Totoro shaped Onigiri: delicious and cute!

Onigiri (rice balls) are one of the most convenient and, at times, tastiest foods in Japan. Commonly found in lunch sets, these creations can be purchased everywhere from restaurants to convenience stores and train stations. The seemingly endless variety of possible flavors and ingredients keeps things from getting dull.

This video shows how to make onigiri shaped like Totoro!



ImageKyaraben or character bento is a type of bento that is a step above the status quo. These amazingly elaborate bento feature designs that look like people, characters from anime or manga, animals, plants, or whatever amazing idea pops in the creators head. These fascinating bentos are used to encourage children’s interest in their food, and to interest them in a wide variety of food. I can say that I’d be willing to eat most of these without hesitation, despite what the actual food might be. Although I do wonder if they taste as good as they look….

Reguardless, the skill, patience, and creativity put into these lunch boxes is something to marvel. Especially the patience.


Kyaraben Contest Winners 2012

There are two contests celebrating people’s skills in Kyaraben, Sanrio Kyaraben Contest and the Yokahama Kyaraben Contest (sponsored by Sotetsu Group 150 Project).

Sanrio Golden Grand Prix Winning Bento:

This bento followed the theme of spring and was submitted by Harumi Sugiyama from Saitama prefecture.

It includes:


  • Homemade mini apple pie
  • A hollowed out apple cup (the center was used to make the pie) filled with potato salad
  • Hello Kitty family shaped onigiri
  • Hello Kitty jelly cups

Yokahama Kyaraben Winning Bento:


This bento represents the landscape of the Yokohama area (with blue jelly cups as the ocean).

It includes:

  • Apple slices
  • Kanten or jelly cups
  • Beef and asparagus rolls
  • Vegetable flowers
  • Vegetable maki
  • And a bunch of other things I can’t identify

Oden- Mystery Food at Its Finest


Oden is probably a rather unknown Japanese food item, but it is one of my favorite. Oden is a very popular winter dish in Japan. It is essentially a fishcake stew that is made in a donabe, or a clay pot. Although it is possible to make oden from scratch, it is more popular, and easier, to buy a frozen pre-packaged set or if you’re in Japan, buy it in a konbini. Like many Japanese dishes, oden varies from region to region. For example, in Nagoya, it’s sometimes called Kanto-ni, and is made in a miso-based broth. In the Shizuoka, they use a beef stock and soy sauce as a base.


Personally, I find it much easier to by a prepackaged set at Sage Market in their freezer section. The sets are fun to make with a variety of strange fishcakes (chikuwa, ika balls, hanpen), and frozen vegetables (daikon and burdock). Most of the time it’s hard to identify exactly what you’re eating! But of course, that’s half the fun.





Recipes for Oden can be found here (some of my favorite sites) if you’re feeling particularly ambitious:

What is this “B-kyu Boom” business all about? And how it’s giving the word “mediocre” a whole new meaning.

Most people wouldn’t wait in line for the best cheap food they can find, but the Japanese would apparently. B-kyu gurume, or B-class gourmet, is a Japanese term for someone who loves good, cheap, Japanese food. Which I guess I am technically, I’m just not as willing to wait in lines like these…


Although the B-kyu craze originated with B-kyu movies, B-kyu gourmet has taken the scene by storm. Grade B gourmet is suppose to have an ‘A-Grade’ taste, without the price tag. However, the food included in this B-class gourmet is fantastic, in my humble opinion. Ramen, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, gyoza, sushi, curry, soba, yakitori, hanbaagu, and udon are all included in this class. That cheap price tag in Japan is amazing, since these are many people’s favorite foods or are considered just straight up comfort foods.


The love for this food even encourages one of the best events ever, in my opinion, the B-1 Grand Prix or B-kyu Gotochi Gurume Festival. Beginning in 2006, locals compete with each other not necessarily for the best taste, but for recognition of local tastes. Here are some winners from the 2011 competition and all I can say is that me and the fat girl inside me are beyond jealous of everybody that got to go sample these delicious dishes.

#1 Hiruzen Yakisoba from Hiruzen, Okayama

Miso sauce Japanese fried noodle with chicken and lots of cabbage


#2 Tsuyama Horumon Udon from Tsuyama, Okayama

Pan fried udon with beef organs


#3 Hachinohe Senbeijiru from Hachinohe, Aomori

Rice crackers in clear soup with veggies and chicken or fish


#4 Namie Yakisoba from Namie, Fukushima

Fried noodles with bean sprouts and pork


#5 Imabari Yakibuta Tamabomeshi from Imabari, Ehime

Fried eggs over rice with chopped Japanese BBQ style pork in a bowl


Japan and Some Their Tasty School Lunches

I found this article particularly interesting since it goes into some depth on the school lunch system in Japan. From what I remember of grade school lunches, it seems Japan takes nutrition and student education in nutrition a bit more seriously.  Not only does a nutritionist help plan the meals, but the kids help serve the food, therefore becoming part of the process. This process is supposed to help teach children about food, and give them a sense of responsibility. Considering the problem in the U.S. today with childhood obesity, and the controversy over how healthy our public school lunches are, it seems like we could take a cue from Japan in this arena.


The chart below is curtsey of

U.S., Japanese school lunch menus

A sampling of what elementary-age children typically eat during the week:

United States                                                        Japan

– Submarine sandwich (1 oz. turkey; 0.5 oz. low-fat cheese) on whole-wheat roll
– Refried beans (1/2 cup)
– Jicama (1/4 cup)
– Green pepper strips (1/4 cup)
– Cantaloupe wedges, raw (1/2 cup)
– Skim milk (8 oz.)
– Mustard (9 grams)
– Reduced-fat mayonnaise (1 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)

– Rice mixed with Kiriboshi daikon dried radish strips
– Japanese-style omelet (with sautéed minced chicken and chopped vegetables)
– Ohitashi (boiled Japanese mustard spinach, carrot, hakusai cabbage and other vegetables in dashi soup and soy sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds)
– Miso soup (with wakame seaweed, potato and onion)
– Milk

– Whole-wheat spaghetti with meat sauce (1/2 cup) and whole-wheat roll
– Green beans, cooked (1/2 cup)
– Broccoli (1/2 cup)
– Cauliflower (1/2 cup)
– Kiwi halves, raw (1/2 cup)
– Low-fat (1%) milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)
– Soft margarine (5 grams)

– Spinach bread
– Fried squid, sweet and spicy peanut soy sauce
– Mixed mashed potato (mashed potato with other boiled vegetables)
– Tofu and egg soup (with bacon and vegetables in chicken broth)
– Milk

– Chef salad (1 cup romaine; 0.5 oz. low-fat mozzarella; 1.5 oz. grilled chicken) with whole-wheat soft pretzel (2.5 oz.)
– Corn, cooked (1/2 cup)
– Baby carrots, raw (1/4 cup)
– Banana
– Skim chocolate milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dressing (1.5 oz.)
– Low-fat Italian dressing (1.5 oz.)

– Cream soup spaghetti (with garbanzo beans, shrimp, squid, chicken and vegetables)
– Boiled vegetable salad (lotus root, cucumber, carrot, and ham)
– 1/4 Apple
– Milk

– Oven-baked fish nuggets (2 oz.) with whole-wheat roll
– Mashed potatoes (1/2 cup)
– Steamed broccoli (1/2 cup)
– Peaches (canned, packed in juice, 1/2 cup)
– Skim milk (8 oz.)
– Tartar sauce (1.5 oz.)
– Soft margarine (5 grams)

– Rice with barley
– Grilled salted salmon
– Ohitashi (boiled Japanese mustard spinach, cabbage, carrot)
– Miso soup (leek, wakame seaweed, tofu and potato)
– Flavored dried laver (seaweed)
– Milk

– Whole-wheat cheese pizza (1 slice)
– Baked sweet potato fries (1/2 cup)
– Grape tomatoes, raw (1/4 cup)
– Applesauce (1/2 cup)
– Low-fat (1%) milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)

– Indian-style spicy chicken curry (carrot, onion and potato)
– Healthy boiled salad (konnyaku—devil’s tongue—noodle, wakame seaweed, carrot, cucumber and cabbage)
– Strawberries (two each)
– Milk

SOURCES: USDA Food and Nutrition Service; Umejima Elementary School, Tokyo. GRAPHIC: The Washington Post. Published 

Bento boxes, a common lunch in Japan, can be found at the Sage Market Place or the Bento Truck on campus Tues-Th



Alcohol! (Part One: Business)

Japan has a love affair with alcohol. Starting with their national liquor, sake, Japan has continued to expand its presence in the liquor market since, well, the advent of the liquor market. Scholars have found references to sake as far back as the Kojiki, Japan’s first written record. Since then, they’ve expanded their repertoire of alcohol manufacturing to include some of the world’s finest beers, whiskeys, and libations.  So, with all of these wonderful alcohols just sitting around, waiting to be consumed, who do you think does the consuming? The answer, as it turns out, is everybody. Seriously. Everybody. There’s even “Kid’s Beer.”

This is the first of a series of posts concerning alcohol in various aspects of Japan’s culture. In this one, we’re covering the world of business drinking.

So, in one of the most tightly-wound societies in the world, with one of the strictest sets of morality laws of any industrialized nation, what does one do in order to relax after a long day at work? How does one seek the catharsis that one craves after hours and hours of answering the beck and call of one’s kyaku-san, douryou, senpai, joshi, and buchou? Well?



You get drunk, duh.

So, the question you might ask is, “Japanese people seem so reserved, why is alcohol such a huge thing that they seem to indirectly encourage even children to drink?” The answer is in the question you just asked. That I made you ask. Whatever. It’s called a segue, don’t read too much into it. Anyway, the reason is that Japanese people are so reserved. Their entire lives, children are brought up to show a very specific, dignified, respectful, introspective, and incredibly polite face in public. They don’t confront each other over issues in the workplace. They don’t step on toes. They don’t even chat up coworkers for fear of being rude. Enter “nomunication.”

Nomunication is a combination of the Japanese word nomu (to drink) and communication (if you need a definition, you shouldn’t be reading this). The term was coined for Japanese businessmen who, instead of confronting each other about work problems at work, tend to go out after work for “team-building exercises.” These are usually just nights of binge drinking with set rules. Rule number one is that you have to drink whatever gets put in front of you. Rule number two is that you have to drink as much as your coworkers do, and double what your superiors do. Rule number three is that you have to drink so much that you finally tell your coworkers about how they burn their popcorn in the break room and stinks really bad and it’s really frustrating and it’s not that hard to take it out before it burns and they should really stop because it’s incredibly annoying, then apologize and be done with it.

What better way to forgive your coworkers?

What better way is there to forgive your coworkers?

Seriously, though, this is how problems in the workplace get solved. Drink together, suffer through the hangover together, bond, and eventually end up a better, more cohesive work unit. “But wait!” you say (remember: segue), “That doesn’t make any sense! Why not just talk to each other about it at work?” Because, if you disrespect someone in the slightest, you have a major problem on your hands. In Japan, where even addressing your boss directly is considered rude, how, exactly, would you approach the possibility of your boss maybe being wrong about one little part of his plan for his department? The answer is that you really can’t. Unless you’re in a society with an outrageous tolerance for drunk people. Then you could get them drunk, get drunk yourself in order to work up the courage to speak to them, and then talk to them on an even playing field about how they should fix their plan, neatly avoiding, I might point out, any personal responsibility for rudeness committed while you were drunk. Thankfully, Japan is just that kind of society.

So alcohol in Japan isn’t just a way for you to unwind after work. It’s a way for you to bond with your coworkers, speak to your boss, and relieve some of the stress of living in an incredibly uptight society.

Around Salt Lake, there isn’t much of a cultural tendency to drink. In fact, we really aren’t that much of a drinking society at all. However, if, one day, you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, I really wish I could go out with my coworkers and tell them off about this problem I’m having,” remember: Dojo SLC has a special night on Tuesdays called Izakaya Tuesdays. This is where they have specials for sushi and Japanese bar food and serve alcohol in an environment perfect for airing out your professional frustrations. Or for just taking a load off. You know, whichever.

Til I see you out and about at the bar, keep eating/drinking the good stuff.