu” (folding fan). Looks strange, but I don't have ”uchiwa” (round flat paper fan). Taste one and if it is not salty enough, sprinkle salt over edamame.

Edamame is not only tasty but rich in dietary fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, vitamin K, etc. In short, it is good for your health.

Pods are not edible. Push the beans out of the pod with your fingers and pop them into your month. Enjoy!!

Today's useful expression or tourists. At izakaya,
「とりえず、なま(ビール)の ちゅうジョッキ と えだまめ ください。」
"Toriaezu nama no chujokki to edamame kudasai."
= First of all, one draft beer in middle-sized jug and edamae, please."
chu-jokki (middle size) is most common here for some reason. Beer is a beverage
From here, I'll write in Japanese. ここからは日本語で。


未成熟:みせいじゅく immature
大豆: だいず soybeans
定番: ていばん must-have items
居酒屋: いざかや


冷凍食品:れいとうしょくひん frozen food

日本にも冷凍枝豆はありますが、夏は八百屋やスーパーに新鮮なものが出ますから、それを買いましょう。 今回私は枝付きのものを買ってみました。 近くの店で390円。

八百屋: やおや 
新鮮: しんせん fresh
今回: こんかい this time
枝付き: えだつき with branches


ビニール袋: ビニールぶくろ a plastic bag
葉: は leaves

離す: はなす to detach
鞘: さや pod
端: はし end
塩茹で: しおゆで to boil in salted water
ぼける: out of focus, blurry


塩:しお salt
振る: ふる sprinkle
もむ: to rub
表面: ひょうめん surface
細い: ほそい fine
洗い流す: あらいながす to rinse


湯: ゆ hot water
沸かす: わかす to boil
加える: くわえる to add
茹でる: ゆでる to cook in boiled water
歯ごたえ: はごたえ texture
注意: ちゅうい attention

茹でたら、すばやく冷やします。 私は、「うちわ」がないので、扇子であおいでいます。
すばやく: quickly
扇子: せんす folding fan


食物繊維:しょくもつせんい dietary fiber
たんぱく質: たんぱくしつ protein
鉄:てつ iron
豊富: ほうふ rich

指:ゆび fingers
押す: おす to push
豆: まめ beans
放り込む: ほうりこむ to pop something into~

Jul 8, 2013

Some advice to prevent heatstroke in Japan

Hi everyone!

I don't know if I can call it a good news or bad news. Well, 梅雨 (pronounced "tsuyu"), or the rainy season for this year ended in most part of Japan. It was an unexpectedly early end. Normally tsuyu continues till around July 20. 

Having rain everyday is annoying, but the end of the rainy season means that hot, sweaty uncomfortable summer has come!!! I hate summer of this country!

Yesterday the temperature topped 35℃ in more than 50 locations around the country, and in Koshu City in Yamanashi Prefecture it rose as high as 38.6℃, higher than body temperature!!

Every summer we hear sad news of the people who die from heatstroke during their sleep, as well as outdoor activities, such as sports and gardening.

When I was a child, summer was not that bad. We had several steamy hot days, but we could somehow manage without air-conditioners. At least it was cool in the evening and early morning and nice breeze came in from the open windows.

These years, however, it is almost impossible to sleep without running your air-conditioner all night long. When the outdoor temperature does not drop below 25℃ at night, many people find it difficult to sleep well. We call such an evening a "tropical night" here. It might sound a little romantic but it really is just a muggy uncomfortable evening, and the problem is, we have this tropical nights much frequently than before. 

Many people believe using an air-conditioner during sleep is not good for their health; however, not using it can risk their lives. Japanese summer is not only hot but also humid, and when the humidity is too high, perspiration does not evaporate and the heat is not taken from the body. When your body cannot keep itself cool, your temperature rises and you become ill. That's how heatstroke occurs. 

If you plan to visit Japan this summer, you really have to be careful of heatstroke. Yesterday (July 7) only, 1,183 people showing the symptoms of heatstroke were taken to hospital across Japan, of which four were in very serious condition.

Here's some advice to prevent heatstroke.

1: Don't move around during the day too energetically.

2: Drink a lot of water. Take some salt too, because when you sweat, sodium (salt) is lost with moisture. Eating a 塩飴(shio-ame), candies containing salt, has been popular since some time ago as one of the ways to prevent heatstroke.  You can find a great variety of shio-ame with different flavors especially in summer.

 "Mineral Salt Milky" 
new version of the long-selling milk candy Milky

 "Sekai no Kitchen kara" (from the kitchens of all over the world) 
This is not a movie title but the name of salt candy. 

3. Don't think of sleeping in a tent in cities. In big cities where almost all the road surface is paved with asphalt and green space is scarce, the roads and buildings heated by the sun during the day often emit the heat in the evening; therefore, the temperature often remains high.

4. When you feel ill, take refuge in a cool place. In Japan convenience store is everywhere and always air-conditioned. If your friend falls unconscious, ask someone to call an ambulance, saying "Kyukyusha o yonde kudasai" (=Please call an ambulance).