Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Japan’s Holiday Season

December 14, 2009


As you may recall, last year around this time we set off for a whirlwind tour of Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima.  If I remember correctly, we never got around to writing up a proper post of some traditions of the Japanese holiday season.  This school year I’ve been tutoring at lunch and last week one of my students prepared a report (in English, of course) about various customs and traditions surrounding , primarily, Christmas and New Year’s.  Here are some highlights.


Christmas in Japan is a largely secular holiday focusing on gift giving and spending time with family.  Along with Halloween it’s becoming more commercially popular each year.  Surprisingly one of the biggest traditions is eating KFC for dinner on Christmas Day.  Recently a coworker of one of our friends said “If you want KFC on Christmas, you better get up early and order it in advance.  Otherwise, you’re out of luck.”  Afterwards families usually eat some sort of Christmas cake.

Children who receive gifts on Christmas usually have their presents set next to their bed while they sleep rather than underneath a Christmas tree.

New Year’s Traditions

New Year’s is easily Japan’s biggest holiday of the year.   My student told me it is common to thoroughly clean one’s house on New Year’s Eve in order to feel clean within yourself as you prepare for a new start.  Once the work is done, it’s time to relax.  Before and for a brief period after World War II, children would often spend New Year’s playing with tako (a kite made out of paper and bamboo), koma (a kind of spinning top), and haigoita, a sort of badminton-like game where the winner gets to draw a picture on the loser’s face.  It was also common to build kamakura, a sort of igloo-like snow house for recreational use.

Nowadays people find other ways to spend freetime during the holidays.  Shopping is probably the most popular activity as many businesses advertise special end-of-the-year deals.  I imagine it’s similar to Black Friday in America after Thanksgiving, but with less stampedes.

But there’s much more to New Year’s than consumerism.  Obviously it’s a time for family and renewal.  Sometime between the 31st of December and the 3rd of January, most people in Japan take time out to visit a temple where they offer a bit of money and say a prayer.  It’s also common to send New Year’s postcards in the mail to family and friends.  However my student told me that younger people tend to send text messages over their phone rather than take the time to mail postcards.  As communication towers and satellites are bombarded with messages, it can sometimes take several minutes to send your midnight New Year’s greeting through your phone.

Puns of Good Fortune

Many symbols of New Year representing good fortune and happiness stem from puns.  Tai (sea bream) is popular because it is in season and it is a pun on the word medetai, which my student told me means “happiness.”  Similar puns exist for a vegetable called konbu and apparently ebi (shrimp) is served because of pun involving the word for “longevity.”

Also, if you have a dream simultaneously featuring Mt. Fuji, hawks, and eggplant, it is very good luck.  The reasoning again is because of puns.  “Fuji” sounds like “buji” which means “safe.”  Hawk is taka and means clever and strong.  Nasu (eggplant) is a play on the word for accomplish or success, also pronounced nasu.

My student told me about other aspects of the holiday season like decorations and food, but it’d be better to wait and explain that stuff when we have pictures available.  Perhaps in the weeks to come we’ll show you what mochi cake, noshi, and kadomatsu look like.  In the meantime, enjoy Christmas, New Year’s, and the other holidays of the season.


Chestnuts and Frogs

October 13, 2009


Over the weekend (is our blog finally up to date now?  weird), Julie and I ventured into the woods of Shichinohe to harvest chestnuts with her coworkers.  Afterwards we ate cake and drank tea at a secluded retreat located a little further into the heart of the Blue Forest.

We also befriended some frogs.

Pond outside the cabin where we ate cake.

View from Cake Cabin window.

To give you some perspective on the size of the frog, the person holding it is four years old.

More photos here.

Microwave Pie and Stove Top Nabe

October 13, 2009


Apple season in Aomori inspired me to make 3 apple pies in the past 2 weeks.  Here’s a look at my first attempt:



The second and third attempt didn’t stick around long enough for a photo shoot, as some students at a private English class promptly gobbled them up.

All three pies were baked in a microwave oven with only one heating element above the pie and none below.  The first pie crust I made using canola oil, which held together really well, but didn’t have much to offer as far as flavor.  I used butter to make the last two, which tasted better, but didn’t really form a crust.  The bottom of the pie melded into the apple innards.  Please send any pie crust recipes my way!

I tried a new miso fish dish with vegetables.  It was supposed to be cooked in a nabe pot, but I was able to use a covered fry pan on low heat to achieve the same effect.  Here’s a look:


August 3, 2009


Last week Julie found an awesome “recycle shop” in a nearby town.  The two of us returned a few days later and explored the vast labyrinth of antiques, forgotten toys, obsolete technology, lacquer bowls and plates, and cheap furniture and appliances.  It was an awesome find.

Afterwards we ate dinner at one of our favorite ramen restaurants.  It’s located pretty much right in the middle of nowhere in an inconspicuous building.  Inside, however, is some of the best ramen we’ve ever had — made from handmade noodles that are probably shipped from Sapporo.

Spicy miso broth.

Anniversary Dinner

June 25, 2009


On Tuesday Julie and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary.  Rather than go out to eat, we decided to try some new recipes.

Miso soup with daikon and green beans.

Tofu appetizer with ginger, green onion, bonito flakes, and shiso leaves.

Homemade sushi: Cucumber, scallop, and tuna.

Julie did a much better job of rolling her sushi.  My rolls were more like burritos.

We’re also celebrating this weekend by going on a trip.  I’m keeping the location a surprise for Julie though so we’ll have to tell you about it when we get back.

Hotate Ice Cream

May 18, 2009



I think we’ve written before that one of the first words we learned upon arriving to Aomori-ken was “hotate” (scallop).  On our first drive to Noheji we saw signs for them everywhere and it wasn’t long before we had them in a meal.  Since then we’ve had scallops just every way imaginable (raw, pizza, bbq, ramen, etc).  Last week we tried hotate ice cream.

How did it taste?  Well, it was edible.  In fact, if you didn’t know it was infused with scallops you might think it was some sort of exotic caramel flavor.  It was sweet with a hint of the ocean in the aftertaste.  Good, but not great.  I wouldn’t want to try it again although Julie seemed to like it more than me.

Anyway, we’ve been busy but it looks like we’ll have time over the next few days to tell you what we’ve been doing.  Look for new posts in the days to come.

Camping trip to Shimokita

May 4, 2009


We’re back.  Pictures have been uploaded.  Posts have been written.  Enjoy.

Day 1:  Osorezan and Yagen Valley

Day 2:  Wakinosawa, Hotokega-ura, and Oma

More photos on our Flickr page

Shimokita Peninsula Day 2: Wakinosawa, Hotokega-ura, and Oma

May 4, 2009


On day 2 we set out at the crack of dawn (5:00 AM) to look for the world’s Northern-most monkeys.  These are of course the near legendary snow monkeys of Japan.  The ones in this region don’t take baths in hot springs though.  Those are found exclusively in Nagano Prefecture which is Southwest of Aomori.

We first went to a park named Wakinosawa where we disappointingly saw monkeys living in captivity.

Not so wild.

We left the park and drove to Hotokega-ura (a coastline along Shimokita’s Northern tip).  Along the way we found monkeys in a much more natural setting. We had heard about a shortage of food for the monkeys in the mountains so we were happy to see a couple who seemed to be doing alright for themselves.

Eventually we reached Hotokega-ura and it was awesome.  Since the coastline gets battered so heavily in winter, the cliffs and surrounding rock structures have eroded into some very interesting shapes.

Last, but certainly not least, we went to the town of Oma.  Oma is the Northern tip of the main island of Honshu.  Aside from being able to see the Northern island of Hokkaido on a sunny day, Oma is also home to some of the best tuna in the world.  As you can imagine, it’s also expensive.  We’ve been told that landing a single tuna in Oma and selling it will get you enough money to make a down payment on a house.  For lunch we decided to try a sample and see what all the fuss was about.

Julie pointing to our location on a map of Japan in Oma.



Even with such an action packed day, we were able to make it back to Noheji in the afternoon on account of our early start.  I’m feeling better.  The fever is gone but the cold is far from over.  Thankfully we have three more days off before we have to go back to work again.  By then I should be fully recovered.

New Meal

April 13, 2009


Inspired by a red snapper soup we had in Busan, Julie and I attempted a new meal tonight.  We followed a fairly simple recipe, substituting dashi for clam juice.  It turned out well. We served it up with some toasted french bread and blueberry jelly (thanks Curtis and Kenzi!).

Trip to Korea Spring 2009

April 8, 2009


In case you’re just joining us, Julie and I just got back from a trip to Korea with our friends Allie, Taka, and Brandon.  We’ve organized our blog posts in a way that we hope is easy to navigate.  It’s a lot at once so take your time.  We’ll probably wait until the beginning of next week to post a new entry.


Seoul in Pictures

Kimchi Field Museum

Food Poisoning and Hostel Hospitality


Busan in photos

Raw fish market



More superficial cultural differences

More photos and videos

Flickr collection

Older posts from the road with no photos that you may have read already