2013.09.04 「お弁当」
Colorful ingredients in a small box - tempura shrimp, broiled salmon, rolled egg, boiled vegetables and sesame seeds sprinkled on cooked rice.
An American couple bought the bento box lunch at a department store near Tokyo Station.
"Amazing! There were so many bento. We were at a loss which to buy," they said, smiling, as they ate their lunch on a Shinkansen. On another day, tourists from Britain shopped at bento stands and a convenience store in Hiroshima Station. They then made their way to Peace Memorial Park, where they sat on benches and ate. Easy to eat and cheap, sandwiches, onigiri (rice balls) and norimaki (seaweed sushi rolls) are quite popular.
Kyaraben, or character lunches, created with great dexterity, are quite popular abroad as well as domestically. Books on kyaraben lunches have even been published in foreign languages. Kyaraben lunches feature manga characters and animals such as rabbits, koalas and pandas made with various ingredients, including seaweed, sliced cheese and sesame seeds for eyes. Kyaraben are widely admired works of art and sometimes contests are held to acknowledge the creators. It's not just housewives that make bento at home. Working women and so-called "bento boys" who bring self-made lunches to work are increasing.
A bento is like "killing three birds with one stone" as they have three advantages: more nutritious than eating out; economical; and tangible evidence of a good cook.


"Wow! What a surprise! How pretty!" I heard a foreign visitor exclaim when she removed the cover of a bowl during lunch at a restaurant. She had discovered a single red maple leaf placed next to some cooked vegetables. Smiling, she ate the vegetables - without the leaf, of course. Do you know the story - it was made into a film recently - of a small town in Shikoku that has flourished by collecting leaves each season and shipping them to big cities to serve as garnish to decorate dishes? This success story is an indication of how Japanese appreciate the seasonal changes.
Since ancient times, autumn leaves have been used in waka (traditional Japanese poems) and patterns for kimono. We Japanese will go nearly any distance to view the turning of the leaves, called momijigari, or literally red-leaf hunting.
Miyajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, one of Japan's Three Scenic Beauties, is famous for its beautiful autumn leaves.
Among the island's best-known souvenirs are momiji-manju made in the shape of maple leaves. Though red bean paste is the traditional filling, there are now many variations such as custard cream and cheese-flavored. The chocolate cream would likely be a good choice for foreign visitors. From highland to lowland, from north to south, the autumn-leaf front is marching.
I'm now wondering where to go to enjoy the beauty of the season.
2012.12.29 年越し

The month of December is dubbed shiwasu in Japanese, which literally means school teachers are running. It's said that even teachers, who usually stay calm, are so busy this month they have to run to keep up. Why are people so busy? It might be due to our belief that it's nice to greet the New Year with fresh determination and a sense of accomplishment by keeping our homes clean and neat.
Here's something you can only experience in Hiroshima on New Year's Eve :a festival called Chinkasai on Miyajima island. Islanders gather on the beach near Itsukushimajinnja shrine with special torches, lighting them with a sacred flame carried from the shrine.
This exciting "festival of flame," with people running about on the beach bearing torches rings down the curtain on the year.
Participants take the embers home as talismans to ward off fire. Some people climb Mount Misen (535 meters) to watch the sunrise and then visit Itsukushimajinja to pray for happiness throughout the year. People worldwide greet the New Year in their own way.
When I spent the New Year at a resort hotel in the Philippines, visitors gathered in the restaurant on New Year's Eve. We all began counting down and exchanged toasts, saying, "Happy New Year."
With only a few days left in the year, I would like to thoroughly clean my home and send out all my New Year's cards on time - goals I doubt I will, as usual, be able to accomplish.
2012.12.28 日本酒
Sushi, tempura and yakitori - healthy Japanese dishes have taken root abroad.
However, they are not at their best unless accompanied by sake, which has a more than 1,000-year history. Lots of foreign travelers say they want to try real sake or purchase it as a gift.
Confronted with a huge variety of elaborately designed bottoles and labels, they are often too overwhelmed to choose one. They shower me questions : "Does sake have vintages like wine?" "Are there variations of ingredients or alcohol content?" "Is this dry or sweet?" "Why is the price range so wide?"
As a sake lover I find myself answering these questions passionately. My hometown, Hiroshima, is a big sake producing region and holds a Sake Festival every fall. In the case of sake, the grade is legally defined by how much the rice is milled. For average sake at least 50 percent is removed. The milling degree increases quality, fragrance and price. I heard that as much as 90 percent is milled for the highest grade "Daiginjo"!
I usually recommend "Ginjo," which is popular even among beginners. Both dry and sweet varieties are available. Sake can be enjoyed chilled. But on a cold winter night, hot dishes and warm sake relax your body and mind. Shall we start our sake adventure with a kanpai(Cheers)!
2012.12.28 干支(えと)

Time flies. November has arrived. This year's calendar has only two pages remaining and New Year's cards are already on sale. The snake depicted in various designs on the cards is one of the 12 zodiac animals originally introduced from China.
2013 is the Year of the Snake. Mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and wild boar circle periodically. For Westerners, the snake might be considered evil because Eve was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by a snake, but in Japan it is revered as a symbol of wealth and a god of a rich harvest.
I was born in the Year of the Monkey. Those who are born in that year are said to be optimistic and sociable. I think that applies to me exactly. After I mention that my foreign guests shower me with questions. They want to know what their zodiac animal is and its corresponding personality. The reason the cat, one of the most beloved house pets, is not included in the 12 animals is another frequently asked question.
According to legend, the cat showed up late for an important meeting to choose the 12 animals after being tricked by the mouse. Ever since, cats have chased mice. In the American cartoon "Tom and Jerry" Tom rarely succeeds in catching clever Jerry.
Why don't you start to think about preparing your New Year's cards with a lovely snake motif?
西洋では蛇はイブに禁断の果実を食べるようにそそのかしたとされ、邪悪なイメージがありますが、日本では金運の象徴や穀物の神としてあがめられてきたのです。ちなみに私は申(さる)年。申年生まれは、楽観的で人好きと言われますから私は典型的な申年のようです。 と言うと、海外のお客様から「私の干支は?その性格は?」と質問攻めに合います。また、ペットの代表的存在の猫が十二支に入らなかったのは意外に思われます。

Dishes that help dispel the myth held by many foreigners that "Japan is expensive!" are flour-based konamono, typified by okonomiyaki, which is sometimes called "Japanese pizza." The variety of ingredients - vegetables, meat, seafood, noodles and egg mixed with wheat-flour dough - means that it is both nutritionally balanced and reasonably priced.
It's a local specialty in Hiroshima, where it is not just a food but is considered an established food culture. While in the Osaka area all ingredients are mixed and baked like a thick pancake, in Hiroshima the ingredients are layered rather than mixed.
As okonomiyaki literally means "bake as you want," you can choose your favorite ingredients. Restaurants spare no effort to create their own unique recipe. If foreign visitors find the dish not exactly to their taste, they can add cheese, kimchi, mayonnaise or even chili powder. Okonomiyaki sauce looks like Worcestershire sauce, but it is a flavorful blend of vegetable and fruit extracts and dozens of spices. Cover the dish generously with the sauce and eat piping hot "Economy-yaki" would be a good way of pronouncing it if you can't manage the correct Japanese!
「日本の物価は高い!」と嘆く外国人の先入観を取り去ってくれる食べ物。 それは和風ピザとも称される、お好み焼きに代表される粉物。小麦粉ベースの生地に、野菜、肉、魚介、麺、卵などが加わり、バランスがよく、しかもお手頃な値段。私の住む広島の名物にもなっており、食べ物というだけでなく、食文化の地位を得ています。
2012.12.18 「鍋物」

"Sukiyaki, shabushabu, I enjoyed them so much!" many foreigners say. They especially seem to like high-quality beef. However, some don't want to dip sukiyaki ingredients into a beaten egg because of hygienic concerns over raw egg. "You don't have to worry about it in Japan because the eggs are treated to destroy salmonella," I tell them.
In addition, we have a variety of hotpots fearturing blowfish, crab, chicken, tofu and so on. A hotpot with oysters and miso is a favorite local dish in Hiroshima, which is the nation's largest oyster producing prefecture. It is called dote-nabe because miso spread around the rim of the pot (nabe), looks like a riverbank (dote). Put the miso in the soup little by little, cook together with oysters and vegetables, and eat.
A steaming hotpot enjoyed with family or friends will surely warm your heart and body even on a cold winter night.
The selling point of hotpot cookery, especially for homemakers, is that all you have to do is prepare the ingredients. Then you can cook while eating!
If you choose less expensive ingredients, it's also economical.
Now what do you want to cook for tonight's dinner?

In Japanese society, many people pay attention to the age differences between you and your friends, co-workers and acquaintances. If you are older than someone, you are his or her senpai or senior and sometimes allowed to act like their boss and give them directions and even orders. On the other hand, if you are younger, you are a kohai or junior and expected to act politely by respecting and listening to them and using honorific expressions. In Japan, "How old are you?" is a usual question asked at a first meeting. Knowing how old you are, Japanese people decide which way they should behave, as a senpai or a kohai.
日本の社会では、友達や同僚、知り合いとの年の差を気にする人が多い。 相手より年上なら先輩で、ボスのように振舞ったり、相手に指図や命令まですることが許されることもある。 一方、年下なら後輩で、尊敬し言うことを聞いて敬語を使うなど、丁寧振舞うことが期待される。日本では 「おいくつですか?」は初対面でよくきかれる質問で、相手の年齢を知ることで、日本人は先輩として行動するか後輩として行動するかを決める。

It is said that some Japanese high school and university sports teams such as judo or baseball still operate with army-like rules. A difference of one year in age might make a difference between a member being a superior or a subordinate.

Some Japanese companies still maintain a seniority system in which employees are promoted according to their age and when they joined the company.
2012.07.20 ochugen お中元
ochugen お中元

Ochugen is a midyear gift given to relatives, superiors or acquaintances as a token of gratitude for help received. Chugen originally fell on July 15 in the Chinese lunar calendar. In Japan, this custom of sending gifts is observed mainly from the beginning to the middle of July. Some standard gifts are beer, juice or somen thin wheat noodles. Gift certificates are also popular presents. The average cost is around 3,000 to 5,000 yen per item. In a similar custom in December, people exchange oseibo year-end-gifts.


During the ochugen season, department stores engage in fierce competition to attract as many customers as possible. This is called the midsummer "sales wars." They employ every trick in the book, including setting up special summer gift areas and offering free delivery service.

Ochugen is traditionally gift-wrapped with red-and-white cords and an attached decoration of folded red-and-white paper. These cords are called mizuhiki and the folded paper noshi. Today noshigami - wrapping paper with colorful mizuhiki and noshi designs - is usually used instead.
2012.07.12 rainy season 梅雨
rainy season 梅雨

After the cherry blossom season, the rainy season arrives in early May in southern Japan and in mid-June in the north. The rainy season or tsuyu lasts about four or five weeks. There is a break in the rainy season when it doesn't rain as much and some people are misled into believing tsuyu is over. Although rain is indispensable for farmers' just-planted rice crops, many Japanese don't like the rainy season. They also have to be careful of mold and food poisoning. Still, some of them try to have fun by wearing fashionable rain gear, hydrangea viewing and so on.

Hokkaido and the Ogasawara Islands don't usually have a rainy season.

The rainy season has come to Tokyo.

Kyushu and other southwest regions are often subjected to torrential showers toward the end of tsuyu.

There is another rainy season in Japan which is called akisame. It literally means autumn rain and begins in September and ends in October.