Archive | January, 2009

Kamakura trip

31 Jan

Yesterday, my second daughter’s class took a field trip to 鎌倉 (Kamakura).

鎌倉 (Kamakura) is a city about 90-minutes south of Tokyo. It was the capital of Japan at one time, and it’s an old 下町 (traditional-style town).

鎌倉 (Kamakura) is most famous for the 大仏 (“Great Buddah” statue) that is there.

大仏 (Great Buddah)

大仏 (Great Buddah)

Unfortunately, it rained all day yesterday, so my daughter’s field-trip wasn’t as good as it could have been.
We have been to 鎌倉 (Kamakura) as a family many times…Click here to see a post I wrote about a trip we took there last April (with photos of 流鏑馬 (Horseback Archery).

My daughter took the photo above of 大仏 (“Great Buddah“), and these photos:

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Today was my youngest daughter’s 学校公開 (Open School / “Parents Day”). Which is the day that parents can come watch their kids classes.

I watched my daughter’s Cooking Class. The class was right before lunch…they prepared a traditional Japanese meal and ate it for lunch.
They did a good job! 美味しそう! (It looked delicious!)

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In about 1992, a store that I liked opened in Tokyo.
It was called the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum“.
The store had sections devoted to The Beatles, The Stray Cats, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Guns ‘N Roses…and KISS (which is why I liked it!).

The store had a large statue of Elvis Presley out front. (Supposedly many Elvis fans contributed to the cost of erecting the statue…including American rock star Jon Bon-Jovi and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi!)

I am using the past-tense when I refer to the store in this post because I just found out that after being open all these years…the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum” closed down about two-weeks ago.

This is right after another landmark store in Tokyo closed recently (Click here).

The last time I went to the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum” was on November 2, 2008. I mentioned it in a post (with a photo)…click here to see it.

February in Japan

29 Jan

Next Tuesday (February 3, 2009) will be 節分 (Setsubun).

I wrote a little bit about it on my site’s FAQ page. (Click here to read it).

You can buy 節分 (Setsubun) beans and 鬼 (demon) masks at stores in Japan this time of year. On this holiday, the father in homes with children wears the demon mask (it’s not a scary demon) and the children throw the beans at him while shouting 「鬼は外、福は内!」 (“Out with the bad luck, in with the good!” (lit. “Demon out, Fortune in!”)).

setsubun

Setsubun sets at a store in Tokyo.

After the kids throw the beans, the 鬼 (demon) runs away. The children have banished bad luck from the home for the year!
Then everyone in the family picks the beans off the floor and eats them (floors in Japanese homes are clean because noone wears shoes indoors). You’re supposed to eat the number of beans that corresponds to your age.

Another thing that is popular on 節分 (Setsubun) is to visit a major temple (for example, 浅草寺 (Sensou-ji Temple) in 浅草 (Asakusa, Tokyo)) for their 節分 (Setsubun) event.
If you have a chance, you should see it. I have to work on Tuesday, so I can’t go…but I’ve been to 節分 (Setsubun) events many times.
At these events, a famous sumo wrestler or celebrity who was born in the same Chinese zodiac sign as the current year will throw 節分 (Setsubun) beans at the crowd.

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February 11 is 建国記念日 (National Foundation Day).
Click here to read my short FAQ about it.

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Just as it is in Western countries, February 14 is 「バレンタイン・デー」 (Valentine’s Day).
But it’s celebrated differently here. In Western countries, men give chocolate or gifts to women on 「バレンタイン・デー」 (Valentine’s Day)…but in Japan, women give chocolate to men on this day.

Not just any chocolate. And not just one man. She makes homemade chocolate for her boyfriend (or husband and sons), and also gives 義理チョコ (Obligation Chocolate) to male co-workers, boss, brother-in-law, etc.

(Click here to read my FAQ about it.)

Then one month later, on March 14, it’s 「ホワイト・デー」 (White Day). This day is closer to Western-style Valentine’s Day, because men give chocolate or gifts to every women who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day. The most expensive for his girlfriend (or wife and daughters).

(Click here to read my FAQ about “White Day“.)

A store's Valentine gifts for young kids.

A store's Valentine gifts for young kids.

The Valentines gift that I want!

The Valentines gift that I want!

Well, this year, Japan’s biggest chocolate company, 「森永」 (Morinaga), is offering a series of chocolates this 「バレンタイン・デー」 (Valentine’s Day) aimed at couples who would like to do 「バレンタイン・デー」 (Valentine’s Day) the “Western style” (men give chocolate to women).

They packaged these chocolates with all the writing backwards because that’s what Western-style 「バレンタイン・デー」 (Valentine’s Day) is in Japan. Backwards.

All of the writing is backwards.

All of the writing is backwards.

"Morinaga"'s line-up of reverse chocolates.

"Morinaga"'s line-up of 「逆チョコ」 ("Reverse Chocolates").

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Last year, the Japan Tourism Board tried a “Yokoso! Japan Weeks” campaign to lure visitors to Japan…and I guess it worked, because right now until February 28, 2009 is “Yokoso! Japan Weeks 2009“.

(「ようこそ」 (Yokoso (or “youkoso”)) means “Welcome” in Japanese.)

During this campaign, there are many specials and sales to help foreign visitors enjoy Japan.

If you plan to visit Japan, the official “Yokoso! Japan Weeks 2009” website has information that will be helpful. And if you visit during by February 28, 2009, there’s a coupon on the site that you can print out and use a stores listed on the website.
(Click here to visit the official “Yokoso! Japan Weeks 2009” website).

Also, if you’re planning to visit Japan (or you’re already here), and you have any questions…feel free to ask me via comment on this blog (or Email) and I’ll try to help.

New Year Postal Lottery

27 Jan

As I mentioned in an early post (Click here to read it), Japanese people send 年賀状 (New Years Postcards) to friends and family.

On the back, in the lower right-hand corner, of every 年賀状 (New Years Postcards) is a six-digit number.

Every January, the Japan Post Office chooses random numbers for a kind of New Year Postal Lottery and if you received a 年賀状 (New Years Postcards) with one of the winning numbers, you can get a prize.

Yesterday, the winning numbers were announced.

Did you receive any Japanese 年賀状 (New Years Postcards)?
Check the number on the back to see if you’ve won. (If you have, bring the winning postcard to a post office to claim your present).

Here are the winning numbers for the 2009 lottery (of course, you can only win if you have a winning number on a 2009 年賀状 (New Years Postcards)):

  • First Prize (Digital TV, Massage chair, Domestic (Japan) trip, Printer, Office goods, etc.)
    • 345898
  • Second Prize (温泉 (Hot Springs) trip, Coffee maker, Digital camera, etc)
    • 663829
    • 908796
    • 028962
  • Third Prize (Hotel stay, Coffee cake, etc)
    (Only the last four digits need to match):

    • 〇〇5070
  • Fourth Prize (Sheet of postage stamps)
    (Only the last two digits need to match):

    • 〇〇〇〇94
    • 〇〇〇〇46
  • “C group” (Panasonic garbage recycler, Bridgestone bicycle, Coleman camping set)
    • 882347
    • 223109

Did you win?

(BTW, Click here to visit the Japan Post page (in Japanese) that I found the winning numbers and prizes listed)

Chinese New Year

25 Jan

Today is New Years Eve in China. The last day of the 子年 (“Year Of The Mouse”).

If you’re in the area, and you have a chance, I recommend going to 横浜中華街 (Yokohama Chinatown) in 横浜 (Yokohama, Japan) tomorrow.

If you went there tonight, they are having New Years Eve celebrations as I write this.
But if you can go there tomorrow (Monday, January 26, 2009), that’s when the bigger celebrations will happen.

The most famous is the parade with the Chinese dragon dance.

Chinese Dragon Dance

(The Japanese version of this is the 金竜の舞い (“Golden Dragon Festival”) in Tokyo every March (Click here to read a bit about this festival on my “Festivals In Tokyo” page)):

As in Japan, New Years is China’s biggest holiday.
Actually there are a number of similarities between Chinese and Japanese New Years…although in Japan, the details are Japanese style and in China, they’re uniquely Chinese, of course.
For example, just like New Years in Japan, in China New Years is a time for getting together with family for a big traditional dinner and first visit of the year to a temple and family grave.
Also, in both countries, children receive お年玉 (gift money) in a special envelope. In Japan, the envelope is usually white with cartoon characters on it…in China, it’s almost always red (red is a lucky color in China).

Japan uses the Chinese horoscope with twelve creatures. So, January 1, 2009 began the 丑年 (“Year Of The Cow”) in Japan…and in China, the “Year Of The Cow” begins tomorrow.

Also, both countries have their own unique calendar. So, the official year in Japan is currently 平成二十一年 (Heisei 21). In China, tomorrow will begin the year 4706!

Click here to read the short bit I wrote about Chinese New Year in Yokohama Chinatown on my “Festivals In Tokyo” page.

Also, I’ve been living in Japan since 1990, so I know about Japan’s culture, holidays, etc…but I don’t know much about China. So, the parts I wrote in this post regarding China are based on what I’ve read and heard over the years.

(I also wrote about Japanese New Years, of course. Click here and here to read about it.)

Kit-Kat Japan

24 Jan

I don’t eat alot of お菓子 (junkfood), especially milk-chocolate (I think bitter chocolate is better)…so I don’t usually buy Kit-Kat.
But I bought some recently for my daughter’s High School Entrance Exam (Click here to read about that).

I know, though, that there are quite a few flavors of Kit-Kat…but I didn’t know that they are exclusive to Japan. I thought that since Kit-Kat is a Western (English) company, that all these flavors are worldwide.

It seems that the unusual Japanese Kit-Kat chocolates are a popular souvenir with visitors to Japan from overseas.

I see these Kit-Kat chocolates all the time, so I’ve really thought nothing of them. But people who don’t live in Japan find them fascinating, it seems.

I have no idea how many flavors of Kit-Kat there are in Japan, but here are a few:

「柚子こしょう」 ("Asian Citrus and Peppers")

「柚子こしょう」 ("Yuzu-koshou"..."Kyushu-taste spice")

For Valentines

For Valentines

「?ャラメルプリン味」 ("Caramel Pudding flavor") for Halloween

「キャラメルプリン味」 ("Caramel Pudding flavor") for Halloween

This can be mailed (front view)

This can be mailed (front view)

(back view)

(back view)

Another one for students taking their school Entrance Exam is 雪見桜 (Yukimizakura). The name implies cherry-blossoms in the snow, and the chocolate is pink and white swirl:

yukimizakura

「雪見桜」 (Yukimizakura)

「大?いも味」 ("College Potato flavor") for College Entrance Exams takers.

「大学いも味」 ("College Potato flavor") for College Entrance Exams takers.

This one is 東京限定 (“Tokyo only”):

濃きなこ ("Rich soy powder")

濃きなこ ("Rich soy powder")

This one is 東京限定 (“Tokyo only”) too:

しょうゆ風味 ("Soy sauce style taste")

しょうゆ風味 ("Soy sauce style taste")

「林檎」 (Apple flavor)

「林檎」 (Apple flavor)

Banana

Banana

「?ャラメルマ?アート」 (Cafe Latte with Caramel)

「キャラメルマキアート」 (Cafe Latte with Caramel)

Cookies+

Cookies+

「大納言」 (Sweet bean)

「大納言」 (Sweet bean)

ダブルベリー (Double Berry)

ダブルベリー (Double Berry)

Japanese green tea

「伊藤久右衛門」 (Japanese green tea)

ほうじ茶 (Roasted Green Tea)

ほうじ茶 (Roasted Green Tea)

苺味 (Strawberry flavor)

苺味 (Strawberry flavor)

Kit-Kat in a jar

Kit-Kat in a jar

きなこ (Soybean flour)

きなこ (Soybean flour)

さくらんぼ味 (Cherry flavor)

さくらんぼ味 (Cherry flavor)

みかん (Tangerine)

みかん (Tangerine)

「白桃&黄桃」 (White peach & Yellow peach)

「白桃&黄桃」 (White peach & Yellow peach)

Mild Bitter

Mild Bitter

Muscat grapes

Muscat grapes

This next one is おしるこ味 ((O)-shiruko flavor)…Click here to read my post about 汁粉 ((O)-shiruko).

「おしるこ味」 (Oshiruko flavor)

「おしるこ味」 (Oshiruko flavor)

プリン (Pudding)

プリン (Pudding)

すいか (Watermelon)

すいか (Watermelon)

White chocolate

White chocolate

ゆず (Japanese citrus fruit)

ゆず (Japanese citrus fruit)

And then there are the “exotic“-series Kit-Kat chocolates:

"Exotic Tokyo"

"Exotic Tokyo"

"Exotic Tokyo; White"

"Exotic Tokyo; White"

"Exotic Tokyo; Sakura"

"Exotic Tokyo; Sakura"

"Exotic Hokkaido"

"Exotic Hokkaido"

"Exotic Hokkaido; White"

"Exotic Hokkaido; White"

"Exotic Kyushu"

"Exotic Kyushu"

"Exotic Kansai"

"Exotic Kansai"

There are alot more Kit-Kat flavors in Japan, too!

I took a few of the photos above with my camera…but most of them are from Kit Kat Japan‘s website.

高校受験

23 Jan

Today my oldest daughter will take her 高校受験 (High School Entrance Examination).

She’s a 中学校三年生 (Ninth grader (last year of Junior High in Japan)).

In Japan, the school year is 四月から三月まで (from April til March).
小学校 (Elementary School) is grades 1-6, 中学校 (Junior High) is three years (grades 中1~中3…(equivalent to grades 7-9 in the U.S.)),  and 高等学校 (High School) in Japan is also three years (the equivalent to grades 10-12 in the U.S.).

Both 高等学校 (High School) and 大学 (College) have Entrance Exams.

My two younger daughters made a card for my oldest to wish her Good Luck on her test today.
I bought her a box of special Kit-Kat chocolates for students taking School Entrance Exams.

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dcsa0684

Kit-Kat is one of the popular snacks parents give their kids when they’re taking an Entrance Exam. Kit-Kat is popular because it’s name sounds like “I’ll surely pass!” in Japanese.
(Click here to read another post that I mention another flavor of Kit-Kat for High School kids taking the College Entrance Exam.)

The packaging of the Kit-Kat that I bought is like a postcard…and it can actually be mailed.

Well, to my oldest daughter:
ガンバッテね! (Good luck!)

Abduction

22 Jan

Have you ever heard about North Korea’s abductions of other countries’ citizens?

They have abducted many people, mostly South Koreans, to help teach their spies English, Japanese and South Korean language and customs.

After years of denying that abductions have occurred, North Korea’s leader, Kimg Jong-Il admitted to then-Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002 that they abducted 13 Japanese (Japan claims the total is actually much higher), but all but five have died…although they failed to produce the remains or any other proof of the eight Japanese deaths—not even a death certificate.

In October 2002, the five Japanese abductees that North Korea admitted were alive were permitted to return to Japan for a temporary visit. But once they were back on Japan’s soil, the Japanese government informed North Korea that they won’t be returning them to North Korea.
That seems common sense to most people…but North Korea was angered.

When the five abductees returned to Japan, it was huge news in Japan!
When they first stepped off of the plane, they looked and acted like North Koreans. They had label pins of Kim Jong-Il’s image and they were quiet and hesitant to answer questions. They had been living in North Korea for about twenty-five years! But they soon began to relax and feel comfortable in Japan again…and their appearances physically changed…they began to look Japanese again.

One of the five returnees was Hitomi Soga. She returned alone…but her husband and two daughters were still in North Korea.
Her husband is Charles Robert Jenkins. He’s an American Army deserter. During the Vietnam War, he was stationed in South Korea…but when he learned that he would be sent to the battle zone in Vietnam, he defected to North Korea—and immediately regretted his decision!
He didn’t want to visit Japan with his wife because he feared Japan would turn him over to the American authorities to face desertion charges.
Since his wife would be staying in Japan and not return to North Korea, Japan negotiated with North Korea to allow Jenkins and his daughters to come to Japan.
Jenkins came to Japan and surrendered to American authorities at a U.S. Army base in Japan. He was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to thirty-days confinement and a Dishonorable Discharge.

He currently lives in Western Japan with his wife Hitomi Soga and their two daughters. He is in the process of becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen.

The most famous of the Japanese abductees in Megumi Yokota. She was just thirteen-years old when she was kidnapped by North Korean agents as she was walking home from school in November 1977.

yokota

Megumi Yokota would be 44 years old now. And North Korea said that she has a Korean husband and a daughter. But she wasn’t one of the five returnees in 2002…North Korea told Japan that she committed suicide in 1994.
When asked, North Korea couldn’t produce a death certificate or remains of Megumi, at first…they suddenly they offered Japan her cremated remains, but Japan conducted a DNA test on the ashes and discovered that they were the ashes of numerous people—none of which was Megumi Yokota!

Most Japanese (including the Yokota family) feel that Megumi Yokota is still alive in North Korea.

Megumi Yokota’s parents and the relatives of the other remaining abductees continue to petition the Japanese government (and the U.S. government) to pressure North Korea to return all abductees to their home countries.

There is a movie about Megumi Yokota‘s story…and her mother wrote a book (which has recently been translated into English).

I have been following the story of Megumi Yokota since I first heard about it around ten years ago. I can’t imagine her parents’ pain.

President Obama

21 Jan

It’s early in the morning on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 in Japan right now…but in Washington DC, it’s about noon on Tuesday, January 20.

And the United States’ 44th president just took office.

obama

44th President of USA, Barack Obama

He took office today at the age of 47…making him the fifth youngest person to become President of the United States (Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest at 42).

My youngest sister went to Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington D.C.. If she’s able to take some nice photos and send them to me, I’ll add them to this post.

More Manner Posters

20 Jan

Last November, I wrote a post about Japan Tobacco, Tokyo Metro, and Toei Subway‘s マナー・ポスター (manner posters). (Click here to see that post).

Well, yesterday I rode the 西武新宿線 (Seibu Shinjuku train line) and noticed their マナー・ポスター (manner posters).

I think I like these best. They’re pretty clever. Each one shows a different animal and says some good manner…using a play-on-words with the animal’s name.

They’re impossible to translate and get the same humorous play-on-words.

For example, one says 「乗車は順にならブーさん。」 (Line up when entering the train.)…and shows pigs lining up (pigs say 「ブー」). (See, it gets lost in translation.)

bu

Or how about 「ボリュームちいサイさん。」 (Keep the (headphones) volume down.)…with a rhino listening to music quietly (“Rhino” = 「サイ」).

chisai

Or 「次の電車を待ちまヒョウさん。」 (Let’s wait for the next train (rather than run to board one))…with a leopard waiting nicely (“Leopard” = 「ヒョウ」). Actually, correct Japanese would be 「次の電車を待ちましょう。」 but it’s OK for the joke.

hyou

Another one says 「車内のゴミは持ちサルさん。」 (Carry your garbage off of the train.) and 「ホームではゴミ箱へ捨てるでごザルさん。」 (Throw your garbage in the garbage can on the platform.)…with one monkey carrying his garbage off the train and another throwing his in the bin. (“Monkey” = 「サル」).

saru

And 「駅構内で煙草スワンさん。」 (Don’t smoke on train station premises.)…with a swan holding a “No Smoking” sign. (“Swan” = 「スワン」).

swan

And at the bottom of all of them it says グッドマナーを、ありがとう。 (“Thank you for your good manners.“).

I think that these manner posters are clever. What do you think?
Click here if you want to see all of the 西武新宿線のマナー・ポスター (Seibu Shinjuku train line’s manner posters).

Nonapus

19 Jan

A researcher at an 水族館 (Aquarium) in 和歌山県 (Wakayama Prefecture, Japan) recently found a nonapus (nine-legged octopus).

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It seems that octopuses* grow a new limb when one is cut off and sometimes an extra limb grows when the octopus is cut but no limb has come off…resulting in octopuses* with extra limbs.

(*I always thought that octopi was the plural for octopus. I never liked that uncommon term, and was pleased to read (here) that “octopuses” is acceptable, too).

The octopus that was discovered with the most limbs ever was also found in Japan. An octopus was found in 三重県 (Mie Prefecture, Japan) sometime ago with 96 legs:

96-leg-tako

That’s creepy looking.

By the way, do you like to eat octopus? I love たこ焼き (Takoyaki; grilled octopus dumplings). Have you ever tried it?

takoyaki