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Things Japanese XXIX

Strawberry Shortcake The Japanese have a love for strawberry shortcake. And for sweets that are lovely to look at in general. Just go to any of the fancy shops on the food floor of a department store, and you can feast your eyes. This is not so very surprising. What is suprising, at least to me, is that in Japan, you can pick up a beautiful looking piece of cake at the convenience store. Convenience store food in other countries is known to be strictly for emergencies or desperate students. You don’t expect it to be very tasty, let alone pretty. Not so in Japan. For less than 300Y, this pretty little cake, carefully packaged to preserve its shape, can be yours. Just stop at the Combini at the corner.

Japan-Kyoto-Kodaiji-Reffert2Kodai-ji is an all-time favorite of us in Kyoto – but I had never seen it by daylight! Both in spring and autumn, they have evening openings with light-ups, which we had gone to three times already (see here for a spring light-up). Now I made it there for the first time in the winter season, and during the day. Not surprisingly, it was a treat.

Dry landscape garden at Kodai-ji

Dry landscape garden at Kodai-ji

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Fukubukuro! (Lucky Bag)

Lucky bags on saleAnother big thing happening in Japan after New Year are the New Year’s Sales, and most importantly, Fukubukuro or Lucky Bags. In the same vein as the Gachapon balls and toys sold in blind boxes, you buy something of which you don’t know exactly what it contains, an idea that is strangely attractive to the Japanese mind. Shops sell bundles of items at sales prices, the only catch is that you have no idea what you are getting. The premise is that you will be getting more than your money’s worth. Except, you can’t choose.
Basically every single store in existence does lucky bags, clothing stores, jewelers, drug stores, Starbucks, Mr. Donuts, even grocery stores. It has to be said that grocery stores often show a sample bag, so you have an idea of what will be in your fruit or seaweed lucky bag.
Fukubukuro go on sale in the morning of the first day a shop reopens after New Year, and the good ones draw huge queues and sell out before mid-day. I have however seen lucky bags still sitting around on January 4, I guess those were just not that popular.
With so much hype, I totally wanted to go in for this part of the Japanese experience and buy a lucky bag myself.
Lucky bags from the Sanrio store Continue Reading »

Osechi-ryori

Osechi-ryori What would Japanese New Year be without ginormous queues before temples and shrines (necessitating personnel to direct the foot traffic), New Year’s decorations, and of course osechi-ryori? The latter is the food to be eaten from bento-boxes that are prepared ahead of time, as one is not supposed to be cooking or cleaning on New Year’s day. Each of the foods contained in the box has a special lucky meaning.
Since we had not spent the days leading up to the New Year in the kitchen preparing traditional food, but did not want to miss out on it, we had to go in for the more expensive option, namely hitting up the very crowded Ginza Mitsukoshi and get our osechi-ryori from there. Having eaten all of it, we trust we’ll have luck for the rest of the year now.

Reffert-Year_of_Moneky_Tenugui Happy New Year to my readers! I haven’t been updating my blog since we’ve last been to Japan – even though I had some plans, I was busy otherwise. But just in time for the year of the monkey, we are back! This means that I was again able to get the next tenugui in our series featuring the monkey and also the barrel-styled sake bottle for the new year (see here the versions for the Year of the Horse). It’s so nice to be in Japan right around New Year as there is such a festive mood with decorations everywhere. You’ll be hearing more from me in the next few days, for now I say akemashite omedetou!

Sake "barrel" - New year's cat ornament - monkey charm

Sake “barrel” – New year’s cat ornament – monkey charm

Kyoto-traditional-Japan2-Reffert As I have said here before, one cannot spend too much time in Kyoto (or enough, for that matter). It’s not like we’ve seen all the sights worth seeing, but we’ve been there enough times that we feel we have the luxury of just strolling around aimlessly without feeling that we’re missing out on the big sights. And there are endlessly many charming corners to be discovered. Kyoto-traditional-Japan-Reffert Continue Reading »

Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

Mermaid at the Beach at Unohama Onsen

With so many spots still to explore in Japan (see our Hello Kitty map), we decided to take advantage of the newly extended Hokuriku Shinkansen to explore the formerly rather inaccessible Sea of Japan coast for a weekend getaway. The line has been extended from Nagano to Kanazawa. Since we had already visited both endpoints on former occasions, I was trying to decide on one of the places in between. But frankly, it seemed that none of them is touristically very developed. I first thought of Unazuki-onsen (it being a hot-spring resort), but then decided against it as the sightseeing railroad into the neighboring Kurobe Gorge has not yet reopened after winter. In the end, I decided on Unohama Onsen in Niigata Prefecture, because, again, hot springs. That the place is directly on the beach seemed another plus.
View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

View of the Niigata Coast from Kasugayama

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