Mantis Shrimp. Eating Evil.

I didn’t know what the fuck a mantis shrimp was before I came to Japan. I am a lover of shrimp though. I have been for as long as I can remember. Be it the artery clogging Long John Silver’s popcorn shrimp or tossed delicately in angel hair pasta an any overpriced Italian restaurant, shrimp is a food that (I’ll be damned) I love.

This guy's a shrimp right? Or is he a cockroach?
This guy’s a shrimp right? Or is he a cockroach?

Mantis shrimp are called shako in Japan and don’t really look like shrimp in my book. I mean… if I were to see a mantis shrimp and told to name it on the spot I’d probably go with “technicolor sea preying mantis” or something like that…

This is a mantis shrimp.
This is a mantis shrimp.

My introduction to the mantis shrimp however wasn’t from a youtube video or The Oatmeal.

The first time I laid eyes on a mantis shrimp was on my dinner table one fall evening. I don’t know where half of my food comes from and I don’t really ask ever. These badasses caught my eye though, because they looked like some strange sort of alien bug that must have fallen out of a meteorite.

Now, I’m an adventurous soul. I was highly interested in marine biology when I was younger, but unknown to my parents and teachers my intense interest wasn’t fueled by curiosity or hopes to be a dolphin trainer. Marine life interested me because I had an insatiable curiosity and desire to eat sea creatures.

Also the dolphin trainer girls were intriguing for both different and yet similar reasons...
Also the dolphin trainer girls were intriguing for both different and yet similar reasons…

The first time I saw a mantis shrimp this is what I saw:

Okay... I'm exaggerating...
Okay… I’m exaggerating…

Yeah… well that’s what it felt like. What I actually saw was more like this:

Slightly less horrifying...
Slightly less horrifying…

For those of you who don’t know how incredibly awesome and terrifying mantis shrimp are let me educate you very quickly.

  • Mantis shrimp’s eyes have 3 separate focal points and can see 13 more colors that our human eyes and brains can’t even comprehend.
Sometimes less is more...
Sometimes less is more…
  • Mantis shrimp have arms that can bash in oysters and crab shells. They’re spring loaded and can strike with the force of a rifle shot, about 1500 Newtons, nearly 2500 times their body weight. They move so quickly that the water around them boils…
To put it in perspective the average kick force of a soccer player is 270 Newtons...
To put it in perspective the average kick force of a soccer player is 270 Newtons… If a 70kg soccer player could kick like a mantis shrimp strike then he or she could send a bowling ball into orbit…
  • Related, they have an exoskeleton that allows them to rifle punch through sea shells while superheating the water to create shockwaves.
Dead heat in flamboyancy... my money's on Mr. Shrimp in a fight.
Dead heat in flamboyancy… my money’s on Mr. Shrimp in a fight.

Of course in Japan no sea creature is really safe. (Except for catfish and mahimahi for some strange reason.) I’ve not cooked these myself, but the way they’ve been served to me makes me believed their either boiled or steamed and then allowed to cool. They’re often served chilled.

The meat is soft and delicate. It has a lot of flavor that’s probably close to crayfish if I had to make a comparison. We typically eat it dipped in soy sauce or just on it’s own.

But eating these little bastards is like trying to eat evil. Like shrimp, the tail section is where most of the edible meat is. Once you get past the fact that these are some of the buggiest looking things that aren’t grasshoppers that you’ll ever eat, you have the unpleasant task of trying to get at that tail meat.

I've even eaten bugs before... still though...
I’ve even eaten bugs before… still though…

Peeling regular shrimp is a pain the ass, but not dangerous…usually. Peeling a mantis shrimp means you’re going to be stabbed repeatedly. If mantis shrimp were a Pokemon it’s body type would be SPIKES (and maybe DARK too.) You have to use a pair of scissors to cut the tail open, and the tail is where 99% of the mantis shrimp’s spikes are kept. There’s too many for me to keep track of and I’m always finding new mantis shrimp spikes as it’s lifeless body impales me. Short of using kevlar gloves your risk of injury while eating mantis shrimp is pretty much 100%.

For as awesome and deadly the mantis shrimp is the cold fact is this. A live mantis shrimp has never injured me whatsoever. The dead ones want my blood and have left me scarred (for a few days).

Spring Thoughts

It’s been far to long since I updated this blog. I fear that spring this year has made me tired as the natural world around me blooms and procreates.

Cherry blossoms at night

There are several things that spring brings in Japan.

There’s the wild vegetables we go to the mountains and ditches to harvest. For warabi, we trek to Kumamoto and climb tall hills that serve as cow pastures. The bitter plant is a fern that can be eaten while the fronds are yet unfurled. Tsukushi sprouts up in ditches and drainage spots, though to pick the plant from those locations means you brave dog shit. We like to go to the unplowed rice fields where the plant sprouts up in the inclined slopes that receive the most sunlight.

The winds from the West bring China’s smog and desert sands that blanket skies and savage our sinuses. It’s called kosa, which means literally ‘yellow sand.’ It’s terrible stuff and most of Japan hates China for it. Chine of course couldn’t give a shit, but I’m unsure what Japan would have China do… I suppose they could go “green,” but it’s not like China can control their deserts or the winds as much as they’d like to and contrary to their martial arts movies.

Asians like it windy

School ends and starts again in April. In Fukuoka spring is undokai season. America doesn’t really have “sports day” and if they did I’m sure half of the students would refuse to participate. Undokai is a day long even that mostly involves running, lots and lots of running. There’s usually some tug-o-war, dance routines, obstacle courses, and sand bag lifting tossed in as well. It’s a huge deal. Families will erect tents to watch their children compete just as their parents once watched them compete. The kids seem to love it, even the handful of ones who are on the thicker side.

Yeah… I can’t see my 8th grade classmates doing that…

Japan 3.11

I’m sure that any educated reader of my blog knows that every seven years the human body completely regenerates. From your eyes to your bones, every seven years a completely new you is created from within.

That means every 7 years there's another Kate Beckinsale???

As individuals, we humans are little different from our cells. We group together to build families, societies, and countries. None last forever, but most are not so weak than any little thing will end the line indefinitely.

I’ve seen some tragedy, more than some, much less that so many others. I’ve buried a brother, tagged along to AA meetings with my father, watched the Twin Towers collapse while praying none of my family was in that vicinity, and cleaned away the wreckage of modern civilization left by more than one hurricane.

Katrina was a bitch.

But last year I saw my first tsunami as it raked the north-eastern shores of Japan. People, cars, homes, schools, and entire towns were leveled, crushed, and swept away in mere moments. The survivors watched powerlessly as their homes and neighbors were swallowed whole by the rising black water.

Humanity, like humans, is perhaps more resilient than it should be. Our lives are not calm predictable things. Lots of things change the current of our personal evolution. Loss of a job, substance abuse, crime, accidents, stock markets, tsunamis… catastrophic events might always be just around the corner. And when they come sometimes we survive. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t even have an option. Yet for those that do we have that magical and almost spiritually pure thing that repentant villains in family films covet… a second chance.

There's not much that's more valuable than a 2nd chance.

The human body regenerates after seven years they say. I say, that’s nothing compared with the human spirit.

Thank you for thinking of Japan ~Matt

Japan Living TIPS

So you’ve made it to Japan. You’ve left the plane, passed through immigration, convinced customs that those weren’t the droids they were looking for, and you’re officially a gaijin.

You will stand out. This is a fact. It happens to everyone, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with your or that you're in anyway special... you're not.

So after you get over the taxis with the SKYNET smart doors, smack your forehead a couple of times into low hanging door frames, and check into your hotel for your training; you’ll have to begin the long road of learning to live in a foreign country. Here are some pointers and insights to help you through the transition.

Be careful where you party

I’m not talking about avoiding places that don’t serve foreigners. I’ve never seen such a place and I probably wouldn’t be turned away anyway… I’m talking about partying efficiently. If you love bars/pubs then you’re used to spending plenty of $$ for a night out on the town. As for me, I was used to Kansas house parties and hot co-eds crowding around my keg-o-rator I kept stocked with Boulevard Wheat. When I did go out, my drinks were usually on the house or set over by groups of giggly farm girls.

Again, it's called the Don Draper effect.

Japan is connected by trains and the major cities will have large train stations full of stores and restaurants. Tokyo has lots of very large stations. Your training period won’t be in some little hick town, mine was in Tokyo, but Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Shizuoka are also popular training locations. Cities of that size will have decent sized main stations that are central locations that make for good landmarks for meet-ups.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid drinking at the station. Or if you want to drink at the station make sure your party is subterranean. Basement level establishments at the station and/or places that are 1-2 blocks away from the station have much lower rent and are much more affordable places to drink away your inhibitions or at least drink until that one chick with the dragon tattoo jumps from a 4 to a workable 7…

The real question is what did SHE drink last night...

Be Prepared

Sure, washboard abs, forearms that look like steel cables wrapped in skin, and a dark wash pair of jeans paired with any high quality wool top will show everyone that you have a gym membership and a subscription to GQ, but if you want to really impress a bunch of brand new gaijin then be a little prepared.

Don’t be that douche that knows everything about everything and won’t STFU about it. But keep a little notebook and write down some different foods you’d like to try. Then when you’re out and everyone is ordering off the pictures in the menu you can try something you’re actually interested in trying.

Learn from my mistakes... the drawings of Firefly do not help you in Japan...

Two things you’ll want to ask about are nomihodai’s and tabehodai‘s. A lot of different restaurants and even karaoke joints will have a nomihodai option. It’s all you can drink from a limited drink menu, usually draft beer, red & white wine, and a few different types of sake. Yakiniku restaurants will often have a tabehodai option, which like the nomihodai, is all you can eat from a select menu.

Be careful, you'll have to wind up eating any mistakes you make when ordering tabehodai.

Buy old sushi

Supermarkets typically close around 8:00 p.m. Around an hour before they lock their doors, all of the prepared food they have left-over will go on sale. This includes all bento boxes, onigiri, and sushi & sashimi. If you wait to shop then you can save a ton and still eat like a king.

Oh yeah... you might have some competition...

I used to buy bento boxes with assorted foods for around ¥270. I bought shredded crab over rice for around ¥450. Boxes of sushi dropped down between ¥300-600 depending on the contents.

This, and raiding the local vegetable gardens is how I survived my first year in Japan.

I did lose a fair number of petticoats and shoes though...

Recycle Shops

Japan has 2nd hand shops that make the thrift stores I shopped at in Kansas look like… well… like thrift stores you’d expect to find in the middle of Kansas.

Man that brings back memories...

They’re called “Recycle Shop” and like you’d expect of Japan they’re clean, safe, and meticulously maintained. The electronics work, the clothes are clean, and the porn is… well… plentiful.

This is the name of a Recycle Shop I frequented.

100 Yen

Shopping at a Dollar Tree in America is a mission to actually find something worth a $1… one that usually ends in failure unless you place a higher value on plastic harmonicas and bubble wands than normal people… The Japanese relative of the dollar store is the aptly named “hyakuen” which just means “100 yen.”

Now ¥100 shops are actually ¥105 with tax, but they’re still great places to get office supplies, hangers, dishes, eco bags, cleaning supplies, slippers, etc. It’s actually difficult to not find something that would in some way improve your life in Japan.

I can't stop thinking of uses for this!

Socialized Medicine

I always recommend getting on the National Health Insurance. If you work for Interac they’ll recommend a 3rd party international insurance company called Global Health Insurance. Japan doesn’t recognize this company. You’ll have to pay all costs up front in full, save your receipts, and then file more paperwork to get reimbursed. Being that I hate paperwork I opted to get onto the National plan as quickly as possible.

See... I hate paperwork so much even getting an autograph annoys me...

Now the National plan is based off of your salary from the previous year. As you are new to Japan, you did not collect any salary last year so there is next to no price difference between Global and the National plan. However… your second year in Japan your insurance rate will probably double, which turns some people off to the National plan, but you should still probably get on it.

Japanese companies are required by law to either provide company based insurance or enroll their employees in the National Health Insurance. How dispatch companies and English schools skirt around this I’m not sure, but there are plenty of angry bloggers who have already discussed that issue.

Some people take the internet too seriously...

The thing that I want you to be aware of is if you’re in Japan for a long time and using a 3rd party international insurance and then want/need to switch to the National coverage, you’re up a metaphorical creek of excrement without any means of propulsion or steering… You’ll be expected to make back payments for those years you’ve been in Japan not paying for any health insurance that Japan recognizes. Now there are ways around this, or at least I’ve heard rumors of people who have been able to dodge the bullet, but again… that’s more work than I want to do.

I could go on and on about tips for living in Japan. But being dervishly witty and a humorous rake gets old after a while…

If I’ve made any mistakes or your experience has been otherwise please let me know. If you have any other hints that might help the 新外人, then please let me know!

If you enjoyed reading this then you might want to read: What to bring to Japan and The 11 strangest foods I’ve eaten in Japan.

No matter how much you fit in you'll still stand out... But that doesn't mean it's held against you.

What to bring to Japan

Bonus points if you know who these girls are…

So you’ve got your job in Japan. Congrats! Now, all you have to do is figure out how to condense your life into a pair of suitcases before you board your flight and start your overseas adventures!

No pressure…

Some of these things I brought with me, some of them I didn’t; I would have done it all little differently if only I could contact past me to give that handsome bastard a heads-up. Hopefully, time traveling email is just around the corner along with Archologies, cloning extinct animals, and 3 1/2 more seasons of Community plus a movie.

#sixseasonsandamovie

Presents for teachers

When you arrive at a new school it’s respectable to bring a present for the teachers and staff. It should be something edible as per Japanese tradition. Now, why the hell would you want to waste valuable storage space on something like candy or cookies? Well get used to not understanding why you have to do certain things. This doesn’t mean you have to make like a trafficker and line your suitcase with Mars Bars and Snickers though. It’s really thought or imitation of thoughtfulness that counts here so try to get something that’s compact and small, preferably packaged individually.

something for everyone!

If you can’t fit anything into your bag and you refuse to leave behind a pair of jeans or that 5th box of condoms, then just wait and buy something in Japan. All airports, train stations, gas stations, and pit stops off the highway will have a decent selection. Pick something sweet over savory or spicy.

okay, I meant sweet like sugary, and if this is actually an option on the table… I wouldn’t share…

I left for Japan from Kansas City. So I bought a couple boxes of Bogdon Reception Sticks. They’re just candy sticks dipped in chocolate, there were maybe two dozen to a box. I brought 3 boxes, but I didn’t have enough for everyone unfortunately with six different schools.

Tips:

Dispatch company: If you’re with a dispatch company and you’re going to be working in a public school and you know how many schools you’ll have (I didn’t know until after I left training), plan on there being at least 40 teachers at each school. My first year I had 6 different schools. So doing the math that’s about 120-200 teachers and staff you need to get a little some-something. Unless you just bring a big jar of jellybeans, this isn’t really possible to do… at least whilst keeping your sanity. Don’t worry. You’re not really expected to. Get enough for your first school and that’s pretty much all you need. Personally, I had 2 main schools and 4 schools I went to on rare occasions, so I gave those Reception Sticks to my 2 main schools and the other 4 got nothing.

Eikaiwa: If you’re teaching for an English language school then it’s a lot easier. You’ll just have to get something for the Japanese staff at your school. Or not. You’re basically fodder that they use to keep their fires going… not that your situation is much different for a large dispatch company, but when you go the the public schools remember that the teachers are not involved in that aspect of the business, plus they’ll probably get you presents when they go places.

This is you. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement…

*Bonus points*

If you can get something that’s specialized from where you’re from with a little back story then you’re really doing things right. Of course it is Japan… we don’t have Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, or Tootsie Rolls… the less genuine among you could just tell your schools that your home town invented them…

Indoor shoes

I heard a story years ago that in Japan, even robbers remove their shoes. While that’s proven not true time and time again, Japan is normally very much a take-your-shoes-off-at-the-door society.

ummm… you were supposed to leave them at the door…

I don’t know how eikaiwas work, but at the public schools everyone takes off their shoes and changes into other shoes. Most Japanese teachers have at least two pairs of shoes at school, sometimes more.

I have two main schools currently and I keep a cheap pair of Nike’s at both locations. The school will assign you a shoe locker (or multiple lockers if there are multiple entrances).

I brought over several pairs of shoes so I didn’t have to do any unnecessary shoe shopping before I started work. For the schools that I visited infrequently, I brought some indoor shoes with me whenever I went, or if I forgot (I forgot most of the time), I borrowed the slippers they have for guests, which don’t fit and reduce the friction force to nearly zero.

Unless you’re a petit woman or willing to lose your toes they won’t fit.

Keep in mind also, that “indoor shoes” and “gym shoes” are not the same thing. If you plan on doing activities in the gym you’ll either do them in your socks or you’ll have to get another pair of sneakers.

Tips:

Leave your high lacing boots for the weekends. You want shoes that you can slip on and off quickly and easily.

Shoes & clothes

Shoes make the list twice for an entirely different reason. This pertains to anyone with large feet. If your hoof needs something bigger than a size 12US then chances are you’re going to be doing most of your shopping online.

Also Japanese sizes run snug. There are Nike, Adidas, the GAP, and Banana Republic stores around, so it’s not like you can’t find sizes that make sense… But if you’re really tall or really… well wide, or really muscular, you’ll have difficulty finding clothes, especially dress clothes. Now there are big-and-tall stores in Japan, but there aren’t many big-and-tall stores in Japan and I have my doubts how truly “big-and-tall” the clothes at the big-and-tall stores here are…

I’m lucky enough to fit into Japanese sizes, but I do run into some trouble because Japanese men typically have very little muscle mass so clothes are often tight across the chest, shoulders, arms, and thighs.

My arms haven’t been that thin since 6th grade…

Ladies…

Most Japanese women have tiny feet, are really thin, and fairly short. I imagine this would make it more difficult for taller girls.

That skirt is made to go down to the knee…

Also Japanese bra sizes are different. If you wear a C-cup in America then in Japan you might have to get an E-cup. My friends with lady bits have told me that the fit  is often a little off for them as Japanese girls tend to be tiny

Tips:

Men-Try not to be so tall, lose some weight, and don’t lift weights.

Ladies-Bras are highly over-rated, and I’m not willing to do cup-size guesstimates by email… so stop email me boobie pictures!

Rice cooker:

This seems like a strange and large item that would be something you could get in Japan easily. But Japan’s view on rice is completely different from mine. For me, rice is rice… I’m not ricest..

I don’t see color.

I went to 3 different stores in Japan before I found a rice cooker. “Why did you go to 3 different stores?” you might ask. Well, I am not a picky person unless it comes to pizza or literature. I went to 3 different stores because it took me 3 stores to find a rice cooker for under ¥6,000. Keep in mind this is just a device that cooks rice, quite possibly the easiest thing to cook outside of sushi prepared by Bear Grylls. Japanese rice cookers range in prices from ¥5,000 of over ¥100,000. (any rice cooker that costs over $1000 better double as a jet pack…) I paid around ¥5,500 ($68) for my rice cooker and that’s with a discount because it was out of stock, discontinued, and I took home a very dusty floor model with no box.

They said it had been there for years…

My first day of school I woke up and tossed some rice and water into my brand new Japanese rice cooker for breakfast.

Twenty minutes passed.

Thirty minutes passed.

Forty minutes passed, and I had to run to school with an empty stomach.

The silver lining is that the rice was ready for me when I got home after work…

Now this is a cultural thing that is maybe more psychological than science. Or maybe my Asian genes are broken. Or maybe Japanese people have evolved special rice-tasting-taste-buds that can tell the difference between rice coaxed for 50 minutes to be soft enough to eat and rice boiled violently for 20 minutes…

As a gaijin who just wants to eat when he’s hungry, I often miss my K-Mart bought rice cooker from Kansas.

Japan. Note that there is 1 button and that button makes my rice cooker cook rice. And that is fucking brilliant.

Tips:

There are second hand stores called “recycle shops.” They usually have great stuff, well maintained and for good prices. There are also discount stores like TRIAL, D-MAX, and Don Quixote where you can find cheaper rice cookers.

Can opener

Make jokes about how young I am. Fine. I’ll admit I had no idea what to do with this thing.

I’m sure that there are normal modern can openers in Japan. I’m sure that they also probably cost around $35 or so. No idea why. Save yourself the headache of looking for one and toss one in your suitcase.

Medicated shampoo.

I care about hair products like I care about Albanian economics, but I’ll admit that I have dandruff and having an itchy head is more annoying than 80’s music. I didn’t think that finding dandruff shampoo in Japan would be so hard. There were plenty of suggestions I found online, but really only one that I tried that worked. That’s a lot of worthless shampoo I bought!

I tried Merit, Sea Breeze, and Pro Tech. Merit seemed to actually encourage my scalp issues. Sea Breeze didn’t make things worse, but it didn’t help… Pro Tech did the trick for me, plus they hire hot girls to wear skimpy outfits and hand out samples in the city earning them much coveted bonus points.

Only took me two years to find.

Tips:

Korea has Head & Shoulders… I have it sent to me by my S. Korean smuggler contacts.

A DVD player

Japan is a different region code than America. If you’re a dinosaur like me and you still have a DVD collection then you won’t be able to play your DVD’s on a Japanese DVD player.

I’ve been nostalgiaing pretty hard for this show lately…

Tips:

Either convert your DVD’s to digital files, bring a DVD player, or buy a region free DVD player in Japan.

Medicine

I’m talking over the counter stuff here… don’t go bringing a bottle of OxyContin with you without doing the legal paperwork.

They’re filled with oxygen and it makes you incontinent. It’s called “Oxy Incontin”

Mainly stuff like allergy medicine, Advil, sleeping pills, cough drops, and Benadryl.

It’s not like Japan doesn’t have medicine, but when you’re breaking out in hives because you’re having an allergic reaction to some strange clam-like-looking creature you ate, you don’t want to have to look on the internet for an anti-histamine equivalent.

Tips:

Be careful with prescription medication. You might need a doctor’s note and you might need to have that doctor’s note translated. Refilling prescriptions isn’t exactly easy in Japan either, but as I have no prescriptions that I take I can’t tell you first hand what it entails.

Spices

Just bring what you really really want…

Japanese food doesn’t use a lot of spices that you’re used to, duh. You’d think that be obvious. Well, I didn’t really think about it until I was stationed halfway up the side of Mt. Fuji where the local supermarket’s spice collection consisted of salt, pepper, salty pepper, crushed red pepper, and ginger…

My 2nd least favorite spice…

Now some people have disagreed with me on this issue while others have clamored in agreement. I think it must depend on where you land on your first assignment. (Of course finding most everything will be a pain in the ass those first few months)

Now I’ve been able to find most spices over the years through import shops and larger supermarkets in more urban areas. If your part of Japan has a large immigrant community, like Hamamatsu City has lots of people from Brazil, then you’ll be able to find lots of spices easily, but the catch is it’ll be spices that the large immigrant population like to use, so Hamamatsu has a lot of Brazilian spices. Now I know as much about Brazilian spices as I do about Lithuanian marriage rituals, but I’ve heard Brazilian food is delicious, but that only really helps me if Brazilian cooking uses the same spices as that Dillons stocks on their shelves…

Or you get a Brazilian girl to cook for you.

But that first year on my side of the mountain, I wanted to recreate a little flavor from home at times, but I simply couldn’t find paprika or cilantro…

Tips:

There are some Costco locations in Japan and I hear some people use the internet, though I’m not a big online shopper unless we’re talking about Star Trek memorabilia…

I can find oregano, thyme, cumin, sage, basil, and a lot of other Italian spices in Japan as Italian food is very popular everywhere because it’s delicious. I have trouble recreating Mexican food though,and even those simple Italian ingredients might not be on your supermarkets shelf if you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere…

Backpack with a rain cover

Japan could also be called the land of the pouring rain. I’ve lived in two different places in Japan and they were both wet. Being that umbrella tech has yet to catch up with the incredible things they can do with tents, if you’re wearing a backpack in the rain while holding an umbrella then you’re bag is going to get soaked. (your legs and shoes and socks too probably)

This tent folds up to fit in a purse and keeps up to 5 Asian people dry in a monsoon. My umbrella barely keeps my hair dry…

If you’re like me your bag carries important stuff that doesn’t like water, like dSLR cameras, laptops, ipads, food, and work related papers.

I picked up a new Timberland backpack before I left for Japan at TJ-Max. It just happened to come with a rain cover. Talk about a lucky break, especially if you’re going use public transportation and even more so if you’re going to ride a bike to your schools… speaking of which.

A poncho with waterproof pants

Because this is the wrong way to become famous.

This is only if you’re planning on biking to school, though waterproof pants would be helpful for walkers as well.

Okay… This isn’t just random. If you don’t know how I got to this picture just hold your mouse over the picture…

You can buy them in Japan of course, but make sure you remember to do so… My first day of school it was raining so hard I couldn’t even see the school, I passed it and then had to back track through the torrential pour. Oh yeah, and I was wearing a suit… And I didn’t eat breakfast because my rice cooker… oh well, you get the point. It was a shitty first day.

Toothpaste

It’s not that Japan doesn’t have toothpaste. It’s that Japanese society has much different views on dental hygienics…

It’s called yaeba and it’s a dental procedure girls do because they think it looks cute.

If you’re worried about it a few tubes of Crest is an easy last minute purchase.

*edit

Recently I’ve been finding Aquafresh at the drug store!

Deodorant

If you have bad BO then you’re probably not Asian and your ear wax is probably wet not dry like mine. I’m not making any sort of inappropriate joke here, there are actual scientific studies correlating ear wax with body odor. It also explains why, after I work-out, I just smell a little salty and not like rotten eggs.

There are deodorants in Japan, but they’re not often used by Japanese people and they’re not very good, or so I’ve been told. If you have issues then bring some extra to last or you’ll just have one more thing that makes you stand out.

Still not blending in…

Misc

You’ll never realize what you miss about your current life until you don’t have it. Be it some sort of candy, animal crackers, goldfish, sunflower seeds, video games, pizza that doesn’t have mayonnaise or squid parts on it, or whatever else you take for granted.

Vacuum tech is lagging far far behind in Japan… and it’s expensive! Finding a vacuum for under $100 is a chore…

 Recap:

  • Gifts for the teachers
  • Indoor shoes
  • A rice cooker
  • Shampoo
  • DVD player
  • Medicines
  • Seasonings and spices
  • A backpack with a rain cover
  • A full body poncho
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Stuff you can’t live without

Was this list helpful? Did I leave something off? Disagree with anything? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below! If you’re headed for Japan soon good luck!

If you’re already in Japan check out the next post: Japan Living TIPS

Japanese VD…

Valentine’s day in Japan is a day where women give men chocolate and men eat chocolate.

Welcome to my world...

It’s not all fun and games, as you must remember who gave you chocolate and then a month later return the gesture on March 14th, which is called White Day. Your return present should be worth about 3x the gift you received on Valentine’s Day.

Women will give chocolate to, not just lovers, crushes, and spouses, but also co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members.

So what seems like a giant ego boost is really becomes an obligation to empty your wallet later on.

It’s truly a time of year where dashing good looks are a curse…

At least that's what all my handsome friends tell me...

The best Valentine’s Day gifts I’ve received has been bottles of sake. On White Day I simply bought more bottles of sake as a return gift and we all drank them together!

Which is the best way to drink sake~

Younger girls will usually make chocolate by hand, as they don’t have the money to spend on expensive candy. They’ll buy wrapping paper and decorations to make their gifts cute. It’s called 「手作りチョコ」(tezukurichoko), and I think it almost means more than fancy expensive chocolate. (though I still prefer sake)

How did you know I had a hand fetish?

 Happy Valentine’s Day world!

If you want to read about my worst Valentine’s Day check out my post: On a Valentine’s Day

Watch Yuuki shops for chocolate for her uncle and cousin:

Happy New Year!!! It’s 2012!!!

Like most Asian cultures, New Years is the most important time of year.

Bonenkai season starts towards the end of December around the 20th. Pronounced “bone-en-kah-ee” it’s the end of the year party for companies. After New Year’s day the Sinenkai season starts, it’s the beginning of the year party. Imagine the amount of drinking at a Pikey wake, then imagine that for a solid 3 week period your relatives are dying at regular intervals… that is what the back-to-back bonenkai/shinenkai season is like.

Should have seen him last night when he was actually drunk!

Japanese New Years Traditions

There are a lot, a lot more than I’ll list here, but these are the ones that I notice and participate in. As another forward, I am not a Japan-o-phile like so many of my fellow gaijin. Culturally significant practices are about as meaningful to me as my gallbladder is to Scarlet Jo…

It doesn’t have to make sense, she’s beautiful…

 

Otoshidama

I am a generous man. I give to my friends and family as much as I can and then some. Otoshidama rubs me a little bit though, because I’m paying into a system that I never received any benefit from.

I’m impressed solely by the fact that he didn’t screw up and say “Fonzi Scheme”

Otoshidama is a monetary gift that children receive from their older relatives and occasionally friends of the family. As I was bouncing between the Gulf of Mexico and Shenandoah Valley most of my childhood, I never got any otoshidama. I did however get Christmas presents, a tradition that’s not widely practiced in Japan. So it all evens out right?

Well… I do love toys, and I love buying Christmas presents for the younger kids on the Japanese side of my family. So each year I talk Yuuki out of her typically terrible ideas for presents and get the kiddos something they’ll enjoy, like Legos, fighting robots, and talking books. On top of that, not a week after Xmas I give the kids money for otoshidama as well. The kids are cleaning up… I’m just banking on one of them becoming the next Ichiro…

No pressure kiddo…

 

Mochitsuki

Mochi is an odorless, flavorless, colorless food covered in a fine white powder that just might be iocane. People do actually die while eating it each year, but not because of the iocane, but because they try to eat too much in one bite and the sticky rice gets lodged in their throat and they choke on the celebratory New Years food… it sounds like there’s a Chinese proverb in there.

Confucius say…

The act of making mochi is terrible process made worse by the fact that we follow traditional methods and we make enough to feed half of starving N. Korea.

FOB…

You start by soaking rice overnight. The rice is then steamed until soft. Sounds simple so far right?

Then we dump it in a large stone mortar and mash it up with wooden hammers like Mario going after Donkey Kong.

If you’re old enough to remember when this was cool chances are you or your friends have kids of your own already…

Mashing mochi is like sprinting for 100m using only your upper body. The hammer is slick with warm water to keep the rice from sticking to it so you have to grip it so hard you’ll give up masturbation for a month afterwards out of trepidation… maybe not… depends what you’re into I guess.

Each batch of mochi takes 10-15 minutes of mashing and grinding in groups of three and then standing in pairs on either side hammering. The hammering takes between 200-400 strokes total. We take turns at hammering, each turn is around 20-30 swings per person, after which your arms will burn, your back will ache, your hands will feel like stone, and even simple tasks like breathing will seem almost alien in difficulty. On each batch of mochi everyone will have 3-4 turns hammering.

We do 30kg of rice, which equates to 17-18 batches of mochi. You do the math…

This seems like a contradiction…

The mochi is used as an offering at the shrines of deceased ancestors and the little shrines people keep in their homes. I don’t know much about Japanese religion, maybe another post.

I wanna buy a machine and race everyone, John Henry style

We also eat it in soup, baked on the grill, and fried like a chicken finger. As it is itself without flavor it’s traditional to fill it with anko, a sweet paste made from mashed up red beans. To imagine what anko tastes like take some refried beans and add some high fructose corn syrup.

 

Kouhaku: Red vs White

This is a type of battle of the bands that plays every year. Most Japanese music sounds like cats dying horribly to me (same for K-Pop).

Can animal control still help me out here?

There are some good Japanese artists out there… but I don’t watch much Japanese TV, as it’s usually only good enough to make me miss terrible American television like LOST, American Idol, or Gilmore Goods. Now I don’t know why I brought this up…

 

Fukubukuro

Fukubukuro means “secret bag”. It’s a stellar shopping opportunity in if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like shopping.

I even hate shopping for stock photos…

How it works:

You buy a bag for around $100 (prices can vary), and the contents of the bag will be valued at at-least 3x what you paid. The bags are separated by size and it’s a cash only sort of thing. A few fukuburos and you’d be set for the coming year.

Sometimes they’ll tell you what’s in the bag! Or let you peek…

The jacket makes me look like the Michelin Tire guy… or any h.s. football lineman at a 10 year reunion…

Visiting shrines:

This falls into the culture thing… on top of it the shrines are packed this time of year. It’s better to wait until the 2nd or 3rd to go. You can play a lottery game by buying a fortune at the temple. All I’ve ever gotten was lollipop that tasted like grass (2009), a bag of sugar (2010), and wooden arrow with no point (2011).

There’s lots of festival food around to eat, like yakisoba, takoyaki, yakitori, and squid on a stick.

Food on a stick just tastes better!!

My fortunes are usually lousy too. They usually come with ambiguous ominous warnings, like “avoid fire”, “beware new opportunities”, and “stay away from high places”.

 

Happy 2012 everyone! Thanks for reading!

Year of the dragon!