The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 14 – Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋

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Bringing you yet another yatsuhashi instalment of The Mochi Diaries, this is Chapter 14: Haru Yatsuhashi 春八つ橋.

The Mochi Diaries are now a monthly feature in the ‘Hyogo Times’, you can find this article published on their website HEREPhoto 2013-04-16 午前7 25 42

Although the sakura have come and gone, spring is certainly in the air and all over Japan at the moment (my hayfever can attest to that) and so during a recent trip to Osaka I decided to pick up a box of the spring themed variety of yatsuhashi (speciality mochi of Kyoto, see chapter 2). The box contained two separate and unique sakura flavoured variations alongside the more traditional cinnamon and matcha flavours.

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Sakura Mochi Fuumi Yatsuhashi – 桜餅風味八つ橋 (cherry blossom yatsuhashi)

Now these guys are basically a yatsuhashi themed take on ‘sakura mochi’, a popular spring time sweet. Pink in colour and containing a sweet red bean filling, sakura mochi come wrapped in an edible salted sakura leaf. Being quite a fan of said seasonal mochi offerings (they come with my highest recommendation) how were the yatsuhashi going to stack up in comparison?? Unfortunately I’m going to have to admit not particularly well. Aesthetically they are quite attractive, the usual yatsuhashi fair, less than opaque mochi with a pale pink sakura flavoured centre peeking through. The taste, however, was less than amazing. Although remaining faithful to the delicate texture that makes yatsuhashi what it is, I really found the ‘sakura’ aspect to be much too subtle and entirely underwhelming. If anything the entire time I was eating them I felt like I was chewing a slightly sweetened pillow that by all rights should have been amazing! A nice yet insufficient addition was the inclusion of a couple of sakuradzuke 桜漬け (pickled cherry blossoms) which added a nice, salty contrast. Regardless, next spring I’ll pass.

2/5

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Sakura Koshian 桜こしあん(cherry blossom with sweet red bean paste)

 

As opposed to the sakura centre of the version above, these ones instead had a sakura inspired mochi coating around a more or less kosher red bean filling. Once again though, I found the sakura to be too underwhelming, leaving them more or less indistinguishable from their cinnamon counterparts. They were rather pretty (again) from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, sporting an appealing pale pink colouring which was rather fitting for the season. At the end of the day however, I was far from impressed. I had thought it was pretty hard to screw up the winning formula that makes yatsuhashi what it is, apparently I was mistaken. That aside, they are still perfectly edible, I just personally wouldn’t be giving these ones in particular as an omiyage to anyone I really liked!All said and done, I still ate them all hungrily, but in the future I’ll stick with the ever-reliable cinnamon variety.

Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ

???????????????? Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ is a 5 week event that is run by the city of Iga 伊賀市 in Mie prefecture 三重県 from April 1 to May 6 each year. When the suggestion came about to hire a car with a couple friends and drive down for the weekend I was more than keen to get my ninja on!

337 Departing in the wee hours of the morning we made the trip from Kobe to Iga (around 130km) in about 3 hours taking the extremely expensive toll roads and at times thinking we were going to die due to the ‘skilful’ driving of ‘Lady Wei’. Generally its crazy to drive in Japan due to the cost, however with 4 people in the car the split cost was comparable to what the train fare would have been and far easier since Iga is fairly inaka. 332 Post arrival we were met up with another 20 or so JETs from across Kansai who had also been invited to participate in the days festivities, before being greeted by the Iga city JET who took us to the city hall where we would receive our ninja costumes for the day! 325 Now I assure you although the ninja garb appears to be quite simple, each outfit was made up of 9 separate parts that needed to me meticulously put on in just the right way, lets just say thank god they had helper ninjas to dress the clueless gaijin XD 243 MokuMoku Farm& Ninja Museum 152 ninjamuseum2007lg After suiting up the city had organized a walking ninja tour for us, which included a stop at the Iga Ninja Museum 伊賀流忍者博物館. Dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu, it showcases a wide array of genuine ninja tools and weaponry, in addition it contains a model ninja village where we were lead around by female ninja who demonstrated all the secrets of the house that could be used in case of intruders, such as hidden weapons, secret doors and deadly traps! 253 258 After the tour of the village concluded, our next stop was a live ninja show! Hilariously cheesy it featured shuriken throwing demonstrations and a number of mock ninja battles demonstrating the various ninja fighting techniques and weaponry. The best part being that with each fictional kick, punch or sword slash there was an accompanying ninja battle sound effect and often smoke bombs! ALL THE WINNING!

The afternoon we occupied with heading up to Iga Ueno Castle 伊賀上野城, a cute little castle perched upon a hill, its elegent design resulted in it often being refered to as White Phoenix Castle however it is a reconstruction of the original that was destroyed by a storm in the 16th century. 280 313 319 273 Whilst up on the hill we decided to take some fun ninja battle photos XD 379 380 To conclude the days festivities, we headed to the ninja café to sample some ‘ninja deserts’ with our fellow ALTs come ninja. The four of us decided upon the shinobi parfait 忍びパフェ, the café’s speciality which came with an edible shuriken 手裏剣 (throwing star). 352 348 We were also meccha lucky to run into the actors into the actors from the ninja show outside of the café who posed to take some photos with us *^^* 234 245 During the festival the entire city of Iga is filled with these ninja mannequins that are hidden everywhere you look. IMG_1842 Finally although it was very convenient for us to drive since we saved a huge amount of time and headaches with transfers, I would have liked to had had the chance to ride the ‘ninja train’ LOOK HOW KAWAII IT IS!!! (and free for ninja to ride during the festival. If your ever in Kansai around April head down to Iga, its certainly worth the trip to the countryside to get to be ninja for a day!

Italian Mintia イタリアンミンティア Reviews

For the spring season of 2013 Mintia released two Italian inspired flavors. Being quite the advocate of anything Mintia I purchased both the moment I saw them.
In terms of packaging both feature their respective fruit flavors depicted in the style of stained glass, which I presume is a play on the windows which commonly ordain gothic cathedrals.

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Mintia – Italian Lemon
ミンティア – イタリアンレモン

This flavor I find reminiscent of the lemon Ice Breaker equivalent, however where their competitors punch a tasty sour kick these seem to fizzle in comparison. That said, although I find the taste to be a little underwhelming for my liking, they are still not bad at all.
I also am quite fond of the packaging as well as the lemon yellow color of the candy themselves.
Perhaps I just purchased then for the novelty of a new mintia flavor as I typically do but I think they are worth a couple repeat purchases before they are phased out.
A subtle lemony offering from mintia this spring. 3.5/5

If you were interested in what the writing on the packaging says it as follows:

100%レモン果汁入りアロマビーズ + レモンフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% lemon juice + lemon flavored chips.

The little red box says
シチリア産レモン果汁配合
Blended with Sicilian lemon juice

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Mintia – Italian Grape
ミンティア – イタリアングレープ

Grape flavor is not something particularly groundbreaking for mintia and I have already sampled 2 other grape offerings from them. The packaging on these guys however seemed to be a little preachy as to how authentic and fruit filled these are. Honestly I think they might be compensating a little, that said they are not at all bad. The white colored candy are filled with tiny little specks that aparwntly are a mix of grape ‘chips’ and ‘grape juice aroma beads’. Much like the lemon ones I was left wishing for a slightly more pronounced upfront flavor, however in comparison to the regular grape mintia I think these come out on top. For a tasty ‘allegedly’ Cabernet Italian grape experience they get my recommendation! 4/5

Again the translation for the grape flavors packaging:

100%カベルネ果汁入りアロマビーズ + グレプフレーバーチップ配合
Includes a combination of aroma beads containing 100% cabernet grape juice + grape flavored chips.

The little red box on this one says
イタリア産カベルネ果汁配合
Blended with Italian cabernet grape juice

My Very First Earthquake 私の最初の地震

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So this morning I was awoken at around 5:30am by a queer shaking and an emergency beeping sound coming from my phone. Disorientated from sleep the first thoughts that came to my mind to comprehend what was happening was either I was dreaming, seizuring or this is an earthquake!

Later this morning I discovered that it was in fact quite large at 6.0 magnitude striking at 5:33am near Awaji island in the Seto Inland Sea southwest Kobe, from where I live the quake was felt at around 3.5 magnitude.

The most amusing part of the ordeal was within 2 minutes of waking up, my phone began to echo said earthquake in an hour long constant stream of updates on facebook and texts threads, if there is anything that can wake up the entire Kobe JET community and get them on facebook at 5:30am on a Saturday morning, its a couple seconds of relatively gentle vibrating.

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On a more serious note however, Kobe is pretty much renowned for two things when mentioned to those who don’t live in Japan, Kobe beef and Great Hanshin earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1995, and levelled the city of Kobe where I live. Echoing this mornings tremors, its focus was was located 16 km beneath its epicentre on the northern end of Awaji Island, 20 km away from Kobe. All Kobe JETs are required to visit The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Museum as part of our orientation shortly after beginning our contracts so we all have an understanding of the seriousness of earthquakes in Japan and the steps taken to reduce their devastation  the following are a couple photos of just how much damage was done to Kobe almost 20 years ago.

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 13 – Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) Namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋

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Welcome to Chapter 13 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記), in this post I shall be introducing Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋!

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It’s almost as if I never run out of yatsuhashi to review, there are just so many varieties and I how I love them so ( ^ω^ )
So every time I head up to Kyoto I always end up coming home with a box! Last year I took a to trip to Arashiyama 嵐山 a rather pretty district of western Kyoto for a day of momijigari 紅葉狩り(Autumn leaves viewing) with some friends. On the way home I picked up this box of Honeyapple yatsuhashi as I had yet to give the flavour a try.

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A note in regards to the packaging, breaking away from the norm the box was squarish with 2 layers of yatsuhashi as opposed to the usual long rectangular box, not that that stopped me opening the second packet soon as I finished the first one however (≧∇≦)

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Now these look more or less identical to the Kuri yatsuhashi 栗八つ橋 (chestnut) that I reviewed a couple weeks ago here.
That said the filling was radically different from any yatsuhashi I have ever tried before, I would consider these Japanese inspired mochi rather than anything traditional to say the least. Most Japanese sweets tend to go easy on the sweetness front most of the time, these however were very sweet and appley, the taste was quite reminiscent of apple pie filling, whilst maintaining the regular yatsuhashi texture and all in all incredibly delicious to the point where I ate the entire box in one sitting!!

058_1200x800They make for a tasty Aki 秋 (Autumn) treat and im’a give them 4.25/5.

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

Mochi Diaries: Chapter 12 – Ichigo Daifuku苺大福

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Mintia Tokyo Skytree Limited Edition

During my visit to Tokyo Skytree a while back I was delighted to spot these limited edition Skytree Mintia flavours on offer in the gift shop as I’m quite the advocate of all things Mintia!
I purchased each if the 3 flavours on offer, Peach, Green Tea Mint and Grape. Oddly as opposed to the regular packaging, all 3 had their names boldly written in English with a small furigana translation underneath. I suppose this is to cater to the large amount of foreign tourists that would be visiting the tower.
The peach and green tea mint flavours are new and although there is regular grape flavored Mintia I was interested to see how the Skytree variation would compare.

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Mintia – Peach
もも

Ok seriously these thing are fucking amazing!! In fact it pains me to know that I can’t obtain any more of them without returning to Tokyo!! Honestly from the moment you pop one in your mouth it feels like you have just taken a bite of a tasty ripe peach! I can not sing these things high enough praise, my only complaint is that compared to other Mintia I felt these dissolved a lot faster. Perfect!!!!
5/5

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Mintia – Green Tea Mint
グリーンティーミント

From the moment I opened these I was impressed simply by by their colour, giving me very authentic matcha 抹茶 (powdered Japanese green tea) vibe from the get go.
Much more subtle in flavour than the peach ones and mildly minty, being a huge matcha fan it’s hard to disappoint with such a flavour. That said I usually shy away from anything minty but these really hit the spot, if more mints tasted like this I’d be sure to invest in them more often!!
Tasty, minty with hints of matcha, a winner in my books.
4/5

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Mintia – Grape
ぶどう

Honestly save for being a slight shade of yellow as opposed the white of the regular grape flavoured Mintia, I really could not discern any notable difference between the two which I tried one after the other. Perhaps the Skytree variant tasted a tad more authentic grapey and less artificial but that could have just been my imagination. Regardless I thoroughly enjoyed the originals and these just as much so. 4/5

All in all I get the feeling that the Skytree Mintia flavours are a higher quality than the regular kind. Although slightly more expensive (131円) they are well worth the price, I only regret I didn’t purchase more!!!!

Taiikusai 体育祭 (Sports Festival) 2012

A couple weeks ago my base Junior high school and 2 Elementary schools had their annual sports festivals. At shougakko 小学校 (elementary school) it is referred to as an Undoukai 運動会 and at chuugakko 中学校 (Junior high school) it’s a Taiikusai 体育祭.

I was lucky enough to attend both….. well in truth at least at the JHS level I had no say in the matter as it is part of my job.

Unlike their western equivalents the sports festivals in Japan are taken nothing short of absolutely seriously.
The event is typically run on a Saturday, with the day off being passed over to the following Monday.
Leading up to the even students have many classes dedicated to training, creating banners and rehearsing intricate marches for the day.
In fact classes are typically set aside the day before the Taiikusai to run a full rehearsal of the schedule.

Like most things in Japan, everyone is equal and participation is mandatory.
Lets just say they really drive home the team spirit at these things.
In JHS students are divided up into teams based upon their grade level and class, each set upon their most artistic classmates the task of creating an elaborate banner.
The following are a couple of my favourites (^∇^)

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In ES the entire student body is broken into 2 large teams each student either being assigned Shirogumi 白組 (White Team) or Akagumi 紅組 (Red Team) accordingly who will face off against each other in comedic sports battles throughout the day.

Being the avid amateur photographer that I am an awful lot I photos were taken throughout the day, unfortunately I can’t freely post students faces to the interwebs without permissions so forgive my crude ‘editing’ to keep them anonymous.

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A couple photos from the opening ceremony

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Raising of the Japanese flag

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Morning warm-ups

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3-legged Race

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Weight lifting endurance

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Me running in the relay race against my students!

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Giant skipping rope

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Half time Ouendan 応援団 (Japanese Cheer Squad)

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Half time suisougakudan 吹奏楽団 (Brass Band)

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Track and Field Club 陸上部

In the afternoon the students paraded around the oval donned in their respective clubs uniforms.

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Kendo Club 剣道部

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Girls Tennis Club 女子テニス部

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Table Tennis Club 卓球部 (poor kids the only member)

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Basketball Club バスケットボール部

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Boys Tennis Club 男子テニス部

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Baseball Club 野球部

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The whole lot marching

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Club Uniform Baton Race (kendo club has a 100m head start to compensate the weight of running in full bogu, track and field starts 100m behind as they their club specializes in sprinting.)

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Students vs PTA (Parent Teachers Association) Tug-of-war

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Kumitaiso 組体操

Here are a couple photos from one of my shougakko’s 小学校 (elementary school) Undoukai 運動会, rather than being centered around individual competition, the focus is more on teamwork with the kids playing dozens of crazy games. Also instead of being segregated by year level and class the entire team is split into 2 huge teams Akagumi 紅組 (Red Team) and Shirogumi 白組 (White Team).

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Giant Ball Race

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In addition to the events the students also put on acrobatic type shows for the spectators that they practice for many weeks preceding the event.

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The 5-6grade students annually do a kumitaiso 組体操 (coordinated group gymnastics) performance in which teams form pyramids or other shapes.

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For the finale the kids form a 4 story pyramid, was freakin crazy and chotto dangerous…..

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WINNING!!