Jade’s Escape from Japan: Last Night in Okinawa

jadesescapefromjapan-lastnight

Last Night in Okinawa

Japanese businessmen with too many drinks and skewed neckties watch me walk up a block of squat business plazas and timeworn bars, most with red lanterns swinging in their wooden doorways. This is Naha City, the capitol of Okinawa, three hours by plane from Japan’s famous capitol, three decades behind what people would call Japan when Tokyo comes into a conversation. Even the powerlines, which have no intention of migrating underground, provide background noise to the drunken businessmen and the beckoning shop owners in this expensive drinking sector of Naha. The men enter and exit their doors, some stumbling with tomato faces and smiles into waiting taxis.

This is my last night in Okinawa, and I walk next to my best friend, a Japanese soccer player who became my first friend in Okinawa five years ago. We were both teachers, me in the loose sense as an Assistant Language Teacher and him as my coordinator who spoke fluent English with a New Zealand flare. Though he left English teaching a few months later, we remained brother and sister in the islander sense, and whenever we saw each other’s family members at the mall, we were meeting another relative, an extended vein from our friendship.

Now, even after five years, I notice Japanese men trying to pry me from my place next to him—seeing a tall Japanese man in a casual shirt and chinos next to a black woman walking in this area is rare, unless this American and hondoujin are lost. This is our area, our yen is better here. Your yen is better over there where you turned off International Street. At those guys, I make eye contact, and they quickly turn their eyes elsewhere. Wherever yen was going to be spent, tonight was my night to let someone else do the spending. I, as a returnee to the States, was not allowed to dirty my own farewell party with my own cash.

My friend leads me to a wooden, four-story business building that looks as tan and old as the other buildings we passed. We go up a flight of wooden stairs and duck under a curtain to enter what my friend calls “my brother’s work”. The shop, a small but clean sushi bar, boasts three tatami areas with traditional floor tables and zabuton, or colorful Japanese cushions. Wooden doors, wooden pillars, and wooden countertops provide the aesthetics rather than hanging paintings or woodblock prints. My friend and I sit at the counter, and from an open doorway with a white curtain, his brother emerges in a white sushi chefs outfit. It is my first time to see him in four years, but through my friend, I always know where he is working. He is shorter than my friend by a head, but his small eyes and humor resemble my friend’s. Before they exchange a handshake, he looks surprised to see me. “Long time no see,” he says with a shy smile. Unlike his brother, he is reserved and gracious in his demeanor.

But it’s my friend who teaches me about the life of being a sushi chef. “Being a sushi chef,” he tells me after we have wiped our hands and cheered over a glass of chuuhai, “takes a lot of training. When we were kids, my brother was always shaping rice with his hands.” Only the best traditional sushi, which consists of a select cut of fish, a dab of wasabi, and a thumb-sized amount of formed rice, could lead sushi chefs into stardom in the industry. “Every day, chefs have to make $500 to $700 a night for the shop owners. Once they make a certain amount of money for the owners, the chefs can move on to owning their businesses.” He is proud of his younger brother, watching him deliberate over the rows of sliced fish in front of us, and in a way, I hold that same pride for this young chef.

The sushi looks different than the usual sushi I used to eat from the market or in a restaurant chain like Hamazushi. The fish are colorful and thick, hearty even, but easy to chew while the hint of wasabi lacks the sharpness of typical sushi, emphasizing the flavors of the fish and the shaped rice as a tasty unit. As I chew the second sushi, I suddenly realize why I feel as if I had skipped something: I did not dip it in soy sauce. It is completely unneeded.

My friend’s brother places sushi after sushi in front of us, lapsing into English for the fishes’ names and joking in Japanese with my friend. We get another drink, and it starts to wash away my senses. I laugh a little too hard, smile a little too much, eat the delicious handcrafted sushi a little too fast. I want to remember the warm feeling that both the chuuhai and Okinawa had given me for five years. People here are warm, and even those with cold interiors have no choice but to obey Japanese etiquette. When Okinawan people speak to me, it feels as if I’ve come home after a long absence, and they’re gently easing me into what I forgotten. Five years ago, I was surprised by this feeling, and every year, I renewed my contract to get closer to it, something akin to my Filipino home in the States. Other colleagues remarked their envy when I admitted I hardly felt homesick in years.

Between the second drinks and red snapper sushi, three Japanese people sit at the bar next to me. Immediately, one of the drunk women says, “You look like a famous singer.” For a while, everyone’s stumped. It’s when our last sushi arrives that the lady announces, “Diana Ross!” For the remaining twenty minutes there, she and her two friends address me as the former Supreme vocalist until my friend bids his brother goodnight and pays the bill.

“Goodbye, Diana Ross!” the three drunk birds say before we disappear down the stairs and into the warm summer streets. Now less business suits haunt the plaza doorways, and the taxis line the curbs. This is their time to strip drunken workers of their last yen. We avoid them and walk to a close-by Family Mart to get some cheap alcohol. At 2 o’clock in the morning, the clerk looks at us with an eyebrow quirked above his glasses. “There might by a typhoon tomorrow,” it says, but his thin lips only utter, “259 yen.”

When we get outside, the wind has picked up, flinging lose plastic bags and what little trash adorn the entire city towards the south. My friend and I cheer and drink our alcohol. As the night grows cooler and windier, our conversation—his kids, my husband, our jobs, five years of being an American sister and a Japanese Okinawan brother—turns into something warmer and sadder. Tonight, I think, let’s drink and eat before it gets too sad. As the lights in some stores dim and metallic doors slide over their shops, my friend and I stand up and smile at each other.

My last night allows me to return to a pair of eyes that can see Okinawa’s beautiful islands, see its people in their chinos and suits, and appreciate looking at all of them together in one place.

Advertisements

Devil Pocky for Pocky Day 2014

Japan has many food holidays on specific numbers such as Strawberry Day (January 5th), or ichi go, which means “strawberry”, and  Veggie Day (August 31st), or ya sa i, which means “vegetable” in Japanese.  One food holiday that uses dates with a special meaning is November 11th’s Pocky Day. November 11th, which is 11-11, looks like a pack of the chocolate-coated biscuit sticks. Glico and their amazing marketing team put together a commercial just for this sticky snack.

This year’s commercial idol is Gantz live action star and ARASHI boy bander Kazunari Ninomiya. In the commercials, he plays a “demon of sorrow” while holding his precious Pocky.

I love how Kazunari screams, “Help me!” at the end of this commercial. Dude, you’re a demon. Even you’re sad, stop tearing up my neighborhood!

Anyways, how can you celebrate this fun and simple holiday? You can buy Pocky or try the Pocky Game Challenge.

Happy International Beer Day!

intlbeerday

Happy International Beer Day!

How’s beer in Japan? The good news is Japanese beer is cheaper than any Western beers like Budweiser and Guinness ranging from 80 yen a can to 320 yen for a bottle. The bad news is Japanese beers all taste alike. “The nail that sticks up must be hammered down” is a proverb that explains both Japanese culture and the sameness between the top beer brands in Japan. I don’t know if it’s Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, or Orion’s faults for making these beers. Maybe it’s just the people who’ve learned not deviate from the tastes of their peers and try something new, and so, the companies cater to their flavors.

I would recommend going to a liquor store, local brewery, import wine shop, or a good bar that sells import drinks for different beer tastes. My favorite place is the import wine shop in Chatan that carries imported German, Austrian, and Italian lagers and alcohol. Just watch out for the price tag–imports are very expensive.

McDonald’s Japan just released Tofu Nuggets, and they taste… 【Taste Test】

McDonald’s Japan just released Tofu Nuggets, and they taste… 【Taste Test】

Tofu-mixed nuggets don’t sound so bad. Sounds more like a bento element invaded the menu. Thank goodness I don’t eat at McDonald’s or fast food joints. Those places are poison factories.

SoraNews24

Tofunuggets2

Just days after the taking Chicken McNuggets off its menu in the light of the China food scandal, McDonald’s Japan has unveiled a brand new, rather unusual product: Tofu Shinjo Nuggets and Ginger Sauce, a combination of bean curd, fish and vegetables shaped into bite-size pieces and deep-fried.

Turning to tofu–a food that has long been a favourite in Japan and known for its health benefits–is certainly a wise move, and McDonald’s is undoubtedly in need of something new to entice customers back with, but while we’ve no doubt all craved deep-fried chicken at some point in our lives, we’d hazard a guess that very few have ever longed for a box of tofu nuggets at the end of a night on the town.

Curious cats that we are, we headed over to our local McDonald’s to grab a few boxes of the new nuggets. Join us after the jump to…

View original post 784 more words

7 Useful Websites to Survive in Japan

 

Imagine getting an invitation to your welcome party and a co-worker hands you a map to the location. You don’t think to ask about the place or what do all the squiggly lines mean–not like you can if you don’t know Japanese–so when the time comes to go to the welcome party, you realize that you don’t know the way. But that’s only one worry from living in Japan. Japanese language resources, English books, organic products, and even emoticons are different in the Land of the Rising Sun. Thanks to the internet, you can simplify your needs while living in Japan.

 googlemapsGoogle Maps: In Japan, you can easily get lost. There are no street names, and multiple routes with the same number make finding a certain business nearly impossible. Good thing all businesses must print their ads with a map to their shop…right? If everyone relied on those 5-centimeter sized maps, no one in Japan would use Google Maps. My advice: stick to landmarks!

japaneseemoticons

Japanese Emoticons: Western emoticons are great, but Japanese ones are easier to read and have more pizzazz. Plus, each emoticon conveys the exact emotion I’m looking for in a tweet or email. \(^▽^)/

freejapanesefont

Japanese Fonts: If you’re learning Japanese or you make anything with text in Japan, this website is the best! You can download and install the fonts that actually write Japanese, not the gibberish you find on Fontspace. Just be on the look out for the fine print. Some fonts are licensed for non-commercial uses, which means you can only use them for unpaid projects.

bookdepository

Book Depository: Japan has a severe lack of English books that aren’t condensed readers for English exam takers. Some Japanese English-reading residents are fine with the scant choices of English literature at Toda Books and Book Off (they mostly have YA and best sellers). For those who want books without the expensive shipping fee from Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, Book Depository is the best. They ship books worldwide for free. Are the books cheaper than Ebay or Amazon? No, they’re full price, but they’re brand new books.

iherb

iHerb: If you’re missing your beloved African soap bars or certain organic cookie mixes and you can’t get them from home, iHerb is the next best option. They have a flat $4 shipping rate to Japan and they sell organic and vegan household products.

weblio

Weblio: Japanese is hard. Even Google Translate has a hard time making Japanese understandable. Weblio is another translation website that offers a literal translation of the English and example sentences using the main verb.

Wunderground: Between June and October, Japan is plagued with typhoons and stormy weather. Reliable English-language weather forecast sites like Wunderground are few in total, considering that many are in Japanese. Still, Wunderground is a good place to watch any severe weather changes in the Western-Pacific region.

Make your own cup of noodles at the Instant Ramen Museum

Make your own cup of noodles at the Instant Ramen Museum

Instant ramen noodle vending machines? Only in Japan!

slouching somewhere

Open lid. Pour powder from the packet into cup. Pour hot water. Close lid. Wait for three minutes. Open lid again and have a quick and hot filling cup of instant ramen.

This was how I was introduced to ramen. Since our comforting noodle soups here in the Philippines are of the batchoy and mami varieties (both must-tries if ever you find yourself in the Philippines), my first slurp of the Japanese noodle soup was from a styro Nissin Cup. I didn’t love it but I thought it was genius. No cooking involved! It’s like being 16 and letting that boy you sort of like hold your hand just because you think holding hands is the best thing ever. (That’s acceptable behavior, right?) And then you get to taste the real thing. Authentic ramen from its motherland, fresh noodles, broth that has been deliciously boiling for hours, mouthwatering slices of…

View original post 605 more words

Japanese Candy and Snacks Haul


CIMG2859

I’m doing an international candy swap, so I bought a ton of candy and snacks that’re very “Japanese”.

CIMG2861

Because Attack on Titan is so popular in Japan and abroad, I couldn’t pass up these chewy candies with chibi Attack on Titan characters.CIMG2857

Similar to Attack on Titan, One Piece has a strong fan following. It’s no surprise to see Trafalgar Law representing this pack of chews.
CIMG2858

This box of Kidorikko cookies were too cute to pass up! Plus, in Japan, cute characters are on all products targeted for kids. Think of this as animal crackers for Japanese children.