Kansai

New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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Friends, good news! My book is now available to purchase online. Please note that if you purchase the book from the CreateSpace eStore, you can use the discount code (YVW7YCQG) to receive $3 off the list price. Worldwide shipment is available.

Further, Amazon.com is offering a special limited time holiday discount.  Use the following code to receive $10 off the list price at check out:  HOLIDAYBOOK

Thank you so much for your support!

•CreateSpace eStore: Now available
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Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bloggers-Guide-Japan-Kristine-Ohkubo/dp/1539033112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480353733&sr=8-1&keywords=A+blogger%27s+guide+to+japan

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JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Shikoku)

In our previous posts, we covered the regional cuisines of Hokkaido, Tohoku, Chubu and Kansai and now we move into the Shikoku area, the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan.

The name Shikoku means “four provinces” and includes Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima and Kagawa. The region is most famous for its 88 temple pilgrimage, Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route and Awa Odori, a dance festival which takes place in Tokushima Prefecture during Obon (Augist 12-15th). Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan drawing over 1.3 million visitors annually.

Part of the 88-temple pilgramage

Part of the 88-temple pilgrimage

Awa Odori

Awa Odori

If you are interested in visiting the region to take part in one of these events, be sure to sample the Udon that it is famous for. Udon is a thick wheat flour noodle often served hot in a mildly flavored soup. The simplest form is known as kake udon featuring a broth known as kakejiru, consisting of dashi (soup stock), shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin (a type of rice wine similar to sake but with a lower alcohol content). The most common form of dashi or soup stock used in Japan is derived from boiling kombu (kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of katsuobushi – preserved skipjack tuna) then straining the resultant liquid. Kake udon is often served with thinly chopped scallions and can include other toppings such as tempura (prawn), kakiage (mixed tempura fritter) or aburage (deep fried tofu seasoned with sugar, mirin and shoyu).

Kake Udon

Kake Udon

Kezurikatsuo

Kezurikatsuo

Aburage

Aburage

Kakiage

Kakiage

Another type of udon dish is known as Sanuki Udon which is produced in Kagawa Prefecture, previously known as Sanuki Province. This type of udon noodle is characterized by its square shape and flat edges.

Sanuki udon

Sanuki udon

In the Kochi Prefecture, you will find that Katsuo no tataki is very popular. This dish involves skipjack tuna or Katsuo that is finely chopped and mixed with spring onion and rice vinegar. Outside the Kochi area, the fish is sliced and seared. Another regional item you will find in the Kochi area is Sawachi Ryori, sashimi or sushi served on a huge plate called sawachi.

Katsuo no tataki

Katsuo no tataki

Sawachi Ryori

Sawachi Ryori

Finally, in the Tokushima area, you will find that Sudachi is quite common. This is a small citrus fruit similar to a lime that is grated and added to dishes to give them a distinctive taste known throughout Tokushima during the summer months.

Sudachi

Sudachi

So that covers it for the Shikoku region. Stay tuned as we introduce you to the regional dishes of the Kyushu and Okinawa regions next!

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Kansai and Chugoku)

The Kansai region sometimes referred to as the Kinki region is located in the south central part of Honshu, Japan’s main island. The prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga all comprise what is known as the cultural and historical heart of Japan. Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto are the second most populated urban areas after Greater Tokyo.

Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan can be found in the Kansai region as well as four of Japan’s national parks and six of the seven top prefectures in terms of national treasures.

There is a deep seated rivalry between the Kanto region, the symbol of standardization throughout Japan and the Kansai region which represents the counterculture of Japan. Many of the characteristic traits of the Kansai people descend from Osaka’s merchant culture. Oftentimes, Kansai people are seen as pragmatic, entrepreneurial and possessing a strong sense of humor. In contrast, the Kanto people are perceived as more sophisticated, reserved and formal.

Kansai is particularly known for its food, especially Osaka. Popular Osakan dishes include: Takoyaki (balls of grilled, savory batter with pieces of octopus inside), Okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with cabbage, meat or seafood, flavored with Japanese worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise), Kitsune Udon (literally means fox noodles, udon noodles served in hot soup and topped with seasoned aburaage/ deep fried tofu), Osaka Zushi (pressed sushi or box sushi as it is sometimes called) and Kushikatsu (seasoned, skewered and grilled meat). Other regional delights include Yudofu (a popular dish in Kyoto, this is tofu simmered in hot water with kombu/ seaweed and eaten with various dipping sauces). Kansai is also the home of many Wagyu brands including Kobe, Matsusaka and Omi beef and the region produces 45% of all sake in Japan!

Takoyaki

Takoyaki

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

Kitsune Udon

Kitsune Udon

Osaka Zushi

Osaka Zushi

Kushikatsu

Kushikatsu

Yudofu

Yudofu

The Chugoku region is located in the westernmost part of Honshu and consists of Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi prefectures. The area is further sub-divided into the heavily industrialized Sanyo region and the more rural Sanin region.

Popular dishes in this region include Okonomiyaki, Matsuba gani, Katsuo no tataki and Sanuki Udon. The okonomiyaki made in Hiroshima is quite different from the dish you will find anywhere else in Japan. Instead of pancake like batter cooked on the hot iron griddle, Hiroshima style starts with a crepe like thin pancake on the griddle that is topped with heaps of shredded cabbage and other toppings such as bacOkonomiyaki, Matsuba gani, Katsuo no tatakon, tempura bits or seafood. On the side, yakisoba noodles are cooked along with a fried egg before all the ingredients are assembled in layers. Tottori Prefecture is famous for Matsuba gani/ Snow crab and boiled crab commands high prices. The Kochi Prefecture is famous for bonito fishing and Katsuo-no tataki is a general term used to describe this fish seared over a flame. It is often served with lots of sliced garlic, thin sliced onions, shiso, green onion, myoga, and lemon with generous amount of soy sauce mixed with yuzu citrus. Sanuki style udon is served al dente with a simple soy sauce or broth.

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki

Katsuo no tataki

Katsuo no tataki

Sanuki Udon

Sanuki Udon

So there you have it! Getting hungry yet? Stay tuned as we venture further south and sample other regional dishes.

Japan: Tokyo/Osaka (Cinco de Mayo Festival)

Cinco de Mayo is a day observed in commemoration of the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is commonly accepted that the holiday is celebrated in Mexico and the U.S. but did you know that Japan also celebrates during Golden Week?

The largest Cinco de Mayo festival in Japan is held at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo and also Osaka Castle Park in the Kansai Region. The event features music, dance, food and drinks from more than ten countries including Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and the U.S. Over forty food stands line the interior of the park along with beverage stands promoting Jose Cuervo and Tecate beer, just to name a few. There are mariachi bands, Brazilian martial arts demonstrations, a piñata for the kids, folklore dance groups and performers from the various countries represented.

The Cinco de Mayo celebrations were the brainchild of Steven Kim, a Korean American from Atlanta, Georgia who came to Japan in 1989. Prior to this event there was no major festival in Japan to showcase the cuisines, beverages and cultures of these dynamic countries.

The festival runs for two days in Toyko (May 3rd – 4th) beginning at 10:00 AM. The Cinco de Mayo celebrations at Osaka Castle Park run from May 4th -6th, beginning at 11:00 AM. There is no admission charge at either location but do note that you will need to pay ¥500 for a wristband which enables you to purchase food and beverages. The Tokyo event has recorded over 100,000 visitors annually.

Yoyogi Park has hosted some of the best international festivals over the years including the Thai, the Brazilian and the Jamaican festivals. The Cinco de Mayo Festival began in 2013 and has been going strong ever since. So venture out and see how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Japan!

 

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Largest dish of paella I have ever seen.

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Website: www.cincodemayo.jp

Photos courtesy of Cinco de Mayo Japan

 

Japan: Kyoto (Kit Kat Chocolatory)

Well, if the shrines, temples, geiko, maiko and beautiful fall foliage were not enough of a reason to visit Kyoto, now you have one more motivator! Nestle Japan just recently opened up their fourth Kit Kat Chocolatory at the Daimaru Department Store Kyoto. Daimaru is one of Kyoto’s two largest and most opulent department stores with everything from elite international brands to one of Japan’s best food markets. (http://www.daimaru.co.jp/kyoto/)

daimaru_kyoto

Nestle already operates three Kit Kat boutique stores located at Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store and Daimaru Department Store in Tokyo as well as the Matsuzaka Department Store in Nagoya. Combined these three stores have generated ¥900,000,000 in sales with the patronage of 400,000 customers thus far. The Kit Kat Chocolatory at the Seibu Ikebukuro Store was the first of its kind in the word, having opened on January 17, 2014.

Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store

Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store

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Kit Kat Chocolatory at Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store

Kit Kat Chocolatory at Seibu Ikebukuro Department Store

Tokyo

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Kit-Kats

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Japan is already famous for its unique flavors of Kit Kats which are not available anywhere else. The Kit Kat Chocolatory capitalizes on this trait and aims to target adult taste buds with products suited for each season of the year. Further adding to Kit Kat’s popularity in Japan, the chocolate snacks are considered to be good luck for students preparing for entrance exams because the name Kit Kat sounds somewhat like the phrase “You’ll win for sure! (Kitto Katsu)” in Japanese.

The Kit Kat Chocolatory in Kyoto opened on January 28, 2015 and is the first branch in the Kansai area. Its products are supervised by the famous confectioner, Yasumasa Takagi of LE PATISSIER TAKAGI. The shop features a café serving Kit Kat Sablés, a round French shortbread cookie, parfaits, coffee, green tea, and soft serve chocolate ice cream all for between ¥210 – ¥600.

Yasumasa Takagi of LE PATISSIER TAKAGI

Yasumasa Takagi of LE PATISSIER TAKAGI

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Kyoto store with cafe

In honor of the shop opening, Nestle Japan has introduced several new items which will only be available at the Kyoto location including the Kit Kat Chocolatery Special Kyoto Assort and the Kit Kat x DISH Special Collaboration Kit Kat with CD.

kk-4The shop is located at the first basement level (B1) of Daimaru Kyoto (79 Shijo Street Takakura Nishiiri Tachiurinishimachi, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto). It is open from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.

Japan: Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival)

Japan is a wonderful country renowned for its many festivals. On March 3rd of each year, a festival called Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) is held. It is also sometimes referred to as Momo no Sekku (Peach Festival) because it corresponds to the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. Where Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day) held on May 5th is a national holiday, Hinamatsuri is not.

It is considered to be a special day for girls and families with female children celebrate by praying for the girl’s health and happiness.

Hinamatsuri’s origins can be traced back to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (“doll floating”), during which straw dolls were set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, carrying troubles or bad spirits with them.

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The Doll Festival is characterized by platforms (hina dan ) covered with a red cloth (dankake) used to display a set of ornamental dolls (hina-ningyo) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period. The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition dictates that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the girls.

The Kanto and the Kansai regions have different placement orders for the dolls from left to right, but the order of dolls per level are identical. The top tier is reserved for the Emperor and Empress dolls. The dolls are usually placed in front of a gold folding screen (byobu). The two lampstands (bonbori) and the paper or silk lanterns (hibukuro) which are usually decorated with cherry (sakura) or plum (ume) blossom patterns are optional.

The second tier holds three ladies of the court. The third tier holds five male musicians. Each musician holds an instrument with the exception of the singer (utaikata), who holds a fan. The forth tier holds two ministers (daijin). One minister is depicted as a young person and the other minister is much older. Both are sometimes equipped with bows and arrows. The fifth tier holds three helpers or samurai as the protectors of the Emperor and Empress. The sixth and seventh tiers hold a variety of miniature furniture, tools, carriages, etc.

Traditionally, during the festival, hishi-mochi (red, white and green diamond shaped rice cakes) are presented as offerings. Also, celebrants drink a sweet white sake known as shiro-zake during the event. Chirashizushi (sushi rice flavored with sugar and vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of other ingredients) is often served as the meal. A salt-based soup called ushiojiru containing clams still in the shell is also served. Clam shells are deemed the symbol of a united and peaceful couple because a pair of shells fit together perfectly.  Over the years, there have been some modern alterations made such as hinamatsuri cake but the essence of the festival remains unchanged.

Hinamatsuri is not only celebrated in Japan but also in Florence, Italy and Hawaii.

Chirashizushi

Chirashizushi

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Japan: Kobe (Kobe Luminarie)

The word “luminarie” is the plural form of the Italian word “luminaria” which means Illumination with miniature bulbs. Every December since 1995, Kobe has been set aglow with over 200,000 individually hand-painted lights in what is known as the Kobe Luminarie. (http://www.kobe-luminarie.jp/)

On January 17, 1995, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck Kobe killing more than 6,000 and causing $100 billion in damages. Since Kobe was the closest to the epicenter, it experienced the most damage both in terms of infrastructure and in lives lost. Many of Kobe’s surviving residents had to live in darkness due to supply cuts in electricity, gas, and water. Eleven months following the devastating earthquake, the Kobe Luminarie was held to not only pay tribute to the thousands who perished but also to give hope to the surviving citizens that their city could, one day, be restored. The lights were donated by the Italian government and the installation was spearheaded by Italian designer Valerio Festi and Kobe native Hirokazu Imaoka. 

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The Luminarie was held for a period of twelve days and major streets in the vicinity were closed to traffic in order to allow pedestrians to fill the streets and enjoy the lights. Although the event was intended to be a onetime occurrence, it drew 2.5 million people on the first day. Thus due to its popularity, the Kobe Luminarie is now an annual event which symbolizes the hope of Kobe citizens.

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During the opening ceremony, silent prayers are offered to the victims of the earthquake and the names of those who were killed are posted. The theme changes every year and the event attracts around 4 million people, raising $1.3 million in donations and $6.1 million in sponsorship and merchandise sales. The Kobe Luminarie relies on its audience to keep going. Visitors support the event by putting coins in the donation boxes set up around the brightly lit structures.

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In 2011 when a sizeable earthquake and ensuing tsunami devastated the Tohoku region, a special exhibition was held during the Luminarie to raise money for the victims. In 2012, drawings by children from that region were used to make lanterns displayed at the event.

The Kobe Luminarie is a must see event if you are ever in the Kansai region in December. Held two weeks before Christmas, it is a wonderful opportunity to get into the holiday spirit by viewing the magnificent light displays.

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