またね 日本! See you later Japan!

I’m always a little more sad to leave Japan than most of the other places we visit on our travels.  Since so many things are different it makes everyday feel like an adventure.  Here are some of the things I will miss most about Japan:

THE FOOD!

It doesn’t hurt that I love the major components of Japanese cooking (fish, rice and umami taste).  In fact I wrote a whole post about how much I love their food here.  It seems like there are restaurants everywhere, but the quality of the food is really on another level.  From the smallest kiosk to the fanciest sushi or kaiseki, I don’t think I have ever had a bad meal in Japan.good food foods11

THE CONBINI!

Conbini is the Japanese word for convenience store and they are the mother of all convenience stores.  I don’t really know why they are more exciting than convenience  stores at home, but they are.  They are everywhere and always have great food and random odds n’ ends.  Plus it’s where you can buy museum or concert tickets, pay your utility bills and taxes, and you can even ship parcels there.  Here’s a link to a music video about the awesomeness of the conbini.

conbini

THE VENDING MACHINES!

I don’t really care for soda, but Japanese vending machines are on another level!  My favorite part about them is that you can get hot beverages, makes every chilly evening walking around some much nicer.  I’ve heard tale of being able to find anything in vending machines, but drinks were of course the most common.

vending

Also sometimes you can find Matcha lattes in the vending machines, which are probably my favorite drink of all time now.drinkin matcha

THE TOILETS!

Now bear with me for a moment!  Our toilets are in the stone age compared with the toilets of Japan.  First let me say this… electric seat warmers!  Now if that didn’t get you look at your multitude of options:toire

The public toilets will even play music or a flushing noise so no one has to hear you pee.

Some of the toilets have a sink on top so the CLEAN water that goes into the tank is useful for washing you hands first.  This is such a smart and more efficient  use for that water in my opinion, I hope to one day see that trend here.
sosmartsmart

SENTOS AND ONSENS!

Sentos and onsens are public bathhouse.  The main difference being that in onsens the water comes from a natural hot spring.  Both usually have an indoor and outdoor area, but the type and number of pools varies greatly.  There in nothing better on a cool day, or a warm day, or after a busy day.  All the ones I have been to do an amazing job of being an oasis, even in the middle of very busy urban areas.  They are another thing I wish we had more of in North America.onsen

THE FRIENDS!

I think the best part of any of my trips are the friends you make there, which of course makes it the saddest part of leaving 😦

Friend

 Goodbye Japan, hope to see you again!

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Sometimes it pays to look down

One of my favourite things to take pictures of in Japan were the manhole covers.    I first noticed it only in the area we were staying in and thought it was unique to our area and a really beautiful idea.  Then I started noticing them in each area we visited, sometimes with more than one design in an area.  They are so unique and eye-catching to me, I have become a bit obsessed with them 🙂  Everywhere we went I tried to take photos of the new area’s cover.  It led to a lot of falling behind the group and a lot of people staring at the weird gaijin taking photos of the ground.  It also led to me wondering how this even got started. Turns out that during the 80’s the Japanese public was against replacing the old sewer systems until a politician put a new spin on the idea.  He suggested and then put into motion the idea of decorated manhole covers, each unique to the local area. They are beautiful displays of art, local history and civic pride all at once.  I wish there were more utility art in the world like this!

Here are some of my favorites that I found mainly around Tokyo (I wish I could collect them all):20 21 22 23 24 25 26 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 1228 14 15 16 17 18 19

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…that last one may or may not be from Japan.

 

Turns out I am not the only one obsessed with the manhole covers!  To see more check out this flickr group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/japanese_manhole_covers/

or just google, ” japanese manhole covers”   and check out the images, they are so vibrant and beautiful!

 

 

 

七五三

drawing

The 七五三 (Shichi-Go-San) Festival is a festival celebrated on the weekend nearest November 15th.   七五三 literally means 7  5  3.    It is for girls aged 3 and 7 and for 5 year old boys.  They traditionally get dressed up in Japanese formal wear and visit the Shrines and the family wishes for a long healthy life for the children.  Also they take pictures, tons and tons of adorable pictures of adorable children in kimonos and hakamas.  While it is probably rude to stare, they were just so stinkin’ adorable it was hard not to.  It took all of my power (and some of Dan’s) to stop me from videoing the three year olds trying to walk/shuffle in their sandals.

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They also get chitose-ame, which are long stick-like candies that symbolize healthy growth and longevity.

candy

Taken from Kids web Japan:

“Following the visit, parents generally buy chitose-ame (longevity candy) for the children. The candy is shaped like a stick and comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles–two animals that are symbols of long life.  Chitose literally means a thousand years and is used to denote very long periods of time. The candy and the bag are both expressions of parents’ wish that their children lead long, prosperous lives.”

japanculture

Shrine Time!

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I really wanted to name this post Temple Time… but alas, now I know the difference.  After reading up more and more on Shrines and Temples, I really wanted to visit a few more.  I have always liked seeing them, but even knowing just a little bit more about them both made the visits more intriguing and comfortable.  Not surprising, it’s more fun to know a little bit about what you are looking at 😉 Here’s a quick look at my visit to the Kanda Myojin (Kanda Shrine): The Shrine was founded in 730 AD (nearly 1300 years old!!)  It has been rebuilt and restored many times over and even moved locations twice.  It is home to the Kanda Festival which is one of three major Shinto festivals held in Tokyo.  It takes place on May 15th of every odd numbered year… hopefully I’ll get there for one of them 🙂 Kanada1kandamulti1kanda8kandamulti2 …and my favorite part about this Shine… the おみくじ Omikuji,  aka the paper fortunes!!  When you visit the Shrine you can make a wish and then get a paper fortune with the answer to said wish.  The fortunes are number 1 – 100 and can be any of the following:

  • Great blessing (dai-kichi, 大吉)
  • Middle blessing (chū-kichi, 中吉)
  • Small blessing (shō-kichi, 小吉)
  • Blessing (kichi, 吉)
  • Half-blessing (han-kichi, 半吉)
  • Future blessing (sue-kichi, 末吉)
  • Future small blessing (sue-shō-kichi, 末小吉)
  • Curse (kyō, 凶)
  • Small curse (shō-kyō, 小凶)
  • Half-curse (han-kyō, 半凶)
  • Future curse (sue-kyō, 末凶)
  • Great curse (dai-kyō, 大凶)

 

So you can get a paper fortune at all Shrines or Temples, but here at the Kanda Shrine, they are delivered by a dragon 🙂

(p.s. Dan usually gets horrible fortunes)

If your fortune is bad you tie it to the tree or hanging wires nearby.  If the fortune is good you can take it home or also tie it up and your luck will be even greater!  I didn’t quite understand why you tie the bad luck one to the tree, but the gist of it is that the bad luck will wait there and not stay with you.  I usually get good fortunes and Dan usually gets awful ones, so I guess we even out 🙂

Omikuji fortune telling papers

 

 

Now it’s time for everyone’s favourite game…

Temple or Shrine!

(Ok now click here and let it play in the background while you read the rest of the post) 

 

I’m your host Kimberly and here are your choices:

1
japanese_temple

2
3941_01

3

japan 10-31 007

4

Temples-Japanese-536x714

Would the shrine(s) be:

A.)  picture 1 

B.)  picture 2 and 3

C.)  none of the above

D.)  wait… are temples and shrines different?

 

OHHH, 

WHAT 

COULD 

THE

ANSWER 

BE?

I’LL

ANSWER

BUT 

FIRST

LET’S

BUILD

UP

THE

SUSPENSE….

….

..

.

If you answered B … YAY YOU WIN!!!!!    You’re correct and you can leave a comment if you want a prize.  Now if you answered B and you actually know why it’s correct, double yay for you.  For everyone else who was closer to going with D (like I would be been earlier this year) here’s a quick primer:

( p.s. you can stop the music now… start this one if you’re enjoying the audiovisual component of this post )

Straight from the Nihon Sun:

Signs that you are at a Buddhist Temple:

  • Buddhist temples use the suffix ji in their name.
  • A Buddhist temple always houses an image of the Buddha.
  • A large incense burner is usually that the front of a temple.  The smoke created by the burning of incense is said to have healing properties.
  • There is often a pagoda on the premises of a Buddhist temple.

Signs that you are at a Shinto Shrine:

  • You always enter a Shinto shrine through a torii gate.
  • Shinto shrines use the suffix  jingu, as in Meiji Jingu.
  • A pair of guardian dogs or lions, called shisa or komainu, often sit on each side of the entrance to a Shinto Shrine
  • There is a purification fountain near the entrance to a Shinto shrine where you cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Shrines and Temples are like churches and synagogues… both houses of worship, but for different religions.  Japanese Shrines are for the Shinto religion whereas temples are for the Buddhist religion.  However you can easily (and most people do)  involve yourself in both. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan and the shrines are both places of prayer, ritual and the dwellings of the kami (Shinto spirits/gods).

People visit shrines to pray for good fortune and pay respect to the different kami.  People don’t visit shrines on any particular day of the week, instead they go during festivals, special life events or when they are hoping for good fortune.

Religion as we think of it in the west feels like a harsh word to associate with Shinto, perhaps spirituality is somewhat of a better term.  Shinto is more of a way of life than anything else and has influenced most aspects of Japanese culture.

 

shinto-the-religion-of-japan-and-what-we-can-all-learn-from-it-jpg

‘Shinto lies at the root of the whole of Japanese culture.’  Rene Grousset in The Civilisation of the East

‘Shinto is still, in a manner of speaking, the soul of Japan, and even young Westernised Japanese who take no part in its manifold ritual, are conditioned, as their parents and grandparents were, by its fundamental characteristics.’ – Shinichi Nagai, Gods of Kumano

 

**Disclaimer**:  I am not an expert in Shinto or any religion.  These are some of the thoughts I have come to based on my own research, talking to people and reading plaques at shrines.  Please feel free to do your own research… I think it’s a pretty interesting topic and I’ll even get you started:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.htm

http://www.rodneyohebsion.com/shinto.htm

http://www.spiritualliving360.com/index.php/the-differences-and-similarities-between-shinto-and-zen-buddhism-2350/

http://www.greenshinto.com/wp/quotations/

 

 

Mornings in Japan

I’m back in Japan for the next 6 weeks and I couldn’t be happier about it.  We are still just settling in, but this time has a much more homey and relaxed feel about it.  I know there is still so much of Tokyo I want to see… but since I have seen a lot of it,  I feel much happier just being here.  I don’t feel in a rush to see it all, all at once.  That is a very nice feeling, and kinda new for me 🙂

So far mornings in Japan go like this…

First go find your adorable Gigi mug that you would defend to anyone (but you’re in Japan so you don’t have to)

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Then get package of quick brew coffee.  Like instant coffee, but actually brewed and amazing.

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open your coffee and gaze into it’s eyes

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origami it into brewing position (yes I used origami as a verb)

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place it atop your mug and brace yourself for

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an uber delicious and speedy cup of coffee!!

morning coffee

totemo oishii desu!

Now I’m ready to face the day 🙂

Mediocre May

So May’s challenge was bittersweet for me.  I did very well preparing various Japanese dishes, however I really sucked at documenting them.  I have a newfound respect for cookbook writers and food bloggers out there, you guys are awesome and I now understand why there aren’t always a ton of pictures for every step of the process.  For me it ended up being too much work and it got in the way of posting anything at all.  I guess sometimes life gets in the way of documenting it… and maybe that’s not so bad 🙂

 

To end this month in style here is a list of references I used to get inspired or find recipes other than Harumi Kurihara’s cookbooks.  I loved cooking Japanese and Japanese-inspired foods.  I found them to be simple without tasting simple and tended to leave me satisfied without feeling stuffed.

Japanese cuisine references:

http://justonecookbook.com/blog/

http://www.japanesefoodreport.com/

http://sumokitchen.com/

Lastly matcha tea or matcha lattes  are my most missed drink from Japan.  If you ever happen upon this beverage you should definitely try a cup!

vanilla matcha latte_wc

 

いただきます  !!