Thursday, June 28, 2007

Come and get your ice cream!

Yes, that is the face of a horse on top of this container for ice cream. Why you ask? Well, that would be because this is ice cream made with raw horse meat! Mmm, tasty. That not enough for you? Well here's a list of some of the other colorful flavors you can find in Japan if you look around hard enough:

Pike (fish)
Cow tongue
Sweet potato
Fried eggplant
Miso soup
Basashi (raw horse meat)
Shark fin ramen
Deep sea water
Black sesame
Sesame, soybean, and kelp
Lettuce and potato
Natto (fermented soybeans)
Stout beer
Shochu (potato wine)
Red wine
Sakura (cherry blossom)

You'd be surprised at how un-disgusting some of these are. I've only personally had black sesame, which is excellent, and wasabi, which is just meh, and have also seen sakura flavor offered before. I've also had a zunda mochi (sweetened rice cakes topped with green soybeans) milk shake which was good. I can't imagine what meat-flavored ice cream is like, but I have had meat-flavored beer thanks to George and Matt, and I hope it's better than that.

Oh, and apparently there's an ice cream shop in Tokyo somewhere that has crazy ice creams from all over the country, so I'll have to check that out. You see, everywhere has it's specialties, and some people apparently like to make ice cream out of it regardless of how insane it sounds. I like a lot of this stuff by itself, but horsemeat ice cream? What were they thinking??

Friday, June 15, 2007


So today's weather forecast? Rain. Yesterday? Rain! Tomorrow? Actually warm and sunny, but the day after that it'll undoubtedly rain. Welcome to what the Japanese no-so-affectionately refer to as tsuyu - the rainy season.

Now I don't really get this, but I hear a lot of Japanese people like to make a big deal out of how Japan has 4 seasons and the seasons are so unique and yada yada. Well that's retarded, and I'll tell you why - Japan doesn't have 4 seasons!! It has all the normal faves with spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but then there's this 1-2 month period right about this time of year where if it doesn't rain then you wonder what's wrong sometimes. It totally qualifies as its own climactic phenomenon. It really is separate from spring, and leads you right into a hot, sticky summer. Anyway, yesterday everything was all honkey dorey until about the time I got off work, then sure enough it started up when I was grabbing some grub en route to my Japanese tutor. I'm glad the big 'ol fat rain hasn't come yet... if you think it rains back home and you haven't been in a hurricane, then you probably really haven't seen rain.

So while I'm seriously waiting for someone to try to bust out the whole "unique 4 seasons" shtick on me so I can crush them with my superior 5 season plan, I have not-so-unrecently experienced a place that doesn't have the normal 4 seasons of the temperate zone in which I have resided my entire life. Thailand. See Thailand's a bit closer to the equator, so it has a pretty tropical climate, especially in the south. Accordingly, the north has 3 seasons, and the south has but 2. In the south the temperature doesn't really change that much year round, so the 2 seasons you get are dry and wet (monsoons - woo). In the north, you get a colder (such a relative term) season, then the dry and wet seasons the south does. So no, all countries don't have 4 seasons... including Japan because they have 5.

Man, I really wanna get back to the tropics... Okinawa anyone?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kelly Osbourne: Turning Japanese

Yes that's right, there's a new reality show on British TV in which Kelly Osbourne tries to one-up Paris Hilton by taking a 5-week trip out to the country she apparently idolizes - Japan. Here's the description:

“Kelly Osbourne loves shopping in Japan, but will her working holiday leave her dying to stay or longing to leave? Her first raft of jobs include managing a Tokyo Love Hotel, training with the Samurai and waitressing in a very strange cafe.”

I watched the first episode (which can be found here on youtube), and I found it amusing. I like how they're showing a balanced view - you don't just get the cool and bizarre, but also the seedier, darker side of Japan that most things like this would just gloss over or ignore. That, and it's amusing watching a self-proclaimed stuck-up princess forced to do all sorts of uncouth tasks.

NSFW Warning.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The King is back in Japan!!

Burger King is back!

That's right, after a 6-year absence you'll be pleased to know that Burger King is in fact back in Japan. They have one shop setup now in Shinjuku and are planning on opening another shortly in Ikebukuro I think... both Tokyo, but that's where everything in Japan starts so no surprise.

Apparently I just missed them last time as price wars with McD's drove BK out of Japan right before I got to Chiba and my study abroad. This time around though I think they'll be staying for a while.

I actually heard the news of Burger King's triumphant return a few months back when they announced that it and also Krispy Kreme Donuts would be making the venture into the Big Mikan. KK Debuted last December, and much to my (and most likely others' as well) surprise, you will still to this day most likely be waiting at least an hour in line just to get into the place to get your donuts. I seriously don't see why people don't just go to Mister Donuts though as those have been around for years and don't have a wait. I guess they like lines, like it makes you feel more accomplished and adds to the taste or something. Whateva.

Anyway, one thing in particular caught my interest in the article that I'd like to point out:

Miami-based Burger King is banking on the recent hunger here for greasy and sweet food, and a move away from the healthy, traditional fish-and-rice centered diet.

I dunno how true that really ever was... at least in recent history. But really, you would not believe how much fried food Japanese people eat. Tempura? Fried. Tonkatsu? Yep, fried. Karaage? Fried-a-roni. Korokke? (basically croquettes) Friddly-fried. They even have fried tofu, (Agedofu anyone?) And I bet that whole fried sushi trend that some Koreans started and has spread to the US would do well out here as well. It's like I'm in the Deep South - you dip it in oil and they'll probably eat it. (yes, KFC has a following, but it tastes like chicken tempura to me) Also ramen, one of the most popular foods out here, is basically a bowl of grease and oil with noodles - a bowl at my favorite place up here will grow a layer of greasy skin if you let it sit too long, which is why I ask them to cut out the grease.

I'm not complaining as it does taste good, but I'm just trying to point out that the whole image of Japanese food being all rice and fish and health food is a misconception. The food is excellent, but it's not all healthy. Oh just as an aside, Japanese people hate raw celery for some reason - haven't found one person that likes it. And there has been a recent trend, like they're saying. McDonald's now has the Mega Mac (do they have these back home too?) with it's 4 patties and daily allowance of calories all in one wollop, or a double teriyaki burger now if you prefer. Japanese are catching on to the whole eating big thing I guess. If it means the days of anorexic looking girls running around skinny enough that I can see their rib cages are over then ok, but I hope they don't start blimping out like back home. Oh, and it's had a noticeable effect on the sizes of boobs nationwide. I think I did actually hear that the UK is fatter than us though, so that's one thing to be... ok no, there's nothing good about that. The world is fat.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, yey BK!! Gimme a Whopper with cheese and some scrumptious fries!

Friday, June 01, 2007

The neurosis of Japanese society

Hey all, been rather busy with the work these last couple weeks, but my prepping for my wine tasting event tomorrow are done and so I have a little room to breathe. By the way, how does this sound? 70-80 people, 40 bottles of wine, a fresh pasta dinner with your choice of sauce and a salad/garlic bread, and one free ride home for about $15!

So anyway, while waiting to receive the final 10 bottles set for delivery, I ran across this link and thought it was hilarious, mainly because it's sooo true. The author is a Japanese guy that spent 11 years in the US, then came back to a wall of bureacracy when he got home. Anyway, a little anecdote from the link:

In the last three years, I have been called a member of the revisionist school. The revisionists are known for stating that the Japanese are different from Westerners, socially, politically and economically. I do not consider myself a revisionist, but I must say that Japan as a system is quite different from the West. How different? Japan is a conformist society.

Let me give you an example. The following incident took place at the Akasaka Prince Hotel. It was around 6 p.m. and I was waiting to meet a friend. He had asked me to wait for him at the bar on the top floor. Since I arrived early I sat at the counter. A waiter came and asked what I would like to drink. I noticed an open bottle of white wine in an ice-bucket behind the counter, and the following was our dialogue:

"I would like to have a glass of white wine."
"I'm sorry but we can't offer you white wine. "
"Why can't I have a glass of white wine?"
"It's not on the drink list."
"But I see an open bottle of white wine right over there."
"I will bring you a wine list and you can choose a bottle from there."
"But I only want a glass of wine."
"I'm afraid you will have to order a bottle."
"But all I want is a glass of wine."
". . ." (Silence)
"Why can't I have a glass from the bottle which is already open?"
"I'm sorry, I will have to talk to my superior."

After waiting for a couple of minutes, the waiter came back with a man in a tuxedo.

"Sir, I'm sorry but we do not offer wine by the glass in this bar."
"If that's the case, why is there an open bottle of white wine over there?"

He goes to the bartender, who whispers into his ear, then returns to me.

"That wine is used to make cocktails."
"What kind of cocktails?"
"The cocktail is called Kir. We mix it with Cassis liqueur, sir."
"I see. Okay, then give me a Kir without the Cassis."

The floor manager thought about it for a second, with a slightly perplexed look on his face.

"I'm sorry but we cannot do that."
"Why not?"

His look of perplexity increased.

"I will have to speak to the assistant manager of the hotel. Please excuse us."

I waited for about five minutes, and a gray-haired man came. His first comment was,

"We are trying to accommodate your request as much as possible, but up until now nobody has made this kind of request."

"Well, you should be happy that I'm setting a precedent for you. Charge me for the price of the cocktail, but just give me a glass of wine."

"You see, we're happy to accommodate you with anything from the drink menu, but I regret to inform you that we don't offer anything not on the menu. It's our policy."

"You just told me that your job is to accommodate guests' requests as much as possible."

"Yes, sir."

"I don't think I'm requesting anything outrageous. All I want is a glass of white wine, and there is an open bottle right in front of us. I don't understand your inflexibility."

". . ." (Silence)

"You run a first-class hotel."

"Thank you sir."

"I believe that the first thing you learn in hotel management course is to try to accommodate guests' needs."

"You're absolutely right sir."

"So don't you think that granting my request would be staying within the principle of good hotel management?"

"That is correct, sir."

"So if I'm correct, why can't you offer me a glass of white wine?"

The assistant manager, with a strained smile on his face, replied,

"Okay, we will offer you a glass of white wine, but please understand that it will be only for today."

I finally got what I wanted, but it took more than 15 minutes. This is just one example, but this kind of rigid behavior is rampant in Japanese society. This rigidity reminds me of patients who exhibit symptoms of frequent hand-washing, which is often diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is difficult to think that so many people in Japan have neurotic symptoms. In fact, most people I meet privately do not exhibit any signs of neurosis; they are normal individuals. The question then is why do these people become rigid in an official setting? My answer to this question is that it is not the people, but the system, that is neurotic.

The problem lies with the bureaucrats, the architects of Japan, Inc., since they are not aware of their illness and they continue to educate, or to be more fashionable, to "mind control" the people. Once people are in a group setting, they become disciples of Japan, Inc. In the case of the incident at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, the assistant manager's job, instead of accommodating customers' needs, is to keep customers within the bounds of the existing rules and regulations.

This may seem ridiculous, but sometimes it really is all too true! One time I asked a girl to give me a Coke with no ice... after giving me a totally blank stare for a bit, she actually goes to the manager to discuss the matter. After consultation, she finds that yes it's ok to not give me ice. Ok. Sooo, I get my Coke and look down and what do I find? A half-filled cup of Coke! I show her this and ask her where the rest is - she said that she was only permitted to give me a set amount of Coke!! After some scowling and pleading to her apparent lack of reason from my view, off to the manager she again goes. They consult. He then comes over and apologizes, saying that he apparently can't spare the fraction of a yen it would cost them to properly fill my cup. The reason? "Because that's the way we do things." Wow.

All I have to say is, this guy has a book (in English evenand man do I want to check it out. And with that, my wine has arrived! Back to "work"...