Chopsticks!

Another incredibly serious lesson in Japanese culture, this parody video focuses on chopsticks. This one hasn’t been translated from Japanese, but even without the translation, you can get the gist of it. If you’ve taken a few years of Japanese, see how much you can glean from it without looking for a translated one. It’s actually really hilarious.

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Sushi Bar!

This is an old video I’d seen years ago, but was reintroduced to by Michael Morrissey the other day. It’s a hilarious take on the somewhat absurdly ritualized processes in Japan. In this case, the people in the video are parodying an instructional video on how to eat sushi at a sushi bar.

It should be noted that most of the situations presented in this video are jokes, and probably ought not to be used in a real-life situation.

Alcohol! (Part Three: In Earlier Times)

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 third in a series of posts concerning alcohol in various aspects of Japan’s culture. In this one, we’re covering alcohol’s beginnings in Japan and social import throughout the ages.

Japan’s earliest records mention nihonshu, or, literally, “Japanese alcohol.” There are very strict guidelines about what can be used in nihonshu, such as it must be distilled, it must be made from rice, and it must be made in Japan. Basically, as Americans, whenever we think of sake, we’re thinking of nihonshu. Now, though the making of nihonshu is pretty much the same, saying that to a Japanese guy would be like telling a French person that all wine was the same. Just because the process is pretty codified doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for differentiation. Just like wine, depending on the location, certain acceptable brewing styles, and ingredients, nihonshu can have a vastly different taste and body. Nihonshu varies more widely than wine, in fact, since differences in the brewing can include filtering the final product or leaving it in a cloudy, unfiltered state, or even changes in the process for nihonshu that is to be served hot instead of cold.

Sake バイキング!

日本酒 バイキング!

Nihonshu has been used throughout Japan’s history to celebrate all sorts of occasions, large and small. From harvest festivals to birthdays, celebrations, for the most part, aren’t complete without a little nihonshu splashed about. At weddings, ceremony stands upon the Kagami Biraki, a tradition where a fresh nihonshu barrel is split open in order to commemorate the occasion.

That's my kind of wedding!

That’s my kind of wedding!

The problem, of course, is that the price for nihonshu is typically a little bit high since makers put so much time and effort into perfecting their recipes and brewing techniques. So what happens then? Do people just stop drinking because it got a little bit pricey? No! They made other alcohol! They threw out requirements that alcohol had to be derived from a certain kind of rice, and started using all kinds of other stuff like potatos, yams, buckwheat, and even OTHER KINDS OF RICE!  The (comparatively) new stuff was called shochu, and started showing up around the 14th century in places like Okinawa and Kyushu. It was originally considered just the “poor man’s” nihonshu due to its higher alcohol content and cheaper ingredients. In light of this distinction, sales of shochu have typically remained low over the course of Japanese history, and it’s only since the 1980’s or so that the drink has become more popular.

Here's a handy diagram of shochu.

Here’s a handy diagram of shochu.

Opening the door to new and different alcohols like shochu allowed the Japanese to become a little bit more open-minded by the time Westerners came to Japan with their own original and distinct alcohols. Of course, the Japanese are nothing if not innovative, and took it upon themselves to immediately put their own spin on the new alcohol they had available. However, that’s a post for next time.

Until then, keep eating/drinking the good stuff!

-Dustin

Alcohol! (Part Two: Young Adults)

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 second in a series of posts concerning alcohol in various aspects of Japan’s culture. In this one, we’re covering alcohol and young adults.

Japan’s businessmen may have a high-stress, tightly wound world, but what about Japanese college students? These young adults not only have all of the rules and responsibilities inherent in Japanese culture in general, but have the extra stress of dealing with constant exams, loads of homework, and one of the most competitive academic environments in the world. So how do they deal with it? How do they relax during all of their rigorous testing?

They drink!

This was not a trick question.

They drink! And they drink a lot, it turns out. I’m sure you think that in Western countries like the United States and the UK we tend to take the cake on the drinking scene, but it’s not so. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the National Hospital Organization in Japan, the amount of alcohol-dependent, college-aged people has doubled since 1984, with many of those affected drinking underage, before they even entered High School. It’s not a secret that one can walk down the street in Japan and find vending machines which will sell beer, and I, personally, have often wondered how these machines are monitored in terms of selling only to people who are of legal age. The answer seems to be, in spite of Japan’s clear laws regarding the legal drinking age, that these machines are indeed unmonitored, allowing underage people to obtain alcohol with ease. This ease of obtaining alcohol, coupled with a prevalent drinking culture among the adults of Japan, encourages young adults to begin drinking at an early age.

Just like soda. Only beer.

Just like soda. Only beer.

Not only do the young people of Japan begin drinking earlier, it seems that women tend to drink more than men. It makes sense, since the pressures on women in Western society are well-documented, from misogynistic tendencies in the workplace to constant bombardment by photoshopped images of perfect bodies. These same pressures exist in Japan, only an order of magnitude greater. Japan has a long, well-documented history of male chauvinism. Though it isn’t covered in the results of the survey I read, I would imagine that there are sharply higher number of young alcoholic women than young alcoholic men would have to do with the young women being faced with different, extensive pressures which the college-aged male simply doesn’t have to face. At least, not in the same way women have to. Gender also has an effect on what alcohol is preferred. As is the case here in America, among men, the leading choice of alcohol is beer, whereas among women, the drinks of choice are often sweet or fruity cocktails.

Cocktails for everybody!

Cocktails for everybody!

The thing gender doesn’t seem to have an effect on is preference of western liquors of traditionally Japanese ones. Sake and others are being pushed aside for beer, vodka, and cocktails at an increasing pace in Japan, as the culture starts to migrate away from its original roots and toward a more modern drink scene. The number one choice in Japan is still beer, holding strong over every other type of alcohol available. Of course, beer is pretty much the most popular alcoholic drink in the world, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Regardless, of drink of choice, however, it seems that younger drinking is on the rise in Japan, with over 70% of students having had experience with alcohol by the time they reached high school. Compared with the American statistic of about 33% of students responding as having had experience with alcohol by the time they were 16, the Japanese students are blowing us out of the water. Easy access, an intensely alcohol-focused adult culture, and a lack of supervision have contributed to a sharp rise in underage drinking in Japan, and leads to more and more problems later in life. At least the Japanese still check your ID if you’re purchasing alcohol in a bar or grocery store environment, but as long as access is as easy as finding the nearest beer vending machine, I can only imagine that the problem will get worse. Japan may have laws against underage drinking on the books, but it doesn’t have the police to enforce such laws. Here in America however, and particularly in Salt Lake City, the laws are very strict regarding alcohol. Though, as evidenced by the numbers, it isn’t a perfect system.

Good thing we’re (most of us, in this class) already over the legal age.

Yay us!

Yay us!

Keep eating/drinking the good stuff!

-Dustin

 

 

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?

Answer.

Answer.

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.

-Dustin

Kissaten!

Coffee has a unique place in Japanese culture. It was, as it was many places around the world, introduced hundreds of years ago. However, until the 1970’s, coffee was not the drink of choice in Japan. The ubiquitous green tea has long dominated the beverage culture in Japan, beating out competitors left and right until a faster postwar economy really took hold and rocketed Japan towards the high-octane, bitter, black drink we all know and love, coffee.

Delicious coffeeeeeee

Delicious coffeeeeeee

Kissaten, with their roots firmly planted in the business world, are very different from the American cafes you find here, there, and everywhere in the States. Whereas our national coffee chain, Starbucks, strives to create a “third place,” where consumers can come and relax with a cup and a friend and have a chat with their baristas for a second about how so-and-so’s brother-in-law did what at that weird thing at that wedding last week, Japan’s national chain, Dotou, is focused on the quick, in-and-out experience of many business people, rendering their baristas pretty much incapable of having the time to discuss what did or did not happen because of the imbibing of copious amounts of grain alcohol. Or whatever, it was probably their fault for having an open bar.

Right. Coffee.

So, Japanese kissaten are often about getting in, out, and on with your life. They’re about helping you with a quick recoup from your morning commute which, for business people and students, is a huge part of your day, or for helping you grab a delicious coffee before battle. Like you do.

Samurai drank coffee. Advertising tells me so.

Completely and totally historically accurate.

Kissaten also spawned the canned coffee craze, which has come to America through Starbucks as those bottled frappuccinos that Starbucks sells, or those big, huge cans of “coffee” that Monster and other energy drinks infuse with as much sugar and caffeine as possible. This iteration of coffee has made it even newer-seeming to younger generations, making it a more attractive option for its audience and increasing its popularity, not just in Japan, but worldwide. There have been a few notable brands that came out of this trend, like UEC and BOSS, with clever advertising campaigns of their own. Some of them even have some pretty familiar American names behind them.

Tommy Lee Jones. So hot right now.

Tommy Lee Jones. So hot right now.

Kissaten itself means something else, though. These kissaten are not synonymous with modern-style cafes, like Dotour and Starbucks, no, these kissaten are usually aimed towards a clientele seeking to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee. Until recently, many of them didn’t serve lattes and mochas and such, but that culture is shifting towards a more global-style approach. Kissaten used to be a place you came and sat down and had a little cup of coffee with almost nothing else on the menu, but more and more kissaten are popping up all around Kyoto and Tokyo as, instead of business-meeting-type places, social gathering areas, much like cafes are here in the United States and around the world. These kissaten are all about staying for a while and enjoying your surroundings.

At manga-kissa, you can check out manga and read while you have your coffee.

At manga-kissa, you can check out manga and read while you have your coffee.

Though these may be a little more pricey, the atmosphere is nice, and it can be relaxing to get out of the busy streetlife of modern Japan for a few moments. Some of the more popular kissaten and cafes in the Tokyo region are Gakuya in Shibuya, a place to sit and relax, enjoying coffee “with all the grace of a tea ceremony.” This is a more traditional kissaten, complete with a gray-haired owner and postwar decor. Hipper, newer cafes in Tokyo are the ever-preset Dotour coffee joints, as well as Ben’s Cafe, a more western-style cafe, in the style of Stumptown Coffee Roasters or Blue Bottle Coffee. We may not have any kissaten in Salt Lake, but if you’re looking for some great coffee and a good atmosphere, check out the Rose Establishment on 400 west and about a block south of the Gateway Mall, or, if you’re looking for some really amazing cakes and pastries with your coffee, try Salt Lake Roasting Company at about 300 east on 400 south as well.

Keep eating the good stuff!

-Dustin

Ramen!

Ramen, that quintessential college food of choice, has roots beyond the thin plastic packaging, and outside the microwaves present in so many dorm rooms. Top Ramen, though the most familiar with most American diners, is not the only ramen there is. In fact, Top Ramen, though the effect it’s had on the college lives of so many around the world is undeniable, is probably some of the worst ramen ever. Like, really. The stuff apparently costs your body more energy to digest than you gain from eating it.

This is not the ramen you're looking for.

This is not the ramen you’re looking for.

No, no, no, this post is about ramen as it was meant to be, as it was born to be, originating in the tried-and-true, completely authentic, Japanese province of… wait. What? This can’t be right… Ramen didn’t start in Japan? It’s actually from… China? Oh no, this is all wrong. Well, I guess, since I already started the article, I should probably finish it… Ok, fine.

Ramen is actually from China. The name ramen comes from the phonetics of Lau Mein, traditional Chinese noodles. Around 1910, according to The Book of Ramen, these Lau Mein noodles started to be brought over from China to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. These noodles, combined with a tasty broth, instantly became a favorite among the residents of Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital) and has, over time, become a gastronomic symbol. It’s now even considered a regional dish of the area around Sapporo, and has sparked a cult following the likes of which has seldom been seen in the food world. There are  even museums dedicated to the eminently slurpable, chewy, broth-y, delicious dish.

This is the inside of the Ramen Museum. That's right. A whole museum dedicated to ramen.

The inside of the Ramen Museum is made out to look like a street scene, complete with hobos! (probably)

According to the Ramen Museum, there are 26 types of ramen. 26 different base types of ramen. From wontonmen (ramen with wontons) to wakame-men (grilled nori ramen) and kakumi (braised pork belly) to kamaboku (fish cake, like naruto). Based on where you look, what region you’re in and what shop you visit, you can find any and everything in ramen, and it’s all amazing. There are, however, many trends in ramen preferences, such as a general tendency among Asians towards spicier soup, whereas Americans prefer the milder, more savory soups. Additionally, more people prefer thin broth, keeping away from oily ramen. The most popular flavor is still the original: Cha shu (the Japanese phonetic of Char Siu, Chinese BBQ pork) and leeks. In addition to myriad types of ramen, there are almost as many ramenyas (ramen stands/shops) in Tokyo as street corners. Over 5,000 in all, ramenyas are definitely some of the most popular places to eat in the city.

These punks are stuck waiting in line for ramen in New York City. According to White Paper, Americans would have no problem waiting in line for up to an hour for good ramen.

These punks are stuck waiting in line for ramen in New York City. According to White Paper, Americans would have no problem waiting in line for up to an hour for good ramen.

Ramen, in all its forms, has become something of a cultural icon, like Hello Kitty and Domo. It’s been exported all over the world, and is one of the most easily recognizable Japanese dishes of all time. It’s not the only borrowed food that’s become a national icon (tempura was originally Portuguese), but it’s one of the most popular. The Japan Times recently published an article about the love of ramen and its exportation around the globe (found here: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20130116a7.html) in conjunction with the World Ramen White Paper Project, a Yahoo! Japan ramen ambassador promotion.  Ramen’s impact has been felt all over Japan and, recently, throughout the rest of the world as well. If you’re looking for some excellent ramen in Salt Lake City, though, check out Dojo (http://www.dojoslc.com) or Ko Ko Kitchen (no website available, look it up on yelp or urban spoon), they’re rated as some of the best around.

Delicious chicken ramen at Ko Ko Kitchen.

Delicious chicken ramen at Ko Ko Kitchen. I know, you want to eat the screen right now. Sorry.

So, for those of you interested in ramen, try going to the Ramen museum next time you’re in Japan. Next time you get your ramen though, think a little about how it came to be as popular as it is, and what it means to you when you see it. Few dishes have such an emotional pull, hopefully you’ve got some that you love!

Keep eating the good stuff!

-Dustin

Welcome Foodies!

So, I just realized something has been overlooked in our class (really, I’d like this to get bigger than our Pop Culture class eventually, but I’ll settle for just us for now). It’s huge, it’s all around us, and it’s part of our everyday lives. How did we miss it? I’m really not sure.

It’s food.

Food phenomena are culture-defining. They permeate our societies and shape the way we do business, the way we celebrate, and the activities we do with friends. This blog is here to observe and comment on food in and from Japan in popular culture in general (Japanese or otherwise). I’m unsure if you’ll get credit for posting or reading, but I thought it would be a fun extra little thing to do. Especially if you love food like I do (and I’m sure there are others here who do). Just email me at baristashay@gmail.com or comment on here that you’d like to be a part of this.

One clarification: This is not “omigod lookit wut i eated hur!” That babble is difficult to read and negates the purpose of food as a part of popular culture. So please, think before posting and spell-check your posts, the site even does it for you so it’s not too difficult.

Keep eating the good stuff.

-Dustin