Doyou no Ushi no Hi 土用の丑の日 (The Day of The Ox)

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So I would like to delve into the concept of Doyo 土用. I feel it is particularly relevant as I sit here broiling at my desk at school on a 34degree day, as for some reason it took Kyoto-sensei’s fancy to save electricity and turn all the air cons off this morning.

Historically Doyo 土用 refers to the last 18 days of each season, however in modern usage it’s limited only to the summer 夏 period and can literally be translated to ‘midsummer’.

But why ‘The Day of the Ox’? Well the Ox is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and the standard Japanese calendar attributes one of these animals to each day of the year. Now according to the Chinese calendar system, autumn tends to begin around August 7 and so 18 days before typically is around now, however due to there being 18 days and only 12 zodiac animals, it is not at all uncommon for there to be 2 Doyou no ushi no hi in one year.

This year in 2012 Doyou no ushi no hi 土用の丑の日 (The Day of The Ox) falls on Friday the 29th of July. This day is regarded as being the hottest and most difficult time throughout the entire year.

On this day Japanese people eat unagi 鰻 (broiled eel) as it is believed to break the summer heat and help with recovering from fatigue.

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Now like most things I encounter in Japan, at first I was perplexed as to how consuming eels would make the summer more bearable.
I guess in short the reasoning is that unagi has a lot of calories due to a high fat content, as well as a large amount of nutrients, so it makes sense that such a food would give you the energy to not become a flaccid, unproductive lump during the summer months (exactly how I feel at this moment).

Alas if you happen to be in Japan around late July each year, it will be hard to miss the plethora of displays in front of every supermarket, department store, combini and donburi place advertising steamed and grilled unagi 鰻 (eel).

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These are characterized by the noburi 幟 (flags/banners) that are ever present outside of each establishment which simply have the character for U (う) printed on them and stylized to resemble an eel (as U is the first character in the word unagi). They generally look something along the lines of this.

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Here is a more commercial looking one outside a Sukiya すき家 restaurant.

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Also in addition to consuming unagi during the Doyo period, there has also been the longstanding belief in japan that eating any food that begins with the letter U (う) will provide replenish stamina lost due to the summer heat.
Just off the top of my head there’s Umeboshi 梅干して (preserved Japanese apricots), Udon 饂飩 (thick wheat noodles) and Ushi 牛 (beef).
I’m going to go ahead and debate the effectiveness of such a claim, as i have eaten all three of those foods in the last day and I’m still broiling ( ;´Д`)

At the end of the day there are many other foods that seem slightly more appropriate to eat to help with fatigue, so why eel??
Well there is a story that comes along with that which takes us back to the Edo period 江戸時代 (1603 to 1868) in Edo (now Tokyo 東京).
An eel vendor was experiencing poor sales due to unagi being seen as unsophisticated and a lower-class food at the time. He sought the council of a man named Gennai Hiraga, who was a well known pharmacologist, painter, inventor and master of Dutch studies (Western learning).

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Hiraga made him a sign that said, ‘Doyo is the day of the Ox, unagi begins with a U so it’s a good time to eat it!’
After learning the sign was the advice of Hiraga, it drew in so much business for the shop owner that other shops followed suit. It being so popular that it has endured as a tradition that is still practiced throughout Japan today.

On a final note there is another popular Japanese food that I have noticed going hand in hand with unagi to provide relief from the summer heat, which is Doyo Mochi 土用餅, but I’ll explore that further in the next Mochi Diaries ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

Popin’ Cookin’ – Ramen & Gyoza (Meccha Oishii Japanese Candy Adventures: Part 1)

Welcome to Part 1 one of ‘Meccha Oishii Japanese Candy Adventures’ めっちゃ美味しい日本のお菓子冒険者
Japanese candy has always been a mysterious and intriguing thing to me having seen many of them on the interwebs over the years as ordering them abroad is fairly cost prohibitive.
Alas now that I have arrived in the orient former barriers to deliciousness have been lifted so I intend to spend the next few months sampling and reviewing the plethora of candy mini meal sets on offer.
So what is Popin’ Cookin’? Basically fun interactive candy kits that let you make your own mini gummy that look like food!!

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Alas I present to you the first of many: Popin’ Cookin’ – Ramen & Gyoza
(ポッピンクッキン ラーメンセットの作り方)

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This array of packets makes up the contents of the kit, which will be used to make a mini bowl of ramen and 2 candy gyoza.

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So first step is to whack the brown packet in the ramen bowl and add some water, if you like you can cut out the plastic containers like I did (it’s more kawaii that way)

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Alright next up the yellow sachet with one measure of water will be used to make you ramen noodles, so mix that up until it’s a thick paste.

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Take the plastic bag provided and use the toothpick to make a tiny hole in the corner. Load the corner with the whole up with you noodle paste.

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Finally like you icing a cake squeeze that yellow paste through the toothpick hole straight into the broth…… And your done with your first dish ^_^

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Next were onto the gyoza so take your candy dough, cut it in half then roll each piece out into as flat a circle as you can manage!

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Once their flat as pancakes, take the 100’s n’ 1000’s type filling and place it in the centre of both you gyoza skins
allowing enough room round the edges to seal it up.

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Once you got your filing sorted close up the edges, shaping them to look like real gyoza with your nails.

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Andddddd that’s pretty much it, display them however you like, just make sure to get your nom on caz they are fair tasty.
The most surprising thing about this kit for me personally would have to the fact that the ramen was not candy, but instead emulated real ramen in terms of taste and texture.

All in all for my first time dabbling in the world of Japanese candy I found the whole experience to be quite fun and ingenious, of there all this good I’ll be wasting a lot of money on this stuff in the future.

Popin’ Cookin’ – Ramen & Gyoza
Score
Funness (楽しい) – 4.5/5
Tastiness (美味しい) – 3.5/5
Authenticness (正真正銘) – 3/5
Overall impression (全体の印象) – 4/5

Kobe Center-Gai Ice Sculpture

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As I was strolling around Sannomiya Centre Gai (三宮 センタ街) last Sunday afternoon wasting money as usual, I came across this awesome display made entirely out of ice that could touch.

Needless to say as hungover and hott as I was I gave it a hug much to the puzzled looks of those around me 😄

Still it’s nice that you can find stuff like this around Kobe ヾ(@⌒ー⌒@)ノ

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JET Packing for Japan – What to Bring

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No not that kind of Jetpack…….

So now that I have been residing in Japan for around 2 months I feel I have the insight to critically asses exactly what I bought over with me.
As many of you 2012 arrivals will soon be entering the packing phase of pre-departure, I thought I would share my list that I compiled from advice I obtained around the interwebs and my own experiences.

Definitely Bring!!!!
-A laptop (you don’t wanna deal with getting one here when you first arrive)
-A good digital camera (caz your gona wanna capture these memories! I recommend a DSLR and if you go down this path also bring an ultra compact if you ever go somewhere where is not practical to bring a DSLR)
-5 tube of toothpaste
-5 roll on deodorants
(both of these things you will have an enormous amount of difficulty find an equivalent of in Japan)
-One suit! (you will only wear this for your first week as Japan is all about coolbiz at the moment)
-1 pair of slacks
-5 business shirts
-10 T-shirts/Shirts
-2 pairs of jeans
-A couple pairs of shoes (1 formal, 2 casual, 1 pair of runners)
-7 pairs of socks and undies
-3 Polo shirts/Shorts/Tracksuit pants (If your teaching shougakko)
-Prizes and teaching material from your home country (these will make your jikoushoukai sparkle)
-Omiyage!!!! Don’t forget this shit, will do wonders to lube up your relationship with a grumpy Kyoto-sensei)

*Just a note im Japanese sized in most respects so i can buy clothes here cheaply and easily, however if your chunky forget about it. I was a small-medium back home, here I am large!

Consider Bringing!!!
-Electric shaver!! I’m a kinda perpetually fuzzy kinda guy anyhow but I bought a close shaving one and the facial hair grooming kind which is hella useful for prolonging trips to the hairdressers.
-Hard drives full of TV shows and movies (I personally brought 6TB of shows but I’ve been to busy to watch em, if I was lonely in the inaka it would probs be a different story however)
-Non-Prescription medications, you can find everything here but just keep in mind that they may look and be packaged vastly differently, also the dosage is often different (when I was on pain meds I just ate 50% above the recommended dose as Japanese people are likely smaller than you and need less).
If you don’t speak any Japanese it can often be a challenge to get what you need from a pharmacist. So maybe bring some ibuprofen and you’ll be sweet (yea you can get it here and it’s cheap).

Do NOT Bring!!!
-Food!!! This is retarded, especially in big city’s like Kobe, I can get nearly everything (at a price though) at Costco and Jupiter.
-More than 1 book! Seriously there chunky and not that hard to find.
-Japanese textbooks, again there heavy and you can get genki 1 for 3000¥!! Yasui ne!!

Things that with hindsight I would have done differently……
Sadly enough I find that my biggest regret is my laptop, now I bought a top of the line 3000$ gaming laptop that with the charger and what not comes in at around 6kg.
This was a mistake, again it might be an ESID thing but my JHS not just allows me to bring my laptop to school but expects me to! A week into lugging this beast too and from school I realized the error in my ways….. For starters I have little to no time for gaming in my day to day life. This may be due to the fact that I’m in Kobe and there are more interesting things to do than play on the computer, and perhaps come winter I may be eating my words when I’m cold and bored in my lil apartment, surely if I didn’t have to lug it and I was bored in the inaka all the time my opinion on the laptop issue may have been different but at the moment i just wish every day I brought a lighter PC!!
I also wish I had brought all the prizes I could carry (well in a way I did), to the Aussies those little clip on koalas are worth their weight in gold! Everywhere I go in my JHS I’m followed by girls perpetually whining ‘koala please’, god even kocho-sensei lost her shit over them and has half a dozen hanging off her bamboo feature in her office!
More shampoo and conditioner!!! Somehow this stuff found its way out of my bag during the weight culling period after I noticed I was attempting to bring my weight in luggage, I’m yet to find a Japanese brand I like……

So now onto how exactly the big day of departure is going to go down. Are you from a land down under? Then read on!!! If not well you can read on if it pleases you however the usefulness of the following information will be less than amazing. Anyhow Australians you will be sent over to Tokyo via a Qantas flight economy class, what does this mean for you?

Well your checked in luggage will be limited to one suitcase with a maximum of 23kg bringing a heavier suitcase than this will award you the magical prize of a 50$ heavy surcharge, bring more than one suitcase and you will be given of the honour of winning the major prize of a 150$ extra piece surcharge!!!! Pre-departure make sure your life is packed up into a nice little parcel within these guidelines for checked baggage on the Qantas website unless your looking to set the new high-score for idiocy.

For more information on how much you can with you on the plane refer to the Qantas carry on guidelines, however as a general rule you can really sneak a couple extra kilos on with you if your clever, I personally will be bringing my DSLR case with body and 2 lenses, a backpack loaded to the top and my behemoth of a laptop (its like 7kg with the charger and addition hard drives)

For more good advice on exactly what exactly what should and should not find its way into your suitcase check out this post by Surviving in Japan

Sayonara Andy Sempai (さよならアンディ-先輩)

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Today Kobe looses one of the great JETs as after is second time participating in the JET program he is heading back to the US, over the past couple weeks Andy has been there for me 100% whenever I have needed absolutely anything.

When I was broke and hurt my back he helped me withdraw money from home and took me to the hospital.
When I needed appliances for my house, he spent a whole day taking me shopping to act as my translator to purchase them.
He has constantly answered my every question regarding the Japanese language and culture, and for the that matter life in general, ever pointing me in the right direction.
Finally whenever I have been feeling lonely in my apartment after a long day, it’s been him that has called me and been like ‘hey let’s have a movie night’!

When I arrived in Kobe I made a promise to myself, that I wouldn’t get to know any of the 30 or so departing ALT deeper than superficially. As our relationships would be capped at 2 months in length. Our contracts slightly overlapping with I arriving prematurely and they being on the verge of departure.
Having just gone through the heartbreak of leaving a lifetime of friends and family back home in Australia I certainly less than keen to do it over again.

However there’s always going to be those that slip through the cracks, as sometimes you just meet people who blow you away.

Andy I wish you all the best in whatever life holds in store for you in the future.
Im’a miss ya bro, your truly a gentleman, a scholar and a friend.

Don’t be sad its over, be glad it happened.

-Daniel

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What I made at school today…..

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Well that and reading 7 chapters of Game of Thrones during a compulsory staff meeting I only understood the occasional word of (*^o^*)

I have made all 400 of my JHS students little ‘English passports’ of which they receive ‘visa’s’ for going out of their way to communicate with me in English 英語, for example writing me a letter which they can now ‘post’ to me!!

Injuring Yourself In Japan

Last Friday night during a drunken night on the town, due to some unfortunate combination of an intense storm and being sufficiently inebriated, I managed to loose my footing on some rather steep and slippery steps whilst attempting to enter a bar.
Becoming a human toboggan of sorts I painfully glided down at a speed that would have given those cool runnings kids a run for their money!

Although probably a contributing factor I thank god that I was drunk at the time, because based off how painful my back has been in the past week I’m glad the event itself is nothing more than a hazy memory.

Anyhow I awoke the following morning finding myself completely immobilized by the pain of bending my spine in the slightest, the only thing within reach was my mobile phone which despite it being the wee hours of the morning I used to call my fellow neighboring JETs to come to my aid.
What followed was a long painful morning of icing the red angry lump that had become my spine. Consuming a fistful of painkillers by around 1pm I finally worked up the courage to get out futon bed.

Now the annual Kobe JET leavers sayonara party was on Saturday evening which i certainly didnt want to miss, so I stupidly powered though the pain, smashed a ‘couple’ beers and partied though the night (an action my doctor later condoned).

Alas Sunday evening rolled around and I found myself in a such great deal of pain that I seeked the aid of an all knowing and powerful veteran JET sir Andy who took me to visit a nearby chiropractor.
Now my real issue at the moment is that the KEC have been insanely slow at organizing National Health Insurance (国民健康保険 Kokumin-Kenkō-Hoken) Cards.

Although all my medical treatment will be subsidized eventually, without the card on hand I had to pay the full price up front, to be later refunded the difference once I receive my card.
However this is no help to me in the short term when money is tighhttttt!

Monday morning I grit my teeth, ingested another handful of painkillers and limped my way to school only since I felt obliged as I had an ICP (basically an ALT exchange program where a dozen or more neighboring schools ALTs all visit one school for the day) I unfortunately ended up in a classroom teaching the Macarena which although did my back no favors was certainly meccha fun!
Tuesday morning I eventually admired defeat and after writing a several paragraph long speech in what i presume was barely comprehensible Japanese I called my JHS and explained my situation to Kyoto-sensei (the vice principal), profusely apologizing and asking for Byokyuu 病気休職 (sick leave).
Now this was something I was hoping to avoid as I had previously heard many horror stories from former JETs who took sick leave only to later find that their school had deducted the time off from their Nenkyuu 年休 (annual leave).

Although according to my contract I am entitled to 20 days of Nenkyuu and 20 days of Byokyuu actually taking the latter can cause friction in the office.
This is because Japanese people simply do not ever take sick leave, in Japan gaijin are the only ones that ever do, I believe this comes down to a huge cultural difference in opinion of what leave is for. From a western perspective vacation time is spent on holidays and sick leave is spent when one is too ill to complete their regular duties at work.
This is not how shit goes down in Japan, taking things just because your entitled to them is not kosher in the Japanese thought process, alas if a Japanese employee takes a day off work for whatever reason they will always use their annual leave regardless. Since I am kind of outside this process however I being gaijin I am entitled to exercise my right to take byokuu, I emailed my predecessor who informed me she had handled being sick the Japanese way and simply taken nenkyuu when she couldn’t come into work, so I became worried that my school would not be sympathetic to my twisted spine.

Alas once again I attempted to goto work on Wednesday in order to not aggravate the situation, I was sent home by midday after it became clear i could hardly walk, much to my surprise being firmly told my my OTE to not come back until I was better as health is more important than work. I was soon handed directions to an English speaking hospital from Kyoto-sensei, with the work X-RAY written across the map and sent on my way.

Despite feeling that my back was slowly recovering over the week, the thought that I was walking around with damage to my spine was too much to bear. Alas I eventually caved and headed to the byouin 病院 (hospital) the following day.
Although quite the trek from most JET apartments, for Kobe ALTs Kobe Kaisei Hospital is perhaps the best choice if you find yourself in need of medical aid. The reception staff speak some English and the computers on which you can book your consultations are mostly in English. Furthermore I’m not sure if this is always the case but the specialist I saw spoke fluent English which was very reassuring.

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Anyhow after 2 hours of siting in various waiting rooms at the hospital I was eventually called over by a nurse, who escorted me to a tiny closet of a room. Inside I was given the classic hospital gown to change into and some Japanese slippers. After I had finished the wall on the other side of the room closet reveled itself to be a door leading into a large X-ray studio.

Now contouring myself into the wide array of poses the doctor required of me, when my understanding of his instructions in Japanese were elementary at best proved to be quite the challenge.
However i overcame this hurdle simply by allowing myself to become a limp human rag doll to be physically adjusted by the doctor to get the shots.
Now having had X-rays prior to coming to Japan due to a dodgy back, I was quite surprised at the sheer amount of shots from different angles that were taken. Back home I had 2 X-rays done to assess an issue in the same area, however in Japan apparently they needed 6!!! Needless to say I’m sure I probably have a healthy green glow now and perhaps a couple RAD-X are in order =p

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Following the doctor X-RAYs attempt to microwave me, I was sent on my way to yet another office where another doctor basically told me my spine is perfectly heathy. The pain was simply a result of sever muscular bruising, I was just being a little bitch and needed to man up.
To add salt to the wound (no not literally) he gave me a back brace ward of attacks from students who upon noticing my trouble walking up stairs have taken it upon themselves to poke me in the spine whist chanting daijoubu 大丈夫 (are you ok).

So the next day i was back at school, rocking my uber hip back brace which was ‘very’ visible through my shirt, its not to hard to guess that I was the coolest kid at school. All I needed were some Buddy Holly glasses and braces and the set would have been complete.
No the kids were not understanding or nice about it, they were shit heads because well….. there kids. Luckily my co-workers were slightly more understanding 😄

All in all this whole exercise cost me a couple man 万 (10,000¥), so if you find yourself in need of medical attention before you get you insurance card, well expect that.