Apr 30, 2013

How to flush a toilet...NEVER press an emergency button!!

Hi everyone!

When I came back to Japan from France after living for three years, I was so sad to think that I could no longer walk along the Seine, enjoying picture-like views. I had a lot of great memories in Paris, but there were things that made me feel relieved to be back. One of such things is public restrooms.

In Paris, filthy wet toilets were very common and I was often so reluctant to use them, whereas  public restrooms in Japan are generally clean (of course there are exceptions) and I sometimes think I could even live in there.

Today's topic is how to flush toilets in public places such as restaurants, stations and department stores. As Japanese toilets are becoming more and more high-tech, you may feel confused, not knowing how to flush.

This is a very simple flush button.  流す (ながす、nagasu) means to flush. You only have to press it.

The photo below is a sensor-operation type. Place your palm over the sensor, and the toilet will flush.

Sometimes it is difficult to find a flush button, but don't panic. If you find a Washlet control panel installed on the wall, flush buttons must be somewhere on the panel, normally on its upper part. You can't see them from this angle, but...

Look! Can you see two “流す (to flush)” buttons? After peeing, press the right one marked with a Chinese character , which literally means "small" but in this case "urine".  When you need more water to clean the toilet, press the left one. In this photo nothing is written on this button, but you can often find a different character (lit. big) on it. I don't have to explain what it means, do I?

Automatic flush toilets are also becoming very common. When you leave the toilet, the toilet automatically flushes, but what should you do if you want to flush more than once? Look for a sensor panel like the one below, and press a manual operation button 手動ボタン(しゅどうボタン, shudo botan). In this photo it is the round white buttan with a red dot in the middle.

One more thing... it is safer NOT to touch anything red in the bathroom stall, whether a button or a cord. It is most probably an emergency button. Several years ago one of my former students (I'm a Japanese teacher) mistakenly pressed an emergency button at a railway station, trying to flush the toilet. Panicked, she ran away before station staff arrived to rescue her!

OK, here's today's useful expression: すみません、水が流れません。 Sumimasen, mizu ga nagaremasen. (=Excuse me, the toilet won't flush. )

I don't want to imagine the situation you have to use this phrase, though...

Apr 27, 2013

Eat a conger eel bowl. It is tasty!

Hi everyone!

The other day I had an あなご丼(anago-don) or literally meaning "conger eel bowl" for the first time in my life. I'm middle-aged, but luckily, I still have many things that remain undone!

Have you ever eaten anago (conger eel, or marine eel) anyway? If you have lived in Japan, I guess you have had a dish using the snake-like fish at least once or twice, because it is nothing unusual, nothing strange in East Asia.  In Japan, we commonly eat it as sushi or tempura, but seldom cook it at home, because professional skills are needed to cut it open remove the bones.

For someone who has never seen an anago, I found a nice photo in the website of the Tottori Fishermen's Association. Well, I personally don't find them particularly grotesque, but they don't look very appetizing either. 

Once cooked, the anago meat becomes very tender, not chewy at all. Its texture is similar to うなぎ (unagi, freshwater eels) but it tastes less fatty and more delicate. By the way, unagi and anago look so much alike that many Japanese cannot tell which is which. I'll explain how to distinguish them. The ones with a dotted line on the side of the body is anago. Well, I'm not sure if this info is important for you, though...

Anyway, here is the anago-don that I ate at an old traditional Japanese restaurant Enomoto(恵の本), near the famous Kawasaki Dashi (川崎大師) temple in Kawasaki City. The dish consists of a big bowl of steamed white rice and fillets of anago cooked in a soy-based sauce. It is served with a bowl of miso soup and some pickles. Tasty, but not cheap (2,000 yen).

If you don't feel like eating the conger eel bowl, you can eat something else at this restaurant. During the weekdays they offer more reasonably priced lunch menu (around 1,000 yen).

I'm not sure if this restaurant is worth going only for eating the anago bowl, but it would be one of the best places to have lunch before/after visiting Kawasaki Daishi temple. Enomoto is a very old restaurant with an over 300 years of history. The atmosphere is nice and the service is friendly.

Info about 恵の本 Enomoto: 
9-12 Taishi honcho, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki-shi
tel:044-288-2294, open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., closed Thursdays. 

Today's useful expressions:
(At the restaurant entrance) ふたり です。 Futari desu.  We are two people.
You can replace futari with san-nin (three people), yonin (four people) or gonin (five people).

穴子丼、ください。 Anago-don kudasai. I'll have a anago-don please.
お茶、ください。 Ocha kudasai. Can I have tea please? *Green tea is free at most Japanese restaurants.

Apr 25, 2013

Which tofu to choose? Cotton or silk?

Hi everyone!

Today's topic is tofu. I guess I don't have to explain what tofu is. But do you know the difference between "cotton tofu" and "silk tofu"? Or you haven't even noticed that there is a variety in tofu?

Well, this is a soft silken tofu, called 絹豆腐きぬどうふ、 kinu-dofu, silk tofu) or 絹ごし豆腐きぬごしどうふ、kinugoshi-dofu, literally meaning silk-filtered tofu) in Japanese. Can you see the hiragana “きぬ”?

The name comes from the very soft, smooth texture. A silk filter is not used to strain soy milk in the manufacturing process, as some people misunderstand. Silken tofu is much more delicate than a firm tofu, also called 木綿豆腐もめんどうふ momen-dofu, or cotton tofu) .

Once again, this tofu has nothing to do with cotton. To make a cotton tofu, they first break coagulated soy milk, put it in a frame and press hard to drain. (A silken tofu is not drained. ) That's why this type of tofu is firm and can be picked up with chopsticks. Nutritionally, it contains more protein, calcium and iron than a silk tofu, and of course is higher in calories. 

Which to choose is up to your preference, but according to the Japan Tofu Association, a cotton tofu "is ideal for grilling, pan frying, simmering or deep frying," while a silken tofu should be eaten fresh as "hiya-yakko"  (a dish made with a chilled tofu and toppings, seasoned with soy sauce) so that you can enjoy its creamy texture.

I personally prefer a firm tofu and use it for hiya-yakko as well, though...
This is my hiya-yakko topped with finely chopped 万能ねぎ(banno negi, a type of spring onion similar to chives) and かつおぶし(katsuobushi, dry bonito flakes).   

Today's useful expression: これは もめんどうふ ですか?きぬごしですか?Kore wa momen-dofu desuka? Kinugoshi desuka?  Is this a firm tofu or a soft one?

Apr 24, 2013

The Washlet terms: how to use a modern bidet toilet

Hi everyone!

If you live in Japan, I guess you have already used Washlet, or a modern toilet seat with bidet functions, and know well how to use it.

So this post is for someone who just arrived in Japan or those planning to visit here.

"Washlet" is actually a brand name of Toto Ltd. but everyone commonly calls this type of toilets Washlet, like Band-aid or Stotch Tape, no matter which company produces it. 

I heard that a Washlet is installed in over 70 percent of Japanese households today. It is very common in public places as well, such as hotels, stations, restaurants and department stores.

OK, this is the one I'm using at home. It is not the latest model, but has all basic functions.

When you want to wash the anus, press the おしり (oshiri, or bottom) button, the second from the left. A nozzle comes out from underneath the toilet seat and squirts warm water. If girls would like to clean the different body part, press ビデ (bide, or bidet) button next to it, and the angle of the water jet will change.

To stop the water, press the left-most orange button marked  (stop). Don't forget. Never stand up before turning off the water, or the toilet floor gets wet.

After that you can dry the washed area with a blow dryer by pressing 乾燥(かんそう kanso, dry)button. However, I would recommend you the "conventional toilet paper method" because it takes long enough to dry the bottom completely and you might get cold.

You can adjust the strength of the water jet with the right-most 水勢 lever. Turn it clockwise (toward meaning strong) to have more powerful jet, and rotate in the opposite direction (toward or weak) when you want it softer. Be careful, if the jet is too strong, some water gets into your body and makes you jump!

Today's useful Japanese expression:
トイレ は どこ ですか。Toire wa doko desuka?  Where is the toilet (bath room)?
or  more politely
おてあらい は どちら ですか。 Otearai wa dochira desuka?
Oteawai literally means the place to wash the hands.  

Apr 23, 2013

Roll cakes (Swiss rolls) everywhere!

Hi everyone!

One of the sweets that can be found at any cake shops in Japan but hardly seen in Europe is a "roll cake" (ロールケーキ), Swiss roll in English. 

When I was living in Paris (2007-2010), I was always looking for the patisseries where I could buy these sponge cake rolls. Finally I discovered one, but the owner was Japanese and about a half of the customers were Japanese. I'm wondering if a Swiss roll has little appeal for French people for some reason?

In Japan a great variety of roll cakes is available. The flavors include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, green tea, chestnut, etc. Coarsely chopped strawberries, mangoes and other fruits are sometimes added to the cream. The price varies depending on the size and ingredients, but it is usually between 1,000 yen to 1,500 yen a roll.

This is the one I recently ate. It s called Samurai Roll. Can you see the Chinese character (kanji) 侍 marked on the cake? It reads samurai (さむらい). Why samurai? Sorry, I have no idea, but it was super yummy with bitter caramel flavor.

I liked the package design too. A samurai is trying to cut a cake with a sward, saying "I have to slash this Samurai roll." (Sorry the photo is blurry.)

This is the result. Of course it is not the samurai but me who cut it.

This is another cake roll I bought the other day.  Isn't it pretty? It is a special spring item. 

Look! Strawberries inside! 

OK, today's useful expression is: ロールケーキはありますか? Roru-keki wa arimasuka? Do you have cake rolls here?

Apr 22, 2013

Yuru-kyara: The hottest local mascot is Kumamon!

Do you know what Kumamon (くまモン) is? Almost all the prefectures and many cities and towns have created a mascot to promote tourism and local products. These mascots are generally calld "yuru-kyara," and a competition called Yuru-kyara Grand Prix is annually held to decide which one is the cutest and most appealing.

It is hard to translate "yuru-kyara." Kyara is a shorten form of character, and "yuru" comes from an adjective yurui, whose literal meaning is "loose" or "lax", but in this case it means something like "cute, humorous, a bit unsophisticated in design".

The hottest yuru-kharat now is definitely Kumamon from Kumamoto Prefecture. This bear character is nation-widely popular, and many Kumamon items, such as T-shirts, towels, bags, aprons and mugs, are available throughout the country.

The photo below is an instant ramen with Kumamon printed on the package. I found it today at a nearby supermarket. It is made by an uncommon local manufacturer in Kumamoto. If Kumamon was not printed on it, I would not have reached my hand to it. Seems like this type of promotional strategy works well.


Kumamon is enthusiastically welcomed almost like a rock star whenever he appears. Look at the photo taken when he was invited to an event held at a department store in Tokyo.  (The photo was borrowed from the official site of the Kumamoto Prefecture.)

By the way, my favorite yuru-kyara is にしこくん(nishiko-kun), an "unofficial" mascot of Nishi Kokubunji, Tokyo. How grotesque these legs in tights are! It is gross, but always makes me laugh.

Ok, today's useful expression is: くまもんの Tシャツは ありますか? Kumamon no T-shirt wa arimasuka? Do you have a Kumamon T-shirt?

I don't know whether you'll have a chance to use this expression, though...

Apr 19, 2013

Japanese sweet you must eat in this season: Ichigo daifuku

Hi everyone! The strawberry season has come. I really like this cute red fruit.

Yesterday someone gave me a gift. It was ichigo daifuku (いちご大福、いちごだいふく) from well-known confectionary shop Suikodo (翠江堂 すいこうどう).  I was delighted, because it is my favorite sweet that can be enjoyed only in strawberry season.

Ichigo (苺、いちご)means strawberry, and dafuku (大福、 だいふく) is a Japanese traditional confection made with mochi (餅、もち), or glutinous rice cake, and sweetened red bean paste called anko (あんこ) stuffed inside.

The surface is covered with white powder to prevent mochi from sticking to hands or other mochi. The powder is normally either rice flour, corn starch or potato starch, but not sugar. It is edible, of course, but you can shake if off if you don't like it.

Cut it in two... Ummm looks yummie! The brown part surrounding the strawberry is anko. Unfortunately, many of my Western students don't like anko so much because they are not accustomed to eating beans sweetened with sugar, but most Asians and some Westerners who have lived here long enough say they like it. It is just a matter of custom. If you haven't tasted yet, it is worth trying.

Daifuku is a traditional sweet, but putting a strawberry inside is a rather new idea. The combination of anko and strawberry shocked people when it was "invented" in the 80s. When I heard of it for the first time, I could hardly believe my ears. I was even disgusted with the idea of eating anko and fruit at a time, but I was wrong. The refreshing flavor of strawberry goes very well with the sweet filling. I personally like it better than the conventional type.

Ichigo daifuku are available at any confectionary shops, but only in springtime. Don't miss it!

Here is today's useful Japanese expression: いちごだいふく を ひとつ(ふたつ・みっつ)ください。 Ichigo daifuku o hitotsu (futatu/ mitsu) kudasai. 
Meaning is "Please give me one (two/ three) ichigo daifuku. 

Apr 18, 2013

Which one is sugar?

In the recent post I wrote how you can distinguish salt from sugar at supermarkets.

Today I will focus on sugar, or sato (砂糖、さとう)in Japanese. Like salt, sugar is also sold in a transparent plastic bag.

Even if you cannot read kanji (Chinese character),  sugar can be easily recognized with the brand marks printed on the packages: a cup&saucer, a spoon and a pearl in the shell. These three major brands are available anywhere in Japan, even on a small remote island (I suppose...)


But be careful. The photos shown above are not of table sugar (=granulated sugar). Called "jobakuto" (上白糖、じょうはくとう), it is a type of white refined sugar most commonly consumed in Japan but rarely found in any other countries (I don't know why).  Containing 1 percent of water and invert sugar to prevent clumping,  johakuto is more moist and sweeter than granulated sugar. 

If you want table sugar, you have to find guranyu-to (グラニュ糖、 グラニュとう), meaning granulated sugar. I'll show you the packages of table sugar below.

I will explain  a little bit about sanonto (三温糖 さんおんとう)as well. It is the light brown-colored sugar often used for Japanese cuisine. Due to its color, many people mistakenly believe that sanonto is rich in minerals like dark brown cane sugar (known also as Barbados sugar), but it is wrong. The refining process of sanonto is almost the same as ordinary white sugar, and there is no big nutritional difference between them. They say that the characteristic caramelized flavor enriches the taste of some dishes, but I'm not sure about it (because I don't particularly have a keen sense of taste).

By the way, I'm normally using kibi-zato (きび砂糖、きびざとう), or cane sugar made from "moderately" refined sugarcane juice, for making meals. It contains some minerals and has mild sugarcane flavor (not too strong).  I find it tasty and easy to use, but there's only one problem: you cannot make good caramel.  It doesn't melt. It just burns for some reason. For desserts, using granulated sugar seems better.

日新製糖 きび砂糖 750g

Today's useful expression: グラニュ糖は どれ ですか。Granyu-to wa dore desuka?
It means "Which one is table sugar?"

*If you find any strange expressions or grammatical errors, please let me know. Thank you!

Apr 16, 2013

Most smelly Japanese food -- Natto

Hi everyone.

Today I'll write about natto (納豆 なっとう), a traditional Japanese food that many Japanese commonly eat for breakfast (I do too!). Most foreigners, however,  dislike it or are too scared to put it in the mouth.

Well, this is natto, or fermented soy beans. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry. I hope  you can see how "nebaneba" (=an anomatope representing sticky and gooey texture) these beans are. Its powerful smell somehow reminds me of strong blue cheese, while some foreigners compare it to stinky socks.


Natto often sells in small plastic containers bundled into packages of two or three like the photo above.

Before stirring, natto beans are not too sticky.

Add the attached sauce....(in case of this brand, the sauce is in the lid, and you can sprinkle the sauce over the beans without making your fingers dirty by simply folding the lid in two.) 


...Then stir the beans with chopsticks, and they become really "nebaneba" producing sticky strings like this. We normally eat it with white rice.

Do you find it already disgusting? Well, I don't blame you.

 "Fermented" means, in other words, "rotten" (edible though).  The distinctive flavor would gross out not only foreigners but some Japanese, especially Kansai residents, while many natto lovers are addicted to it.  

To be honest, I don't particularly like the taste, but I eat it almost every morning. Why? Because natto has various health benefits backed by medical research, such as cholesterol-lowering and cancer-prevention effects.

If you have never tried this exotic food, I would strongly recommend you to taste it at least once, not because it is good for your health, but because you can show your braveness and possibly become a hero (or heroine) among your foreign friends. 

Today's useful (?) expression is: なっとう は くさい です。 (Natto wa kusai desu)
It means "Natto is smelly." 

Apr 12, 2013

I found a very useful surviving guide!

Hi everyone.

Today I happened to find a wonderful blog called  Surviving in Japan.

Surviving in Japan: (without much Japanese)

It is full of useful infos for all the foreign residents, especially those who are new to Japan, such as "how to transfer money to/from Japan,"  "how to do a bank transfer," "How to find cheese in Japan," etc.

American girl named Ashley, who had lived in Japan for several years, has this blog for sharing what she learned through her own experience. This is the best how-to guides for living in Japan I have ever seen. As a foreigner she knows what foreigners need to know, much better than Japanese. 

Seems like she has already gone back to her home country, but she keeps posting back in the U.S.

It is definitely worth checking.

Apr 11, 2013

Take off your shoes!


I had a home stay experience in the U.S. when I was a college student. (Long time ago, but not in the Stone Age.) One evening I was watching TV with my host family and suddenly smelled something awful like rotten eggs. It was from the bare feet of my host brother who had just taken off his shoes. He was such a sweet person, but I couldn't stand the odor. I said "I'm very sleepy. Good night" to everyone and rushed to my room.

Many Asians have smelly feet as well, but  we fortunately have more chances to take off shoes and dry our feet during the day than the Westerners. At least you  have to  remove your shoes before entering houses, including your own.   

Any Japanese houses, no matter how small,  have an entrance space called genkan (玄関 げんかん), where you remove your shoes. The genkan area is often lower than the living space level to prevent the dirt on the shoes from sweeping into the houses.

Don't forget. It is extremely rude to get in someone's house with your shes on. 

At someone's home it is best to arrange your shoes neatly with the toes facing the door.  At some Japanese-style restaurants and izakaya (kind of bar) you are required to put them in the built-in shoe rack.

If you are offered slippers, change to them; however, you must take them off when entering the  tatami-mat rooms, because we sit directly on the tatami mats and sometimes even take a nap on them. To us, slippers are cleaner than shoes, but dirtier than socked feet.  We don't like the idea that our "sacred relaxing space" gets dirty with filthy slippers,  even if the room is covered with dust and dirtier than slippers. (Strange, huh?) 

Well, today's useful expression is :  おじゃまします ojamashimasu. 
This literally means "I'll bother you. " We say when you get into someone's house.

Apr 10, 2013

Which one is vinegar?

Hi everyone!
Yesterday I wrote about salt, and I decided to pick up vinegar today.
Vinegar is 酢(す)in Japanese, pronounced just "su" (only one syllable!)

The most commonly consumed vinegar in Japan is probably rice vinegar 米酢. It is pronounced either yonezu (よねず) or komesu (こめす).  Yonezu sounds more correct, but it seems like many people today prefer to call it "komesu" .

This is the rice vinegar I'm using now. You can find various kinds of rice vinegar at any supermarkets and grocery stores, but to be honest, I don't see any big difference in taste between them. Maybe I don't have a keen sense of taste, but if you are not a professional cook, don't worry too much about which one to choose. Even the cheapest one in shop is not bad at all.

Cereal vinegar  (こくもつす 穀物酢 kokumotsu-su) made of corn, wheat and other cereals is also commonly used for cooking here. It tastes similar to rice vinegar but rice vinegar is a bit milder and more expensive. 

Apple vinegar  (りんごす りんご酢 ringo-su), imported white wine vinegar (ワインビネガー wain binegaa) and Barsamic vinegar are available at any big supermarkets here,  but it is not easy to find good red wine vinegar for some reason.

I personally miss red wine vinegar and I might be able to find it at "high-class" international supermarkets like Kinokuniya, Meijiya, Seijo Ishii and National Azabu, but I feel reluctant to spend too much on what you can buy for 2 euros in Europe.

Today's useful expressions:
す は どれですか。 Su wa dore desuka?  = Which one is vinegar?
す は どこですか。 Su wa doko desuka? = Where is vinegar?

Please correct my English if you find any errors. Thank you !


Apr 9, 2013

Which one is salt?

Don't you think the most important seasoning in cooking is salt?

When I started living in Paris (I was there 2007-2010), the first things I bought at the local supermarket were salt and pepper. I had trouble getting pepper, though. Since I couldn't speak French back then, I asked a shop clerk in English where I could find pepper, but she didn't understand me. She took "pepper" for "paper. " 

Anyway, one of the questions I'm frequently asked by my students is: "Which one is salt?" 

If you have been to a Japanese supermarket, you know what their problem is. In Japan salt and sugar are usually sold in transparent plastic bags like the photo below, often placed near each other on the same display rack, which confuses many foreign customers, and sometimes even Japanese as well. They look so much alike.

Here is the salt I bought the other day. If you look carefully, you can read "Flake grade salt" on top of the bag, but I had never noticed that until now! 

This brand is called "あらしお arashio," and しお shio means salt.  To recognize salt, find the word しお or 塩 in kanji (Chinese character) on the bag.

If you want to make sure, you can ask someone around you,  「これは しお ですか: Kore wa shio desuka?」 (Is this salt?)

Good luck!

By the way, I know my English is not perfect. I would be very appreciated if you could correct my grammatical & vocabulary mistakes. Thank you!

Apr 8, 2013

air conditioner remote

Hi everyone.

I chose this topic  for my first blog post, because you cannot survive the obnoxiously hot and humid Japanese summer without air conditioner.

You think it is a bit too early to use an air conditioner? Well, maybe. But you'll use it sooner or later. Look at your remote. You'll find mostly kanji (Chinese characters) and some hiragana or katakana on it. 

Learn to decipher the air conditioner terms now and get yourself ready, so that you can avoid the risk of pressing the  "暖房(heating)" button on a steamy hot day.

運転 : turn on
停止 : turn off
冷房 : cool mode
暖房 : heater mode
送風 : fan only
ドライ : dry mode

温度 : temperature
風量 : fan volume
風向 : fan direction
入タイマー : power ON timer
切タイマー : power OFF timer
取消 : cancellation