The “Kiwi Brothers” take Japan

Go into any Japanese supermarket’s “Fruit and Vegetable” section and I guarantee that you’ll find a stack of kiwifruits larger than that of cherries, apples and oranges combined. Over the last couple of years overall fruit sales have fallen by 10% in Japan. But according to the Fresh Fruit Portal, kiwifruit sales have grown by a third in two seasons. In fact the Japanese market accounts for 16% of global sales.

In Japan, fruit isn’t cheap. It’s actually a bloody ripoff. A single apple can cost anywhere from 150 yen (£1.02) to 400 yen (£2.72). Meanwhile a decent melon can cost up to 3000 yen (£20) and even higher. But do these steep prices account for a tastier fruit? Not really, and that’s why many Japanese people don’t buy much fresh fruit these days. Even cakes topped with strawberries are noticeably more expensive than those without. 

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Public Enemy #1: Japan’s Humidity

We’ve just had our first typhoon of the year. Nothing serious, but this entire week has been so bloody humid and wet. This is typical of Japan’s wet season (tsuyu 梅雨) and its the absolutely worst. After living here for four years, I’ve yet to get accustomed to the country’s summer climate. And I don’t think I ever will. From June to September, Japan experiences everything; increasing humidity, heatwaves, tropical storms, typhoons and migrating jellyfish. 

Yesterday was absolute nightmare. The trains were delayed by forty minutes, even though it wasn’t particularly raining hard.  I missed the school bus, which normally gives me a lift up the hill to the school. So I arrived as if I’d just climbed Mt.Fuji and trekked through the Amazon Rainforest ; a sweaty, wet mess. The teacher greeted me with “It’s a bit hot today, right?”, I sarcastically replied with “Ah, no. I’m fine, thanks”.

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School Alert: Watch out for BEARS!

After finishing class, I received a “Public Announcement” letter from the local Board of Education. Using my limited kanji ability, I was able to decipher that I definitely needed to improved my kanji ability, and that there was a bear wondering around the local area.

Being from the UK, the only animals that “terrify” the British public are either the rogue foxes attacking babies or false widow spiders, both making “appropriate headline news” for the tabloid press. Here in Japan, mother nature seems a bit more hostile and sinister. From giant huntsman spiders to hissing centipedes, or the abundance of mosquitoes and the occasional venomous viper, Japan isn’t all kimonos, cherry blossom and cutesy characters. In fact recently, Japan’s population of bears has made the headlines, and not for doing something adorable.  Continue reading “School Alert: Watch out for BEARS!”

Hiroshima and the Momiji Manju

If you have lived or traveled around Japan, then you will have undoubtably sampled Japanese wagashi at some point. Usually enjoyed with green tea, wagashi are traditional confectionary that have been an iconic piece of Japanese food culture since the Edo Period (1603-1868). There is a dizzying amount of variety, ranging from Dorayaki to the bewildering world of Mochi, far from the realms of Butter Shortbread and Victoria Sponge Cake found back home.

As I previously explained, Hiroshima is famous for its variation on okonomiyaki. But when it comes to sweet treats, there’s nothing more popular than momiji manju. Every time I board the afternoon train, I can expect to see at least five people carrying bags containing souvenir boxes of them. And if you happen to be a salaryman taking a business trip to Hiroshima, you’ll definitely be expected to bring some back to the office. I usually buy them as a gift when travelling to friends’ houses. It’s a safe option if you’ve no idea what to get.  Continue reading “Hiroshima and the Momiji Manju”

Japanese Flower Arranging

I go to an evening Japanese Language class once-a-week. It’s run by local volunteers who spend two hours of their own time teaching foreigners the language. We use textbooks, but I primarily use it for Japanese conversational practice. So each “lesson” boils down to talking about random things, much to the chagrin of one of the my fellow classmates.

Occasionally we’ll drop the textbooks and experience a part of traditional Japanese culture. Today we tried our hands at Japanese Flower Arranging (生け花). I’m no artist and have little understanding about flowers or horticulture, but I think I did a pretty good job. I kept it simple, remembering that saying “less is more” (here being the only situation where that advice seems relevant). The flower sensei didn’t even have to adjust anything on my display, unlike everyone else’s. Hahaha.

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Hiroshima and Okonomiyaki

If there’s one thing that Japanese people love to talk about it’s food. During my first year in Japan whenever I’d talk with teachers or friends about my travels around the country, I’d be met with recommendations on local cuisine rather than famous sights. I actually made this the theme of my Japanese speech in a local contest. I came third place, somehow. Anyway, while individual localities around Hiroshima Prefecture are known for local produce (oysters, lemons, oranges…etc), Hiroshima is widely know for okonomiyaki.

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The Annual Migration of ALTs

The month of March marks both the end and beginning of the Japanese school year. As a result some ALTs (Assistant Learning Teachers) will decide to leave, meaning that new recruits will soon start to arrive. Understandably, various companies’ Facebook pages have been flooded with question about visas, training and suggestions on what to bring. But amongst them, as always, have been some bewildering questions or statements; Continue reading “The Annual Migration of ALTs”