Halloween 2012!!

After 2 weekend of Halloween parties in Kobe and Osaka it’s safe to say I’m Halloweened out! A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join a krew dressing as nigirizushi for Halloween.

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The Saturday prior to Halloween a couple dozen of us pilgrimaged to Amemura アメリカ村 (America Village) in Osaka the Friday following we did it all over again for the annual Kobe JET Halloween party at IZNT in Sannomiya.

Here’s a couple of photos from both!

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 7 – Ninja (Kusa) Dango 草餅

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Today I bring to the table The Mochi Diaries Chapter 7 – Ninja (Kusa) Dango 草餅

As a foreword this mochi doesn’t actually have anything to do with ninja, in fact rather than mochi todays review is on kusa dango 草団子 (grass dango). Dango whilst being almost identical to mochi is a separate type of wagashi, generally speaking the difference is that mochi is made by pounding glutinous rice into a dough where as dango is made by adding water to mochiko 餅粉 (glutinous rice flour) and boiling or grilling the resulting dough.

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Now the reason I suspect for the whole ninja packaging is due to the fact that kusa 草 the kanji for grass, though in modern Japanese it is now an archaic reading 草 was once  could be read to mean ‘ninja’, so it’s essentially a pun.

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Unlike any mochi 餅 or dango 団子 I have reviewed thus far, as opposed to the usual mochi outer layer filled with a sweet centre (usually azuki あずき) this kusa dango lies on a bed of anko 餡こ (sweetened red bean paste).

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Rather than just popping them in your mouth, a small a small spoon is provided to scoop the dango up with a little anko on the side.
Fair nomnomnom 3.5/5

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Now as a little bonus, if you have never seen one of these before its a kakigoori かき氷 (shaved ice) machine. During the summer I became somewhat addicted to these delicious treats as they are a great way to cool down. Popular matsuri 祭 (festival) snacks, they come in a wide array of flavours.

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Using the kusa dango I decided to make the traditional ujikintoki kakigori which is topped with sweetened red bean paste, dango and often capped with condensed milk.

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 6 – Goma Yatsuhashi 胡麻 八つ橋

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 8 – Kuri Yatsuhashi 栗八つ橋

Next ———>

First Nabe of the Winter 冬の鍋物

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First nabe 鍋 (Japanese hotpot) for the seasons with my friends last week whist sewing our Halloween costumes.

Nihonomnom 100 Posts

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After almost 6 months in the orient today I punch out my 100th post.
I’v certainly come a long way since stepping off that plane. Thanks to all my readers! Look forward to the next 100!
*・゜゚・*:.。..。.:*・'(*゚▽゚*)’・*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・*

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Tokyo Alcatraz E.R.

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During my visit to Tokyo we visited Alcatraz ER, a jail/hospital themed theater restaurants in Shibuya.
I came across the place during a previous trip to Japan in 2006 and now finally returning I had my heart set on experiencing it.

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The camera flash really ruins the spooky atmosphere of the place but its much to dark inside to take photos without them.

Upon arriving guests are ‘admitted’ to the restaurant ‘sexy nurses’ ask one member of each party their symptoms (an imagined affliction), before being handcuffed and led to a cell where the dining takes place to be ‘locked up’. The actual dining booths are convincing jail cells little more than a meter in height, in order to call a waitress for service one takes an iron bar and racks it across the bars of cell, as this happens quite frequently the constant rattling of the cells around you adds to the spookiness of the atmosphere.

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The drinks are an experience in themselves, the top one being a banana yogurt cocktail (with extra cock) when served the waitress has a syringe full of condensed milk she dribbled over the ‘head’ of the severed member.

The beers are also quite the novelty, we ordered a liter jug that was served in a urinal bedpan, looking quite convincing and frothy.

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Even the snacks they served whilst we waited for our food were hospital themed, mini Senbei resembling pills in a little paper cup pill cup.

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Although we ordered quite few dishes ill post a couple I found amusing, the salad was suppose to resemble an eyeball, filled with extremely oddly textured tomato flavored jelly.

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These 2 dishes, takoyaki and shuumai respectively were off the ‘Russian roulette’ section of the menu with one of each of being filled with karashi 辛子 (hot Japanese mustard) that i accidentally ate in both without so much batting an eyelid (let’s be honest guys if you going to advertise something as being spicy with 7 chillies next to the description at least make it hot!)

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Finally we got this breast shaped flavored fried rice with umeboshi 梅干(salted Japanese plums) for nipples much to fathers amusement.

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Even the bathrooms were quite horrific, again ruined by the flash but the male one is lit by a black light with gore spread across the walls glowing in an eerier purple haze.
Such dim lighting makes a trip to the bathroom quite the challenge particularly if you have had a couple beers but makes for an interesting experience.

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A quite cool little sendoff they give you is the diagnosis and cure for the symptoms you had when arriving as well as the pills (mints) containing the cure.

Look at the end of the day it was quite an interesting experience, the food was nothing special and the drinks nothing special. That said its not crazy priced or anything (about 7000円 for 3 of us with drinks), coming on a week night I think it was all toned down a little and would like to return on a weekend, online I had seen videos of mid meal ‘prisoner escapes’ with costumed actors running through the corridors but we saw nothing of the sort.

Regardless it gets my おすすめ for a spooky night out!

Bunkasai 文化祭 Australia Table

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Last weekend was the Bunkasai 文化祭(Cultural Festival) at my chuugakko 中学校 (Junior High School). This was the Australian culture table I put together to teach visitors to the school about my country.
A few weeks ago I applied for a Australia education kit from the Australian consulate in Japan and they sent me a cricket bag loaded to the brim with useful resources like flags, books and uniforms!!!!

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Azuki Kinako Shortbread Cookies

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Always having been quite the avid baker, ever since arriving in Japan I have been experimenting with new Japanese flavours and ingredients I either was unable to acquire back home or had never even heard of!

Not just baking but cooking also, over the past 6 months my skills in the kitchen have gone from cooking the most basic of curries to basically anything that might take my fancy if I have the means to google a recipe.

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Here is the recipe to whip up a batch of Azuki 小豆 Kinako 黄粉 Shortbread Cookies that I baked.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup kinako (roasted soybean flour)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
250 grams unsalted butter
250 grams azuki (sweet red beans)

Method
1. Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes until fluffy with an electric mixer.
2. Fold flour, kinako, and salt into butter mixture, mixing only until it disappears into the dough. You don’t want to work the dough too much once the flour is added so use a wooden spoon.
3. Fold in azuki paste in a similar fashion.
3. Scoop mixture into a ziplock bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, using a rolling pin roll the dough into a half a cm thick rectangle. Once your done seal the bag, pressing out all the air and freeze for 30 minutes. You may keep the dough in this stage up to two days.
4. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
5. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open, discard the bag and using a sharp knife, cut the dough into small rectangles or use a cookie cutter like I did (mine were hearts). Transfer the cookies to a baking sheets and carefully prick each one four times with a fork.
6. Bake for 15 to 16 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. This recipe makes about 20 cookies.

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Note that if you live outside if Japan/Korea/China kinako and azuki may be hard to come by, but even these can be made from scratch.

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Here’s the finished product, half I dusted with additional kinako flour and the the others served with sweetened Kabocha 南瓜 (Pumpkin) paste.

Halloween Jack ‘o lantern drawings

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My Halloween lesson plan at my JHS had my students creating their own original Jack ‘o Lantern characters. A couple of my 3年生 (Year 9) girls were inspired by me in their character design XD

Japanese Autumn Beers 2012

Being a country that is ever enthusiastic about the turning of the seasons, there are many Japanese cuisines that are strongly tied to each and beers are no exception.

With the coming of Aki 秋 (Autumn) three of the largest breweries Kirin, Asahi and Suntory released seasonal variants of their flagship beers.

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Kirin Aki Aji 秋味 (Autumn Flavour)

Compared to many other Japanese beers which tend to be weak, inoffensive and forgettable. Kirin Aki Aji 秋味 (Autumn Flavour) was a nice change, being a lager it tasted like something akin to an Asahi dry, the mouth-feel quite strong and dominating. Was quite a full bodied beer, with a deep golden colour and a good amount of head, leaving the mouth with a slightly bitter after-taste. At 6% alcohol the content is slightly noticeable and lets just say I can’t imagine the average Japanese businessman being able to throw back too many.

Compared to the other autumn seasonal beers, the Kirin offering was about 35% more expensive at 217¥ a can since it is real beer. Would I be drinking it again through the autumn season though? Well probably not as it’s a tad expensive and calorie ridden, also I have lived in Japan long enough to become accustomed to bland tasteless beers so this is a bit too strong for my palate.

3.5/5

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Asahi Akiyoi 秋宵 (Autumn Evening)

Asahi Akiyoi 秋宵 (Autumn Evening) is the autumn offering from the ever popular Asahi brewery, like the other Japanese Autumn brews it too comes in themed packaging with the seasonal slightly elevated alcohol content of 6%.
At only 141¥ a can as opposed to the somewhat pricey Kirin Autumn Brew, Asahi Akiyoi scored points in my books from the get-go! However the cheaper price is actually because this is a ‘third-category beer’ know in Japan as dai-san no biru 第三のビール第三のビール (or Daisan for short).

Basically alcoholic beverages in Japan are taxed on a sliding scale not according to alcoholic content but in fact the malt content!  ‘Second category’ Japanese beer known as happoshu 発泡酒, which is a term referring to a beer-like beverage with less than 67% malt content, these beverages fall into the lower tax category and are priced accordingly. The ‘third-category beer’ or ‘dai-san no biru’ has no malth malt at all and is instead made using substitute ingredients such as peas, corn and soy beans. Unfortunately more often than not happoshu and dai-san no biru beverages are less than tasty sporting an unpleasant metallic like taste.

Anyhow the beer itself was a light straw colour, smooth and refreshing with a very strong carbonation  that said nothing amazing. Its kind of worrying how a beer with a 6% alcohol content can be so easy drinking however so if you cross paths with this one go easy 😛

3/5

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Suntory Akiraku 秋楽 (Easy Autumn)

Last and possibly least is Suntory’s Akiraku 秋楽 (Easy Autumn), despite the alluring packaging, dark maple colouring and short lived creamy head, shortly after cracking it open it quickly went flat leaving it unappealing and tasteless.

Similar to the Asahi Akiyoi it was priced at ¥141, as this is in fact once again not real beer but another Daisan (third-category beer) being made from roasted malt. Along with the other Autumn beers it sports an alcohol content of 6%, although not entirely undrinkable its hardly worth the yennies, would be best to give this one a miss.

2/5

二十四節季 Nijushi Sekki

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This morning I was rudely awoken in the wee hours by whining winds. Grumpily I dragged myself out of bed and looked over to my calendar, glancing the date to be October 23.
A little note Soukou 霜降 sat in the box meaning ‘descent of frost’ thinking of the storm raging outside my window I chuckled to myself and though ‘yeah sounds about right’.

Unlike much of Asia the Gregorian calendar has been in use in Japan since 1873 when it superseded the Chinese lunisolar calendar which had been in place for almost 1200 years.

The Chinese calendar divided one solar year into twenty-four points signifying significant celestial events such as solstices, equinoxes and the beginning of the seasons or natural phenomenon. In Japanese these are referred to as Nijushi Sekki 二十四節季 and are still retain some importance in modern society.

The Nijushi Sekki or seasonal days are as follows:

Risshun (立春): February 4—Beginning of spring

Usui (雨水): February 18—Rain water

Keichitsu (啓蟄): March 5—Awakening of Insects (from hibernation)

Shunbun (春分): March 20—Vernal equinox, middle of spring

Seimei (清明): April 4—Clear and bright (skies)

Kokuu (穀雨): April 20—Grain rain

Rikka (立夏): May 5—Beginning of summer

Shōman (小満): May 21—Grain Fills

Bōshu (芒種): June 5—Grain in Ear

Geshi (夏至): June 21—Summer Solstice, middle of summer

Shōsho (小暑): July 7—Little Heat

Taisho (大暑): July 23—Great Heat

Risshū (立秋): August 7—Beginning of Autumn

Shosho (処暑): August 23—End of Heat

Hakuro (白露): September 7—Descent of White Dew

Shūbun (秋分): September 23—Autumnal Equinox, middle of Autumn

Kanro (寒露): October 8—Cold Dew

Sōkō (霜降): October 23—Descent of Frost

Rittō (立冬): November 7—Beginning of winter

Shōsetsu (小雪): November 22—Little Snow

Taisetsu (大雪): December 7—Great Snow

Tōji (冬至): December 22—Winter Solstice, middle of Winter

Shōkan (小寒): January 5— Little Cold

Daikan (大寒): January 20—Great Cold

Many zassetsu days occur in multiple seasons:

Setsubun (節分) prefers to the day before each season, or the eves of Risshun 立春 (Spring), Rikka 立夏(Summer), Risshuu 立秋 (Autumn), and Rittou 立冬 (Winter). However it is most commonly attributed the day before the first day of spring (risshun). Setsubun falls on the 3rd or the 4th of February on the calendar today.

Doyō (土用) refers to the 18 days before each season, especially the one before fall which is known as the hottest period of a year.

Higan (彼岸) is the seven middle days of spring and autumn, with Shunbun at the middle of the seven days for spring, Shūbun for fall.

Shanichi (社日) is the Tsuchinoe (戊?) day closest to Shunbun (middle of spring) or Shūbun (middle of fall), which can be as much as −5 to +4 days away from Shunbun/Shūbun.

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