Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.

日本語日記しようかな

14歳から日本に興味がありました。

少し変な話ですが、2007年おばあちゃんと弟と一緒にフロリダ州のディズニーランドへ行って、いろいろな国のテーマがありました。そして日本のテーマ場所へ行って、とてもかっこいいな場所だと思いました。それから日本に興味がありました!

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日本で働きたいを決まりました。たくさんしらべて、日本語を勉強になりました。大学でも勉強したかったから頑張った。おかあさんはCDとかテキストとかを買ってあげました。それから、18歳の時日本へ遊びに行きました。東京が大好きになった!

留学して、日本にずっと住みたい事を決まりました。長野県にも1年半ぐらいに住んで、特別な人に会ってまた東京に引越ししました。

My city! #tokyo #daikanyama #shibuya #tokyotower #japan

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今、東京に住んでいます。日本の男(特別な人)にも婚約中と、とても幸せです!

ありがとうございました。

Kamakura and Cherry Blossoms

Hi, everyone. Spring is finally here! I hope that wherever you are, the weather is getting warmer and you’re waving a cheery goodbye to winter. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, maybe you’re glad the weather is cooling down.

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I went to Kamakura with some friends to see the cherry blossoms. I decided I didn’t want to do hanami this year (visiting a park or natural space with cherry blossom trees under which to eat and drink all day) since last year I was left disappointed. I’d made a huge picnic only to have the couple we’d planned it with cancel at the last minute. But I decided to go to Kamakura, the lovely town near Yokohama, and it was great!

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Cherry blossoms, locally called sakura, only bloom for a couple of weeks in the year and since there are thousands of them all over the place in Japan, there are many great spots where you can see them. We visited a temple and a shrine, as well as a long pathway with sakura trees either side. It was pretty magical.

#kamakura #sakura #cherryblossom #pretty #鎌倉 #桜

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We went to Engaku-ji, a gorgeous temple that is really “Japan” in many ways; gorgeous architecture, tranquil grounds, and a sense of peace. My friend Mike joked that all we needed to see was a cat and the day would be complete. Lo and behold, we saw a chubby kitty on our way out.

We also saw some ladies in kimonos riding a rickshaw.

After a wander around the shrine, we walked down the road surrounded by sakura trees. You could see several torii gates in a row, which means the road must have been some kind of pilgrimage path long ago. I bet it looked even more magnificent back then without the cars and buildings.

We were starving after all the walking so we had an awesome lunch at J.S. Burger near the station. Om nom nom.

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I haven’t been getting out much lately so it was a really refreshing day. Kamakura is around an hour away by train but it’s got a completely different vibe from Tokyo and it’s well worth a visit to get a taste of the “real” Japan.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀

Japanese “Purikura”

Day 35

Today I went to Ikebukuro with some friends. We were supposed to be going to some kind of museum exhibition, but as the queue ran down the stairs all the way from the seventh floor down to the second, we gave up on the idea. People here don’t mind lining up hours for something if it’s popular, but none of us had the patience. Instead we ate salad and pizza, yum yum.

#pizza #Ikebukuro #Tokyo #pepperoni #池袋 #ピザ

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Edward really really wanted to do purikura. Purukira, a shortened version of the term “print club,” is a photo booth that adds exaggerated airbrushing to your pictures. You can also add writing, pictures, backgrounds, and stickers to make your photos unique.

It’s against the rules in some purikura places to go in if you’re just one guy or a group of guys. We got some funny stares when I walked behind my three British male friends, who are all taller than the junior high school girls occupying the room.

It’s just 400 yen for a purikura, so 100 yen each. You go inside and have to pose quickly because a picture is taken every couple of seconds. It was really fun, and the boys look so pretty!

FRIIIEEENNNDDD! #friends #purikura #友達 #プリクラ

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If you’d like to try purikura, just go to any arcade in Japan. Just remember that if you’re a group of men, you won’t be able to do it, unfortunately. Maybe they had problems with strange guys peeking in the past. Some tourist attractions like Tokyo Tower also have a purikura booth, sometimes with themed backgrounds and stickers. They’re great for couples or groups of friends.

 

Pretty Yokohama

Day 29

Yesterday I met some people from university who I hadn’t seen for years. We went to Yokohama, the second biggest city in Japan and a short train ride away from Tokyo. Yokohama is relatively quiet, spacious for a Japanese city, and has an awesome Chinatown selling goods and food from (where else?) China. It also has a pretty big presence when Chinese New Year comes round in February.

The port is also really pretty and, like that day, we could see some ships getting ready to port. It’s much nicer on a sunny day but still made for a pretty impressive view.

We had lunch in Chinatown and then tucked into some coffee and pie at a cafe. It was a lot of sugar and calories but hey, it was a special day. We passed the small theme park, including the large Ferris wheel. It’s something which I always look at and think “that’s pretty,” while refusing to get on.

Pretty sunset

We did purikura, a photo booth where, as you can see, you can edit your photos after taking them. At just 100 yen each (400 yen per session), it wasn’t an expensive venture. LEP refers to the group we were in at university, and since it was 2012 since we all first met, we called that day the LEP Reunion.

Yokohama has a completely different vibe to Tokyo. In Yokohama, I always feel more relaxed with that “weekend feeling.” Still, I’ve never worked in Yokohama which is probably why. Still, everyone who has been to both cities would probably agree that Tokyo is the more hectic, if equally charming, of the two.

Oh, yeah. I also broke my shoe.

If you visit Tokyo, be sure to take a day trip to Yokohama, it’s a really cool place 🙂

Snow in Tokyo

Day 22 [New Year’s Resolution]: Snow in Tokyo

“INSTAGRAAAAAM!” a workmate of mine bellowed when our boss informed us that it was snowing.

Everyone gets excited at the first snowfall of the season. It was really only a matter of time before it hit Tokyo, but I don’t know if people were expecting it to come to suddenly or to stick for long.

Our boss sent us all home early and I’m really glad I did; the trains were packed and that wasn’t even during rush hour. But look how prettyyyy!

Tokyo kind of shuts down if there’s even a bit of snow. Anticipating train delays was one of the reasons our boss sent us home. Luckily my train takes less than ten minutes, so if all went wrong we still could have walked. It was super packed and I ended up apologising profusely to some poor woman who probably had my laptop bag sticking into her stomach.

According to the news, the station near my workplace is incredibly crowded now – like, hundreds and hundreds of people are stuck waiting for the train. I hope they get home soon and safely.

のれぬ

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We got back to Gakugei-Daigaku and were cold and stressed, so naturally, we bought alcohol. I’m really grateful to have been sent home because waiting among other cold and tired workers at 8pm at night would not have been fun.

Have you got snow in your country yet?

Winter in Tokyo

Day 14 [New Year’s Resolution]: Winter in Tokyo

It’s really really really cold today. The snow has made things a bit mental in other prefectures; a train in Niigata was stopped for fifteen and a half hours, trapping over 400 people on board, and one or two elderly people have died because of collapsing houses under the snow.

Tokyo doesn’t have snow, thankfully, but it’s still pretty biting. Insulation here is awful, so if you don’t have the heater on, cold air penetrates your room whether you’re in a house, a block of flats, or the office.

It really makes me miss home. At least when it’s cold, you’ll feel the warmth as soon as you walk inside. Right now, we get inside our house and have to turn the heater on as soon as we walk in, waiting around fifteen minutes before it’ll heat up the room. Just that room. No central heating here.

エアコン・女性

Every time I feel like I hate winter, though, I remind myself of the cockroaches that found their way into our bathroom (not an infestation; there are just a lot of them around when it’s hot) last summer. Cockroaches are terrifying, so maybe cold fingers, and taking twenty minutes to get your bed warm at night is an acceptable alternative. Maybe.

At least I’m not dealing with snow. I shudder to imagine the amount of yuki gakki (snow shovelling) is going on near my old place up in Nagano Prefecture. Still, there are many great things about winter, too: hot beverages and soup inside vending machines, winter sports, heat-tech wear, winter illuminations, etc etc etc.

#Daikanyama #tokyo #illumination #christmas

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Bottom line is that it’s cold.

10 Things Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Day 13 [New Year’s Resolution]: 10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Howdy, gang.

Thousands of people from around the world flock to live in Japan, whether it’s to teach English, travel as many prefectures as they can, or settle down and start a family. Some stay for less than a year, and others stay for decades.

Since Japan is such a popular country, there are many websites and blogs where you can find out about Japanese culture, events, food, customs, and the language. However, these tend to paint Japan in a light that makes it look perfect. I work for one of those websites, and any articles that make Japan look even a little bit bad are dismissed immediately.

I’ve been living in Japan for nearly five years now; eighteen months in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, and two and a half years in Tokyo, the capital city. Although I love it here, there are a lot of downsides as well that you can’t really find a lot of information about online. Here are 10 things that guidebooks and blogs don’t tell you about living in Japan.

1. You Are Always a Foreigner

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Coming from the UK where we treat everyone equally and don’t care if someone’s black, white, or purple with polka dots, it’s very weird to still be considered “a foreigner” even after being here since I was nineteen.

It’s the first thing people notice about me, and almost everyone’s first question is “Where are you from?” and the first remark is “Oh, you can speak Japanese!”

It’s not really that much of a problem, but even my boyfriend does it. “Look, a white guy!” I find myself irritably replying “So what?”

Learn the language, get a job in a well-respected company, learn all the complicated customs and rules and manners, it doesn’t matter – you’ll always be a gaikokujin.

2. It’s Very Difficult to Rent a House

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There are a hundred and one rules involved if you’re a non-Japanese person hoping to rent a house. There are all kinds of fees including bond, deposit, key money, etc etc, and you need some kind of written recommendation.

I’m really lucky because in Nagano, my company sorted out my house, and in Tokyo, my boyfriend sorted it out. I’ve never had to personally deal with renting a place on my own so I don’t know all the ins and outs, but there’s a good article on GaijinPot all about it.

3. No One Has a Proper Oven

As someone who loves her pies and lasagnas, this drives me crazy. The only ovens you can really find are a sort of mixture between an oven and a microwave, and the same size as that, too. Unless you’re willing to invest tens of thousands of yen, oven dishes aren’t an option if you like to cook. Boo.

4. It’s Hard to Find Good Cheese

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Of course you’ll want to try the delicious local food that’s on offer in Japan, but sometimes you want a little taste of home. Cheese is one of the things that the Japanese just can’t seem to get right. The much-boasted Hokkaido cheese is supposed to be fantastic, but compared to the rich and sharp cheddars from home, it’s pizza-topping tier.

You can find imported cheeses in certain shops, but then you’re expected to cough up for it. I managed to find some Brie the other day from Kaldi Coffee, and after wincing at the price tag, enjoyed it very much.

5. Everything is Scripted

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Back home, I can walk into a shop and easily have a chat with a shop assistant about anything. It’s friendly, it’s good customer service, and it makes the company look good. However, as soon as I walk into a shop I know I’m going to hear the welcoming phrase “irasshaimase“, the amount of money I owe the cashier, and the thank-yous when I leave.

It’s not for lack of trying, either. I’ve tried to chat with people many times in shops only to have a very startled, nervous, and short reply, or to have them ignore me completely or look at me like I’ve grown a tit on my forehead. It’s quite lonely.

6. You’ll Miss Things from Your Home Country

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Although you may not believe it when you first arrive, you will definitely end up missing stuff from your home country after a couple of months, especially food. That condiment that you can find in every cafe at home but doesn’t exist here. Your favourite brand of tea. Good chocolate. Decent deodorant.

Still, that’s what care packages are for. Be sure to send yourself some essentials before you go.

7. Everything is Tiny

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If you’re tall in Japan, you’re going to have a bad time. It takes a bit of getting used to, as doorways, food portions, furniture, and many other things will make you feel like you’ve grown several inches or everything else has shrunk.

Couple that with the fact that the average height in Japan for men is 5″7, and you’ll feel like a wandering giant. The wandering foreigner.

8. People are Fake

No, not everyone. But as someone who grew up with a father who was more forward than most people and didn’t care who knew it, it’s really hard for me to get used to a society where people say “yes” when they mean no, “maybe” when they mean “hell no,” and “sure, you can trust me with this information” when the next thing you know they’re blabbing to unfriendly ears.

A lesson I learned the hard way is to not share things that can be used against you unless you absolutely 100% trust that person. Learn to read between the lines and read body language (tilting their head to the side with a smile/frown often means “no”). It’s a pain.

It’s all part of the politeness thing, but there’s a massive difference between being polite and being fake.

9. Everything is Ridiculously Over-Packaged

This isn’t really a bad thing, I suppose, but the amount of nagging we get in Europe about reducing, reusing, and recycling! Then you buy a box of sweets as a souvenir and hey-ho, you have to battle through three boxes and a plastic bag before you can finally get your (unexpectedly tiny) sweet. Next time you buy anything in Japan, take a look at the packaging. It isn’t normal.

10. Drinking a Lot is Normal

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Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies and this is said to be down to a lot of factors: better diets, healthier lifestyles, and more exercise. Despite this, drinking in Japan is huge. It’s not only okay to drink several times a week, but in some jobs, it’s expected.

Many companies engage in nomikai, a party where the boss and his employees go out to a local izakaya pub or bar to drink themselves silly. Seeing passed out young men in suits at train stations in the wee hours is a pretty normal sight.

Safety meltdown via @jamesmagnum3

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This attitude towards drinking leaks into the lives of those who aren’t businessmen as well. I find myself surprised when I realise I haven’t had alcohol in a few days, and my boyfriend loves to go out and get wasted from time to time without even thinking of it as a potential problem.

It’s good news if you love to drink, though, as western men are often admired for being “osake tsuyoi,” or having a high resistance to alcohol. You might find that your alcohol intake, and in turn, your weight, increases while you live here unless you don’t drink at all.

The good things about Japan outweigh the bad by far, which is why I’m still here! No country is perfect, though, and it’s important to know the downsides before you arrive so you can prepare for them. Whether you count all of the above as downsides or not is up to you.

Coming of Age Day in Japan

Day 8 [New Year’s Resolution]: Coming of Age Day in Japan

Today is a national holiday, which means no work!

There are a lot of national holidays in Japan where office workers and the like get a day off. Today is Coming of Age day, where those who turned 20 years old in the past year dress in kimonos or suits and go to their local city hall for a ceremony.

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Then, because 20 is the legal age to drink in Japan, they go out and get bladdered with their friends.

I didn’t do much with my day off except write and go out with my friends. National holidays are for relaxing, after all. It’s back to the grind tomorrow, though.

Oyasumi for now.