Culture

Happy Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of the year where families all around the world spend quality time together with board games, a big homemade dinner (or two, or three, or… just don’t stop eating ‘til next year), jars full of cookies, special editions of their favourite TV show and the same movies as every year. All around the world? Not quite!

Since only a tiny fraction of the Japanese population is Christian Christmas is unsurprisingly not a national holiday. However it is celebrated. Kind of. You’ve already seen the amazing Christmas lights which are just the tip of the iceberg. Basically every public place or more specific every place that wants you to spend your time and money there is christmassy. You can find huge Christmas trees in department stores, the same music as everywhere around the world in supermarkets and shop assistants wearing Santa hats.

There’s also great choice for you to decorate your own place, yourself, your kids, your dog or your hamster. (Ok, maybe not that… ‘though I wouldn’t be surprised.) Actual, real Christmas trees in your house however seem uncommon, at least I’ve never seen a place selling them. There are various fake ones to choose from, starting with the regular green plastic one (never larger than 50cm really), continuing with artsy wire, glass or wood ones (up to 30cm) over to a spiral of lime green star-shaped tinsel.

Presents are a thing at least for children. They are placed next to them during night and I suppose it’s not that big presents as in the “West”. ‘Though that’s just a wild guess of mine given that there’s plenty of traditional Japanese holidays where you’re meant to give stuff to your or other people’s kids.

Since the festive season is mostly about food, no matter where and what you’re celebrating (don’t pretend it’s not), let’s have a look at what the Japanese like to eat around this time. It’s KFC and strawberry shortcake. Why? Well, some say because that’s traditional Christmas food in the US. Right? Those “Christmas Cakes” can be purchased pretty much anywhere and you can order different variations, like chocolate cream or with a plastic Pikachu on top. Or you can buy some of the ridiculously priced strawberries that started to appear since November and bake yourself.

But what about love and family? Well, family not that much but Christmas in Japan is all about love. Couples will spend the evening in a nice restaurant and it’s a preferred date for confessions. Kinda like a second Valentine’s Day.

How will I spend my Christmas? Well like every other day I suppose. We’ve got winter break and the school has given us half a book of homework, so that needs to be done, I’ve already eaten all the cookies I baked yesterday and now want more and of course there is my best friend, the internet.

So all I’ve got left to say is: Merii kurisumasu! Hope you’re having a jolly good time! I’ll leave you with Kevin who’s way better with the words than me.

Aaaand as always, you can read more! I basically just copy and pasted this whole thing together ‘though I might still have gotten some things wrong. And there’s some more details as well and again other people are better with the words.

Tofugu: We Wish You A Merii Kurisumasu

Tofugu: It’s Christmas in Japan! (If you’re only clicking one link, click this one. It’s a song!)

Tofugu: Christmas in Japan Is Finger Lickin’ Good (KFC Christmas)

Tofugu: Let Them Eat Strawberry Shortcake: Christmas in Japan

Tofugu: Christmas Goodies 2013: Tofugu Edition! (This ones for you, if you’re late again with your presents)

HIROKOCHANNEL: Christmas in Japan 2010

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Food

To make you hungry (or not)

Ok, let’s talk about something interesting. Food. Not Sushi, that’s boring, ‘cause you already know it. If you don’t: Where the heck have you been the past century?

Let’s just start with nattou. Most people hate it. It’s fermented soybeans and like most fermented foods it has quite a… unique flavour and smell. It’s also REALLY slimy. But it’s supposed to be super healthy and it’s quite cheap over here. ‘Though if you’d like to have a try outside Japan be prepared to pay at least ~2€/ 2.7$ which is about three times of what a pack costs here. I have it every morning with a bit of soy sauce and a bowl of rice. Which is apparently a traditional breakfast. Other popular ways of eating include with mustard (most versions actually come with a tiny bag of soy sauce and mustard), raw egg (‘cause why not make it more slimy and gross?), mayonnaise, kimchi (a Korean dish: spicy, pickled cabbage), as nattou sushi (the only kind of sushi widely available that doesn’t contain fish or egg), in soup or as a sauce for pasta, just to name a few. Wanna see more? Watch this video.

nattou

Probably one of the least repelling pictures of nattou on the whole wide web.

Next soybean thing on my list is koya dofu which is dried tofu. Because it’s dry it doesn’t need to be cooled and takes up less space. Just throw it in some hot water, preferably with some flavour and it’s good to eat. It’s more spongy than regular tofu and has a little more intense soy flavour. By the way: regular tofu here is what is considered silken tofu in many parts of the world other than Asia.

tofu

It’s tofu. Doesn’t taste interesting without flavouring, doesn’t look interesting without filter.

Another tofu product is aburaage. Slices of tofu being deep fried and you can cut them open and they’re a pocket and they’re awesome. They’re great in soup but personally I like to stuff them with loads of things to take to school. The skin is extremely thin and durable so you really can fit a lot in there.

aburaage1       aburaage2

Bigger on the inside.

Made from this is inari sushi. Aburaage filled with sushi rice. Available at any supermarket or convenience store and super delicious!

inari

They also come in smaller sizes or combined with other sushi.

And while we’re on the soy things I’d just like to mention the crazy amount of soy milk flavours there are. I’d guess about 20. My favourites are black tea (which doesn’t really taste like black tea), macha (fancy green tea powder) and sakura (cherry blossom). ‘Though I’m sure the cherry blossom one is just called like that ‘cause it sounds cool, it doesn’t really taste like flower if you ask me. All the flavours are quite sweet which is sweeet ^.^ There are some types which are just natural in one way or the other at least not sweet. There is even one kind made to taste like cow’s milk and I think it seems to be quite popular. At least it’s the only kind I’ve seen at every konbini so far and it’s also the only kind that comes in a 0.5l pack. As far as I can judge it’s quite accurate except a hint of soy taste. Also now I’m sure that I’ll never drink milk again and it makes me wonder why I ever did. Bleurgh.

There’s a great post just about the soy bean products of Japan by Tofugu. You should totally read it.

Onto some more beans, azuki beans to be specific. They’re usually prepared as a sweet paste –anko- which is used for everything. Well, everything sweet. You can find it stuffed into bread and cookies and of course as one of the many soy milk flavours.

pancake

Pancake with anko. Delicious.

It’s also eaten as soup -oshiruko- especially during winter time. On one of my curious trips to the supermarket I came across a round waver like thing filled with slightly purple sugar stuff. Judging from the picture it was supposed to be turned into soup but I’m not quite sure whether I interpreted that correctly… Thankfully azuki soup also comes in powder form, as a pressed block, in a can or you can just make it yourself.

weird1 weird2 weird3

The whole sugary thing on it’s own wasn’t that bad, just kinda dry. But the water made it… well very watery. And it wasn’t a lot.

But it’s mostly prominent in traditional Japanese candy -wagashi- which you can admire and attempt to recreate here: Wagashi Maniac. One type of wagashi is daifuku, mochi stuffed with anko.

daifuku

This is the plain type, ‘though there’s many more.

Now what’s mochi? It’s a dough made from sticky rice or sticky rice flour. Some people call it rice cake but I think it’s kinda misleading. While it is cooked (or steamed or microwaved) it’s still very chewy similar to pizza dough. It is in fact so chewy that every New Year when it’s traditionally eaten with oshiruko some people die by choking on it. So please try it if you get the chance, but don’t give it to toddlers. Mochi comes in many shapes and flavours and it isn’t necessarily sweet. You’ll find it for example in soup, maybe stuffed into a pocket of aburaage.

dango

Dango: Mochi on a stick. These are with matcha and roasted sweet soy flour (kinako).

Another thing made from rice which I love is amasake. Maybe you’ve heard of sake, rice wine. Amasake translates to sweet sake and is only halfway fermented so pretty much alcohol free. Of course you can buy it in liquid form but it also comes as instant powder or in a pressed block.

amasakeblock        amasake

Just pour hot water over it.

Let’s start talking about fruits. Umeboshi –according to Wikipedia- is a dried, pickled fruit similar to apricot (‘thoug often translated to plum) and tastes “extremely sour and salty”. Umezuke is the non dried version. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried the latter since it was refrigerated. Definitely agree on the “extremely sour and salty” bit and won’t buy again but it’s not the worst thing ever.

ume

Most umezuke and definitely umeboshi are more brown than this kind.

Talking about fruits, did I mention that fruit and vegetables are freaking expensive over here? At least at the normal supermarket. There are little shops that offer cheaper stuff, but unfortunately not exactly near me. (Though it’s a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, strolling ‘round the town, getting food and at the same time saving a few yen.) The cheapest apple I’ve come across was 50¥ but it’s not hard to find one for 300¥.

A pleasant exception to this are persimmon or kaki. I’m sure they aren’t exclusively Japanese but they are quite popular. There used to be one of those fruit-shelf-islands-thingies full of them during autumn but now they’re getting less and less, being substituted by tangerines in 10kg boxes. They’re super sweet and juicy and I love them. (Both kaki and tangerines.)

kaki

Size of a medium apple and you can eat the whole thing. Even the peel ‘though it’s not that pleasant.

Myouga is the beautiful bud of Japanese ginger and it tastes like a flower. Not in a good way. The only reason I would use it is as decoration but apparently it’s usually shredded and put on top of things.

myouga

If only they tasted better I’d have that every day. Just look at it!

Okura again is a thing that’s not unique to Japan. Even the name comes from the English okra. But I’ve never seen it before and it is quite popular over here. I tastes kind of “green”, if you get what I mean and very mild. It also has hairy skin and is really slimy inside. Yay for textures!

okura1      okura2

The seeds contain a lot of oil wich is supposed to be healthy.

And once again sweet potato isn’t a native Japanese thing. But it is very popular, making up quite a section of the vegetable aisle. They’re even sold on the streets from a van which plays a fried sweet potato song that made me think there was a mosque in front of my house. And they taste an incredible lot like chestnut which are equally popular.

imo

Things like this make me want to study chemistry.

Lotus roots are a thing all over Asia I think. Harder than carrots and taste like nothing but they’re cheap. And they look nice.

lotus

Featuring aburaage filled with mochi. Also soy sauce, lotus roots are naturally white.

Curry is Indian, I know, but I couldn’t not mention it because it’s just so popular. There is just as much instant curry as there is instant noodle soup which means a freaking lot (like a whole aisle in an average supermarket). Read this whole article about Japanese karee.

kare

Usually eaten with rice, but Soup Curry is a thing up here in Sapporo.

This of course isn’t everything. I will surely discover more delicious treats and write about them, but in the mean time I’ll leave you with this:

Tofugu: The Famous Foods Of Every Japanese Prefecture [North, East, Central]

Tofugu: The Famous Foods Of Every Japanese Prefecture Part 2 [West, South]

Tofugu: Fruit You Won’t Find Outside Of Japan

runnyrunny999: How to make Dango

runnyrunny999: How to make Kinpira Vegetarian Lotus Root

TheTofuGuru: Mochi Ice Cream & Geekery

TheTofuGuru: Sushi! (Part One)

TheTofuGuru: Sushi! (Part Two)

Check out runnyrunny and The Tofu Guru’s channel, they do some interesting cooking over there!

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Random

Omfg it’s an oven!

Breaking news: Just found out that the “oven” setting on the microwave actually refers to an inbuilt oven-thingy instead of just a higher wattage. The only thing that could make me any happier now is a cookie recipe that doesn’t turn out all dry… anyone? Also, if there was any hope left of me learning things here it’s gone now. ‘Though I could make kanji-shaped cakes… it’s a pain to just write them with pencil but yeah, why not ^^

(Only drawback is that it smells funny. I’m tracing a pattern there.)

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Event

Festive

It’s December but “the season” has started late October. Since last week however there’s Sapporo White Illuminations to see in various places. Illuminations are quite a big thing in Japan during winter and as far as I know there’s some at the main station (which I didn’t get to see yet), in Susukino and Oodori. There’s also a Munich Christmas Market at Oodori. In case you didn’t know, Sapporo and Munich are sister cities. Loads of overpriced sausages, hot wine and some lovely crafty decoration as well.
So here’s that:

Quick weather update: As you might be able to see, there’s snow. The city as a snazzy road heating system so no worries if you’re in a car. But for some reason no one seems to care about the pavements which means at day when it’s slightly above freezing point there’s a lot of lovely grey slush which as soon as it gets dark turns into a solid layer of ice. I bet half of the students at our school who come from warmer parts of this space rock went to buy some new shoes last week.
Also my heater works but it’s still smelly. Not an option to keep the pipes from freezing at night.

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