New Year’s Foods in Okinawa

osechi-ryouri 御節料理: New Year’s cuisine


Previously I posted some basic info about New Year’s celebrations in Okinawa. But this is all about the food, so let’s talk food.

The grocery aisles are lined with various important foods on display, many of which may not be too familiar to foreigners.

In this modern day you will see stores bustling with pre-orders, as not many people have so much time to prepare all these foods! Again, it usually falls on the wife of the oldest son to prepare these things, so as you can imagine ordering a platter with all the required items from a restaurant or grocery store is much easier than making everything yourself.

There are a some traditional foods necessary for Okinawan osechi-ryouri, and it is typically the same items you see in usanmi (feast boxes), so click on the post to learn a little more about these foods. Honestly in the stores, the fried foods and Okinawa hors d’oeuvres plates (オードブル) were flying off the shelves while the mainland-style foods were left somewhat untouched.


Some items in the aisles are traditional Japanese, while others are traditional Okinawan; here are a few of the things you may see: (I have more to add to this list, but here it is for now).

Oranges/mikan みかん (also called daidai 橙): you will see bags and bags of oranges for sale, these are an important symbol for New Year, meaning “generation to generation.” These are put on the altar, eaten, even attached to a shimenawa (rope wreath made from rice straw).

Beans 豆: I wrote a post on beans already… basically beans are good luck, ward of evil… all sorts of things really. Often the store sell different types of sweetened beans (particularly kuromame, black beans 黒豆), ready made in the refrigerator section for eating.

kuri kinton 栗きんとん: sweet chestnut mash with sweet potato. It symbolizes fortune and wealth.

kamaboko (fishcake) かまぼこ: usually seen in kouhaku 紅白 (red/pink and white colors), as well as fancy designs, or even shaped like Mt Fuji. Traditionally, slices of kamaboko are in rows or arranged in a pattern. The color and shape are reminiscent of Japan rising sun, and have a celebratory, festive meaning.

konbu 昆布: a kind of seaweed, usually tied in knots. It is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning “joy.”

datemaki (伊達巻): cooked sweet egg and hanpen (fishcake) rolled into an omelet; it has a ribbed outer surface  like the sun. In Okinawa, something called castella kamaboko カステラかまぼこ, fishcake “cake” is also very popular. It is similar to “datemaki,” though datemaki is usually a more rolled shape where you can see layers. This is yellow with minced fish and eggs, resembling more of a castella sponge cake.

sardines/tazukuri (田作り): dried sardines cooked in shoyu; the fish were used historically to fertilize rice fields. It symbolizes an abundant harvest.

ebi 海老 (shrimp): hunched like an elder, so it represents a long life.

mochi/wagashi sweets: often you will see sweets in fortuitous shapes or in the shape of the upcoming year’s zodiac.

 

 

 

Another “favorite” here in Okinawa is nakamijiru 中身汁, intestines soup (pork). This is a very traditional dish for Okinawan people, but younger generations are (for perhaps obvious reasons) less inclined to eat it these days. Bags of pre-made soup (just heat and serve) and large bags of “chitlins” (pieces of intestines, pardon the American slang) are easily found in the center aisles of the store this time of year.

As mentioned before about toshikoshi soba 年越しそば (year-end soba, or year-crossing soba), buckwheat noodles are not very common in Okinawa. Rather, many people may eat Okinawa soba instead. So you may also see many rows of Okinawa soba noodles, broth, and pork prominently displayed in aisles under New Year signs.

Miso 味噌 in Okinawa, part II

Previously I made a post about a special type of miso found in Okinawa, called andansu. But this is not the only miso you will find, as you can find all the regular Japanese varieties of miso as well. Sometimes you can find locally produced miso, and other brands will be big nation-wide corporate brands (not necessarily a bad thing). So let’s take a look at some of the things you should know about finding the right miso for you in Okinawa.


To start, things to look for on the label:

White miso 白みそ: this is a “light” or mild miso.

Blended Miso (Awase miso) 合わせみそ: this is usually pretty versatile and the one I typically keep in my fridge.

Red Miso 赤みそ: this is usually dark and salty, but so good. My husband prefers this darker, saltier miso but it can be pungent if you are not used to it.

dashi (fish broth) added だし入り: you probably don’t want this. It is so much easier to add your own dashi (and you can make it vegan by using konbu/seaweed dashi) and adjust it to your tastes.

organic 有機

additive-free 無添加

reduced salt 減塩


Special Notes:

*for non-GMO, if you look at the ingredient list, and the soybeans 大豆 are from Japan 国産 then you know it is non-GMO. Otherwise, it probably will not say.

*for gluten-free, check to see if 麦 (barley) or 小麦 (wheat) are listed in the ingredients.

*for soy-free (I know… sounds crazy right?), read this previous post I made about finding soy-free foods in the grocery store.


Now, where do I get miso? Well, any grocery store has an entire aisle dedicated to it. The choices are, frankly, overwhelming. It might take a few tries until you find one perfect to your tastes and uses. Look for ones that say 沖縄県産 for brands local to Okinawa; some examples you can find easily in stores are Kumejima miso 久米島みそ, Shuri miso 首里みそ, and Shimagome miso 島米みそ. Other big brands like Marusan, Marukome, TopValu, Maruman, etc. are also commonly found in stores here. I usually don’t go for these, but out of all the big brands, I think Hikari 光 is probably one of the best in my opinion (I don’t have a picture, but it comes in many varieties depending on your preference and says HIKARI on the tubs).

There is a lovely place I went to in the southern part of the island, you can read about it here: Miso chiffon cake, Yume Koubou: 菊みそ加工所夢工房. I bought some of their miso and it was really good, and while not the cheapest, reasonably priced I thought.

There is also a specialty store in the Aeon Rycom Mall, called Kuze Fuku, and they often have many varieties of higher-end miso and specialty miso from different areas of Japan. I recommend checking here if you are looking for something “special.”

Sometimes farmers markets will have bags of homemade miso, usually pretty cheap.

Below are some examples of miso you can find in Okinawa stores:


This is just some info focusing on Okinawa. For a much more comprehensive and explanatory look at miso, as well as some ways to cook with it, I highly recommend reading JustHungry website’s Miso Primer. It is such an excellent resource, I always recommend it to anyone who is first starting out with miso.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day: 3rd Thursday of November

ボジョレー・ヌーヴォー Beaujolais Noveau in katakana.


In 2017, Beaujolais Nouveau Day was November 16th.  It is a red wine made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular “vin de primeur,” being fermented for only a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November.

Beaujolais Nouveau is an extremely popular wine in Japan. Perhaps it is due to its “exclusive” release date? I really don’t know, because I consider it typically not a very good wine… and this year my husband was swayed by the colorful marketing of ボジョパ Bo-jo-pa (translation: it is a shortening of “Beaujolais Party”) in stores, forgetting past attempts to drink this years ago and my admonishments regarding drinking this wine. So he ended up bringing home a half size bottle, and was reminded why we never purchase it. If you would like to find it, just go to any grocery or liquor store in Japan.

In Hakone, the Yunessun onsen (hot springs) has a special wine bath, possibly inspired by the Japanese obsession with this wine… errrr, interesting, right?

Well, anyway, you will see this wine being marketed heavily in Japan during November near its release date. Some people even pre-order it. I have seen event flyers for “midnight release” parties. I fail to understand, as most of it seems to come in the plastic bottles with screw tops. And not to be judge-y, but that typically does not signal a fine quality wine. The labels are often very floral and colorful, kind of reminding me of girly shampoo bottles. But, to each their own… if you like it, enjoy it, and maybe check out Yunessun in Hakone?

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Shark?! サメ in Okinawa

Recently, my hula kumu (sensei/teacher) brought in shark meat and skins from a fishing tour she took here in the southern part of Okinawa main island. Now, admittedly, I paled a bit… killing/eating sharks can be a bit taboo in Hawaiian culture (since some people believe it may be a god or guardian spirit or ancestor), so this was a bit of a shock to me. Now, it depends, as some people do catch and eat shark in Hawaii (only the cutting and eating of fins is illegal), but I would say overall it is somewhat uncommon.

Now, I have seen shark (サメ pronounced sah-meh) for sale in some of the Okinawa grocery stores with fancier fresh fish sections before, so I knew it was not unusual for Japanese people, per se. But it was still a shock, and not just to me but some of my Okinawan hula friends as well since it is not a commonly eaten food.

Anyway, it was certainly unique to hear and see video/pictures of the experience, as well as see the meat and skins in person. We helped clean the skins (皮 kawa) to be used to make drums later. My kumu gave away the meat to anyone who was willing; I am sorry to announce I simply was not up to the challenge so I cannot give any personal story here. My kumu recommended frying in butter and garlic; some of my friends made like a bread-crumb crusted bake as well. Most claimed “oishii,” though some of my friends like myself declined the shark meat challenge. After all, it was not the most pleasant of odors… though maybe I missed out on something delicious. I am still uncertain about how I feel regarding shark meat.

So, if you are in Okinawa, and would like to experience eating shark, it is very possible to do. I am not sure I comfortably recommend it, but it is definitely possible. I don’t know that I have ever seen it on a restaurant menu though so you may need to buy it from the grocery store and prepare it yourself. Perhaps I need to add this to the bizarre foods of Okinawa post I made earlier…

 

Summer Festival Food: 夏祭りの屋台

夏祭り natsu matsuri means summer festival (I wrote a little about this before).

Of course, no summer matsuri is complete without the food tents, called 屋台 yatai. Most popular are probably the fried and grilled foods; some of the more “traditional” ones that I have seen in Okinawa are listed below. Just be careful not to stain your yukata…

**I will try and add some more pictures of all the foods as I have time.

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Yakisoba 焼きそば : fried noodles. Usually at summer matsuri, I see Japanese sauce yakisoba rather than Okinawan salt yakisoba, but it depends on the festival.

Takoyaki たこ焼き: fried octopus balls. Round dough balls with bits of octopus mixed in and fried, then topped with sauce and usually katsuobushi.

Okonomiyaki お好み焼き: cabbage “pancakes,” topped with sauce, as well as usually mayo, nori, and katsuobushi.

Pote ポテ: potato fries.

Yakitori 焼き鳥: grilled chicken skewers.

Ika yaki イカ焼き: literally, squid grilled on a skewer. Squid-on-a-stick.

Jaga bataa じゃがバター: baked potato with butter.

(Yaki) toumorokoshi (焼き)とうもろこし: corn; in this case it will be grilled and slathered with butter.


Recently we went to a matsuri in Nago and split a mega-combo メガコンボ, which came with a mix of potato fries, yakisoba, takoyaki, and yakitori. It was a popular food tent, and everything was cooked piping hot on the spot. It was nice because it came with a small(ish) serving of a bunch of different foods for variety, and a good compromise for my husband and I to split.

Some food tents are starting to offer some more western choices, like “meat pies” which I think are kinda like empanadas. Often you also see アメリカンドッグ  “American dog,” which just means a corn dog.

You might also see some “local specialties,” which in Okinawa typically means soba. Each festival has its own wide array of foods to try, and we enjoy trying as many as possible. On the mainland I have seen way more variety of matsuri food, and some really interesting looking ones. So keep in mind since this list is mostly applicable to Okinawa, I have only included the ones most common in Okinawa.

And of course, there is more than just savory foods… plenty of sweets as well.


Wataame わたあめ: cotton candy.

Choco banana チョコバナナ: chocolate covered banana on a stick.

Taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped bean pastry.

Dorayaki どら焼き: round pancake-like bean pastry.

Sata andagi サーターアンダギー: Okinawan fried “donuts.”

Kaki-gouri かき氷: Shave ice!


In Okinawa, the drink selection is typically some canned soft drinks (though don’t expect much variety beyond water, green tea, and coke), draft Orion beer, and of course, the local booze, awamori.

 

Miyama Shabu-shabu: 美山しゃぶしゃぶ

My husband wanted to try a shabu-shabu place for lunch. It is a chain from the mainland called Miyama Shabu-shabu. There is only 1 in Okinawa, located in the Haebaru Aeon Mall (southern part of the island).

They offer a cheap lunch course for 1000-something yen, though the menu has various combinations with varying degrees of price (things like beef, or all-you-can-eat meat). The cheap lunch course though, comes with 2 trays of (imported) pork, thinly sliced with 8 slices per tray; since I don’t eat pork this means my husband will get 4 trays. The lunch course comes with all-you-eat eat vegetables, noodles, rice, pickles, etc. For one half of the pot you also choose 1 of the 4 types of soup for cooking (the other half you get a default basic water with konbu in it); we went with the Korean-style “spicy” which was not really that spicy at all. For an additional 250yen you can also get the soft drink bar. As a fair warning, the menu is all in Japanese but there are some pictures which might help.

Anyway, we got seated and ordered without any difficulty. Luckily we were seated in a back corner so no one could stare at my husband while he ate all the meat and I just stuck the veggies. At the table were ponzu ポン酢 (shoyu+citrus) and goma-dare ごまだれ (sesame dipping sauce). We were also given extra peppers and spicy sauce since we ordered the Korean-style broth. The veggies, noodle, rice, salad, etc. were all self-serve. It was all quite good, and I enjoyed a variety of noodles and veggies with my shabu-shabu. There were Okinawa soba noodles, udon noodles, cellophane (bean thread) noodles, and somen.

Even just eating veggies, noodles, salad, rice, and pickles I felt I got a decent deal. My husband said that 3 boxes would have been perfect and 4 was a little too many, but he ate (and enjoyed) it all anyway. So we both left happy, even though one of us doesn’t eat meat.


address: https://goo.gl/maps/VahHmS42mbC2

Beer Gardens in Okinawa: ビアガーデン

ビアガーデン bia gaaden: beer garden

Summer in Japan would not be complete with beer gardens. In Okinawa, there are a few around this time of year. They typically have nomihoudai 飲み放題 and tabehoudai 食べ放題 (all-you-can-drink/eat) plans. Some of these beer gardens are very popular, so it is important to get a reservation.

This year, my husband and I decided to go to the beer garden held by ANA Harborview Hotel in Naha for our wedding anniversary. The bonus to this beer garden: wear yukata or jinbei and receive a significant discount! We also booked a room for the night, so we could just crash after our 2.5 hours of drinking and eating.

So, of course, I dressed myself and my husband in summer yukata to save money and to make it a special experience. It was my husband’s first time wearing yukata in public; he received many high-5s and “kakkoii.” It is somewhat rare to see a foreign male wearing yukata unless he has a Japanese girlfriend or wife (so some people were surprised to learn that, yes, I dressed us both by myself). A few people even took our picture; we were the only ones dressed in yukata that evening as most the others were there for after-work gatherings.

Anyway, when we arrived at the outdoor beer garden at our allotted time, it was decorated with string lights. It was a little warm out, but as the sun was going down, the temperature was dropping a bit. The food was set up buffet style (it is themed for every month, this month was “Spanish”), and even the drinks were self-serve. They had 3 beers on tap: Asahi super dry, Asahi black, and Orion. Additionally wine and highballs were available. Probably awamori and whiskey, too, but I did not much notice.

The food and drinks were pretty good, and we had a really nice time. Part way through the evening, the staff came out with a special cake dessert and sparkling peach wine for us since I had mentioned it was our wedding anniversary in the reservation. The service was really above and beyond, so it was a great way to spend a special occasion. Since we got a discounted price, I thought it was a good value… if I paid full price, I may not have felt quite the same. Full price was 4500yen, discounted price for wearing yukata… 3000yen.

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LOOK x Sanrio Cinnamoroll Chocolates

To be honest, I don’t actually like chocolate that much. But these chocolates were just too cute to pass up, plus they were coffee flavored (which I do love). So on an impulse, I purchased them from the conbini here in Okinawa. It was only about 120yen, so fairly cheap.

Sanrio’s Cinnamoroll character is featured on this special edition of LOOK chocolates, and the theme is “cafe.” There are 4 flavors in the box (and 3 of each, so a total of 12 small chocolates pieces). From left to right, the flavors are:

  • カプチーノ cappuccino
  • シナモンロール cinnamon roll
  • シフォンケーキ chiffon cake
  •  エスプレッソ espresso

Of the 4 flavors, I really only liked the 2 coffee ones; they were actually quite good for cheap chocolates. Cinnamon roll was… overpowering cinnamon to say the least, I was not a fan and I think this was the worst of the 4 for me. Chiffon cake was… kinda weird and vanilla-y; it was okay and maybe if you like that weird “birthday cake” flavor you might like this. When I read the ingredients, it said something about “dry crepe” in it so I suppose this is where that flavor comes from. The chiffon cake chocolate was so-so overall. After trying 1 of each of the 4 flavors, I was overloaded with sugary sweetness and saved the rest for later (or more likely, my husband).

Anyway, this is what I get for being suckered into cute packaging when I don’t even like chocolate candy that much. However for those who do like little chocolate candies, you may enjoy these. And they are adorable~~

Update: as matter of fact, I did give the rest to my husband. And he LOVED the cinnamon roll chocolate. So our tastes are pretty different some of the time. Who knows, maybe you too would like it if you like that burst of cinnamon-y flavor.

 

Tanabata 七夕 & Somen そうめん

七夕 Tanabata: Japanese Star festival on July 7th (read more here).

そうめん (素麺) somen: a type of noodles made of wheat flour so they are white and very thin. It is a very popular dish during summer.


I wrote previously about Tanabata and how it is not really celebrated the same in Okinawa. But with ever-changing populations, you see a little more each year.

A traditional food for Tanabata is… somen! Not only is it perfect as a summer dish, but the noodles represent the Milky way and Orihime’s threads (she was a weaver).

This type of somen dish is served chilled with a a tsuyu つゆ dipping sauce (mix of shoyu and dashi). If you want to be fancy, you can slice up okra and serve on top (they look like cute little stars). Or you could cut other veggies into star shapes, but that sounds like too much work for me, although there are many Japanese kitchen gadgets used for bento to aid with this. Perhaps you could even find those cucumbers grown into star shapes here in Japan.

Some places in Okinawa will have a nagashi-somen 流しそうめん event (translation: flowing noodles) around this time of year. A bamboo “slide” is set up and you grab them as they go buy with your hashi 箸 (chopsticks). It’s a lot of fun, so I recommend trying it.

(photos coming soon).

Otsumami: おつまみ

Otsumami おつまみ: snacks, usually to go with drinking alcohol or soft drinks.

You will see these types of snacks many places, usually by the alcohol section of the grocery or convenience store.

It comes from the word tsumamu つまむ, which means “to pinch” but can also mean “to pick up with fingers or chopsticks.”

It really is not anything specific, just sort anything easy to eat while drinking (beer, alcohol, or even just soft drinks) can be considered otsumami. You could include any kinds of appetizers, finger foods, light snacks, and tapas as “otsumami.” I usually think of things like arare or senbei, but many other things like cheeses, dried squid, edamame, tsukemono, and all manner of appetizers are described by the word “otsumami.”

Often on the airplane, I am given a small bag labelled otsumami, usually some sort of arare, dried peas, or kaki-no-tane. So I don’t always associate otsumami with drinking alcohol necessarily, rather I think of it as a salty snack food.

In Okinawa, a popular otsumami is mimigaa ミミガー (dried and shredded pig ears); to be honest it does not look creepily like pig ears, so if you don’t read Japanese or are unfamiliar with Okinawan words, you probably would not realize exactly what you are eating. I like an otsumami made by Orion labelled “beer nuts”: ビアナッツ. They even sell it as a small omiyage. When you are in Okinawa, you should try some of these Okinawan otsumami.


   

 

Konnyaku (konjac): こんにゃく

Konnyaku こんにゃく is also called konjac or devil’s tongue in English.

It is kind of a weird thing, I guess. You can find it in all shapes and sizes; from cubes to noodles. It is becoming more popular with westerners because of the “zero calorie” and high in fiber.

I feel like the taste and texture do not really stand out as odd or strong to me. It is kinda chewy, so maybe some people would not like it, but I don’t feel it is overly rubbery or anything. Basically I will eat it if it is served but I don’t usually go out and buy it much. It is nice to have in nabe 鍋 (hotpot) dishes.

The first time I went to izakaya 居酒屋 with my sensei and classmates a few years ago they ordered konnyaku as a side dish; they were so surprised when I said “Oh, it is konnyaku” and ate it with no problems. I think they wanted to shock the new “gaikokujin,” but little did they know that I did not think this was a weird food at all. I inadvertently took away their fun. I think after that they realized that I was fairly familiar with Japanese foods since living in Hawai’i and visiting Japan on a number of occasions before moving to Okinawa.

In the Okinawa grocery stores, just head to the refrigerated section near the vegetables to find the konnyaku. It is usually in with the stuff like prepackaged veggies, tofu, pickles. If you want the noodle versions, usually it says shirataki しらたき on the package, though sometimes it just says 糸こんにゃく (“thread” konnyaku). The block konnyaku is usually a speckled brown-gray in color, and the noodles range from white to gray to brown color. If you have not tried it yet, give it a go. My only real recommendation is to rinse it before cooking, since sometimes they use like a seaweed powder or something and the liquid can smell a little funky.

Kayari Buta: 蚊遣り豚

蚊遣り豚 kayari buta: a ceramic mosquito-incense holder shaped like a pig. Sometimes written as just 蚊遣豚. Buta 豚 means pig, ka 蚊 means mosquito.

蚊取線香 (also seen as 蚊取り線香) katori senko: mosquito repelling incense, usually shaped in a coil. Senko 線香 means incense.


Kayaru buta is frequently seen around Japan during summer time, so it is a sort of symbol of summer. It is cute I think.

I bought one at Makeman メイクマン (DIY Home Store) in Okinawa. I think it is the most generic type, but it has a feeling of nostalgia. I saw some really expensive ones on Amazon.jp, they were very pretty though. Sometimes the smell of the incense is a little strong, but I guess it keeps the bugs away well enough so I don’t mind using it outside on my upstairs lanai. You cannot tell from the picture but smoke wafts from his snout as the incense burns. We bought the Cainz home store brand incense instead of 1 of the 2 big name brands here in Japan; I think it works just as good.

 

Italian Tomato Cafe Jr.

Let me start with: this is by no means a fancy, Italian restaurant. It is a reasonably priced sort of fast-food chain restaurant with “Italian” pastas. There are also some fancy little cakes, too, for cafe time. I would not choose here over a real Italian cafe or restaurant, but if you are feeling lazy and want something easy… this works. If you want “real” Italian, check out one of these other places in my previous post.

I go here sometimes since it is decent for a quick lunch. It is consistent, and a decent value. It is easy and does not take too long. The menu usually has some English on it, and there are pictures. You can order a smaller size pasta or a larger size. So if you are looking for something easy to order and “western-ized” in Japan, this is a nice place to try.

Typically I order the smaller pasta with the salad/drink set, coming to 900yen. This is the perfect amount of food for me, but perhaps if you have a bigger appetite you will choose the larger size.

There are a few of these in Okinawa (mostly Naha), usually situated in strip mall type areas where there is plenty of parking. I usually go to the one in BarClay’s Court, Urasoe:  https://goo.gl/maps/eiDKWvRS4n22


Here is a link to find Italian Tomato Cafe Jr in all of Japan:  https://www.italiantomato.co.jp/search/

 

Asakusa, Senso-ji and Kappabashi Kitchen Street

A continuation of our Kanazawa trip.

After our short Kanazawa trip, we took the train from Kanazawa to Tokyo. We only had 1 night, so we couldn’t do a whole lot, but we were able to enjoy a few things in the Tokyo Station area and surroundings. I guess since I have been to Tokyo a lot, I usually change up what I see and do each time to keep it interesting. This is just one small example of Tokyo.

We arrived at Tokyo Station after the 2.5 hour train ride from Kanazawa. From there we transferred lines for only 1 stop to Shin Nihonbashi; our hotel, Tokyu Stays, was a short walk from there. The hotel was actually very spacious for Tokyo! It also had a lot of nice amenities (there was even a washing machine in the room for those of you on long trips), so I would highly recommend this hotel for all these reasons. The only down side to this hotel is the breakfast buffet was not very good, though it was cheap (500yen)– I would not get it again, and just head towards the station for a decent and cheap breakfast.

We were finally about to get out and explore by 5pm, but since the tourist sites were mostly closing, we had to settle mostly for walking around. We walked outside the Imperial Palace area (in the Kokyo gaien 皇居外苑), by the large number of pine trees until we were hungry for dinner.

At this point, we decided a cheap “western-style” dinner would be best since I am pretty sure my MIL was getting a little tired of Japanese foods. We took her to a typical family restaurant, Saizeriya, which we don’t have in Okinawa (it was also my husband’s first time at this restaurant chain). It is sort of a cheap Italian-y diner food, so nothing gourmet or exciting, but a nice place to sit and get some decent food, somewhat similar to Gusto and Joyfull restaurants. The biggest bonus is the price– we left there for less than 2000yen for 3 people. And most important, everyone was satisfied.

On the way back to the hotel we passed through Tokyo Station’s Character street~~ kawaii everywhere. This is definitely a good place for finding some of your favorite character goods. I, of course, went to the Moomin and Aggressive Ritsuko shops.


The next morning, we ate our disappointing hotel breakfast and went to Asakusa 浅草 to Senso-ji (shrine) 浅草寺. I have been here a few times, and morning is by far the best. None of the hawkers are open and only a few tourists visit this time of day, so it is quiet and peaceful. My husband showed MIL how to draw fortunes the traditional way.

I enjoyed the ukiyo-e 浮世絵 painted shutters (“picture scrolls”) on the small retail shops outside the shrine area in the Nakamise shopping district. These can only be enjoyed while the shops are closed– so after 8pm and before about 10 am. Honestly, I could have spent a lot more time here just looking at all of these! But we were headed nearby towards Kappabashi dougugai かっぱ橋道具街, a.k.a. “Kitchen Town,” in Taito.

As we walked, Tokyo Sky Tree was easily visible in the distance. My husband and MIL enjoyed all the various kitchen wares, knives, ceramics, and such, while I mostly looked for all the kappa. I have to say, this area had everything and anything kitchen/restaurant related, even the fake food (食品サンプル shokuhin sanpuru). It was pretty fun, and some stuff was reasonably priced so if you are interested in these things it is definitely worth the trip.

At this point, it was time to shuttle off to the airport, going our separate ways. I made sure to purchase some limited edition Tokyo Banana (Banana Shake Flavor) omiyage for my coworkers.


Images:

http://imgur.com/a/Irgyv

Kanazawa & Hyakumangoku Festival

金沢 Kanazawa is located in Ishikawa prefecture 石川県.

百万石祭 Hyakumangoku Matsuri: The Hyakumangoku Festival is held in commemoration of Lord Maeda Toshiie’s entry into Kanazawa castle on 14th June, 1583 (Tensho 11) which laid the foundations of the present day Kanazawa.


Summer is approaching, and we decided to take a trip up to Kanazawa for the matsuri since my mother-in-law came to Okinawa to visit us.

We flew into Komatsu Airport on Friday and from there took the bus (~45 min) to Kanazawa Station. Since there were 3 of us, we booked an AirBnb near the castle park.

Once we were settled in, we decided to check out the town. We walked towards the castle area and Kenrokuen 兼六園 (one of Japan’s top 3 beautiful gardens) where there were many museums. We looked through some ceramics shops and also ended up at the 21st Century Modern Art museum. It was fairly interesting, though no pictures inside except in the “pool” area. Overall, it was quite a nice area. Kanazawa has many beautiful traditional Japanese crafts, such as ceramics, lacquerware, cloths, as well as items adorned in gold leaf. We enjoyed seeing all of these in shops and museums.

Since the festival was starting up, there were food stalls everywhere, all with mostly typical matsuri food (yakisoba, grilled squid, takoyaki, bananas on sticks, yakitori, etc).

On Friday evening, there was the Kaga Yuzen Toro-Nagashi 加賀友禅燈ろう流し (Lantern floating ceremony). It was definitely packed with people, and I am not sure we were in the best spot by the Ashinogawa bridge, but we still got to see plenty. Since it was dark at this point it was actually very chilly considering it was the first week in June, and I did not pack appropriately. I don’t know if this was unseasonably chilly, but I would recommend pants/long sleeves/jacket/light sweater type of clothes if you go. While the lanterns were floating down the river, children’s parades were going on throughout the town. It was quite cute with them dressed up, carrying lanterns, and playing drums.


The next morning (Saturday), we wandered about the old samurai districts and went through the Nomura Family Samurai House. I stopped at every opportunity I could to look at and taste Japanese sweets (unfortunately husband and MIL are a lot less interested in these as I am).

We wound our way down to Kenrokuen (garden) which was free that day. We spent some time enjoying the beautiful grounds and buildings within the park itself. Next, we went to a tea ceremony held inside the park. I was a bit expensive (1500yen), but interesting (and delicious) for me (again, less so for husband and MIL). So perhaps I would not recommend it unless you are interested in these things.

After the park, we went over to the castle and walked all the way through. Various performances were being held in the open field for the matsuri… some traditional, some less so. There was traditional shishimai 獅子舞 (lion dance), which was different than Okinawan-style– it was so interesting! The castle was nice, though maybe not as nice as some of the other castles in Japan.

Higashi chaya-gai ひがし茶屋街, the old entertainment (geisha) district,  was my next stop. I stopped at several traditional Japanese confectionaries (wagashi-ya 和菓子屋), for samples and shopping. They were are marvelous and varied. Many sweets included gold-leaf topping which Kanazawa is known for– over 98% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced here. I saw many people consuming gold leaf ice cream. Some shop keepers may speak English, but it is much easier to communicate in Japanese. There was a shop with local nihonshu 日本酒 where you could order a glass (average price 500yen) and drink; this place was filled more with young’uns who were mostly interested in getting a little tipsy, and there was not a lot of room (some people even just ordered regular beer). I simply ordered the recommended-of-the-day 本日のおすすめ, which ended up to be so-so. Next time I might skip this place unless it was less crowded. I could have stayed in this area for hours admiring all the sweet goodies, but my fellow travelers were not as enthusiastic about this. While this place was a bit touristy in some regards, it was interesting and fun for wagashi-lover like myself. During certain times of year, I hear it is possible to go to geisha shows/dinner.

In the afternoon was the main parade. We were recommended to watch closer to the park grounds than the main station where it started. It seemed to work out nicely. The first part of the parade was mostly just some local groups, but towards the middle and end was the traditional dancing, costumes, music, princesses, etc. So next time I would probably skip the first hour and just watch the last half to be honest!

We had reservations for dinner to Kotobukiya for shojin ryori 精進料理 (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) at a ryotei 料亭 (a type of traditional Japanese restaurant). It was really quite nice, though also quite expensive. Course after course came in, and my husband and I drank nihonshu 日本酒 with it. Afterwards we were quite exhausted and all went back to the Airbnb to crash. I would have liked to go watch some of the Noh theater, but it was chilly and everyone, including myself, was tired from a long day. Maybe next time.


Sunday morning, we walked through Nishi chaya-gai にし茶屋街 old entertainment district, looping through the Temple district. The Nishi chaya-gai was much smaller than its counterpart, yet still very beautiful. Since we went early in the morning, nothing was open yet, though the children’s matsuri was getting ready for their activities in the Temple district (where we actually headed next). There are so many old temples clustered together, including the “ninja temple” (which I did not get reservations for). It makes for an interesting walk. The ninja temple requires reservations, and the tour is in Japanese. However, you can walk about the outside part, even if you cannot go in and see all the ninja traps.

Finally, after omiyage and eki-bento shopping at Kanazawa Station, we boarded the train to Tokyo for a 2.5 hour journey. Of course, I purchased some local Kanazawa beers for the train ride…

Overall, we had a wonderful and interesting time in Kanazawa known as “little Kyoto”!


Images: http://imgur.com/a/mYY0t

 

Yakisoba Bread: 焼きそばパン

パン pan: bread

焼きそば yakisoba: Japanese fried noodles

I have previously posted about yakisoba. However, if you have gone to a convenience store in Japan, you may have noticed an interesting item called yakisoba pan (bread). Yes, I mean the hotdog bun filled with fried noodles and topped with benishouga (red pickled ginger) and nori (dried seaweed flakes). Sometimes it will have small slices of meat or hot dog in it, or will be topped with mayonnaise. It is (was?) a popular snack for school-age kids (not sure if it still is).

I cannot explain this, really, but there is something sort of tasty about fried noodles in a hotdog roll. It sounds kinda odd, but you might be surprised by the unique taste so nonetheless I recommend trying it while you are in Japan. You can eat it cold or have the conbini heat it up for you in the microwave (I think it tastes better hot personally). By no means is this some high-quality or fancy item– just a simple, cheap snack food.

I have never seen it at a matsuri (festival), then again since I live in Okinawa it may not be a thing here. It is easy to find at both Lawson and FamilyMart convenience stores, though.

AnAn Yakiniku: 安安焼肉

焼肉: grilled meat

Yakiniku is popular; it is really just meat that you grill at a table in front of you. There are many of these restaurants here in Okinawa, ranging from cheap to high-end. Some are tabehoudai 食べ放題 (all you can eat) and some you buy by the plate. Yakiniku restaurants are considered “Korean food” here in Japan, but they are actually quite different from the real thing in Korea. That being said, it is still a fun experience. It is easy enough to do at home (and we do often enough in summer), but then you have to deal with the mess of cleaning it up.

One of the cheaper places is a chain called “AnAn” 安安. My husband and I affectionately refer to it has “cheap-cheap.” Why? Because the kanji 安 is used in many ways, and one of them is in the adjective”yasui” 安い which means “cheap.”

The motto of the store is:

安全 anzen: safety
安い yasui: cheap
安心 anshin: peace of mind

So really, I feel we are not so far-off the mark just calling it cheap-cheap. Anyway, it is a very reasonably priced yakiniku restaurant chain. No frills here. But that is okay, the menu varied enough. You won’t find any high-end cuts of meat here, but there is decent variety of pork, beef, chicken, liver, tongue, intestines, etc. I get all veggies, and there are quite a bit to choose from. There are also quite a few sides and appetizers, such as kimchi and edamame to choose from. The beers are also reasonably priced here even though there is no nomihoudai 飲み放題 plan (for alcohol, there is however, one for soft drinks).

There is a tablet at the table for ordering. You can even switch its language to English. I am sure the cleanliness may vary from location to location, but as for the AnAn above the Big1, next to the Makeman and across from HeartLife Hospital in Nishihara, it is quite nice and new. The window seats even offer a nice little view (partially of the ocean). I have heard people refer to this as “yakiniku for after heavy drinking” meaning they thought the quality was low, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. While not super high quality, it is good quality for a reasonable price and I have no problem with that.

Overall, I would say this is a decent place for an evening of yakiniku that won’t break the bank.


To find the closest AnAn Yakiniku you, just copy and paste 安安 into GoogleMaps.

 

Children’s Day & Chimaki

こどもの日 kodomo-no-hi is Children’s Day, a public holiday in Japan celebrated on May 5th. There are many events, especially for families and children going on during this time. Many places in Okinawa give free or discounted admission to various attractions, such as the aquarium, museums, the zoo, boat tours, and gardens. People will fly koinobori 鯉のぼり, carp flags, all around the towns– it is such a nice site to see. Originally it was Boys’ Day, Tango no Sekku 端午の節句, but has been changed to celebrate the happiness and health of all children. People still celebrate Boys’ Day in conjunction, though; you will see samurai armor on display, similar to seeing the doll displays during Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day).

ちまき chimaki is a type of rice “dumpling.” This type of chimaki is a sweet and sticky rice dumpling with kudzu 葛 (arrowroot) wrapped in bamboo leaves. Chimaki is connected to Kyoto culture (it is Kyogashi 京菓子, traditional Japanese sweet made particularly in Kyoto), but originally is said to come from China. It is so fragrant and soft, so tasty! It is a popular treat for Children’s Day. I was able to find some at the Japanese confectionary at the SanA mall near me, so obviously I was tempted into buying some.


address for Japanese confectionary Hanafuu 花風: https://goo.gl/maps/8AsJs1s9Sa72

Personal Seals: Hanko 判子 and Inkan 印鑑

Hanko 判子: refers to the actual physical seal

Inkan 印鑑: refers to the ink

Hanko and inkan are “personal seals” or “stamps”; the terms seem to be used interchangeably among native speakers, so I would not be too concerned about which word to use when. Since many other articles discuss these, I won’t get into all the details and talk about all the different types of hanko and inkan, from personal use to bank use to “official registered with the city office” use, but if you are a foreigner living in Okinawa you may need to obtain a very basic bank seal since they are almost always required for opening up a bank account and other “official” business. I also personally use mine for all of my university documents; it is much easier than trying to sign in the tiny spaces provided on the forms. Plus it feel more “official” somehow when I bust out my hanko. It is also makes it easier when parcels are delivered to your house and need a signature.

So how and where do you get one?? Easy! There are several options: go to a hanko shop (like Hanko21), order online through a Japanese website, OR go to an easy-to-use hanko-carving “vending machine!”

As for me, going to the machine is the easiest, quickest, and cheapest! These machines are located in DonQuijote (“Donki”) and Tokyu Hands stores.

How do you use it?? Well, it actually is not too difficult though it is all in Japanese. That being said, the Tokyu Hands machine has an “English Guide” printed out. It is not the best but using this guide will help you through the process. It is actually fairly simple (just be patient!). I have used both machines (DonQ for my hanko, and Tokyu Hands for another foreign student’s hanko)… I think the Tokyu Hands machine is easier for foreigners to use, and has more options for customizing. The DonQ machine is more cookie-cutter with less options. Both machines are the same prices for hanko (see below).

You will have several options when making the hanko; you can use katakana, hiragana, or romaji-English characters (most foreign names don’t have kanji, but if you happen to have a Japanese or Chinese last name then you could use this option). I personally use katakana on my hanko, and I think this is usually what most banks prefer, so make sure you figure out how to spell your name in katakana before coming to the machine.

Next you can also choose to use both last and first name or just last name (I use just my last name). Keep in mind there is a limit to either 1 or 2 lines, with 4 characters per line maximum. You can also change the direction of reading (horizontal, vertical). I use mine in a 4 character box-shape, which also an option should you desire it, though depending on your name this may not be very possible. I think it looks interesting in that way.

From here you can change the font style, as well as thickness of the lines. One last option on the Tokyu Hands machine is you can even get a little picture design– just keep in mind this likely will not fly with banks, so if you are getting it for official purposes I would hold off. If it is only for personal reasons, then by all means get the kitty or flower design!

How much? The price for the smallest (10.5mm) generic hanko is 500yen. A slightly larger hanko (better for bank usage, 12, 13.5, or even 15 mm) is usually about 800-1500yen. Mine is only 12mm which was fine with my bank (and my husband’s is only 10.5mm which is also okay with our bank), though I see some people online saying you should go with 13.5-15mm. If in doubt, ask the bank you want to open an account with.

You have some different options on hanko material color (such as blue, pink, white, black, etc)… yes, mine is girly pink. You can even go use the fancier materials but the price increases accordingly, usually up to about 3000yen. If you want to use a lot of characters (or add the picture design), then the machine will also tell you that you need to purchase the larger size hanko. You can even add on a case, though personally I just went to the Daiso and bought a 100yen cheap plastic case (with ink pad built-in) from the stationary department. Obviously you can splurge on fancier cases.

Once you go through the steps of choosing your design, insert the money into the machine and hit the OK button. The machine takes as little to 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the seal size, to carve out your hanko, and voila, you are ready to go.

Hanko vending machine located across from the Tokyu Hands, in the SanA Mall in Ginowan.

A Happy Pancake: 幸せパンケーキ

幸せパンケーキ shiawase pancake literally means “happy pancake”… it is the name of a very popular pancake chain started in Osaka (also with locations in Tokyo), known for their incredibly fluffy pancakes, keeping up the Japanese trending love for pancakes.

Very recently, they opened a cafe in Okinawa, on Senaga-jima 瀬長島 in the Umikaji Terrace ウミカジテラス (umikaji is Okinawan language for “ocean breeze”).

I figured if they are so popular, I must try them. Well… let me tell you, this place gets busy. After 2 failed attempts, I finally arrived 15 minutes before open and secured my name on the list (I was #4). Luckily, it also happened to be a gorgeous day, so eating pancakes overlooking the ocean with nice weather is pretty nice. The view is not so great to be quite frank since you are actually overlooking the airport and construction, but it is still technically an ocean view.

The pancakes were as delicious and fluffy as promised. The price of the pancake meals were not too bad, but it is not very cheap either. Although I enjoyed my smoothie I ordered, it was wayyy overpriced… so next time I would skip it.

 


Some tips for getting here, getting a seat, and getting food the quickest:

  • They take reservations on weekdays ONLY– so get one!
  • If you much prefer a weekend, then know that weekends are first come, first serve. So arrive at least ~15 minutes or so before opening (which is at 10am), go directly to the cafe and write your name down on the list. Then just walk around for a bit or sit and chill until they open!
  • If it is a nice day be sure to circle terrace seat when you put your name on the list テラス席. If you arrive late, and it is busy, then maybe you will choose to settle for inside or whatever is first available.
  • Parking: warning, it is a little crazy, as it is part of the hotel and shopping complex. There are clearly not enough spaces… so once you cross the bridge to the island turn left at the first turn (there is a sign in Japanese for Umikaji Terrace). Hopefully you will not need to resort to parking alongside the road, so continue up the road and you will see some poorly planned parking lots on either side of the road before you get to the actual buildings. Park anywhere here that is available. If you unfortunately pass these (or they are completely full)… well, then continue past the hotel and hope you get lucky (just be careful since there are hotel guest only lots, don’t park in these). You may have to make a loop around and come back.
  • Once you put your name on the list, check out the menu (in 4 languages, not to worry they are ready for everyone) and decide what you want! As soon as you are seated, you want to put in your order right away… it takes quite awhile to make and if there are lots of people who have ordered ahead of you… it could be an hour until you get food. And since you probably already had to wait just to get seats… you don’t want to wait much longer. So be ready to order before you even sit down!

address: https://goo.gl/maps/R6BVudmJBpq

Mori-shio: A Pile of Salt

The other day, I visited a Japanese soba restaurant. Before I walked in, I noticed something. A pile of salt. This is called “mori shio” (or also seen as “morijio”) 盛り塩 (literally, “mori” is pile, and “shio” is salt). Not so typical here in Okinawa, though perhaps much more common to see in mainland Japan. Salt is used in plenty of rituals here in Okinawa as well as placed at the hinukan, but by the front of a business it is not a very common site.

There were 2 dishes, each with a neat little white mound of salt, on either side of the entrance to restaurant.

So why was it here? This is a practice still common today in Japan, leaving little cone shaped mounds of salt on small dishes set on the ground by the threshold of a restaurant, shop, or other business (or even a residence). This means the place has been purified/cleansed and it is hoped to attract customers.

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Taiyaki & Dorayaki: たい焼き&どら焼き

If you have read any previous posts, you are probably aware of my love (obsession?) with Japanese-style sweets. So this will be yet another entry dedicated to the wonderful world of Japanese sweets.

Today is about taiyaki たい焼き and dorayaki どら焼き. Neither of these are especially popular in Okinawa, and are probably a little more common on the mainland, however there are some places in Okinawa to find these tasty treats.

Taiyaki is a fish-shaped pastry with a filling inside, usually sweet bean paste (an). There is the traditional type, with many different filling choices, at a small stall in the basement food (depachika デパ地下) floor of Ryubo department store in Naha (also known as Palette Kumoji). My favorite is probably the kinako きな粉 (toasted soy bean); it is creamy kind of like peanut butter inside. There is also a new fad of “croissant taiyaki,” (クロワッサンたい焼) which is a flaky twist on the traditional favorite. This is actually easier to find in Okinawa since it is sold by the chain takoyaki store, Gindaco 銀だこ. I prefer the traditional style, but the croissant taiyaki is okay, too. Whenever the Kyoto products fair comes through the stores, there is almost always the Le Mans booth which sells many flavors of this croissant-style taiyaki– I like this better than the Gindaco ones, personally.

**Recently, I have had an incredibly delicious taiyaki at Amane 天音 near Kichijoji station in Tokyo! I 100% recommend stopping by and trying it if you are ever in that area!

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Dorayaki is like 2 little tasty pancakes with a filling between them, again, usually sweet bean paste. But they are not quite pancakes or hotcakes… they usually have more pockets of air creating a nice fluffy texture, and the batter is usually sweetened with honey. These are ALL over, you can even find these in the convenience stores (like Lawson)! Some are even “Okinawa-style” since they use Okinawan kokutou 黒糖 (brown sugar). I will have to think about where my favorites are located… probably just the small booth that sets up outside the local grocery store once a month since there are always so fresh!

You can also find some small dorayaki at a specialty shop that also sells ohagi: here.

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Culture note: Some people say how you eat taiyaki tells about your personality:

The person who eats the head first is an optimist.

The person who eats the tail first is a romantic and detail-oriented.

The person who eats the fin first is sensitive.

The person who eats by tearing it in half is a man of action.

A majority of people seem to eat the head first, but funny enough I usually eat the tail first.

News from Ise: 伊勢だより

伊勢だより Ise dayori roughly means “news from Ise.” Ise 伊勢 is located in Mie prefecture.

Yesterday while I was at the department store product fair I ate akafuku mochi. Afterwards, while in the “tea shop” sitting area, I noticed some of these small papers with rather interesting pictures on one side and some descriptions on the back. They were free, I picked up a few since I rather liked the artwork and decided I could read them closer later.

I found out that these papers are included on every box of akafuku mochi; they are printed every day with various themes of Ise, with news of their culture, history, landscape, food, religion, and more. It is a letter made every day from the shopkeeper to the customers. I guess it is also to help promote tourism of the area, but I thought this was a really nice idea. Also maybe it has worked, because now I feel like maybe I want to visit Ise…

You can also view these on their website.

I picked up papers for March 14, 15 and 16 shown below:

 

Manga Souko 漫画倉庫

漫画倉庫 Manga Souko is a nationwide secondhand store. In Okinawa, there are 3 of these stores. 漫画 manga means Japanese comics, and 倉庫 souko means warehouse. They are open 24 hours!

First word of caution: when you enter, it is extremely noisy inside. Not just a little, but a lot. If you go, you will see what I mean. It can be a bit overwhelming.

Second word of caution: their buyback rates are not very good, so don’t expect to get a lot of money for your books/clothes/cds/comics/etc that you sell them. And there prices tend to be slightly higher than some other places in my opinion. That being said, they also have the best variety, especially for anime, manga, and related goods.

Anyway, despite their name being “manga,” they actually have everything from games, consoles, cds, dvds, comics, figurines, clothes, shoes, small appliances, kitchen and household, sporting goods, instruments… the list goes on. So even if you don’t care much about manga or anime, there is a lot more to this interesting secondhand shop. I will admit, I have made more than a few purchases here.

Keep in mind, on a weekend or holiday it gets pretty busy… many people will go to the comics section and just read for hours without buying anything.

To find the closest to you, just copy and paste 漫画倉庫 into GoogleMaps (there are 3 locations in Okinawa: Awase, Urasoe, and Naha).

I will post some pictures of the outside and of some of my purchases soon.

 

White Day: ホワイトデー

ホワイトデー is “White day” in katakana. This is like reverse Valentine’s day in Japan; guys return the favor on March 14th to the girls for the chocolates they received on February 14th. This means they give girls chocolates or small presents, like handkerchiefs or hand towels, keychains, etc.

The stores will usually just change the sign from Valentine’s day to White day on the chocolates displays. Departments stores and shops will put out displays of small presents mentioned above, usually with cute designs or packaging. It is not as big as Valentine’s day, but there are plenty of displays to remind the guys to buy the girls a small present or chocolate.

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Spring Equinox: 春分の日

春分 shunbun is Spring equinox. It is the division of seasons.

In Okinawa, it is typically different than mainland Japan, just like shuubun 秋分 (Autumn equinox) is. While in the rest of Japan it may be more typical to visit hometowns and family graves, in Okinawa it is usually just observed at home at the butsudan (buddhist altar), with the typical special Okinawa foods used in most celebrations. The season of shiimii しーみー is just around the corner and it is the customary time to visit, clean and leave offerings at the graves then.

Spring equinox is also part of haru-no-higan 春の彼岸, which just refers to Spring equinox week. (O)higan literally means “the other shore,” meaning the other side of the river which divides the living from the deceased in the afterlife according to Buddhist tradition.

At any rate, it will be a public holiday for me, so I can hopefully enjoy the day off. And likely my sensei will bring in the leftover treats from his family’s celebration.

大豆のお肉: Daizu no Oniku, Soy Meat

In Okinawa, we are fortunate to find lots of great soy meat products. And they aren’t all full of additives or weird stuff like most of the American ones.

On the label, one brand shows 大豆のお肉 daizu-no-oniku (大豆 soybean, お肉 meat). You can find them in filet or minced form, unseasoned or seasoned. Even better for the lazy me, they also can come as easy to put together meal kits! Gapao rice, Taco rice, Sweet and sour stirfy, and more from Marukome are shown below (word of warning: if you are a strict vegetarian, the pre-made packages still often contain fish sauce/dashi of some sort so the pre-made stuff is not 100% vegetarian, however the UNSEASONED mince and filets are 100% vegetarian).


Another brand of the soy meat products you can find is called: まるっきりお肉 marukkiri oniku: “just like meat.”

But it is not! This product from Maisen has just 2 ingredients– soy beans and brown rice. Organic at that (if you care about those things, and obviously gluten-free as well). Nothing else, no weird additives, no fake flavors, etc.

It is not “fake meat” but actually better than meat. It has much less calories and fat compared to meat, but it is actually higher in protein (well, according to the product site).

The texture is great, and it absorbs whatever flavors you add. You can buy it as crumbles or filets. As for what to cook with it, the possibilities are endless. We use it quite a bit, and the price is pretty good too. It is easy to find at local SanA grocery stores here in Okinawa; usually I find it near the dried beans.

I would definitely recommend trying it out; I think it tastes way better than the fake stuff in the U.S. with all the weird added ingredients. Plus my husband will actually eat it and like it, unlike most of the American faux meat products.

Here are 2 of the brands:

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Girls’ Day, Hinamatsuri: 雛祭り

ひな祭り(or 雛祭り) hina-matsuri is translated to Girls’ Day or Doll Festival.

Hinamatsuri is on March 3rd. In Okinawa, there is a special tradition on hinamatsuri of the lunar calendar, but that will be for a different post: 浜下りhamauri.

Traditional treats and not-so-traditional treats are being sold in stores. Community centers (and maybe some homes in Okinawa) have hina doll displays. Everyone prays for the good health of girls. These doll displays are rather costly and not actually traditional in Okinawa (just mainland Japan), so not very many people here have them. But any community center, library, or department store will have a nice display to check out.


Sakura mochi 桜餅 and hishimochi 菱餅 are 2 traditional wagashi for hinamatsuri. Sakura mochi is a pink mochi wrapped in a sakura (cherry blossom leaf). Hishimochi is a 3-layered ricecake, pink, white, and green, in a diamond shape. These days, you may see other wagashi designed especially for the day, as well as cakes and western-style desserts, with cute pink designs.

Another common snack you will see is hina-arare ひなあられ, (usually pink) rice crackers.

Hina-arare. With Hello Kitty theme of course.
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Tohato caramel corn puff snacks with hinamatsuri doll theme. Left is momo (peach) flavor, right is regular flavor.

In Hawaii, Girls’ day is somewhat observed although on a much smaller scale than Japan.

Be sure to look for all these treats the next time you are in the store in Okinawa around late February and early March!

Beppu: 別府

Another trip to Kyushu! This time we headed to Beppu 別府 in Oita prefecture 大分県, famous for its onsen. Again, Fukuoka is the biggest airport (also with direct flights from Okinawa) so once again we touched down in Fukuoka, with a 15 minute train ride to Hakata Station. From Hakata station the train goes direct to Beppu, taking about 2 hours.

Before boarding the train to Beppu, we decided to pick up an ekiben 駅弁 (eki bento 駅弁当), a train station packed lunch (駅 eki means train, 弁当 is bento), and some beers for the 2 hour ride. I noticed a place called Evah Dining selling macrobiotic vegan bento, and they all looked really good. It was hard to choose but in the end I went with the one labeled “ladies bento.” After all, I am a lady. My husband picked up some sort of pork katsu bento, but in the end was jealous of mine because it was so tasty.

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We arrived at Beppu station in the early evening and checked in to the hotel just 1 block away, the Beppu Daiichi hotel (it was very cheap, included breakfast, but no onsen on site). After we dropped our luggage in the room we headed out to the Takegawara onsen 竹瓦温泉.

The outside has a traditional facade.  Inside is typical of a small local onsen, so you didn’t get the impression it was just for tourists, but visited by the local population. The entrance fee was very cheap (since there are no amenities). Bring your own soap/etc and towels! You can also purchase a souvenirs towel there (which we eneded up doing even though I brought my own). They also had the sand baths for an extra fee, but we decided not to go for it.

Once we paid, we went to our separate baths. In the ladies, there are no lockers, just baskets, and the area is very small. I undressed and grabbed my soap and towel, heading down the stairs. I admit I was a bit surprised to not see the usual (more modern) shower stations… there was simply the bath itself, a cold tap, some wash buckets and a stool. So this means you go old school: to rinse yourself off before entering the bath, take one basin, fill with some cold tap water, take it over to the small area, fill another basin with warm onsen water, mix them together (outside the bath). Clean yourself using this water and your soap. Once you are clean and rinsed, time to soak. Despite the simplicity, this was a really nice place for an authentic onsen bathhouse experience, plus it was a very cheap entrance fee (200yen I think).

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After a nice soak, we walked about the area and through the shopping arcade, though it seemed most things closed pretty early. We saw the Yayoi tengu やよい天狗, I bought a retro-design towel at one of the souvenir shops and then headed back to the hotel.

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The second day, we toured the Beppu hells (jigoku 地獄) in Kannawa. Touristy but fun, there were lots of interesting sites to see. The combo ticket for the 7 main hells was 2000yen per person, and there were a few smaller ones with separate fees, if you so choose. We only did one of the smaller ones since otherwise the fees add up very quickly. Most of the hells have foot baths and snacks for purchase, so plenty of opportunity to take a break and relax. There is also a stamp rally!

Full Stamp Rally Sheet!

After touring the 5 main hells in Kannawa 鉄輪 (we went to the other 2 on our combo ticket the next day since you needed a car to reach them), we headed to Myoban 明礬. This was quite a walk, ALL up hill…. but the bus was inconvenient and we were feeling genki 元気. Of course, one of the number one stops… Okamotoya 岡本屋 for jigoku mushi purin 地獄蒸しプリン– pudding/flan steamed by onsen! It was so delicious, we ended up getting a second later. My husband also got toriten とり天 (chicken tempura, famous in Oita) and onsen tamago 温泉卵 (egg boiled by onsen steam). After this we headed to the hut bathes, where we rented (literally) a family onsen bath in an outdoor hut for an hour; it was awesome! Since it was a private family bath, my husband and I bathed  together. A rather interesting area, with good food and views and a unique chance to experience a hut bath.

On way back towards Beppu, we also stopped at Hyotan onsen ひょうたん温泉. This onsen was busy and much more touristy. So the good news is, yes, foreigner friendly, but… crowded, so I don’t particularly recommend it as a must-see. The baths were okay, overall, and there were minimum amenities, but again, bring your own towel. There was a mixed “sand bath” area (which also came with yukata rental), but probably was not worth the extra 300yen on top of the 700yen entrance fee. In my opinion the price was a bit high for what it was; I have been to a lot more remarkable onsen for less. That being said, in the common area they did have a steam-cooking area (for eggs and such), a small food stand, as well as an area to sit and have you throat steamed. It was an interesting experience.

Back at Beppu station, I hadn’t had enough onsen purin, so I tried a purin dorayaki– basically 2 pancakes with a frozen purin in the middle. It was pretty good.

Dinner time was a so-so izakaya, Watamin, not too far from the station. The food was okay but the beer prices were a bit steep, so we ended early and had some more beer from the Family Mart in the hotel room.

Part 2 continued in the next post.

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Valentine’s Day in Okinawa

バレンタインデー Valentine’s day.

チョコ choco, or チョコレート chocolate.


Somehow, Valentine’s day got adopted into Japanese culture in the mid 1900s. But it is a bit different than what you see in the US. It is tradition for girls to give chocolates to men… not the other way around! Well, not until White day which is the reverse Valentine’s where guys give small presents (not necessarily chocolate) to the girls that gave them chocolates on Valentine’s day.

But not all chocolate is equal. There is honmei 本命 (true love) chocolate for the guy you like best; this is either high-end chocolate or homemade chocolate. Then there is giri 義理 chocolate, which is “obligation” chocolate that you give to guys you know (and are just friends or acquaintances with). This is usually just cute little regular chocolates. There is lately a third category, known as tomo 友 chocolate, which means “friend” chocolate. Sometimes girls may buy small chocolates for their friends (girls or guys).

In my lab, I am the only girl, so the burden sort of falls on me. I buy giri chocolate for the members in my lab. On White day, they usually buy chocolates for the whole lab in return.

Right now, the stores are lined with all types of fancy chocolates, as well as items for baking the perfect chocolate treat with cute trimmings. You can even buy some cheap stuff at the Daiso (100yen store) to really cute up your chocolates. Soon, it will all be replaced by cute girly items, some chocolates, handkerchiefs, and other small items for White day.