Monday, May 31, 2010

六地蔵 Six Jizō

One of Japan’s most beloved deities, Jizō is the guardian of travelers, children, and motherhood. Everywhere in Japan - at busy intersections, graveyards, temples and along hiking trails - one finds statues of Jizō Bosatsu wearing a red cap and or bib and adorned with toys, scarfs, and piled high with stone offerings. According to Japanese folk belief, red is the color for expelling demons and is also associated with the deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth. Perhaps the greatest influence on Japan’s tradition of adorning Jizō statues comes from the Sai no Kawara legend attributed to Japan’s Pure Land sects.

According to this legend, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld for judgment. All sentient beings including children have their life reviewed by the 10 Kings of Hell - judgment is pronounced - and they are reborn into one of six realms of existence. They may be pure souls, but they have not had any chance to build up good karma, so they are sent to the riverbed of souls (Sai no Kawara) in purgatory; forced to remove their clothes and to pray for salvation by building small stone towers - by piling pebble upon pebble - in the hopes of climbing into Buddha’s paradise. However, hell demons scatter their towers and beat them, Jizō comes to their rescue - lifting them out by hiding them in the sleeves of his robe.

Parents cloth the statues in hopes that Jizō will cloth the dead child in his protection or as an offering of thanks for a child saved from severe illness. Small pebbles are also piled around the Jizō statue as offerings by sorrowing parents. The six Jizō, as pictured here, each represent one of the six realms of existence and the endless cycle of transmigration.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

蝿 Lucilia Sericata

The common green bottle fly, Lucilia sericata, common in most areas of the world and the most well-known of the numerous green bottle fly species. It is 10–14 mm long, slightly larger than a housefly, and has brilliant metallic blue-green or golden coloration with black markings and red eyes. Aside from the fictional and conceptual role flies play in many cultures throughout the world, there are practical roles that flies can play; flies are reared in large numbers in Japan to serve as pollinators of sunflowers in greenhouses. The maggots of various species also play an important role in medicine throughout the world.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ハンケチーフ Handkerchief

Folks handing-out free packets of paper pocket tissue is a common sight at train station exits and large crosswalks; within these packets is an advertisement for shops or businesses. Carrying pocket tissue or a handkerchief is proper etiquette in Japan and because most restrooms in Japan don't have paper towels, they are also quite necessary. Many also use a handkerchief in restaurants as a napkin, the ones provided are often very small and waxy, and as the summer months progress many trade the handkerchief for a skinny towel to keep themselves dry from the heavy humidity. Recently I received this Totoro handkerchief from the Studio Ghibli film となりのトトロ (Tonari no Totoro) as a gift, kawaii is it not?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Kamo Festival 賀茂祭 Treat

The Aoi Matsuri or "Hollyhock Festival," is one of the three main annual festivals held in Kyōto. This festival is also known as the Kamo festival, and is held at both the Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrine. Held in mid-May at a time when the rice grain is just beginning to ripen, the Kamo deity is honored to insure a bountiful harvest. There are two parts to Aoi Matsuri, the procession and the shrine rites: a procession lead by an Imperial Messenger followed by oxcarts, cows, horses, and hundreds of people all dressed in traditional Heian period costumes decorated with aoi leaves (these leaves are believed to protect against natural disasters). When the procession arrives at both shrines rituals, prayers and praise are offered to deities, including Kamo, requesting their continued favor. Pictured is a traditional sweet of kanten (agar) and sweet azuki beans enjoyed during the festival purchased at the Housendo tea and sweets shop - the garden of this shop is pictured below.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kyōto Gardens

On Saturday we visited Kamigamo shrine in north Kyōto and afterword took a 15-minute walk to Ota Shrine. It is part of the Kamigamo Shrine "family," and Ota shrine is flush against the mountains that ring the city. The shrine is best known for its irises that are located in a small pond that is barely visible under a sea of green - and then in early May purple, we missed the first flowering but some flowers were still visible from a second smaller flowering. The first two images are from a small but lovely garden that surrounds the Housendo Kyōto tea and sweet shop.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Daichu Kitchen-Resturant Revisited

A place so nice I just had to visit it twice; I had the pleasure of experiencing another kaiseki dinner at Daichu restaurant and catering establishment. The centerpiece of this meal was multiple preparations of hamo or pike conger, a long ell looking fish - but the taste is quite different from eel, much more sophisticated and complex taste that is not at all greasy. Meal started with a savory egg and mushroom custard, then moved onto hamo-zushi, saba sashimi, tempura and fresh soramame complete with a fish carved from sweet potato. Next was hamo grilled and boiled and a exquisite broiled eggplant with miso, hamo with egg and gobo, flavored rice, tsukemono and finished with a desert of kanten and kurozato (Okinawan black sugar) syrup. Daichu is located next to Kyōto university on a small quiet street in Yoshidatachibanacho. Please visit the Picasa web album for more images of dinner and the hamo.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kansetsu Hashimoto Museum

Spent the weekend in Kyōto with some very good friends seeing the sites and experiencing traditional Japanese culture in a way only this city can offer. Hakusasonsô, also called Kansetsu Hashimoto Museum, located just west of Ginkakuji Temple is the former residence of artist Hashimoto Kansetsu. Built in 1916 for his wife, this exquisite garden and its buildings are all designed by Hashimoto and are based on his artistic senses and lifelong collection of stones and artifacts. Hashimoto Kansetsu studied under Takeuchi Seihô (the leading figure in the Kyōto art community at the time) and his name and talent began to expand. Kansetsu aimed for a revival of the classics, criticizing the state of modern painting circles and finally distancing himself from them. His search for artistic expression took him far abroad to China and Europe many times where he amassed a collection of ancient Greek and Chinese works. He eventually established himself by creating a new genre of painting called shin-nanga, 'new' literati painting a kind of modern expressionism, specifically Kansetsu’s paintings of animals are considered masterpieces because the creatures depicted in them seem so vibrantly alive. Of the Garden Kansetsu wrote:

"Stones and trees, all are alive. As soon as I see them, I should decide where I’ll place them. That’s my belief. When I feel that I’ll draw or paint this as soon as it is caught in my sight, the work has already been done."

The museum hosts a small gallery of Kansetsu's art and some of his international collection while the tea house occasionally offers small classical concerts - I was able to attend one of these on Saturday that consisted of a piano, violin and cello playing compositions of Schubert and Schumann overlooking the garden as the setting sun cast deep shadows across the pond.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blockbusters Motomachi

Collection of blockbusters from Motomachi. The word graffiti often comes with a host of negative connotations. For some it is synonymous with urban degeneration and or juvenile delinquency. However, graffiti is also artistic expression - as valid as any classical painting - with contexts and styles as varied as each individual who has ever picked up a spray can instead of a paintbrush. In Japan, a country of strict social expectations, it provides an outlet and an identity for creative people who claim their landscapes and transform them into living narratives.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

White Taiyaki (白い鯛焼き)

Taiyaki, fish-shaped pancake made of flour and traditionally filled with sweet bean paste, gained in popularity with the 1976 children's song "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun" (Swim! Taiyaki). Nowadays they are popular at festivals, on the street and even at train stations with filling variations ranging from custard cream to cheese & sausage. Conventional taiyaki is made by pouring waffle batter into a fish-shaped mold for each side and browning the outer part as it cooks. This newer version remains white even though it is grilled the same way. The secret of the color lies in a new batter ingredient: tapioca flour, the same used to make pearl tapioca, the small whitish-transparent starch balls typically served with coconut milk as dessert. White taiyaki is chewy and differs from conventional taiyaki it taste and texture - and in many ways resembles warm mochi.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moving Poor

The phrase hikoshi-bimbo - 'moving poor' - is often used to describe someone who recently moved into a new (unfurnished) apartment and describes the state of having to fork over six months' of your hard earned wages for the privelege of renting. Essentially, you need a serious amount of cash on-hand before you can even step foot into the realtor's office. Many apartments are 1LDK, meaning one bedroom, bathroom and a living/dining/kitchen space, and all rental real-estate uses this shorthand system to describe units. Before being handed the keys, as a rule, all new renters also have to pay two month's rent (in cash) in advance and on top of that have to give another two month's rent as a security deposit (refundable assuming there is no damage to the apartment). But wait there's more, you also have to give another two month's rent as a gift to the landlord (not refundable) known as reikin or key money. Not done yet, another month's rent is usually due as a finder's fee to the realtor (not refundable) which is considered a small price to pay given the competiveness of the Japanese real-estate market. So that apartment might look good on paper, but it has all sorts of 'hidden' fees.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Monkey & Mizukurage クラゲ

Beached Moon jellyfish, Aurelia Aurita or Mizukurage, a soft-bodied - transparent animal that swims by gently undulating its bell-shaped body. The threadlike tentacles around the edge of the bell can sting, and may occasionally catch small swimming animals for food, but their stings are not powerful enough to pierce human skin. The following Japanese folk story tells of how the jellyfish became a gelatinous pile of goo:

The jellyfish was a staff member at the sea palace, the governing capital of the oceans at the bottom of the sea. The sea princess there became gravely ill and could only be cured by consuming the live liver of a monkey. A tortoise messenger was sent up to the coast to procure a live monkey and upon finding one high up in a pine tree, the tortoise deceived him with an invitation - as an honored guest - to the sea palace. The monkey, being a trusting animal grabbed onto the tortious' shell and together they visited the palace. The monkey found exotic entertainment and foods unmatched in the world above the ocean. However, the jellyfish mocked and laughed at the monkey for being so gullible and eventually admitted the true reason for the lavish feast - to furnish the live monkey liver to save the princess. The monkey, while trusting, was also very cunning and called the tortoise and said that he had forgotten his gift for the princess on his tree back at the shore. The tortoise and monkey hurriedly returned to the shore and once back to his pine tree, the monkey refused to come down. When the tortoise eventually returned, he reported that the monkey was made wise of the plans to take his liver and as punishment for their role all of the jellyfishes' bones were removed.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what happens to the princess. . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Auto-Home for Wayward Cats 猫

The domestic cat arrived in Japan around 600 C.E., interestingly enough, this is the same period of time when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. At the time, the cat was valued primarily for its rodent catching abilities, it was customary that each Buddhist temple should care for no less than two cats in order to insure that sacrosanct documents would not be eaten by mice. Nowadays the cat is generally revered as a source of cute and or as pets, most major cities even have cat cafes that provide patrons a dose of much needed feline time - in a land with limited real estate for pets. However, the large number of feral cats are also an issue in Japan. Feral cats are wild cats that are unfamiliar with humans and roam freely in urban or rural areas. Feral cats may live alone, but most are found in large groups called feral colonies, which occupy a specific territory and are usually associated with a source of food. Pictured is one member of a feral colony that has taken residence in an abandoned automobile in an industrial area of Nagata.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the Eye of the Beholder

As I mentioned in the last post, Nagata houses many local, Kansai based, industrial shops and factories - especially small repair places, machinists, and shoe makers. In fact, Japanese sports fashion brand Onitsuka Tiger was born in Nagata in 1949 and some Asics & Tigers are still produced here. Once you start down a side street, it often doesn't take long until you pass a factory of one kind or another. The landscape is heavily shaped by the workers and shops this area employs, however, there is beauty here - in the piles of scraps, barrels, and boxes. To certain eyes the surroundings are rich and diverse, after-all beauty is as they say . . .

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nagata International Festival

Nagata, the area I currently call home, had another festival under the shadow of the Tetsujin 28-go monument this last weekend with lots of international food, entertainment and games. Nagata is somewhat industrial and is home to many working class families and foreigners, which helped make this local international festival energetic, diverse and interesting. Some highlights: Baby Castella ベビーカステラ, a popular Japanese sponge cake brought by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century made of sugar, flour, eggs, and starch syrup, very common at festivals and as a street food. Plastic masks of all the popular characters the kids are into these days - Doraemonドラえもん a manga and anime that first appeared in 1969 is the one in focus, the series is about a robotic cat who travels back in time from the 22nd century to aid schoolboy Nobita Nobi. Finally Goldfish scooping, kingyo sukui, is a Japanese traditional game in which a player scoops goldfish with a special scooper. Japanese summer festivals or ennichi commonly have this stall where children and adults enjoy the game. The game is played for pleasure but if you want to truly test your skills there is also a National Competition of Goldfish Scooping in Japan.

杜若 Japanese Iris

Iris laevigata, Rabbit-Ear Iris or Kakitsubata, is found growing in shallow waters and seems to prefer marshy - still ponds. Flowers are usually blue, purple or violet (found these yellow variety in a pond near Sumadera temple) and have unique color patterns including some types with predominantly white flowers with blue spots or dark purples bordered with white.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

ジョロウグモ Nephila Clavata

Nephila Clavata, also known as the Jorō Spider (gumo), is a member of the golden orb-web spider group - noted for the impressive webs they weave. The spider can be found throughout Japan and due to its large size as well as its bright, unique colors -especially of the female - the spider is well-favored. In folklore, Jorōgumo takes the form of a legendary creature/spider which can change its appearance into that of a beautiful woman; she seduces men and then traps them, ties them up in her web and consumes them as a half spider - half woman.

睡蓮 Water Lilly

Nymphaeaceae is a family of flowering plants commonly called water lilies, lotuses are 5 species of water lilies, that grow in freshwater of temperate and tropical climates. When they flower, all water lilies send a small bud from down at the bottom of the pond in the mud and muck slowly up toward the waters surface - continually moving towards the light. Once it comes to the surface of the water the lotus flower begins to blossom turning into a beautiful flower. With this image in mind it is understandable why the lotus flower has become a symbol for 'awakening to the spiritual reality of life' within Hinduism and Buddhism. Japanese Buddhists often use the lotus flower in poems and as symbols in art and temples. Senryu, a Zen monk who died in 1827, employed the lotus as a part of a centuries-old Japanese tradition in which monks, samurai and others compose poems at the moment of death.

Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Harimaya Honten is a long-established Japanese snack producer who operates these free cafes named Harimaya Station. These free cafe are an evolution of the company’s mail order business, which strengthen the brand by offering their traditional Japanese rice crackers (okaki and senbei) to to a wide range of people. Anyone can walk-in choose a plate with different kinds of crackers and grab a coffee, tea, or juice for exactly 0.00円. The cafe does have posted guidelines as to how much each customer is asked to consume, however some patrons don't choose to follow them. longside the free products, Harimaya Stations provide information about environmental issues. Presumably the cafes also serve as an outlet for the companies environmental stance which offers a long-term vision for Japan. True to this stance, most of the plastics and cups in the store are reusable and separation of materials for recycling is carefully marked and supported by the staff. The crackers are truly tasty, I guess you can get something for nothing.

Daido Seimei Kobe Bldg. 1F
1-2-7 Sakaemachi-dori, Chuo-ku, Kobe
Tel: 078-392-1030

Fine-Tooth Beachcombing Suma

More treasures from the Suma coast: Jellyfish, shells at the tideline and what I believe is a sea mouse or other member of the marine polychaete worm family.
The sea mouse, Aphrodita aculeata, normally lies buried head-first in the sand and its body is covered in a dense mat of chaetae (hairs) - from which the name "sea mouse" derives. They may grow up to 20 cm and are active carnivores chiefly eating other polychaetes which may be up to three times the length of the sea mouse. The iridescent threads or setae that emerge from its scaled back are one of its unique features and normally these setae have a red sheen, warning off predators. Apparently these fellows are a fairly common site on the coast in the spring and early summer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

蝶 Choucho - Butterfly

Graphium sarpedon (nipponum) or the common bluebottle is a species of swallowtail butterfly found in asia and parts of Australia. There are approximately 15 subspecies with differing geographical distributions. In Japanese folklore, the butterfly - ready to fly after its long spell in the cocoon and spreading its brand new wings - is a popular symbol for young girls. It represents emerging beauty and grace, with the added notice to regard change as joyful (not traumatic). The butterfly can also represent marital bliss and consequently has been incorporated into the family crest design of many Japanese families. More contemporary stories cast the butterfly as a symbol of fleeting, flitting memories and has become a popular icon in manga and anime as a visual metaphor of lost or forgotten memories. Butterflies and moths are also sometimes viewed as the souls of the dead, especially in relation to relatives, ancestors and friends.

"Make [him] an offer [he] can't refuse"

As previously mentioned, bottled drinks and candy sometimes come with an extra giveaway perched on top or hanging from the neck – character charms to put on cell phones, model cars and airplanes, PET bottle pouches and handkerchiefs are popular. These are called omake おまけ (extra or bonus) and are often more desired than the product being sold, as I can attest to with this Pepsi NEX (x) Paramount Japan be@rbrick 70% - love the toy hate the soda. Be@rbrick is a collectible toy designed and produced by the Japanese company MediCom Toy. These fellows come in 12 variations with some rather interesting movie choices including: Saturday Night Fever, The Hunt of Red October, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and Flashdance. I jumped at the chance to get a be@rbrick for a measly 89円 and though I would rather drink the Pepsi then wakeup next to a severed horses head - it truly is a nasty beverage.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

狐 Kitsune きつね

Kitsune, or foxes, are a common subject in Japanese folklore where they are often depicted as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities - the foremost among these is to assume human form. Kitsune in these folklore adopt the roles of trickster, guardian, friend, lover and wive. Kitsune are also closely associated with Inari, a principal kami or spirit and the Shinto deity of rice. Originally kitsune were Inari's messengers, but the line between the two is now blurred so that Inari himself may be depicted as a fox. In addition, beliefs derived from fusui (feng shui) empower the fox with power over evil, is such that a mere statue of a fox can dispel the evil kimon (energy) that flows from the northeast. Entire shrines are dedicated to kitsune, and most if not all Shinto shrines have kitsune adorned with red votive bibs. Fox spirits are said to be particularly fond of a fried sliced tofu called aburage, which is accordingly found in the noodle-based dishes kitsune udon and kitsune soba. Similarly, Inari-zushi is a type of sushi named for Inari that consists of rice-filled pouches of fried tofu.

Tsukemen つけ麺

One of my recent food infatuations is tsukemen which is similar to ramen but the noodles are served separate from the soup. Tsukemen literally means dipping noodles so as you eat, the noodles are dipped into the soup broth with each bite. Tsukemen often has a thicker noodle then its ramen cousin, however some restaurants let you choose the size and amount of the noodles. The noodles are served either cold or hot, while the soup is always hot and is a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, kamaboko, leeks and bamboo-shoots. Almost every locality in Japan has its own variation of tsukemen and ramen, from the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō. As tsukemen broth is used for dipping, it is actually much thicker and flavorful then ramen. After eating the noodles some extra broth can be added to dilute the sauce which is then consumed like soup. Japanese consume tsukemen, and ramen, with almost alarming speed and the best ramen shops have a chorus of "ZuZoZ0Z0" as the enthusiastic patrons suck the noodles from their chopsticks. Oh, as a word of warning the dipping sauce often goes flying everywhere - at least when I eat it. When you are done drinking the soup, exhale and it should sound like "PUHAaaaa." Tasty!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

PET Bottles

Spend any amount of time in Japan, especially outside the larger city centers, you are likely to notice rows of random plastic bottles filled with water positioned on the sidewalk - flush to the wall in front of homes. I noticed this peculiarity on my first trip to Japan and 12 years later I am still without a clear consensus on exactly what purpose they serve. Apparently they discourage wayward cats and dogs from peeing on the spot. However, that is not the only answer I have collected, some Japanese alternatively believe they will scare stray cats away from the house. Japanese TV even presented a news article on it years ago, reporting that people put out those bottles because cats don’t like the reflections in the bottles. There was a flurry of reporting on the bottle phenomenon as several fires were reportedly caused by the bottles that focused the suns rays much like a magnifying glass and ignited dry grasses and such. Some volunteered that the water was to wash away animal pee and many folks have no idea what-so-ever . . . I have read that this phenomenon is not limited to Japan so I am wondering if anyone has any other theories to add to this list?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shōtengai 商店街

A shōtengai is a style of Japanese commercial district that usually run along a street and often connects to the nearest train station. Most suburbs and towns of Japan have shōtengai of varying size, and larger shōtengai may take the form of covered arcades that are blocked off to traffic. A typical shōtengai includes: groceries, restaurants, pachinko parlors, game centers, post offices, book shops, clothes shops and convenience stores. Shōtengai exude nostalgia, and not just to Japanese, it is almost palpable like a faint smell or far off sound. These shōtengai have a spirit, personality and history that the impersonal modern shopping mall just doesn't capture. However, many Shōtengai are failing (especailly the smaller ones) - evidenced by large numbers of shuttered and vacant stalls and outward signs of disrepair. It appears the shōtengai with its small independently or family run stores is becoming less preferred to the growing numbers of homogeneous mega malls - a trend most U.S. and many European cities also share.

Cloudy Day / Bright Idea

A multiple exposure is when two or more individual exposures are made to create a single photograph. In film photography, double exposure is a technique in which a piece of film is exposed twice, to two different images. The resulting photographic image shows the second image superimposed over the first. The technique can be used to create ghostly images or to add people and objects to a scene that were not originally there. The Panasonic LX3 digital camera, used for this image, lets its users perform multiple exposures in a way similar to traditional film cameras. Photograph is three images from around the train station in Motomachi on a rainy day, all done in-camera with shooting guides. Though the image was planed out it took many attempts to get it to work but one advantage of digital cameras is instant results and feedback.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Slaps Motomachi & Sannomiya

Some eye-catching slaps from around the downtown area of Kōbe. Slaps, or stickers, are the most common form of graffiti in the area followed closely by tagging. A mixture of respect and strict anti-graffiti laws keep street art to a minimum in Kōbe, the common targets being areas surrounding train stations (not on trains or behind the ticket barriers), bar/entertainment zones within the city and some very rural areas with large walls such as barns and sheds. The sides of vending machines, behind street signs, and streetlight poles are the most common canvases.

Realistic Fake Food

Fake food samples appear prevalently in the windows and display cases of food-serving establishments throughout Japan. Chances are that you have seen them, even if you have not been to Japan, magical like displays of food that never spoil accompanied by cans of beer held in mid-air by their own frothy waterfall. These under-appreciated works of art often come from the city of Gujo Hachiman (Gifu prefecture) made famous by its fake food artisans. Usually they are constructed out of plastic, however, they can also be made for wax, felt or crochet (pictured). The plastic models are mostly handmade and carefully sculpted to look like the actual dishes. The models are custom-tailored to restaurants and even common items such as ramen will be modified to match each establishment's food. During the molding process, the fake ingredients are often chopped and prepared in a manner similar to actual cooking. Food replicas aren’t just for restaurant display cases either, they are often used in commercials and photography as a stand-in for the real thing; especially ice cream which melts due to the warm lights used on the set - hence the need for fakery.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mount Maya 摩耶山 Wildflowers

Mount Maya, or Maya-san, is 698.6 m (2,292 ft) making it one of the major peaks of the Rokkō Mountains. Part of Setonaikai National Park and famous for its views especially from Kikuseidai, a park at the top of the mountain, where visitors can see across the Ōsaka Bay area including: Kōbe, Nishinomiya, Amagasaki, Ōsaka, Sakai, and two major airports in this area, Kansai International Airport and Kōbe Airport. The night-view from Maya-san is called the 'ten million dollar night view.' Pictured is a wildflower seen from a hiking trail on the way up the mountain.

Concrete コンクリート

The Japanese landscape has many colors and if you wanted to capture them and the only medium you had on-hand was crayons, then you better hope that they have one entitled "concrete." Not just for a city scape, because every corner of Japan has been touched or covered in this utilitarian compound of rock aggregate and water. Which is not to say that concrete is not sometimes beautiful, it like the crayons are mearly a medium, and it is ultimatly the job of the construction worker or concrete artisan to shape it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sakura Matcha Kit Kat

Upon seeing this Kit Kat for the first time, which has a 'letter like' section on the back complete with a "To:" and "From:," I wondered if the Japanese Post accepts chocolate boxes? Turns out that Nestlé is actually taking part in a cultural activity - give a student some encouragement by giving them some crazy flavored Kit Kat - or something like that. The Sakura Matcha Kit Kat has a convenient space on the back to write encouraging messages to students who are studying themselves stupid to pass entrance exams. Exam time is stressful for students, especially in a school system that weighs exam scores so heavily, so a “ganbare!" message is a welcome and necessary push - Nestlé is banking on you adding some empty carbs. and sugar to your encouraging sentiments. The chocolate itself is green tea flavored and the cream has a hint of sakura flavor - definitely a fake cherry taste but it reminds me, in a good way, of the berries in Cap'n Crunch cereal. So, if you're looking for something to encourage an overworked student then give them some walnuts (brain food) and keep this Kit Kat for yourself.

Shadow Motomachi

The heavenly contrasts with the earthly.
The brightness of the moon emphasizes the crisp darkness of the pine tree’s shadow.
The shadow gently moves,
compared with the stillness of the tatami mats.
- Takarai Kikaku

Contrasts are often found at the heart of the traditional sense of Japanese beauty, the stark contrasts of stillness and movement, darkness and light. Photograph is a shadow of a lamp in Motomachi.

Friday, May 7, 2010

♪♫ These Are a Few of My Favorite♪. . .

It's the bubbles of nothing that make it really something. This is one of my favorite chocolate junk food indulgences from across the pond (Great Britain) however this is its Japanese cousin complete with a flavor twist. The Aero bar is Nestlé Japan's lesser loved child compared to the oft-manipulated Kit Kat but take notice that the Aero bar also has many limited edition Japanese only flavors. This fellow is light and fluffy green tea chocolate bubbles surrounded by milk chocolate. Next, everyone loves free stuff yes? How about as an incentive to purchase one brand of bottled water over another? Because that is what retail companies really bank on in the Japanese market overflowing with consumer choice. I have already talked about the Japanese love of limited edition merchandise, add to that a powerful drive to own brand name merchandise and the powerful force of retail incentive collaboration is born. These are Vittel (x) Converse "chuck taylor" Pepsi (x) Le Creuset Stoneware freebie cellphone charms that are literally dangled from the 500ml bottles. So cute how could you resist?


Tsutsuji, a flowering shrub, are a subgenus of the genus Rhododendron and the common name azalea is applied to many of the species. Tsutsuji, the largest flowering azalea, is native to Japan and blooms in great numbers in Kōbe in April. Also known as the evergreen azalea they became very popular in the Edo Period being bred in numerous cultivars and are of high cultural importance being a featured flower at many temples and shrines.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kaiseki 懐石

A traditional Kaiseki, a multi-course Japanese dinner, at a very small but quaint restaurant and catering service in Kyōto. The term Kaiseki also refers to the collection of skills and techniques that allow the preparation of such meals. The follow rule often applies to many eating experiences the world over: some of the best restaurants are cloaked in humble surrounding, hidden like 'holes in the wall' and procured by unassuming chefs in whiteish t-shirts. Daichu was no exception but the semi - doggy outward appearance was soon dispelled as you see the chef in action; part sculptor, innovator, Rakugo (Japanese Comic Storytelling) complete with thick kansai-ben (local dialect) and clearly a crafter of incredible culinary treats. Daichu is a family owned and operated catering company that largely specializes in the meal served after the traditional tea ceremony, or chanoyu, but also houses a small resturant. The theme of the meal was こどもの日 (Children's Day) and consisted largely of sashimi completed by traditional symbols such as the chimaki (but made with fish) and the hand crafted kabuto made of radish and carrot. The meal was sweet and exotic containing many special and seasonal ingredients all thoughtfully prepared.

Yōkan 羊羹 Omiyage

Yōkan is a thick jellied dessert made of red bean paste, agar, and sugar. It is usually sold in a block form and eaten in slices. Yōkan may also be flavored and or contain chopped chestnuts, persimmons, dark brown sugar, whole sweetened azuki beans, figs, or sweet potato. Pictured are various flavors of Yōkan received as gifts; gift-giving in Japan carries great importance and is done not only on holidays and special occasions but it is also an integral part of business and home cultures. The Japanese also appreciate regional gifts - it is proper that when one goes on a trip to bring back regional specialties. Omiyage means gift or more specifically the type of gift one brings back from holiday, the gift that one brings when visiting another's home, or a "return" gift - which you give to the person who has just given you a gift. Because gift-giving is so prevalent in Japan "generic" gifts are quite acceptable and many shops are stacked with boxes of various regional/local foods for travelers to bring back with them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Children's Day こどもの日

Today is Children's day a national holiday which takes place annually on May 5 and is a part of Golden Week. It is a day set aside to respect children's personalities and to celebrate their happiness and to express gratitude toward mothers. Until recently this holiday was known as Boys' Day, while Girls' Day was celebrated on March 3, and families with children raise the carp-shaped Koinobori flags one for each boy (or child) and display a Kintarō doll and the Kabuto (traditional military helmet) because they are symbols of strong, healthy boys. The koinobori are displayed because they seem to be swimming and are based on a Chinese legend of a carp that swims upstream and because of its strength and hardship transforms into a dragon. Mochi wrapped in kashiwa (oak) leaves and chimaki (sweet rice paste wrapped in iris or bamboo leaf) are traditionally served on this day.

Shigaraki 信楽町

Shigaraki, home to one of the six ancient kilns areas in Japan, has a long history of commercial pottery dating back to the 13th century. The area is known for its clay beds which produced a resilient and high quality product that it is well suited to large items such as storage vessels and bowls. Works produced here are known as Shigaraki-yaki and many local potters use traditional wood fired Anagama kilns to produce their wares. One of the characteristic and distinctive appearances of Shigaraki ceramics are the lack of glaze, instead the potters rely on the natural properties of the clay. During the firing process, the iron in the clay is oxidized and produces a red coloring and the heat also draws out a greenish citreous substance from the clay which leaves a natural glaze-like finish on the surface. One very common item fired in Shigaraki are Tanuki statue (pictured) and they grace every corner of the town and many Izakaya and shops throughout Japan (Shigaraki is also called Tanuki town). Tanuki are placed in the hopes that their owners will gain sake, fertility, money and luck. According to folklore the Tanuki, originally from Siberia, can transform its shape and also turn its stomach into a drum.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The Miho Museum is located southeast of Kyōto and is the dream of Mihoko Koyama (after whom it is named) the heiress to the Toyobo textile business, to house Mihoko's private collection of Asian and Western antiques. The museum was designed by I. M. Pei on a 250-acre site in the Shigaraki mountains. Pei set 80% of the museum's structure below ground to honor the natural landscape in accordance with his initial impression of the site, which he called "Shangri-La." In his sensitive interplay between man and environment, Pei has created an inspired museum experience, amid mountains frequently enveloped in mist and alongside colorful flowering trees that chance the character of the museum with every season. The approach to the museum through the mountain (pictured) signals a movement away from the world of the every day and Pei continues this almost spiritual transition (the Shinji Shumeikai spiritual movement does run the museum) by making the facade of the building a modern interpretation of a Japanese mountain shrine. The roof is a large glass and steel construction, while the exterior and interior walls and floor are made of a warm beige-colored limestone from France - the same material used by Pei in the reception hall of the Louvre. Inside, the artworks are sparingly placed among the interiors; a whole room may contain only a few pieces making the overall experience an alliance of nature, structure, form and art.

ピッツエリア アズーリ Pizzeria Azzurri

Pizza was born in Naples and in 1984 the "True Neapolitan Pizza Association (AVPN)" was founded to protect and increase the value of pizzas produced worldwide, according to traditional Neapolitan customs. The association has set very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These include that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired - domed oven at 485°C for no more than 60 to 90 seconds, that the base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means and that the pizza must not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimeter thick at the center. The association also selects and certifies pizzerias all around the world to produce and spread the AVPN philosophy and method. Pizzeria Azzurri in Kōbe is a certified pizzeria and the AVPN guidelines seem to work because the pizza was outstanding and was made with un-compromised care. The porcini mushroom and smoked mozzarella was very nice and the pictured anchovy, onion and mozzarella was divinely crafted.

Yamamoto Dori, Chuo-ku, Kobe, Hyogo 3-7-3 1F Yutopiatoa
12:00 to 15:00 & 17:30 ~ 22:00
Closed Thursday

Monday, May 3, 2010

インフィオラータこうべ Infiorata Kōbe 2010

The word “infiorata” means “to deck with flowers” and it is an Italian tradition of creating paintings using flowers. The tradition was born in the Vatican basilica in 1625 being adopted by Kōbe in 1997 utilizing tulip petals provided by farmers in Toyama and Niigata prefectures. The Kōbe infiorata are setup in different areas throughout the city for 2 weeks; this photograph is from Sunday in Kitano.

自動販売機 Vending Machines

To say that vending machines are popular in Japan would be a slight understatement. In fact, Japan has the highest number of vending machines per-capita, with about one machine for every twenty-three people. Japan's high population density, relatively high cost of labor, limited space, preference for shopping on foot or by bicycle, and low rates of vandalism and petty crime, provide a fertile environment for vending machines. While the majority of machines in Japan are stocked with drinks, snacks, and cigarettes, one occasionally finds vending machines selling items such as bottles of liquor, cans of beer, fried food, underwear, iPods, porn magazines, eggs and potted plants. As a visual representation of these numbers I used my apartment as a central point photographing all the vending machines within a half-block radius square (23 total, one is repeated to even the collage). Assuming this area and this apartment don't have a privileged status among vending machine distribution then this is normal for semi urban Japan.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mode Gakkuen Tower モード学園タワーズ

The eye-catching design of the recent skyscraper built for fashion school Mode Gakkuen. Designed by Tange Associates - the architectural firm established by the late Kenzo Tange - it is located in Nishi-Shinjuku a skyscraper business district that has been developed into a modern architectural garden of steel, concrete and art.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy May Day

May Day, or International Workers' Day, is not officially designated by the Japanese government as a national holiday, but because it lies between other national holidays or "Golden Week" (April 29-May 5), it is a day off for the vast majority of Japanese workers. On a side note, even though May Day fell on a Saturday this year many Japanese often find themselves in the office for at least part of the day on standard Saturdays. Workers take May 1st off not so much to join street rallies or labor union gatherings but rather to take a few days of vacation in an uninterrupted string, however, some of the major labor unions organize rallies and demonstrations. Today in Nagata an annual fair was held near Shin-Nagata station to celebrate International Workers' Day, the completion of a park near the Tetsugin 28 statue, as a memorial and reminder of the Hanshin earthquake and a general excuse to drink beer, grill foods and have stage entertainment including the police marching band. Pictured is a bloke dressed in summer yukata and tabi.

Streets of Shinjuku 新宿区

Shinjuku is a major commercial and administrative center, housing the busiest train station in the world (Shinjuku Station) and the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building which is the administration center for the government of Tōkyō (seen at the end of this ally). Central Shinjuku is characterized by streams of screaming neon, high pitched shrieking sounds, hordes of people everywhere and is home to hotels, department stores, specialist electronic and camera shops, cinemas, restaurants and bars. However, the rest of shinjuku is a comparatively spacious and still mix of residential with commercial areas concentrated around railway stations.

Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the Hongo campus of the University of Tōkyō. The Institute was created in 1993 through reform of the Applied Microbiology Research Institute, originally founded in 1953. The Institute carries out research in a wide range of fields aiming to understand living organisms at the molecular level.