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