SunBretta Bakery: A Recommendation

One of the most dangerous places in Japan: The Bakery. D8 *Dun dun DUUUN*

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Seriously, the transportation lifestyle out here can be a lot to get used to. Taking the train, taxi, bus, and WALKING. To me, walking means window shopping, which means walking past bakeries, or in my case, it means walking INTO bakeries. Which is incredibly dangerous for my wallet.

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My local host mama introduced me to a bakery in Yachiyo, Chiba called “SunBretta”, and it’s cool because they also serve you free coffee or tea if you buy their bread. When I have time on my hands and have a hankering to go buy some bread at a cute local shop, I walk from my home to SunBretta to get those cravings satisfied. 🙂

In case you can’t tell, I love bread. And I love trying new things. For this blog post, I thought I’d show you my latest baked favorites.

Creme Pan (Pan = bread)

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Anpan (Anko = red bean paste)

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Chocopan (as close to a pain au chocolat I can get out here)

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Pizza (though it tastes nothing like the deep-dish wonders back in Chicago)

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and Melon Pan

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Before coming to Japan, I’d only seen this at a handful of Asian supermarkets out by Chicago. Back then, I never actually tried melon pan before; I’d always went for the fruit pastries, personally. But I had to give it a shot. And that was a bad move, because I’m now hooked. It’s sooo good.

God, I miss the walking.

Because I was curious, I looked up how it was made. For your viewing pleasure: https://cookpad.com/recipe/

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By the way, Cookpad occasionally has a lot of pretty decent recipes. I’ve tried a recipe for dango and dashi before, and they both turned out well (which may say a lot). Although I did guesstimate a bit with some of the measuring units like liters, grams, oosaji (large spoon), and kosaji (small spoon).

But now I say “occasionally” with purpose. The only downsides to Cookpad means that ANYONE can post to it. Meaning, that you can get a TON of recipes for mug-brownies, but only A FEW of them actually work out. Which means depending on the time you allot to recipe-finding online, you may need to do a lot of sifting. I’m told there is a subscription available for getting those good, monthly recipes, but I don’t actually know a willing individual who has utilized this service as of yet.

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Fatal Frame III: A Cultural Journey

Well, here it is. I hereby dedicate this blog post to my favorite pass time: video games. And three cool things I didn’t know about traditional Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame in Japan.

Let me tell you a story (and I’ll try to redeem myself in the process).

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of one of my all-time favorite horror video games, Fatal Frame III (or Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at a Bookoff in Akihabara. I might dedicate another blog post to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, typically, the older the console, the more rare – and thus, expensive – it seems to become here in Japan. Which is a major bugger.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #1: HIIRAGI

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing?), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #2: IRORI

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the hearth room (irori).

As we all know, the hearth has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #3: KOBUN – OLD (OBSOLETE) JAPANESE TEXT

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, which obviously you don’t see in the English version of the game.

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For instance,

This: 起こしてしまふ is read like this: 起こしてしまう
This: 見てゐると is read like this: 見ていると
This: 帰つてこない is read like this: 帰ってこない
And this: 伝はつてゐる is read like this: 伝わっている

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students don’t know how to read these correctly. I’ve watched some Japanese gamers on Youtube pass up the text sometimes, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

As I try to come up with a good conclusion to this post (I suck at it, in case you haven’t noticed), I will say that after writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.

 

Komeda Coffee – A Recommendation

So it’s 3:00PM. Time for tea. Or in this case, coffee. Nagoya-styled coffee. Your place of choice? Before you get comfortable and say, “Starbucks”, let me first urge you to “give Komeda Coffee a shot”.

Or “get a shot… of coffee… from Komeda…”

…I tried the pun thing. Maybe I’ll be more creative next time.

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Komeda’s Coffee is a great cafe that offers decently-priced delicacies from Nagoya. My favorite of which is the infamous Ogura Toast, which is basically a thick (and I do mean thiccc with three C’s) piece of bread, slathered with sweet, whipped butter and red bean paste. You can order this Ogura Toast thinly-sliced or thickly-sliced. But let’s be real, thick is where it’s AT.

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Their sandwiches are also excellent. I ordered a Fried Pork Cutlet Sandwich (no pic included) from them, which was quite sizable and tasted fresh. And, of course, I highly recommend their coffee (pic included way above).

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They’ve got coffee. They’ve got Ogura Toast. They even got fluffy, Shiro-Noir Danish pastries. For your viewing pleasure, the menu: http://www.komeda.co.jp/en/menu/index.html

Since Komeda Coffee started off in Nagoya, you can find them all over the Aichi prefecture, but I’ve also seen them around the Kansai area, as well. If you spot one, and if it’s remotely close to 3:00pm, I’d highly recommend popping in to scope out those sweet, sweet (and I do mean sweettt with three T’s, if that’s a thing) tasties.

Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

Ikumimama’s Animal Donuts – A Recommendation

Here is another example of Japan being really good at producing quality goods that are detailed and downright adorable.

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Ikumimama no Doubutsu Donatsu, everyone! If you are lucky enough to happen upon one of these little shops, I highly recommend giving these delights a shot. Even for those foodies without a sweet-tooth, the taste of these donuts are very light, as the ingredients used are very raw; the eggs, wheat, salt, butter, and not a whole lot of processed chemical bits.

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But enough about the nutritional facts, let’s check the spoils.

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Handmade with smiles in mind, these adorable snackies are all shaped like animals such as cats, bears, tigers, penguins, and depending on the day and season, they also have a great selection of seasonal goodies, which you can check out on their website.
https://ikumimama.com/

DSCN9551I’ve seen these shops pop up around Tokyo, and now I’m super thrilled to have finally found one in Osaka. If you come across it, just remember these words of Runa, “Give into the cuteness, feast, and be merry!”

8 Tips to Help You Out During Jet Lag

Just arrived back in good, cold Chicago, and now a new foe has appeared: Jet lag.

“West is best, East is beast” definitely rings true with me, as coming home from Japan really seems to mess with my body clock. Jet lag usually keeps its hold over me for about 2-4 weeks, but I totally understand that it can effect everyone in different ways for longer or shorter periods of time.

This week, I’d like to share with you a few tricks that help me oust nocturality and get my body clock up and functioning again.

  1. Drink water. If you’re anything like me, you may have issues hydrating after the 12-hour flight to/from Japan. Especially if you’re spending more time sleeping than drinking lately. I know this sounds elementary, but keeping hydrated helps me from waking up in middle of the night with desert-dry feet or a parched throat.
  • Stay awake all day. I KNOW this is not easy. But by all means necessary, drink tea, coffee, or whatever keeps you healthy and caffeinated to last the day. However, it’s really important NOT to load up on caffeine, especially towards the end of your day, when sleep is absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid sleeping in. Set an alarm. I know it’s not easy, but there is a lot of wisdom to be learned from “Early to bed, early to rise.” I strive to go to bed early around 9:00pm while I recover. Don’t figure, “Oh, I’ll just sleep until 3:00pm over the weekend, since I’m so exhausted.” This just makes it harder to adjust into the current timezone and easier to become nocturnal.
  • Stay social among the living. Another thing that helps me stay awake is with I’m surrounded with other people who are awake. Coming home to my big family has proven to be one of the greatest methods for staying awake.
  • Limit phone time before bed. I know we all do it, but sleep is more important right now than catching up on Netflix or Instagram. Some reconnection is good, but don’t let it keep you up until 2:00am. (If you’ve got a blue filter or something on your phone to help you with the harsh, bright lights in a pitch-black room, I’d recommend utilizing those, as well, since I know too much cellphone use at night generally makes me less likely to sleep as well. Just remember, “anything in moderation”, and health is your number one priority.
  • Get some light exposure. It’s very tempting to stay at home and feel the need to relax. But I’d also recommend a drive or just a quick walk outside or to Target or something to get your body some exposure to those fine, vitamin-D-filled rays.
  • Shower before bed. So I know in the West, we most of us generally take showers in the morning, so I tried getting back into that habit when I came back to the States. But what I noticed was as soon as I was done with my nice, hot shower, I felt relaxed immediately ready for sleep. If possible, try showering at night instead, to avoid those sudden napping urges.
  • Eat, but don’t eat too much. I know you missed that Chiptole, but sleep coma is real. ‘Nuff said.

To narrow it all down. Sleep, but not too much. Drink, and eat, but not too much. Stay among the living, avoid the late-night Netflix binges, catch some rays, and reset that body clock by staying awake.

Before calling it a day here, though, I definitely want to add that if you really feel like you need a nap, please nap. Just make it a quick one. If you ever reach a point when you get so tired, you feel sick or you might be nauseous (been there, done that), then please don’t overdo it, and get some rest. Again, health is number one. Be gracious when resetting that body clock.

If you have any other tips for getting over jet lag, believe me when I say they are greatly appreciated. (Help me!)

Sakura in Osaka – a Hanami Recommendation

‘Tis the season for cherry blossoms! If you’ve heard of hanami, then you know it probably has something to do with family, friends, or punch-drunk salary-men picnicking under the cherry blossom trees.

You’ve heard correctly.

To each person, hanami has its own different meaning. Some people prefer quieter, local areas, sharing a few snacks with their kids, friends, or special someone, while some people prefer to go out, get drunk, and get happy with a bunch of coworkers (depends how pushy their company is to attend, I guess). In general, everybody is just a lot happier, as they all break out of hibernation and get out to take pictures of their local sakura.

Things you can expect to experience around this week (give or take) of hanami are:

  • Seeing various food stands, selling takoyaki, ice cream, or mini castella cakes
  • Finding lots of random sakura pedals kind of scattered around the sidewalks
  • Getting some strong whiffs of sake/beer in more crowded areas
  • Getting some whiffs of other flowers that start blooming around this time
  • Seeing loads of different parks with their own festivals celebrating the season
  • A ton of birds, and some bugs starting to emerge into Springtime
  • Seeing lots of sakura-themed goods when shopping (probably the most impressive sakura collection I’ve seen so far is at Afternoon Tea. Check this shit out)
  • Seeing sakura-watching boats traveling up and down the rivers
  • Showing up in the background of tourists’ selfies

Just as quick as the season started, it’s already starting to end. It’s a shame that such beauty has such a short lifespan… But maybe that’s what makes them so beautiful? I guess the sakura means something different to each person, but to me, they kind of represent a beautiful, yet somewhat tragic similarity to life and life’s fragile impermanence. It makes me step back and appreciate things a little more. Makes me feel smaller and humbler in the whole scheme of things.

But then again, this could just be the long-awaited Spring talking, and making me feel all emotional.

Without further ado, I will now include photos of Sakuranomiya, Banpaku Memorial Park, Yodo River, Nara Park, and Osaka Castle – for your viewing pleasure. Although I’d recommend any of these places for next year’s hanami (if you can’t make it this year), I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Catching some early sakura at Banpaku Memorial Park:

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Osaka Castle:

Nara:

Yodogawa:

Sakuranomiya (my top hanami location recommendation for you):

Quick factoid side-note: As you can tell by the many photos I’ve included, the five-petaled somei yoshino, yamazakura, are the most common and popular wild cherry blossom trees out here in the Kansai area. They look more white than pink and have a very soft, cloudy appearance, especially when the sun hits them juuust right.