Category Archives: Japan

Japanese Cooking Class in Hiroo

Firstly, I apologize to the… 5 people who read this blog for the half-year hiatus. As usual, I blame life – things have been quite hectic these past few months, forcing me to put the brakes on blogging yet again.

So what has finally inspired me to come out of blogging hibernation?

Food, of course.

As you’ve probably already noticed, I love food. Really, huge fan of the stuff. Now, although my sister is the chef in the family, cooking is something that all the women in my family enjoy doing, and I am certainly no exception.

Always eager to learn new recipes and techniques, I decided that I would try to go about learning how to create Japan’s most famous culinary export – sushi.

sushi

To that end, I was quite delighted to learn about Yuka Mazda. Yuka is a Japanese home cook who has been teaching cooking for over 20 years. After a stint living in the UK, she began giving lessons in Western cuisine to Japanese people upon her return to her home country. Eventually, she also started offering Japanese cooking lessons to foreigners out of her home kitchen.

I first meet Yuka at Hiroo Station, where two other students are also waiting. Together, we walk over to Yuka’s apartment – quite spacious, for Tokyo standards – and enter to find a table laid out with various types of fish, vegetables, mirin, komezu (rice vinegar), pickles, and everything else we would need to prepare our Japanese meal.

“I don’t like to spend too much time explaining things, because then you’ll get bored,” she begins, with a slight British inflection. Instead, she would prefer we learn by getting our hands dirty and diving right in.

And dive in, we do. Yuka begins each step of the process by demonstrating what needs to be done, and then we each take turns cutting maguro and salmon, deveining ebi, seasoning rice, preparing several makizushi, nigirizushi, and even the Western-style uramaki. It’s a veritable sushi-making boot camp, albeit an enjoyable one. And after assembling one roll after another, it’s hard not to get the hang of it. Since there are only three of us in the class, we each get a lot of attention from Yuka. She’s quick to correct mistakes, although she doesn’t hover too much — she gives us a chance to try things for ourselves.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

Throughout the class, Yuka is clear in pointing out what is traditional and non-traditional, as well as some background information on the ingredients themselves, but also encourages us to take these newly learned techniques and make our own creations, incorporating ingredients from our home countries.

Before the class is concluded, Yuka prepares the table with nihonshu (sake), as well the tofu, miso soup and sushi we prepared during the class.

Even if you’re a klutz in the kitchen, I highly recommend taking a class with Yuka. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up returning recently with my mother-in-law who also wanted to learn how to make sushi, although this time, I opted for the daifuku course).

Daifuku -- Japanese sweets.

Daifuku — Japanese sweets.

You’ll learn a new skill, and at the very least, gain a greater appreciation for the sushi that you scarf down at your local kaitenzushi.

Information:

Website: Cooking School YUKA MAZDA
Price: ¥4,800 – ¥8,000

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Nara with Deer Friends (Nara, Japan)

I’m terribly sorry for the pun, but I really couldn’t resist. Hey, it could have been worse — my alternate title choice was something along the lines of “I’m so fawned of Nara.” (Get it?!)

A few months ago (this blog post is waaay overdue), Edu and I had a chance to revisit the Kansai area, this time with a couple friends who were visiting from the US. We planned a weekend stay in Osaka, but as Nara was closeby (the train ride from Osaka to Nara was less than an hour), we couldn’t resist venturing a day trip to the historic city.

En route to Osaka via shinkansen.

Early morning view from the shinkansen to Osaka.

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Another Reason Why I Love Japan

There are so many wonderful things about Japan, but after what happened today, my admiration for the land of the rising sun has been cemented forever.

Last night, Edu and I were around Shinjuku Station following a nomikai (drinking party), when we decided to grab a late night dinner at McDonald’s. As the last train had already come and gone, this meant that we would need to take a cab back home. Anyway, this morning, as I was heading out for work, I realized that my wallet was missing. I didn’t know the name of the cab company we took, and I honestly couldn’t recall whether or not I even had my wallet with me when we exited the taxi. After desperately rummaging through the apartment, I finally resigned myself to the fact that I must have dropped it somewhere between the McDonald’s in Shinjuku and my apartment in Shibuya ward. 

One good thing that came out of this was that I learned the word for wallet in Japanese: 財布 (saifu).

One good thing that came out of this was that I learned the word for wallet in Japanese: 財布 (saifu).

After going to the koban (local police station) to file a missing articles report, I walked back home, retracing my steps from the previous night.

To my surprise, I noticed that one of the delivery lockers in the mail room had my apartment number on it, indicating that there was a package or something inside for me.

And there it was — my missing wallet, perfectly intact, with all of my cash still inside.

Someone must have found it, and then taken the time to deliver it back to my apartment.

In no other country (at least, none that I’ve lived in) would this ever happen. At best, back home, someone would return your wallet, but expect some sort of reward for doing so. Whoever had found my wallet didn’t even leave any contact information for me to thank them.

That’s it. It’s decided. I am staying here forever. I am raising my children here, and they will be decent human beings because Japan is the best country on earth. 

I ♥ Japan.

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A Super Quick Look at the PlayStation Vita TV

Last month, I received a small consolation for having to wait until February to buy a PlayStation 4 (Japan is the last territory to get the PS4). At FromSoftware’s bōnenkai (Japanese end-of-year drinking party), I was lucky enough to come away with a brand-spankin’ new PlayStation Vita TV (one of the perks of working at a video game studio, I suppose).

Released last November, so far, it’s only available in Japan, although I’ve heard that it’s also set to launch this month in a couple more Asian countries.

I realize now that this photo makes no sense at all. I should have also mentioned that we won some Nintendo 3DS games at the party raffle as well. We were both clearly more excited about the Vita TV.

The cool thing about the PS Vita TV is that, as the name suggests, you can hook it up to your TV and play Vita games with a DualShock controller.

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Unboxed.

My best hand modeling.

My best hand modeling.

It’s no PS4, but it is pretty neat. Plus, at least now I’ll have something to tide me over until next month.

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Oshōgatsu in Tokyo

皆さん、明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Like last year, I was sadly not able to go back home for the holidays. However, it wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as it gave me the opportunity to experience New Year’s in Japan for the first time. It was quite wonderful seeing a different culture’s take on a familiar holiday.  Oshōgatsu (Japanese New Year) in Japan is definitely a more family-oriented holiday than it is in Canada. Most businesses are closed from the 1st to the 3rd of January, and so everyone takes the opportunity to spend time with their families and engage in the numerous customs associated with oshōgatsu.  For our first New Year’s in Japan, we were able to take part in one of those traditions — hatsumōde, the first shrine or temple visit of the year.

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Kōyō in Kyōto

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Kōyō (紅葉)

Kōyō (紅葉) refers to the colourful leaves that dominate the landscape in the autumn. Kōyō viewing is a very popular fall activity throughout Japan. With this in mind, we timed our trip to Kyoto specifically to catch the kōyō season, and ended up with more pictures of trees and leaves than I normally take when traveling (and that’s saying something, considering how many tree pictures I usually take).

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Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 ), Kyoto

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Markets are among my favourite places to visit in any city. They are wonderful place to try new and interesting food, mingle with the locals, and immerse yourself in the culture. With only three days in the Kyoto, we budgeted out an entire day in our itinerary solely devoted to exploring Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 Nishiki Market).

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Ambling through Arashiyama

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Our second day in Kyoto, we headed over to Arashiyama (嵐山) on the other side of town. This day was much less planned than our previous day in Kyoto, believe it or not. In a similar vein, our plan was to get off at Saga-Arashiyama Station and wing it from there.

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A Day in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

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I suppose one of the reasons why I haven’t been blogging as much as I originally intended is because life in Tokyo is really starting to feel normal. Although I was wide-eyed and easily amazed by everything around me when I first landed in the city, now the vending machines, the lights, the clean streets, the arcades, even the Engrish t-shirts are all remarkably ordinary.

And so after four months in Tokyo, it was super refreshing to be able to slip back into tourist mode for a few days for a weekend getaway in Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan for over 1000 years, Kyoto has a rich cultural history and I was very eager to get a chance to explore another part of the country.

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Carasawagi Night

から騒ぎBar

I know I’ve been slacking lately in terms of regularly updating the blog, and I’m not entirely sure it’s clear yet from the few blog posts that I have written, but just in case there is any doubt, I would just like to say, that I really, really love Tokyo. Tokyo is easily the best city that I have ever lived in. The convenience stores are actually convenient, the streets are clean, the city is safe, and food is amazing. However, my favourite thing about Tokyo is the people.  Almost everyone we’ve encountered so far has been really kind and friendly. It’s because of the people that a couple kanji-illiterate gaijin like us have been able to get around so easily in the city. It’s because of the people that a night of after-work drinks could evolve into an impromptu jam session with an entire bar full of strangers.

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