Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tokyo DisneySea

For those of you who know me, you should know that I have an affection for all things Disney, especially the theme parks. Therefore, when I found out Nick got into NSF Japan, I was very much ready to book tickets to go to Tokyo Disneyland. I started sharing my plans with others and I quickly learned from those who have been to Japan before that Tokyo Disneyland was no different from Anaheim Disneyland; that they were mirror images of one another except in different countries. With that information, I decided I would not allow myself to go to Tokyo Disneyland since there is no point in spending time at a park I have been to a million times in the States when I am in a new country that has much more than just Disneyland to offer. Then I found out that there was another Disney theme park in Tokyo called DisneySea. As soon as I learned that Tokyo DisneySea was a unique Disney park, I booked our tickets! Luckily, they offer a night ticket where you enter the park after 5pm and it is half price, so we managed to "save" some money. Plus, Disneyland has always been more magical to me at night. Our tickets cost a measly 3300 yen ($33), which is ridiculously cheap compared to a day at the Disney parks in Anaheim (currently $92), which was a nice surprise. 
DisneySea Land Map

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Climbing Mt. Fuji

 "The Japanese say that to climb Mt. Fuji once is wise, but to climb it twice is foolish."
The Yoshida climbing trail
Ain't that the truth! When I found out Nick got accepted by NSF to go to Japan this summer, I immediately started researching things we could do. When looking at a list of top things to see/do in Japan, one of the things that stuck out the most to me was climbing Mt. Fuji. Some of the best experiences we have had while traveling the world have been adventure/active type things like; hiking the snow caped mountains in Alaska, kayaking in Canada, hiking the sacred seven pools in Hawaii, spelunking the glow worm caves in New Zealand, and so on. Therefore, something like climbing Mt. Fuji sounded perfect and I immediately made it a top priority for our travels in Japan. Although I was a little worries about the distance, most of the websites we read listed climbing Mt. Fuji as a relatively moderate-beginner hike, where it would take an average of 6-7 hours to the top and 3-4 hours down, starting from the halfway point (5th station). Seeing as how we hiked the Grand Canyon last summer and we basically hiked down and back up in half the time that was estimated for certain trails, I figured this would be no problem. For the most part that was true.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Food In Japan

Here is a photo journal of our food experiences in Japan thus far: 

Okonomiyaki: prepared much like a pancake with flour, eggs, cabbage, meat, seafood, and so on. The ingredients are blended in a bowl and then cooked on a griddle
My okonomiyaki on the left contained pork, beef, kimchee, fried egg, and green onions
Nick's okonomiyaki on the right consisted of pork, beef, cuttlefish, and shrimp
Takoyaki: ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion served with Bonito fish flakes
 Deep fried chicken and potatoes
 Pictured left: Chinese dumplings stuffed with pork
Pictured right: Deep fried soy (tofu) with green onions and radish
Pictured left: Seafood salad with lettuce, lemons, shrimp, squid, salmon, and olives
Pictured right: Salad with lettuce, ham, hardboiled egg, tomatoes, corn, and croutons

Pictured left: Fried shrimp, quail eggs, renkon (lotus root) etc.
Pictured right: seafood rice with shrimp and smoked salmon (the yellow stuff is grated egg)

 Pictured left: Yakisoba noodles (similar to chow mein) 
Pictured right: chicken dish with sprouts and green onions
 Shrimp Tempura, served with rice, miso soup, tartar sauce, green tea, and some pickled vegetables
 Shaved ice with strawberry syrup, most are served with condensed milk and sometimes the Japanese sweet bean curd
 Sushi at home: Crab, Tuna, Salmon, Shrimp, Scrambled eggs, and Salmon Eggs
 Sushi in a restaurant (kindly hosted by Nick's professors). This ship platter includes (starting from the right to the left): wasabi, eel with plum, Bonito, Yellowtail, Tuna, Steak, Snapper, Squid, Sea Urchin, a miscellaneous mollusk, and Abalone
 Pictured left: raw horse meat; apparently some horse in Japan are raised solely to be eaten by humans (Nick's professors love it). Pictured right: more sushi hosted by Nicks professors; Cooked eel, Sea Urchin, Yellowtail, and Squid
Myself, Nick, Sensei Kauai, Sensei Toyoda, and the restaurant owner

One quick sidenote: I am surprised by how many things they eat raw in this country. They eat shellfish raw including shrimp and other things like scallops, squid and octopus etc.  They also eat raw meats including pork. These things are unheard of in America but people in Japan eat it all the time. I have not allowed myself to try any of these things, I am sticking to only raw fish (although I did try the raw horse). 
Pictured left: cabbage salad with a sesame dressing, seafood fried rice, and pork cutlet
Pictured right: Stir fried Udon noodles with steak, rice, miso soup, beans
Japanese version of Mexican nachos (we were desperate for something not Japanese)
 I'm making sure we get our salmon fix while we are here since it is so cheap. These are some home made dishes I prepared. Pictured left: broccoli, rice, and salmon cooked in a soy sauce and sesame oil reduction with green onions and garlic. 
Pictured right: rice, mixed potato pancake, and garlic pepper salmon
 Dried fish products found in the store
One of my home made concoctions: yakisoba noodles, garlic, onions, cabbage, green onions, miso broth, and thin slices of pork
We are enjoying our Japanese food experiences but it is very repetitive. We both miss pizza the most but we will wait until we return home to fill that craving because the pizza here (advertisements pictured above) are quite different (primarily seafood toppings) and quite expensive, a large is upwards of 3000 yen ($30). 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Respect In Japan

Living in Japan, although tough at times with the language barrier, has been very eye opening. The Japanese culture is all about respect, something I think most of America lacks. Japanese people have respect for others, themselves, and the Earth. Here are a couple ways I have experienced respect first-hand. 
  • The most common thing to encounter is the use of the bow. Japanese people bow to one another out of respect. The duration and angle of the bow is based on how much respect they want to show, therefore to show the highest respect you would bow to a 90 degree angle at a slow pace. The most common bow is between 10 and 30 degrees and is quite swift.
  • When waiting to board a subway, they stand in a line. When the subway arrives, you enter in the order you arrived. We haven't yet been in a situation where the subway has been too full to fit everyone in line, but it is very respectful to stay in an orderly line so as to guarantee those who were there first get to board before others. 
  • Another common custom is that Japanese people do not wear their shoes past the threshold. The same goes for dressing rooms, any place of holiness, and all households. Therefore, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone's house or going to worship in a temple. This way the floors stay clean and pure.
  • One of the biggest misconceptions to me was the reason for why Japanese and other Asian cultures wear the face masks. I always thought they wore them so as to not breathe in pollution or to not get sick from others, but I have learned that the most common reason to wear masks is out of respect to others when you are sick. Wearing the masks helps to prevent spreading your sickness to others. Also, one of Nick's lab mates mentioned that at times women will wear them to cover their faces (no need to apply make-up) and then other times if there is an outbreak of some kind then more people will wear them to avoid catching a sickness. 
  • Another sign of respect is shown in the way bikes are "locked." We have come to discover that most Japanese people use locks on their bikes to show ownership but they are not locked to anything. The crime rate in Japan is quite low, and I believe it is because people respect one another too much to steal. I read somewhere that Japan has the highest rate for turned in lost wallets. I'm not saying there is no crime and that things wont get stolen in Japan but it is a very safe culture due to the respectful traditions.
  • Japan is a very green culture. They respect the Earth. This is exhibited by recycling options everywhere, the high use of hybrid and green cars, and one of the best public transportation systems I have ever experienced.
  • Most adult men and women dress relatively modestly. Most adult women wear bottoms that go past their knees and tops that cover their shoulders and hide cleavage. Of course this is different for younger people, but anyone older than mid-twenties. Same goes for men, rarely do men wear shorts or tank tops. 
  • At a dinner party, you must wait until everyone has their drink and a formal toast is said ending in Kampaii (cheers). Therefore, everyone begins eating and drinking together at the same time.
  • Also, it is customary to finish a meal that is served to you, you should never leave a plate with food on it. This shows the chef respect by showing them how much you enjoyed your meal. The same goes with being a noisy eater, like slurping soup, it is polite to make noises when eating rather than keeping quiet. 
  • Last but not least, the Japanese language is very respectful. They are very formal and will use polite phrases to show others respect. For example, instead of just saying arigatou to say thank you, they will say arigatou gozaimasu, meaning thank you with respect. They also use your family name followed by the word san, which is about equal to saying Mr. Sakamoto. Therefore in Japanese you would use Sakamoto San, which shows a great deal of respect. It is more common to be called that then to be called by your first name unless with close family and friends.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Grocery Shopping In Japan

So one of the most frustrating things for a foodie living in another country where they don't speak or read the language has got to be buying groceries. There is only so much you can understand by seeing and feeling things. I know that I have a desire to cook while living in Japan and to create some delicious Japanese infused dishes but it is hard when you can't even figure out that the cooking oil you put in your cart is actually vinegar...luckily I figured that one out before buying it (thank God for the strong scent that vinegar emits even when the seal is not broken). I have managed to find some normal things but then there are items like butter and/or milk...I thought I finally bought some butter only to find out when I got home that it was more like margarine, which is fine it's just not what I wanted. Same goes with what I thought was Alfredo sauce, turns out it was more like a condensed soup pasta sauce, it works it's just not what I really wanted...etc.