Monkey Time on Iki

We recently made a trip to Iki island, off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture. The whole island is covered with monkey statues and rocks shaped like monkeys, and other monkey paraphernalia.

Here are some of my friends at a monkey shrine on the north end of the island! There were hundreds of iterations of these hear, speak and see no evil monkeys at the shrine. Also, there was a giant mukade, a poisonous cockroach.

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Introducing Anpanman

Japanese popular culture. World renowned for Anime, Pokemon and Karaoke, and now, for Anpanman.

Anpanman, my favourite new pop culture phenomenon, is a superhero made of bread. His head is made from the popular treat Anpan, a bun stuffed with red bean paste.

He was created by the Japanese writer, Takashi Yanase. Takashi created him as a superhero that could also feed people after he dreamed of Anpan while serving as soldier in WWII.

He is by far the most popular children’s character in Japan, and with good reason. He and his friends – Shokupan man (white bread man), Currypan man, and Melonpannachan (Melon bread girl) save the world every episode from the evil Baikinman (germ man).

After a long day of stopping whatever Baikinman was planning, Anpanman often feeds the victims of Baikinmans crimes with pieces of his own head. Don’t worry dear friends, because as soon as Anpanman returns home, his head is replaced with a new one baked by Uncle Jam.

I recently visited the Anpanman museum in Kochi, and it was crazy. Hundreds of toddlers running around screaming ‘ANPANMAN!!’ I am bringing home one of his comics translated in English, and am so excited to share it with the uninitiated. A superhero. Made of Bread!

How to: take the JR to Tosu-Yamada, and then take the Bus to the museum. You can’t miss the bus, it is painted all over with Anpanman characters. It only leaves twice an hour, costs 600 yen and is 25 minutes long, but it’s well worth it for this hilarious slice of Japan.

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Japan’s Weird Food: Gyoza

Yes, I know, these are techinically Chinese, but since I discovered them in Japan, I’m giving Japan all the credit.

Gyoza are pork and vegetables dumplings with a very thin wrapper. In Japan you dip them in a soy based sauce, with spicy oil as desired. The ones above have been deep fried but they are usually pan fried then steamed. When prepared this way, they are served in a hot iron pan, with one side crispy, and the other soft. Either way, gyoza are extremely delicious, and one of my favourites here.

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100 posts: A look back with 7 Links.

Looks like this is my 100th post. I can’t believe that I have posted so many inane ramblings about my life in Japan, but it is true. Andrew from Unframed World nominated me to participate in the 7 links craze in the travel blogging world, and although this is less of a travel blog than a ‘stuff I did yesterday while living in Japan blog’,  in celebration of 100 posts, I will.

My most beautiful post:
I’m going to have to go with this post about eating sushi in Shimonoseki. So much beautiful fish.

My most popular post:
This post, which consists of a video of Daniel Radcliffe arriving at a girls school in Japan received four comments – two from me, which officially makes it my most commented.  I’m not savvy enough to use any other method to decide my most popular post, so this will have to do.

My most controversial post:
Fortunately my blog lacks controversy almost entirely. I suppose I have to choose this post, in which I talked about the delight that is fried mashed potato croquettes, and my friend said they looked like Chicken Nuggets.

My most helpful post:
Forget most, this is my only helpful post. I included some simple Japanese phrases at the bottom of this post, and it may be the only post where any real knowledge can be gained by reading my blog.

A post whose success surprised me:
This post about the joy of Kaiten Sushi marks the first time someone I don’t know in real life commented on my blog, which certainly surprised me!

A post that didn’t get the attention it deserved:
Any attention at all is more than I usually expect, but this particular post is one of my favourites, so I’ll throw it in here. It chronicles our misadventures on the great wall, including some pretty sweet light photos.

The post I am most proud of:
I am most proud of this post, about cycling the Shimanami Kaido, not because the post was particularly good, but the accomplishment of finishing the route without wimping out and taking a bus.

Well that’s that! I realized this is a post devoid of pictures, and no one likes blog posts without pictures, so here’s a gratuitous photo of a float from last weeks Yamakasa festival.

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Ikebana

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. Like many Japanese arts, it’s subtle and simple, yet somehow extremely complicated. My friends and I have been practicing Ikebana, to some degree of success, every week since we found classes in our town in February.

Every week we bike twenty minutes to our teacher’s impeccable home.  Her garden has beautiful Japanese plants and a stone path and her house is full of beautifully displayed flowers, sliding paper doors, and tatami mats. As they enter the practice room, all the participants sit seiza – the Japanese formal way to sit, kneeling with your bum on your heels, and say hello.

We pick up our flowers and spend some time cutting and arranging them before the teacher comes and rearranges them, trying to teach us about the proper angles and heights in Japanese. After the flowers are properly placed, we draw them in our notebooks and pack up.

After the flower arranging part of the evening, we have tea and sweets with our teacher. She usually has green tea and some omiyage – treats from a different area of Japan, but sometimes we have matcha and wagashi – sweets made from red bean paste to counter the bitter taste of the tea.

Then we pay, sit seiza again and say thank you, and take our flowers home to arrange them again.

It’s all very formal and ritualistic, and I manage to screw it up at least once a week, especially since I am unable to hold seiza for more than a minute. I love the flowers and the people we meet, and look forward to Ikebana every week Next week is our last Ikebana class before we go home, and I am sad to say goodbye to the sweet people and the calming hobby.

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Japan’s Weird Food: Street Stall Ramen

In Toronto they have hot dogs, in Berlin, doner, in Fukuoka, Ramen. Fukuoka is famous for its Tonkotsu Ramen, with broth made with pig bones, pork, noodles, sesame seeds, green onions, and seaweed.

While ramen is available in restaurants all around the city, the best place to get it is from the street stalls all over Fukuoka called Yatai. Open late at night, these stalls usually serve variations on ramen and oden. For 500 yen you get a bowl of ramen, and an additional 100 yen gets you a refill of noodles.

At this particular Yatai the owner, depicted in cartoon on the bowl, was playing the harmonica for our entertainment.

Cheap, delicious with free entertainment?

The perfect street food.

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