Saturday 30 December 2017

New Year's Cleaning: Decluttering the KonMari way

In Britain we have spring cleaning but in Japan the major cleanup takes place at the end of the year in schools, temples, and homes, and is known as ōsoji (大掃除), literally big cleaning. Ōsoji needs to be finished before December 31st, known as ōmisoka (大晦日) in Japan. In the home, this usually consists of cleaning oven hoods, sweeping balconies, washing windows, and dusting everywhere. Once the cleaning has been completed, the house is considered "pure" enough to put up New Year decorations such as kadomatsu (a bamboo/pine decoration) to welcome ancestral spirits or kami. Only then can holiday festivities can be enjoyed with a clear conscience!

A key part of the clean-up is getting rid of unwanted stuff and in this respect "organising consultant" Marie Kondo has been remarkably influential (indeed she was was one of Time's "100 most influential people" in 2015). Her 2011 book Jinsei ga Tokimeku Katatsuke no Maho (人生がときめく片づけの魔法) was a massive bestseller and has been published in over 30 countries. The 2014 English version was followed by a 2016 sequel and a 2017 manga, the former titled "Spark Joy" drawing on the verb tokimeku in the original Japanese which can be variously translated as to throb, flutter, or palpitate​. The basic idea is to take a category-by-category approach (such as clothes or books) and focus on what you want to keep rather than want you want to throw away; anything that "sparks joy" should be kept and given a proper place that is both visible and accessible.

Given the combination of small houses and a consumerist and gift-giving culture, it is no surprise that the KonMari method (こんまり式) has been something of a revelation in Japan. In the neighbourhood, it's very common to see storage containers or "trunk-rooms" which you can rent out to store the stuff that won't fit in your house (pictured). People who can't afford to do this - or who can't bear to throw anything out - simply hoard and in recent years the increase in the issue of so-called "garbage houses" (gomi-yashiki =ゴミ屋敷) where rubbish has been overflowing onto the street has become something of a social problem. Indeed, there are even specialist companies which clear out such houses in cases of the increasingly common case of solitary death (kodoku-shi =孤独死).

This will be the last post for 2017, so let me leave with you a couple of common greetings used around this time of year. If it's still 2017 I can say yoi otoshi o (よいお年を) which means (I hope you) have a good new year (holiday); if you're reading this in 2018 then I will wish you a very happy new year which is akemashite omedetō gozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます) - shortened to akeome among friends!

Thursday 28 December 2017

The Old Ladies' Harajuku: Red Pants in Sugamo

Everywhere in Tokyo is ridiculously busy at this time of year, with people on a shopping frenzy as if the shops are about to shut forever. When describing a place full of people, Japanese use the term hito-gomi (人込み), a phrase which I misinterpreted as "human rubbish" when I first heard it! One of the busiest and best known places in Tokyo is Harajuku, a fashion mecca and a magnet for youth; less well-known (but equally busy) is Sugamo (巣鴨), known as the Harajuku for Old Ladies (おばあちゃんの原宿), a district for older people centred around the Jizō-dōri (地蔵通り) shōtengai or shopping street (pictured). Given that the Japanese population is rapidly ageing (kōreika =高齢化) Sugamo offers something of a snapshot of what Japan might look like in the years to come. The local MacDonald's for example is famous for its old people friendly menu with traditional Japanese words rather than the usual English loan words: for example, the menu has oimo for poteto (french fries) and toriniku instead of the normal chikin (chicken). 

A very distinctive feature of Sugamo is the number of shops selling red underwear (!), with the flagship store being Maruji (マルジ) pictured. The colour red in Japan, as in much of Asia, symbolises joy, happiness, and good luck as well as long life. For example, anyone turning 60 in Japan (known as kanreki =還暦) is traditionally presented with a red jacket again symbolising longevity. Consequently, senior citizens flock to Sugamo to stock up on red pants with the hope of a long life! Inside Maruji itself, red pants are divided into the 12 animal zodiac signs of the Chinese zodiac (eto =干支) so you can choose a pair that matches your birth year (pictured below)!

Saturday 23 December 2017

Christmas in Japan: Romance, Chicken, Cakes, and Gifts

Christmas in Japan is, on the surface, not a great deal different to that back in England in terms of the gaudy decorations, beautiful illuminations, and non-stop Christmas music in the shops. Many Japanese will put up a Christmas tree and/or lights, a wreath, and Santa ornaments. The main difference though is that December 25th is just an ordinary working day for most - the big holiday and family gathering time is New Year (Shōgatsu =正月). If anything, Christmas itself is more a time for couples; Christmas Eve (simply called ivu/ibu =イヴ in Japanese) especially has a strong romantic image - apparently created by the young women's magazine an-an - and making a reservation at a restaurant is next to impossible.

In terms of food, Christmas in Japan means two things: chicken (not turkey!) and cakes. The former is chiefly due to a smart advertising campaign by Kentucky in the 1970s whose slogan was "Kentucky for Christmas" (クリスマスにはケンタッキー). Today, you need to book weeks in advance if you don't want to spend hours queueing for fried chicken. Christmas is also the only time you can typically buy a whole roast chicken in the supermarket - though most people plump for the legs or thigh (pictured).

As for cakes, Christmas cake is not the rich brandy-soaked fruit cake with marzipan and icing popular in the UK but a sponge cake usually with chocolate or stawberries. The basement of department stores - where the grocery section is found - is usually unbelievably busy with crowds jostling to secure the best cake before they sell out (which they never do).

In one word Christmas in Japan is quintessentially about consumerism - your wallet can become light very quickly just buying a few Christmas goodies (perhaps Japan is not so different after all!). Gift-giving is big in Japan and year-end gifts known as oseibo (お歳暮) - for those you became indebted to (osewa ni natta hito) during the year - are big business. I spotted this "Merry Christmas" gift corner in a local department store today including \10,000 (£66/$88) melons, \5,000 dried persimmons (hoshigaki), and \4,000 strawberries (pictured). One of the nice things about gift-giving in Japan though is the way gifts are opened very carefully and slowly, taking care to keep the gift-wrapping neat and intact, and thereby showing respect to the gift-giver. Much respect too to all those who have followed the blog since it was born back in March: a big merī kurisumasu (メリークリスマス) - usually abbreviated to merikuri - to you all!

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Osamu Dazai and Suicide in Japan

Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) is one of Japan's most revered writers with the semi-autobiographical Ningen Shikkaku (人間失格)- No Longer Human - a modern-day classic that remains one of the all-time best-selling works of fiction in Japan (see here for a short review). The story is about a young man's isolation and alienation from society - his failure to identify with or understand other human beings - and describes a spiral of self-destruction that results in a failed suicide attempt. The author too made a number of suicide attempts, beginning at age twenty and ending just before his 39th birthday when he drowned himself together with his lover in the rain-swollen Tamagawa River. He is buried at Zenrin Temple (禅林寺) in Mitaka, Tokyo; when I visited there was still incense burning in front of the grave (pictured), no doubt one of his many fans paying their respects. Note also the fresh flowers, including some white chrysanthemum (shiragiku =白菊)a flower of condolence in Japan.

Japan has the reputation of having a high suicide rate, thanks to famous figures like Dazai and also Yukio Mishima, and this image is reinforced by films such as "The Sea of Trees" (追憶の森), starring Ken Watanabe, about Japan's infamous "suicide forest" (Aokigahara=青木ヶ原) at the base of Mount Fuji. Certainly, in every day life, it is not uncommon for a train to be delayed due to a "human accident" or jinshin-jiko (人身事故) which is often a euphemism for someone jumping in front of a train (tobikomi). However, in recent years the number of suicides have actually fallen quite significantly, with 19,959 deaths in 2019, a drop of more than 14,000 compared to the 2003 peak and an all-time low (MHLW White Papers here). And against expectations, COVID-19 has actually pushed the most recent suicide numbers even further down compared to the previous year. WHO data for 2016 year ranks Japan at 15th in the world with 18.5 suicides per 100,000 (14.3 or 29th when adjusted for differences in age distribution). Nevertheless, suicide rates in Japan are high compared to other industrialised countries (more than double that of the UK for example) and youth suicides have been on the rise; Japan is the only G7 country in which suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-34 year-olds. In 2019, suicide became the leading cause of death for children aged 10-14 for the first time in the postwar period.
Lifeline Poster at a train station

The seriousness of the situation was brought home when nine dismembered bodies were found at an apartment in Zama City last month, all young people (including three high-school girls) who had expressed suicidal thoughts on social media and had subsequently been lured to the killer's apartment. The incident underlined the inadequacy of support and prevention programmes for suicide in Japan despite a 2016 revision of the Basic Law on Suicide Prevention. Telephone lifelines (inochi no denwa =命の電話) in particular are woefully under-funded and under-staffed; it can take up to 20 attempts to get through to a Japanese lifeline (which is then usually limited to 20 minutes). Moreover, COVID-19 has seen support groups having to cut back support raising fears of a spike in deaths during the period of isolation. For the English speaker (of whatever nationality) in Japan, there is an alternative that is still active during the pandemic: TELL (Tokyo English Lifeline) is Japan's only English-speaking lifeline and also offers a online chat at weekends. For more on suicide in Japan and what can be done, see the remarkable documentary "Saving 10,000" available here. "Sometimes all you need to save somebody’s life," concludes the film-maker, "is to take the time to listen."

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Loved but Lonely Elephants: Animal Welfare in Japan

In a previous post, I introduced Kichijoji, consistently voted the place most people want to live (sunde-mitai machi =住んでみたい街)in Tokyo. One of the biggest draws is the beautiful Inokashira Park with its boating lake (pictured), dog-friendly restaurants, and beautiful foliage. It is also only a short walk to the famous Ghibli Musueum (advance bookings only!). Inside the park is the popular Inokashira Park Zoo (shizen bunka-en = 自然文化園) which houses mainly smaller animals like monkeys, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and even freshwater fish. Until recently though the star attraction was Hanako, an Asiatic elephant, who was the first elephant (=象) to come to Japan after WWII. Hanako arrived at Ueno Zoo in 1949 as a gift from Thailand and moved to Inokashira in 1954. 

Hanako died in May 2016 aged 69, the oldest elephant in Japan. In May 2017, a statue was unveiled in front of Kichijoji Station, the cost of which was covered entirely by donations, including from Thailand. Japanese discussions surrounding Hanako focus on how much she was "loved" (hitobito ni ai saremashita =人々に愛されました). However, non-Japanese have taken a rather different view, focusing on the conditions of her captivity and her mental state. In fact, in 2015, an English-language blog about Hanako written by a Canadian resident describing the bare concrete enclosure and lack of companionship triggered an Internet petition that collected almost half-a-million signatures urging that she be moved to a sanctuary in Thailand. This discrepancy between Japanese and non-Japanese discourses on Hanako highlights how under-developed the concept of animal welfare or animal rights is in Japan. For example, the closest thing to the RSPCA in Japan is the JSPCA which is translated as Dōbutsu Aigo Kyōkai (動物愛護協会) again containing the kanji for love (愛) coupled with that for protect (護) which together mean protection or "tender care." National Geographic  and other English sites have noted that elephants continue to live in isolation at more than a dozen zoos in Japan but this is something that receives almost zero attention in the Japanese media.

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As a footnote, it is interesting to note that Hanako was named after a famous elephant of the same name who had to be put down during WWII food shortages. The only elephants to survive the war were located in Nagoya and after the war a special train known as the "elephant train" (zō ressha =象列車) was set up to take children from all over Japan to visit the elephants to lift up their spirits (the children's not the elephants'!). This was turned into a book (pictured), which has become a children's classic, and even a song and today is a popular play at kindergartens and elementary schools which use the story as a way to teach children about the war and emphasise the importance of peace.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Maple, Momiji, and Sweet Bean-paste Buns

As mentioned in an earlier post, this time of year is foliage or leaf viewing season, known as kōyō (紅葉) in Japanese. Kōyō is more or less synonymous with the Japanese maple (Acer japonicum)​ known as momiji in Japanese - indeed the kanji kōyō (紅葉)can also be read momiji, as in momiji-gari (紅葉狩り)or autumn leaf viewing/collecting. Although called the maple in English, the Japanese distinguish the larger maple leaf (kaede =楓)familiar as a symbol of Canada from the smaller and slightly differently shaped momiji.

Just as people track the cherry blossom front (sakura zensen =桜前線) as it moves north, the foliage front (kōyō zensen =紅葉前線)can also be tracked as it moves south, starting in Hokkaido around September. The best time (higoro =見頃) to view the leaves changing colour is said to be 20 to 25 days after first announced, so from October in Hokkaido. One of the best places to view the foliage is undeniably the temples and shrines of Kyoto, such as Kiyomizu Temple, which are dominated by the red momiji with very few yellow ginkgo/gingko trees. See here for a list of the top-ten spots for kōyō in Japan. Around Tokyo, Mount Takao is a beautiful spot to view the leaves but can get very crowded.

If you want to avoid the crowds and cold, you can enjoy momiji in the comfort of your own home - in the form of Momiji-Manjū (もみじ饅頭) - a steamed bun originating in Hiroshima containing sweet bean paste shaped like a Japanese maple leaf (pictured below). Perfect with a cup of hot green tea and a mikan (satsuma mandarin orange) as you keep warm under your kotatsu (low heated table)!

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Building a new Olympic Stadium - and Building up National Debt

Right next to Meiji Jingu Gaien (明治神宮外苑), where crowds are currently flocking to check out the beautiful yellowing ginkgo trees, is the National Stadium - or part of it at least. The National Stadium (Kokuritsu Kyōgijō=国立競技場) was originally built in 1958 for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics but, following the announcement that Tokyo had won the 2020 Olympics, plans were made to build a new, bigger stadium to be the main venue for the games. Demolition of the old stadium was completed in May 2015 but the original plans were scrapped only two months late amid a public outcry over skyrocketing costs. New, cheaper bids were invited and construction belatedly began in December 2016. As the picture below shows, work is well under way and the new stadium is scheduled to be ready by November 2019 - unfortunately too late for the Rugby World Cup by a couple of months.
 The controversy over costs - the original stadium, even after refinements, was going to cost some 300 billion million yen (three times the cost of the Olympic Stadium in London) - highlights the public's unease over wasteful public spending. On the other hand, there seems to be little popular concern over Japan's spiralling national debt. The figures are staggering: Japan has the highest ratio of debt to GDP by far at 234.7% (way above Greece in 2nd place). The result is that Japan uses an unbelievable half of all tax revenues to service its debt. This may seem odd given Japan's reputation as a "nation of savers" but it is actually Japan's savers - the people buying government bonds - who have basically funded the nation's huge debt. The worry is that with Japan's household savings rate dropping into negative territory in 2014 for the first time since 1955, coupled with a plummeting population and lack of a migration policy, Japan's national debt is unsustainable. The Olympics is only likely to exacerbate the problem.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

The Changing Colour of the Leaves, Ginkgo Trees, and Poisonous Nuts

Though not in the same league as cherry-blossom viewing (hanami), at this time of year many Japanese go to see the autumnal leaves beginning to change colour, what is known as kōyō (紅葉). Although this literally means "crimson" or "deep red" leaves, it does in fact refer to any kind of colour change - including yellow. One of the first trees to change are the ginkgo or gingko trees which have already started to display their autumnal yellow. Apparently the English name ginkgo/gingko is a mis-spelling of the Japanese gin-kyō (銀杏)literally meaning "silver apricot." The Japanese don't pronounce the tree this way though - it is pronounced ichō though the kanji is the same. To add to the confusion, the yellow fruit of the tree - that is ginkgo/gingko nuts - also use the same kanji compound which in this case is pronounced gin-nan.

One of the best spots for viewing the ichō trees in Tokyo is the Meiji Jingu Gaien (明治神宮外苑) area. The 300-metre-long Gaien Ginkgo Avenue (いちょう並木) is lined with 146 ginkgo/gingko trees and at this time of the year is crowded with both locals and tourists. The foliage has started to turn yellow a week earlier than usual and usually lasts through early December. During this time (November 17th to December 3rd) a festival is held with 44 food and drink stalls which has attracted some 1.8 million visitors  in recent years. Visitors are enraptured by the sight of the tall pointed pear-shaped trees forming a "golden tunnel" leading up to the domed Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery (聖徳記念絵画館).

The leaves of the tree have a distinctive shape which, like the cherry leaf, all Japanese seem to have memorised - the picture right shows railings decorated with the leaf design on the pavement outside my house. The nuts also have a very distinctive and rather awful smell if they are crushed underfoot so they are often gathered before this happens and eaten, usually roasted in a frying pan or boiled. They are particularly common in chawan-mushi (茶碗蒸し) - a kind of savoury steamed egg custard. This was one of the dishes I notice was served up to President Trump on his recent visit to Japan - but with matsutake mushrooms rather than the nuts. Maybe Abe was being cautious - gin-nan nuts are reportedly poisonous if one eats too many!

Sunday 19 November 2017

Drinking Habits in Japan: the Rise and fall of Beaujolais Nouveau

Around this time of the year - the third Thursday in November to be precise - Japan goes mad for the new batch of Beaujolais Nouveau, with lots of promotions in supermarkets (pictured below). This year imports are expected to reach almost six million bottles, double the US figures. Just north of Omotesando I spotted an outdoor drinking spot which had specially been set up so people could start drinking at 12:01 on Friday morning. Since last year, one gimmick promoted by various onsen (hot springs) has been to pour the red stuff into the communal bath (see video here)! In recent years though, despite the best efforts of the companies and businesses concerned, Japanese have begun to lose interest in the red Gamay wine. This year looks to be the fifth consecutive year that sales and imports have fallen. The peak was in 2004. Part of the reason has ironically been the growing availability of good cheap wines which has resulted in the pricey Beaujolais Nouveau no longer being seen as particularly special - or tasty - any more.
Shōchū-haibōru or chū-hai alco-pops
So what do the Japanese drink? Well, the first thing to note is that "sake" (酒) in Japanese denotes alcohol in general - the "rice-wine" we refer to as "sake" in English is called nihon-shu (日本酒) in Japan. Although well-known in the West it is actually less popular than shōchū (焼酎), a spirit originally from Kyushu distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice which is also drunk straight like nihon-shu. In particular, shōchū-haibōru (highball), better known as chū-hai - a sweet "alco-pop" type shōchū cocktail - has become very popular in recent years, especially amongst young women (confusingly categorised under "liqueur" in the pie-charts below). Nevertheless, the most popular tipple remains beer (ビール), though in recent years sales have plummeted, despite the appearance of cheaper "beer-like" drinks such as happōshu (発泡酒)(low-malt beer) and zero-malt dai-san bīru (third-category beer). The pie charts below show the shift in alcohol sales between 1989 and 2015 based on this year's National Tax Agency report (available here).
Two pie charts showing the change in consumer alcohol tastes over a 25-year period

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The drinking age in Japan is 20 in Japan but few establishments bother asking for IDs. In fact, people in their twenties drink very little in Japan; however, alcohol consumption jumps dramatically once Japanese reach their thirties. The drinking peak for men is in their sixties and for women in their forties; at these ages 58% of males and 25% of females are regular drinkers - meaning they drink three or more times a week. Moreover, drinking in public is widely tolerated, anything from a can of beer on the train to a jar of "one-cup" cheap sake drunk outside the convenience store. Being drunk in public is widely tolerated too, and plenty of places have nomihodai all-you-can-drink menus (usually with a two-hour time limit) not to mention all the beer vending machines. As a result, the sight of drunken office workers weaving around, falling over, and even vomiting in alleyways is not uncommon, especially on Friday and Saturday nights - as well as bonenkai (忘年会) end-of-year (literally "forget-the-year") party season. The nice thing though is the almost complete absence of violence - unlike in Britain where town-centres become something of a war-zone at pub closing time.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

November 11th: Remembrance Day or Pocky Day?

As part of my Australian studies class, at this time of the year I introduce Remembrance Day to my Japanese students. As many people outside Japan are aware, Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the armistice which saw the end of First World War hostilities on November 11th 1918. Each year Australians (and many others) observe one minute's silence at 11 am on this day, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts. However, when I ask my Japanese students what day November 11th is the answer is, almost always as follows: Pocky Day.

Pocky (ポッキー) is a much-loved long-selling Japanese crunchy long stick-biscuit covered in chocolate (though today there are a huge number of flavours, variations, and seasonal limited editions). It was voted the 17th most popular snack in a 2016 TV Asahi poll. The name comes from the Japanese onomatopoeic sound for something long breaking or snapping in two - pokkin. Pocky Day started in 1999 (year 11 in the Japanese calendar) with a huge advertising campaign, capitalising on the fact that all the ones (11-11-11) looked like Pocky sticks lined up together. See the 2017 commercial (CM in Japanese) here.

So, do Japanese remember and pay their respects to the war dead on a different day - or not at all? The first point to note is that there is no national equivalent to Remembrance/Armistice Day - the closest would probably be Shūsen Ki'nenbi (終戦記念日) on August 15th, the anniversary of the end of World War II (specifically Japan's surrender) but this is not a national holiday and while noted in the media and in an official ceremony is paid little attention by most Japanese (especially young people). Remembering the war is a much more local affair in Japan - such as the peace memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to commemorate the atomic bombings on August 6th and 9th respectively or Okinawa's Memorial Day (Irei no Hi =慰霊の日) on June 23rd to mark the end of fighting in Okinawa. The latter, held at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, is marked by a silent prayer for the victims at noon and is a prefectural holiday. 
On a national level, paying respects to the war dead is not a simple matter: some people pay their respects at Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) - pictured above - where almost two and a half million souls are enshrined. However, because this includes 14 class-A war criminals this is highly controversial. Perhaps the only viable alternative is Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery (Senbotsusha-Boen=戦没者墓苑) which contains the remains of over 350,000 unidentified war dead. However, it is not widely known: most Japanese are probably more likely to be able to name the various Pocky flavours than know that Japan does actually have a national cemetery.

Friday 10 November 2017

The Queen of Fruits - La France (Western Pear)

At the risk of getting overly fruity - the last post was about the persimmon, "the divine fruit" - I'd like to introduce a second autumn fruit, this time the "La France" (ラ・フランス) pear known as the "Queen of fruits"! Called Claude Blanchet outside of Japan after the man who discovered it, it is actually much less common in its native France where the climate makes it difficult to grow. In contrast, after being introduced in 1903 by the Ministry of Agriculture it has become the best known variety of Western pear in Japan, albeit something of a luxury item due to its high price. The pear does not fully ripen on the tree and further ripens and softens after harvesting so knowing when to eat can be a bit tricky. In order to know when it's ready to eat (tabe-goro =食べ頃) you have to squeeze it gently about a third of the way down and if it gives a little it's ready (don't do this in a shop though!).
Japanese pears (nashi) on sale
In terms of appearance it looks very different to the Japanese pear (nashi =梨) which is round like an apple (see picture). The external appearance of La France is not actually very attractive and like most Japanese fruits (yes, even including grapes!) is peeled before eating. As for taste, it has a very soft extremely juicy "melt-in-your-mouth" texture and a rich aroma. The flyer on top of the box (pictured) describes this aroma in Japanese as roman no kaori (ロマンの香り) in which kaori means "aroma" and roman means...well, actually nobody seems to know what it means! Something luxurious and exotic in the vein of "romantic fragrance" maybe?

Around 80% of La France are grown in Yamagata Prefecture, which is famous for a variety of other fruits too, including cherries and apples. Personally speaking I have a real fondness for Yamagata since that is the place I first lived in Japan when I arrived with hardly a word of Japanese back in 1992. It is also the place where I did the fieldwork for my PhD on international marriage (kokusai kekkon =国際結婚). The other day I was clearing through some old papers and found the original job posting (pictured), for a small English conversation school (eikaiwa gakkō =英会話学校), which I had first spotted in the careers office of my UK university. Apparently it's still going - the first step in a long journey!

Tuesday 7 November 2017

The Divine Fruit of Autumn - Kaki (Persimmon)

Food in Japan seems far more seasonal than in the UK and Japanese people certainly have firmer ideas of what food is associated with what season - as reflected in the use of kigo (季語) or "season words" in Japanese poetry such as haiku. One of these kigo is persimmon (kaki =柿) - also called the "divine fruit" - a fruit with a thick orange skin and a unique taste and texture, sweet and fibrous (and packed full of vitamins). Although most closely associated with autumn, the buds, leaves, and flowers of the persimmon tree are also used as spring and summer kigo.

There are two types of persimmon: the short fat sweet type known as fuyū-gaki and the taller pepper-shaped astringent (shibui =渋い) persimmon known as hashiya-gaki. In the case of the former, persimmon lovers seem to be split between those who like to eat them hard and crunchy, like an apple, and those who prefer them soft - if you wait long enough, the (by now very sweet) fruit can be scooped out and eaten with a spoon! At the bottom of the page is a video showing how to peel a fuyū-gaki and prepare it for eating.

In Japan a common sight at this time of year are strings of peeled hashiya-gaki hanging out to dry in the sun, which, after a month or so has passed (and daily massages apparently!),  become what are known as hoshi-gaki =干し柿 (semi-dried kaki) - the verb hosu (干す) means to air or dry out. Hoshi-gaki, which are shrivelled up, flat, and covered in white sugar powder, are very sweet and often eaten as a snack or even as dessert during winter. Another very popular snack (pictured) are called "kaki no tane" (persimmon seeds), small crunchy long bean-shaped mini rice-crackers (senbei) that actually have no relation to kaki at all!

Wednesday 1 November 2017

100 Posts - Thank-you!

Since the first post on March 7th I have now reached 100 posts with over 8000 views from more countries than I can count. Thank-you everyone, especially my Japanese audience who, continue to make up the biggest group; however, I must also give a special mention to the Russian readers who make up the third biggest source (see table below). Amazing! In terms of posts, those which include a personal element seem to be the best received - the most popular by a long way was the post about Japanese identity and my own sense of Japaneseness, written in the context of Ishiguro's Nobel Prize for literature. However, things are not always predictable: the post on manga bad-boy Crayon Shin-chan is the second most popular - go figure! Now if only I could tell which post was most popular in which country - that would be interesting. As I said in the 50th post, the blog is a labour of love, a learning experience with the added fun of opening up the stats page to see which country is top for the week and what post is popular. Feedback, suggestions, and ideas are always welcome - use the message box on the right to tell me where you want the blog to go from here: it's in your hands!

         TOP SEVEN BLOG POSTS (views)
  1. Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro: Japanese or not Japanese? (231)
  2. Crayon Shin-Chan: The Bad Boy of Japanese Manga (166)
  3. Fireworks, Deceased Spirits, and Teruteru-bōzu (114)
  4. Rain, Snails, and Japanese Animal Names (84)
  5.  The "Japanese is difficult" myth (75)
  6.  Wagyu, Matsuzaka Beef, and Kobe Beef: What's the Difference? (71)
  7.  The New Sex-Crime Revisions and Chikan (66)
    3月7日の最初のポストから、100ポストを突破して、数えきれないぐらいの国から8000件以上ビューをいただきました。誠にありがとうございます!相変わらず日本のビューアが圧倒的に多いですが、意外にロシアが3位になって、驚きました!国のトップ・テンが上の表にリストアップされています。人気が出やすいポストは、個人的な話が入っているものが多かったようです。ダントツで一位のポストは、カズオ・イシグロのノーベル文学賞受賞に関連して日本人のアイデンティティと自分の「日本らしさ」について論じたポストでした。しかし、どのポストに人気が出るかは必ずしも予想できるわけではありません。例えば、人気ポストのリスト(上)から分かる通り、クレヨンしんちゃんのポストが2位になってしまいました!どんな国の人がどんなポストを見ているか分かれば、ますますおもしろくなりますね。50回投稿記念の時も書きましたが、このブログは「好きでする仕事」(Labour of love)で、日常で見落としているものに気づいたり、学んだりすることが目的です。これからこのブログをどう成長させればいいか、どのような方向にもっていけばいいかは、皆さんからの提案やリクエスト次第です。是非、右側にあるメッセージ・ボックスを使用して、知らせてください!これからもどうぞよろしくお願いします!