January 31, 2011

First Snow

Filed under: seikatsu — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 2:56 am

These pictures are from our first dusting of snow, back in early December. We have gotten much much more snow since then. In fact, we had snow every single day for the past month, including right now! I can see it falling every time I glance out the window.

snow tree

Snowy trees outside my window.


My clothespin rack in front of snowy trees.


January 28, 2011

Christmas Themed Japanese Sweets

Filed under: Desserts, Events, Food — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:14 am

Sorry for these obviously belated Christmas related posts. In my last post, I mentioned that I detest Japanese Christmas cake because it has strawberries. But there are also Christmas treats here that I am a fan of. I love Japanse traditional sweets, wagashi 和菓子, in general. Many contain mochi 餅, pounded rice, or anko 餡子, red bean paste. These sweets are often served along with the bitter green tea used in the tea ceremony. They can come in many colors and most have a very high sugar content (in my experience at least).

xmas treats

Santa and a christmas tree made of Japanse sweets. I was offered these, along with coffee.

close up

Close up of the sweets.


I ate santa! And there was delicious red bean paste inside his head. Yum yum!

January 27, 2011

Xmas is for Lovers…and Chicken

Filed under: Events, Food — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 11:53 pm

In Japan, Christmas is not family time. In fact, it’s not even a public holiday. Almost everyone works on Christmas, just like any other day. New Years, on the other hand, is an important holiday that almost everyone one spends with their families. Christmas is like another Valentines Day and is a time that people spend with their boyfriends and girlfriends. And for some reason, everyone eats chicken on Christmas. Restaurants start taking orders for chicken at least a month in advance. Even KFC takes orders ahead of time because they have so many people coming to get chicken. Even at convenience stores, they have competitive sales on the fried chicken they sell at the front of the store around Christmas time. Another popular Christmas food in Christmas cake, which no one would believe is not eaten in the states, no matter how many times I said it. (Anther random I kept hearing is that Santa is Finnish and that’s why he speaks English.) Christmas cake is typically a yellow cake with white frosting and strawberries. Strawberries on the top, strawberries in the middle. Many strawberries. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t like strawberries and therefore, I am not a fan of Christmas cake either.


The colonel welcomes people into a KFC in his Santa costume.

After Christmas, Japan goes into New Year preparation mode. By Dec. 28th, most companies are closed, giving employees time to make it home in time to be with their families for New Years, called oshogatu お正月 in Japanese. There are many New Years traditions in Japan. There are certain games children play on New Years, such as Fuku Warai 福笑い, which is similar to Pin the Tail on the Donkey, except that you pin eyes, noses and mouths on faces. There are certain foods you eat at New Years, such as Ozouni お雑煮, which is a soup with mochi (pounded riceballs) in it. And there are certain decorations that you put outside of your house, such as a kadomatsu 門松, made out of things like pine and bamboo. At midnight or anytime during the first week of the new year, people visit shrines to pray for luck in the coming year and get an omikuji, a paper that tells your fortune.

Goodnight Moon (Oyasumi nasai Otsukisama)

Filed under: Interesting — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

The other day, I found myself strolling into a bookstore and as I walked past the children’s books it was not The Giving Tree that caught my eye. (The Giving Tree is all over the place right now because Haruki Murakami’s new translation of the classic was recently released.) On this visit, it was Goodnight Moon (Oyasumi nasai Otsukisama) that my eye was drawn to.

Goodnight Moon

What's that? Why is President Obama's face on Goodnight Moon?? The Japanese says "The First Book!: 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama"

I initially interpreted this cover as meaning that Goodnight Moon was the first book Obama ever read as a kid. Japanese drops the subjects of sentences when the context makes it clear. Doesn’t the smiling picture of the president make it seem like he just might be the subject of the sentence? Maybe?

I tried to figure out if this was really Obama’s first book, but a quick google search told me that only that many journalists thought they were clever to title their articles “Goodnight Moon mission: Obama cuts NASA funding.” I could not find any mention of the first book Obama owned, read, liked, or bought.

I did, however, find this quote from a speech he gave to the ALA (American Library Association) in 2005:

“…as parents, we need to find the time and the energy to step in and find ways to help our kids love reading. We can read to them, talk to them about what they’re reading and make time for this by turning off the TV ourselves. Libraries can help parents with this. Knowing the constraints we face from busy schedules and a TV culture, we need to think outside the box here – to dream big like we always have in America.

Right now, children come home from their first doctor’s appointment with an extra bottle of formula. But imagine if they came home with their first library card or their first copy of Goodnight Moon? What if it was as easy to get a book as it is to rent a DVD or pick up McDonalds? What if instead of a toy in every Happy Meal, there was a book? What if there were portable libraries that rolled through parks and playgrounds like ice cream trucks? Or kiosks in stores where you could borrow books?

What if during the summer, when kids often lose much of the reading progress they’ve made during the year, every child had a list of books they had to read and talk about and an invitation to a summer reading club at the local library? Libraries have a special role to play in our knowledge economy.” — June 27, 2005 Speech to the American Library Association

Obama was not describing his own past, but a hopeful future for the children of today and tomorrow. This doesn’t quite answer my question of how or why this book came to have the President on the cover. But it makes me suspicious that someone mistranslated the speech he gave in 2005 and this story that Obama read Goodnight Moon has spread. Or maybe I’m wrong to be suspicious and the publisher fact-checked their information and somehow knows the Obama’s first book.

January 26, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (Part 29) – Kanda Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

This is it folks. We are finally at the last stop of our tour of the Yamanote Line in Tokyo. It was a nice trip but it had to end sometime. While it has taken us…let’s say 29 days….to come to the end (in reality my posts were spread out over a much longer period…), in reality it would take only one hour to go around the entire Yamanote line. Trains come every 2 minutes and run every day of the year.

Today we find ourselves in Kanda. Kanda was once known for being the location of most of Tokyo’s book publishers. And you still see a lot of bookstores, especially second hand stores, when you walk around Kanda.


Kanda station sign


A shopping street next to Kanda station's West exit.


Why is this little girl looking at the cigarettes?? The randsel satchel on her back makes it obvious that she's still in elementary school! By the way, those bags can cost over $300! That's a lot of cash top put down for something you know your kid will only use for a few years!

hole in the wall

A little hole in the wall restaurant attached to the station.


Kanda intersection


Kanda newsstand. I would have gotten a paper, but the owner looked too busy reading.


Kanda bookstore, right near the station.

Well, the Yamanote tour is over. If you want to go back and relive the great memories, all the old posts are still up on the blog.

We started in Shinjuku, then went clockwise to Shinokubo, Takadanobaba, Mejiro, Ikebukuru, Otsuka, Sugamo, Kamagome, Tabata, Nishi-Nippori, Nippori, Uguisudani, Ueno, Okachimachi and Akihabara. Later, I finished the other half of the Yamanote line going counter clockwise from Shinjuku to Yoyogi, Harajuku, Shibuya, Ebisu, Meguro, Gotanda, Osaki, Shinagawa, Tamachi, Hamamatsucho, Shinbashi, Yurakucho, Tokyo, and finally ended up in Kanda. Pheww. I’m tired from all this travel. I’m going to go take a nap.

January 25, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (Part 28) – Tokyo Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

We are almost at the end of our tour of the Yamanote Line in Tokyo. The 28th and penultimate station on the Yamanote loop is Tokyo Station. Tokyo station sees the most trains per day of any station in Japan.


A man sets up his cardboard bed for the night under a sign for the Yaesu Central entrance of Tokyo Station. The recession has fueled a rise in homelessness in Japan, not just because people can no longer afford their homes, but also because many companies provide housing for their employees. So the loss of a job is also the loss of a home.


Busy street by the station.


Many highway buses come to Tokyo. You can take a direct bus to almost anywhere in Japan from Tokyo. The police man has a plastic bag on his hat so that it doesn't get wet.


This penguin is the mascot of Suica, a rechargeable fare card that can be used to pay for virtually all public transportation in the Tokyo area. (It used to be the card for JR trains, but is not interchangeable with the Pasmo card that was once only for the Tokyo Metro.) They make enough character goods to fill an entire store with Suica penguin goodness.

January 24, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (part 27) – Yurakucho Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

We have come to the 27th stop on our tour of Tokyo JR’s Yamanote line, Yurakucho station.


Yurakucho station sign.


Cyborg lady wants you to try out WiMax mobile internet!


OIOI department store. Generally pronounced as Marui, but I prefer to call it Oy Oy!

Teddy Bears

Teddy Bears for sale in OIOI.

January 23, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (Part 26) – Shimbashi Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 12:01 am

The 26th stop on our tour of the JR Yamanote line is Shimbashi Station.


Shimbashi station sign


Pachinko parlor


The station building is looking a little bit worse for the wear.


Lion statue!

girl and dog

Seeing eye dog statue!

used books

I happened to come across a used book market next to the station.


TRAIN! But it can't be used. This train is just for show.

January 22, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (Part 25) – Hamamatsucho Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 2:13 pm

The 25th stop on our tour of the Yamanote Line in Tokyo is Hamamatsucho station. Only 5 stops left!


Hamamatsucho station turnstile


Station passageway to the sidewalk

fall colors

Fall colors


Nearly empty Tokyo sidewalk.


This monorail goes to Haneda airport, but I can't helped being reminded of the movie Nobody Knows (誰も知らない) when I see the monorail because the kids in the movie took it.

January 18, 2011

Yamanote Line Project (Part 24) – Tamachi Station

Filed under: Domestic, Tokyo places, Trips, Yamanote-Sen — Tags: , , — myyearinjapan @ 1:33 am

The 24th stop on our tour of the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo is Tamachi Station. Tamachi is where one would get off the train to go to the prestigious Keio University, the oldest university in Japan. (It kind of has a reputation for being a school you can buy your way into….but anyway…)


Tamachi Station sign


Irish pub, complete with those Irish staples of curry rice, spaghetti, and pizza. What? Those aren't Irish staples?? Well, at least they have Guiness.


Multiple zebra crossings for a very busy intersection.


Waiting to cross. There's an impressive number of bicyles stuffed onto that sidewalk.


Either this crosswalk is much busier at other times of day or they have way too big of a crosswalk. I believe it's the former.


Another look at some Tamachi buildings on a Tamachi street.

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