Okonomiyaki THICC

Okonomiyaki is a staple food in Osaka. You can buy it any of the countless okonomiyaki shops, and most families have tried and true home recipes that they have used for years.

Homemade Okonomiyaki with rice
You can see the rice in this Okonomiyaki. Hefty.

The whole point of okonomiyaki is that you can put pretty much whatever you want inside. The Japanese word “okonomi” お好み means “as you like,” and that’s where the name comes from. I’ve seen okonomiyaki stores that allow you to insert mochi (rice cake), cheese, egg, as well as the usual stuff. Different regions of Japan are known for doing different things, like Hiroshima is famous for stuffing noodles inside of their okonomiyaki.

This was a homemade creation at my Kansai family’s home.

Homemade Okonomiyaki with rice
That’s a hefty Okonomiyaki

What’s the most surprising thing you have seen in an Okonomiyaki?

Try making it at home! Might be fun!

How to make Okonomiyaki (recipie)
How To Make Traditional Okonomiyaki Easily At Home

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How to properly handle a business card in Japan

Business cards in a Japanese context are important. Bring them. Receive them. Respect them.

Going to do business with a Japanese person? Learn how to handle business cards and how to follow business card etiquette.

Note, Japan is changing. Some companies are adopting Western business mannerisms, and Japanese who are overseas may take the “when in Rome” approach. Therefore some of these tips will not apply all of the time. However, those are still the rare exceptions. Most Japanese businesses and businessmen are traditional. Until you know who you are dealing with it is best to keep these tips in mind when doing business in Japan or with Japanese people.

The No Punches Pulled Executive Summary
When in Japan for business be sure to have plenty of business cards with you and store them in a business card case. When you receive someone’s business card treat it with the same respect you would treat one of that person’s treasured possessions that they have just handed you. Carefully watch what the other person does with your card for cultural cues on how you should handle theirs. It is possible to not only ruin a first impression, but also to personally offend someone by mishandling their business card.

View over Osaka from the top of Umeda Sky Building.
View over Osaka – Imagine the number of business card exchanges!

Seniority Matters, Learn the Dance
When you walk into a meeting in Japan with Japanese people normally everyone will stand up to exchange pleasantries and business cards. Normally it is expected that the highest ranking people from each party will exchange cards together first after being briefly introduced by a lower ranking person from the visitors group who already knows the hosts.

For example, say you are the highest ranking manager on a work trip and are visiting a new customer in Japan. You are accompanied by a lower ranking coworker who knows Japan and who perhaps was in charge of setting up the meeting so was in touch with the customer before your visit. When you enter the room, your coworker will try to identify the highest ranking counterpart on the customer side, and there will likely be a lower ranking person on the customer side doing the same thing in regards to your group. Once they have figured it out, which only takes a few seconds, someone will introduce you to the highest ranking person on their side and you will exchange business cards. Then, the number two person on your side will exchange with the same highest ranking customer, and so on, until everyone has been introduced to the highest ranking person. From there things often get a bit random until everyone in the room has exchanged cards.

Thanks for the free image @reshot_hq!

What I am I supposed to do with this card?
I was once with some Americans who had come to Japan for work and I was their host. I took them out to a fancy dinner at a place that I frequented and near the end of the meal the owner and chef came around to say hello and introduce themselves. This was in a part of Japan that doesn’t get many foreign guests, so the fact that I had brought other foreign friends in was sort of a big deal. Greetings and bows were exchanged, and of course, so were business cards. After we left the restaurant my friend looked at me incredulously and laughed, “What are you going to do with the chef’s business card?!” It was clear that he would never need to call or email the chef, he already had the shops card, he couldn’t speak Japanese and the chef didn’t speak English, so what’s the point?

Pragmatically there may not be a point. It’s a piece of paper that has someones name and contact information on it. You already have the same information in an email signature in many cases. However, in Japanese society, a meeting with someone in a professional environment is simply not complete without a business card exchange. One is expected to take that business card and use it to remember the person that you met.

The Second Meeting (Or is it the first…?)
You are expected to remember when you have previously received someone’s business card. One of the many embarrassing things one can do in a business setting with Japanese people is to pull out your business card case and prepare to exchange cards with someone with whom you have already exchanged cards with in the past. Even if you only met the person once in the last 6 months, it is still considered to be an insult if you have forgotten that you have already exchanged cards. It is equivalent to forgetting that you had met the person.

This is how a Japanese counterpart will interpret this unfortunate mistake.

  • They didn’t make an impression on you the first time you met.
  • You made no effort to remember them the first time you met.
  • You must not have spent any time reading their business card, or if it looked like you did, you were faking it.
  • You have forgotten that you had already met.
  • You didn’t remember their name or face.
  • If the person is more senior than you the negative impression will be enhanced.

The only time a Japanese person you have already met will offer you their business card a second time is if something significant on the card has changed. Then, when the cards are exchanged one person will often be heard saying that “oh, nothing has changed at all though, I’m still in the same (low) position.” Or, they will at least say something to indicate that they do in fact remember that you had already exchanged cards, they just wanted to give you another. They will make it clear that they realize you have already exchanged cards.

Pro Tip: If you often find yourself in Japanese-style business settings make a habit of asking your colleagues if there is likely to be anyone in the room you have already met. If there are, remember that, and instead of pulling out a business card greet them with a big smile and ask how they’ve been. You will instantly earn kudos.

Watch and Learn
As is often the case, the best way to figure out how you’re supposed to act is to watch and mimic. If after you exchange business cards if you sit down at a table, note what your counterpart does with the cards they have received.

The most traditional thing to do is to lay all of the cards for the people at the meeting face up on the table in front of you in rank order. This is only done in the most formal settings. It is normally not appropriate to stack all of the cards you have received on top of each other. It may be OK to put the card into your front shirt pocket, but watch what your counterpart does and and follow.

Card Incoming! Now what?

How Should I Receive the Card?The best place to store a business card you have just received is in a front short pocket.

Here’s a random list of things you should NOT do.

  • Don’t let the person see you put a business card you just received into your wallet or a pants pocket. 
  • Don’t spill anything on someones business card. If you do, apologize profusely and ask for another. Do not give the old one back.
  • Don’t hand someone your bent or dirty business card.
  • Don’t fiddle with someone’s business card.
  • Don’t let the person see you put their business card into a stack of other cards on your person.
  • Don’t let the person see you write on their business card.
  • Don’t fold business cards.

Business card culture in Japan is deep and has so many rules. Hopefully this article helps. Again, the best thing to do is watch and learn. Don’t do anything you haven’t seen your counterpart already do.

Good luck! Have a great business card life.

If you want to see some videos on business card exchange etiquette in Japan, search for “名刺交換” on YouTube.

This humorously highlights the contrast in Japanese and American card handling etiquette.
This is funny. When you pass the card to someone higher ranking, keep yours lower.
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Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

I finally made it to Sumiyoshi Taisha after years of visiting Osaka. It was never on my radar as it’s a bit out of the way from the city center, but now that I’ve been there I wish I had gone sooner.

A friend of mine recently moved to the Sumiyoshi Taisha neighborhood, which was my excuse for finally visiting.

Sumiyoshi Taisha is the main shrine of all the Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. On new years and during festivals the shrine attracts huge crowds. I would love to check it out at that time some day.

There is an iconic taiko bashi bridge that is steep and round. Taiko is Japanese for a round Japanese-style drum, and the bridge is shaped like that, hence the name. The bridge is one of the most memorable locations on the grounds. Grab a photo.

住吉大社 : GFDL,Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.1 Japan License
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
The grounds are quite large and spacious. Great place to take a walk or wander around.
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Omamori at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka
Omamori (Good luck charms) left at the temple for luck
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

The legend behind the good luck omamori here is unique. You try to find power stones yourself from inside of this stone fence. The stones actually have characters written on them in calligraphy ink. Once you have found a set of three stones with the characters 5 五, large 大, and power 力 (godairiki) written on them, you can bring them and purchase the omamori sack to put them in. Then you hang it up for good luck. Finally, you’re supposed to then write characters on stones yourself, and toss them back in for others to find. Pay it forward!

Sumiyoshi Taisha is on the way to Kansai International Airport. Maybe you can swing by as a last stop on a visit to the Kansai area! Enjoy!

Links:

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Koshi Hikari Rice beer from Niigata

Not just any rice. Koshi Hikari!

Koshi Hikari itself is known as one of the highest quality rice brands in Japan. Despite the unmistakable quality and brand recognition of the rice, I wouldn’t have guessed this beer was made with rice if it wasn’t on the label. It had a light smooth taste and was refreshing and easy to drink, as they say in Japanese. I didn’t find it particularly amazing, but it wasn’t bad. It is certainly unique. I would recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking for something uniquely Japanese to try. For what it’s worth, the bottle is also wrapped in paper, as if it were a bag of rice.

I later tried Swan Lake Beer’s Porter, which, in my opinion, was a much more interesting beer.

Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari
Swan Lake Beer – Koshi Hikari
Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari - Label
Swan Lake Beer – Koshi Hikari Back Label
Swan Lake Beer - Koshihikari Front Label
Swan Lake Beer. Made in Niigata.

Links:

Swan Lake Beer: https://www.swanlake.co.jp/main/beer/en/

Review on Beer Tengoku (these guys know their beer): https://beertengoku.com/2015/09/03/swan-lake-koshihikari-lager/

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Dajyare. Japanese Jokes. Oyaji-gag. Learn them, but use with caution.

That’s right. Japanese jokes. Japanese jokes are pretty interesting. There is a whole category of them that is entirely based on word play. Dajyare are made mainly of words that can have multiple meanings when pronounced..

The jokes don’t always involve two ‘words’ that can have double meanings, they occasionally use the grammar in the middle of a sentence can sound like a word as well. The closest cultural translation is probably “dad jokes,” however dad jokes to not always include the same wordplay as Japanese dajyare.

Dajyare is 駄洒落。駄、which is the ‘da’ used in ‘dame 駄目’, which means, bad, more or less. 洒落 (しゃれ)、means joke. So, together dajyare is a type of bad, or failed joke. Sometimes they are also called oyajigyagu. Where oyaji is old man, and gyagu, is… gag. The proper response when you hear a bad joke in Japan is to say ‘samui’ 寒い, which means cold.

Warning: Though they can be clever, dajyare, or oyaji gags, are universally considered to be groaners. They are so horrible that if used incorrectly the joke teller may be shunned by their peers. The younger generation will undoubtedly label the frequent wielder of oyaji gags to be someone who is awkward and completely out of touch. This is because the true dajyare master can work the jokes into any serious conversation without missing a beat. The dajyare master is always listening. Listening to every word in a conversation while simultaneously searching their expansive database of dajyare to retrieve and execute one at the appropriate time. Timing is everything. The best dajyare isn’t lazily delivered out of nowhere as a standalone gag, it is stealthily worked into innocuous conversation, forcing the listeners to acknowledge the joke, while suppressing their disgust.

Here’s a famous example.

Japanese: monoreru mo noreru. モノレールも乗れる。
English: You can also ride the monorail.
Humor: Try saying the Japanese aloud. You say monoreru twice, the first monoreru is ‘monorail’, the second ‘mo’ is also, and ‘noreru’, is can ride.

If you can manage to work that into a regular sentence… you’ll be the talk of the town!

For example:

A: Hey, getting to Tokyo Disney Land is easy! You can just take the train!
A: 東京ディズニーランドは行きやすいよ。電車で行ける!

B: You can even take the monorail!
B: モノレールも乗れる!

A: So… So cold…
A: さ、さむい。

Here is my personal dajyare creation.

A: How do you say sidewalk in Japanese?
B: hodou (歩道)
A: naruhodo! (なるほど!)

Now that’s comedy.

Want more? Here’s 100 Japanese Oyaji Gags you can use… Who are these kids? I want to hang out with them.

100 Dajyare in Rapid Succession!!! Oh the Humanity!

Need help? Here’s an explanation of the first five jokes to get your mind in the right space so that you can work out the rest.

赤色はあかん aka wa akan

赤色はあかん。

赤色 (akairo) means “red.” あかん (akan) is kansai dialect for “that’s won’t do” or “that’s bad,” it’s basically the same as だめ in standard Japanese. So, this is funny because they are saying “Red is no good!” but, the あか sound repeats.

イカいかすねぇ ika ikasu ne!

イカ(ika) means squid. いかす (ikasu) is slang for “cool.” so this is just the squid is cool. Forms of this joke appear frequently in the awesome game, Splatoon and Splatoon 2.

牛を飼う ushi wo kau

牛を飼う (ushi wo kau) simply means to keep a cow as a pet. This joke is absolutely bonkers hilarious (in an oyaji gag way) because the verb 飼うis pronounced (kau) and sounds just like “cow.” And, “cow,” is 牛 (ushi) in Japanese!

エイでえいっ!ei de ei!

エイでえいっ!An エイis a stingray. The kind that swims in the ocean. えい! Is something you might shout when you would say “Yeah!” or “Let’s goooooo!” in English. So you can kinda imagine someone riding on the back of a ray shouting yeah! Maybe it’s Aquaman.

女が立ちあがーる onnna ga tachi agaaru

女が立ちあがーる (onna ga tachiagaaru) means the girl stands up. The “a” sound in “tachi agaru” has been artificially lengthened to make the joke work. The joke, is that tachi a gaaru sounds like “girl” ガール in romanized Japanese. Get it?

Learn all 100 of these dajyare and then start writing your own. Might be fun!

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Traditional Soba at Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

Yoshinoyama (吉野山 or Mount Yoshino) in Nara prefecture is mainly famous for it’s beautiful cherry tree blossoms in the spring. However, I was in the area in the summer as part of another trip, and Google Maps led us to a wonderful soba shop, Yamatoan.

Inaka Soba at Soba restaurant Yamatoan on Mt. Yoshino
Inaka Soba set at Yamatoan (circa. 2020)

The staff are very friendly. Maybe it’s because we went on off-season and they weren’t very busy, but they took some extra time to tell us the difference in “inaka soba” (country-style old-fashioned soba) and regular soba. They also serve “soba yu” at the end of your meal, which the left over warm water that is left over from when the soba noodles were prepared. You’re meant to pour this warm broth into your soba dipping sauce (tsuyu) and drink it like tea.

The shop also had a big jambe drum from Mali… The staff told us that he used to play in a drum circle. I’m saying staff, but, he actually might be the owner, or manager, not sure. The shop also sells high-end hemp backpacks from Nepal. It’s that kind of natural place with a hipster vibe.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
Yamatoan on Mount Yoshino in Nara (Yoshinoyama)

We cheated and came to Yamatoan by car. If you decide to walk up the mountain to get here, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite and you’ll enjoy passing by the other rustic shops along the way.

Good times! Good food! If you’re in the area be sure to check it out, might be fun.

Soba restaurant Yamatoan
They also have a soba-making workshop!

Links:

Yamatoan Official Website

Nara Sightseeing – Yamatoan

Address: 2296, Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref.

Japanese Shochu – Chihonokura

I’m no shochu connoisseur, but I’ve had a lot of shochu. My relatives drink a ton of the potato-based Kirishima, so I am using Kirishima as the basis of comparison for every shochu I have had recently.

I recently picked up a carton of potato-based Chihonokura from the Shirakawa Suigen area in Kyushu.

Chinokura Shochu Carton
Chihonokura Shochu

Compared to Kirishima this shochu has a much stronger potato flavor. Many people describe the potato flavor of potato-based shochu as stinky, and I think it’s not unfair to use that to describe this shochu. It’s not the stinkiest or most difficult to drink, but when you try Chihonokura there will be no doubt that you’re drinking a potato shochu!

I normally drink shochu with lots of ice. I couldn’t imagine drinking this one any other way, I’m sure I would have personally found it to be too strong.

Personally I won’t be seeking this one out again, but if you’re into the more powerful potato shochu’s it’s worth a try. I was able to easily find this at a regular grocery store in Japan.

Chihonokura Carton Details
Shirakawa Suigen in Kyushu is famous for pristine water, essential for shochu.

Fancy White Bread in Japan at Nogami Bread

Need a fancy loaf of bread? Sure you do! Try Noagmi Bread.

Nogami Bread Display

This double sized loaf on display costs 864 yen, or about $8.50 USD. A smaller loaf is 432 yen. I have had this bread on several occasions, and it’s delicious for sure, but it’s not something I would plan on eating every day.

Apparently Nogami is the first Japanese company to start selling high-end white bread in Japan. Now there are many similar specialty bakeries. Nogami has branches all over Japan. See if there is one in your location so you can find out what the hype is all about!

Famous Signatures at Nogami in Osaka
Famous people shopped here! One of the Nogami Bread shops in Osaka

Links:

Not my video. A Japanese guy from 2016 showing off his bread.
Can you handle this?

A Visit to Awajishima Circa 2004

In 2002 I took a trip from Osaka to Awajishima. The trip was awesome and was suggested by a reader of my blog at the time. I was lucky enough to be hosted by an exchange student friend who was living on Awajishima, so I had a local host of sorts. The trip was a few hours one way. First we took a train to Sannomiya, and then grabbed a long distance bus for about an hour and a half. The last stop on the bus is a town called Fukura, which is where my friend was living. I’m not sure if that’s still the best way to get there, so check the Awajishima Access link below to plan your trip.

A picture of one of Awajishima's famous whirlpools
One of Awajishima’s famous whirlpools called Uzuoshi うず潮

We arrived late Friday night so we would have Saturday and Sunday to enjoy. Due to the unbelievable whirlwind of activities that we did on Saturday, I think I can say that we did almost all of the main attractions that Awajishima has to offer. Here’s a summary of our tour.

#1 Nushima (Nu Island)

Nushima (沼島) is a small island about a 10 minute ferry ride from Nandan-cho, Nada. Nushima has a famous rock called Kamitate Gami Iwa 上立神岩。

Kamitate Gamiiwa Rock
Kamitate Gamiiwa Rock 上立神岩

It also has this cool area with hundreds of continuous Torii gates. Sort of like Fushimi Inari in Kyoto but with fewer tourists and a different style of torii gate. Apparently they give luck to the many fishermen in the area.

Torii Gates on Awajishima
Torii Gates on Awajishima

Also, here’s some trivia. Apparently in Nushima there is a story that explains how the island, and the rest of Japan were created. When god was creating Japan, he jabbed a sword into the earth. When he was pulling up the sword some of the stuff that was clinging to it dripped off. That first drip is Nushima. Kamitate Gami Iwa is the spot where the sword stuck. The other drips were Awajishima and the rest of Japan… So Nushima came first. Apparently there is a similar story in Awajishima with the names reversed. The ferry’s don’t leave Nushima back to Awajishima so often, so be sure to track the schedule carefully. If not, you might have to run up and down the hills of the island at break neck speeds to avoid screwing up the rest of your day. Then your muscles will be sore… Not that… it… happened to us or anything… Ha Ha Ha!(恥)

#2 Awajishima Monkey Center (モンキーセンター)

After Nushima we went to Awajishima Monkey Center. Awajishima Monkey Center was probably the second most famous thing in Awajishima next to the Uzushio (渦潮) at the time.

Awajishima Monkey Center
Awajishima Monkey Center (2004)

The monkey center was nice because the monkeys were just kind of walking around freely. There is a designated spot for feeding where the customers go behind a fence and give them peanuts. This is so the monkeys understand that random people are only going to give them food when they are behind the fence so they don’t ask for food other times.

Monkeys at Awajishima Monkey Center
Monkeys at Awajishima Monkey Center

#3 Nazo no Paradise (ナゾのパラダイス)

Nazo no Paradise is this erotic museum with other random mystery stuff like UFOs. It was freakin’ strange. Apparently the place tries to remain reasonably legit by keeping old school Japanese erotic prints. You know what I mean. They also though had strange statues…

Statue from Nazo no Paradise
Statue from Nazo no Paradise

#4 Awaji Ningyou Jyoururi (人形浄瑠璃)

That Kanji is difficult. It wouldn’t even come up on my cell phone on first try.

Awajishima Doll
Awajishima Doll

These dolls are famous and the performance is an art. It takes three people to control one doll. The right arm and head are controlled by one person, the left arm by another, and the feet by the last person. The doll’s hands can move, eyes can blink, head can turn, and all of the arm joints move freely.

During the performance there were two Japanese ladies on the side, one playing the shamisen, and one singing and reading the lyrics. It’s amazing how they all work together to bring the dolls to life. Pictures were not allowed during the performance. The men controlling the dolls wore all black and black hoods as to not distract from the action of the dolls. 

#5 Awaji Farm Park England Hill (England no Oka, イングランドの丘)

Farm park was a sort of nature and farm inspired theme park. There is something similar in Osaka called Mother Farm. Check their website for some of the possible activities. I wouldn’t recommend a trip to Awajishima just to visit Farm Park, but if you’re already in Awajishima and have kids it can be a nice healthy diversion.

On our final day we went to do shiohigari, which is “clamming.” You go down to the beach when the tide is back, and dig for clams. Then you take them home and eat them up. Fun for the whole family!

Shiohigari in Awaji
Clamming on Awajishima
Shiohigari in Awaji
Clamming on Awajishima – BYOB (Bring your Own Bucket)

充実した一日だった。

Links around the web

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Harajuku Circa 2002

When I was relatively new to Tokyo I visited Harajuku summer 2002. Here’s some photos and memories from that time.

Harajuku is just about a 20 minute stroll from Shibuya. If you plan to visit, just get to Shibuya and you can walk to Harajuku and through Omotesando as well on the same trip.

Takeshita Doori 2002
Takeshita Street (2002)

Harajuku used to be famous for clothing shops, crepe, and the extreme fashions of the people who hang out there. The vibe has changed a bit since 2002. Nearby Omotesando is a clean fancy street filled with high end shops and fancy restaurants. Harajuku station itself is scheduled to be remodeled and expanded and will no longer be a cute little station resembling a cabin of sorts. I haven’t been in a while, but I’m pretty sure that Takeshita street still gets super crowded. Some things will never change. Probably a much higher percentage of out of foreign tourists now though.

Back in 2002, as soon as I got to the station area I noticed the crazy fashion statements that were mentioned in every Tokyo guide book at the time. The pictures speak for themselves. The locals welcomed the photos, and posed and looked directly into the camera for me.

Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002 - Two girls
Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002

The gathering was organized and set around a specific time. Was it Sunday mornings? Local photographers came out to take pictures, and everyone came out with their suitcases filled with gear for their outfits.

Harajuku Station Area 2002
Harajuku Station Area 2002
Harajuku Station Area 2002 Photographer
Harajuku Station Area 2002 Photographer

Have you been to Harajuku recently? What’s changed? Is the vibe around the station area and entrance to the park generally the same? Now when I go to Japan I generally go to Osaka, so it’s been a while since I’ve been to Harajuku too see if these folks still come out!

I can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years…

Harajuku Fashion 2002
Harajuku Fashion 2002