Pizza in Japan

19 Nov

Whew, it’s been a while. Can’t say I’ve been up to a whole lot though. I’ve been meaning to post about my annoyance with pedestrians in Japan for some time now, but I think my last few posts were already negative themed, and I don’t mean to give the impression this is a bad place or I’m not having a good time. So this will be a positive post. Naturally, it’s about food.

Hey, that’s pretty good English for basic ad mark-up in Japan!

Even before coming to Japan, I’ve always heard that pizza here is pretty different than what we come to expect in America. So I’ve been holding off on buying pizza for these three reasons:

-Pizza in Japan is typically more expensive, with a large pizza, depending on the type, running around $30-35 US.
-Few pizza places actually deliver, requiring you to either dine in or pick up.
-Most pizza joints make pizzas to specific menu preparations. You can’t have a pizza made to order with specific toppings.

Granted, with my little experience, there may be many exceptions. Anyway, I broke down and ordered from a place called Pizza-La, after another friend of mine did a couple times. Surprisingly, they actually do delivery, although it takes roughly an hour at least. But on the flip side, there is no extra charge for delivery and tipping is not customary in Japan. And wait aside, I still got my pizza piping hot.

So what’s pizza like in Japan? Here are some examples from Pizza-La:

Image from Pizza-La.

The Mascarpone Italiana

With Mascarpone cheese made from 100% fresh Hokkaido milk! Deliciously pairing together the fine tastes of ham and thick cut bacon, along with juicy sliced tomatoes, it’s a classic combination pizza you can enjoy like luxury.

Ingredients: Cheese, onion, green peppers, pepper ham, thick sliced bacon, fresh tomato, applewood smoked bacon, black pepper, parsley, bacon flavored bits, thin sliced garlic, Mascarpone cheese, tomato sauce.

(Wow, that’s a lot of bacon. But really, not too far from American tastes.)

Image from Pizza-La.

The King Crab and Shrimp Cream Gratin Pizza

Made with fresh Hokkaido milk gratin sauce! Savor the flavors of two kinds of crab, red king crab and snow crab, along with feisty shrimp. It’s the perfect pizza for winter.

Ingredients: Cheese, Parmesan cheese, corn, shrimp, thick cut bacon, gratin sauce, macaroni (penne), black pepper, parsley, snow crab, red king crab, crab sauce.

(Yeah, not touching this one with a ten foot pole. What is crab sauce supposed to be?)

Image from Pizza-La.

The Pizza-La Bulgogi

Made with beef carefully soaked in a special salty-sweet sauce. It’s a pizza of robust taste, prominent with the delicious flavor of garlic!
*This product does not come with sauce.

Ingredients: Mayonnaise, cheese, onion, corn, spinach, garlic, red pepper strings, black pepper, bulgogi.

(It’s a good thing I like bulgogi a lot, because this is one ugly looking pizza.)

But in the end, THIS is what I ordered:

I’m only now noticing how indecent the sausage arrangement looks.

The Spicy Sausage

With the stimulating flavors of spicy oil and garlic!!
*Spicy oil comes separate.

Ingredients: Cheese, onion, chorizo, garlic, coarse sausage, spicy oil pouch, black pepper, parsley, salsa sauce.

Wow, what a lame description of my pizza. Anyway, to just out and say it, it was pretty darn good. I guess flavor-wise, sure it was a bit different; I’ve never had a pizza like this. But it was tasty. More to the point though, it had the same good feel of just eating a pizza. Gooey cheese, greasy, nice to chew. The cocktail wiener-like sausage was kind of annoying, but that aside I really enjoyed it. Had a delicious spice to it. Though I do feel like I got jilted on the toppings, since the website picture looks like this.

Anyway, just to placate my mother who worries about my health, I don’t plan on ordering these a lot. It’d be too expensive to make a habit of and there are too few pizzas that grab me. I also didn’t eat the whole damn thing – I’d be dead. With the cost of it, it’s more effective to save it for future meals.

But I do think I will brave that bulgogi pizza sometime down the road. It’s nice to find one more convenience that just makes me feel at home.

Easy target

9 Nov

I once told my good friend Cheston that I’d come to the realization I’m a very easy person to market to. Especially when it comes to things like food. I’m always willing to try new things (that are in my wheelhouse anyway). When I’m shopping, it always stands out when some kind of food I like comes out in a new variety or new flavor. The new packaging never fails to stand out to me.


Taking only that into consideration, Japan is really a pretty terrible place to live. There are ALWAYS new kinds of food products coming out to keep the finicky public satisfied. For example, the other day at McDonald’s (which I finally started going to), I enjoyed a KBQ burger, which is basically a Big Mac with Korean barbeque in it. I am actually told other international fast foods chains, like Wendy’s, basically failed here because they couldn’t keep making new products fast enough. This also probably explains all the wild varieties of Kit-Kats.

Anyway, the above soda just caught my eye tonight. It’s… not bad. It pretty much just tastes like strawberry soda. Though… there is kind of a Pepsi-ish bite to it. Not really sure how I feel about it, but I doubt I’ll pick up anymore. Though if I wait long enough, they might bring Crystal Pepsi back here.

Whine Mode: Activated

8 Nov

Today has been a hell of a day. I’m actually not even mad, just exhausted. But I still feel like going over the crap I dealt with anyway. Ugh, I’m going to turn into one of those whiny bloggers no one likes to read, as opposed to an uninteresting blogger that no one knows to read.

  • Nearly missed the bus, both to and from work.
  • Missed two classes today because I didn’t know they were scheduled for their given periods, and the teacher didn’t tell me. (She actually did tell me yesterday but it slipped my mind when I looked at my erroneous schedule this morning. So I consider this my fault, although I still don’t understand why she didn’t come back to get me.)
  • Left my keys at work, which resulted in my having to carry my bike home. (Though thankfully a friend helped me with this, because…)
  • Have to wear a splint on my left hand because on Saturday I crashed my bike (again) and damaged the ligament. I don’t know if it’s actually torn or what, but thankfully it will heal easily. I am presently writing this post one handed.
  • Had a can of soup burst all over me when I opened it.
  • Just generally kind of broke and living like a pauper until my next paycheck.

But you know, a lot of times that’s just life. A friend did invite me out to dinner earlier. I had eaten the soup already so I didn’t get much at the restaurant, but it did help me relax and blow off steam. It’s thankful that I have a lot of good people who live around me.

Kigen ga warui

4 Nov

As I begin to type I’m still debating whether or not I really want to post about this. I usually make it a habit not to write about things that upset or bother me on a more personal level. But I’ve been steadily steaming for a couple hours now so I might as well get it off my chest. I also haven’t posted anything since Aboshi, so at the very least you’ll know I’m alive.

At school today was an event called Ongakusai, or music festival. I am only writing about it today because, in a sense, today is the first day I really understood it was a thing. Earlier this week one of my teachers approached me and asked if I wanted to judge a singing competition. I said fine, and that was really all I got until today. But Ongakusai, much like Taiikusai, is an event practiced by all schools roughly around the same time in celebration of Culture Day (which was yesterday). There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance to it, the parents come to watch their kids, and it goes a few hours. I’d have liked to known this before today.

So I’m doing my best to judge the students. And honestly, I’m giving everyone marks of good or great, I’m sure as hell not going to put “bad” on any aspect of middle schoolers singing songs (though the teacher next to me looked like he was putting “bad” a lot). I didn’t fully understand every aspect of the grading sheet, but that’s largely because it was entirely in Japanese and I only got a copy right when the event started. But that the heck, I’ll do my best and if I mess up someone can help me out. All the classes give their performances and we have an intermission. I fold up my judging sheet and pocket it because I don’t want any students peeking at it.

There’s a bit more after the intermission. A couple of guest Indian musicians came and played a sitar and tabla for a half hour. Then the school band played a few songs. Then the parents actually came up and sang a couple songs, along with the teachers. Now, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to sing, but in truth if I was asked I’d have done it. But nobody asked. Nobody even bothered to give me the lyrics sheet (and I don’t know if I could have read it anyway). So I just stood nearby and watched.

And then at the end of it all, they announced the winning classes, which threw me for a loop because I still had my judging sheet on me. At no point did anyone come and ask me for my sheet. Even if it was someone who didn’t know English, they could have just tugged on my shirt and I’d have figured it out. I was never instructed on how or when to turn the sheet in.

It’s at this point I’m thinking “You know, I really must look like an asshole to these people.” No one has told me what this event is about. No one has told me what I need to prepare or how I can help, outside of “You’re going to judge the classes singing.” But to the parents, to the teachers, maybe even the students, it might look like “Hey, here’s this guy who just doesn’t seem to care about what we’re doing. He didn’t judge the contest and he didn’t join the PTA concert.” And it’s no problem on them to not tell me what to do, because I look like the asshole.

Now am I blowing this out of proportion? Probably. Did they expect that much effort from me? Maybe not. But I got to thinking. This was, if I remember correctly, the 13th annual Ongakusai at Okishio. I don’t know how long Okishio has made use of the ALT program. Yumesaki, where Okishio is, has only been a part of Himeji since 2006, I think. But needless to say, they’ve had other ALTs before me. At least two. So this being something that continues to occur every year, you would think they might, you know, plan specific materials for the ALT to participate. This wasn’t their first rodeo. Heck, they could have given me the materials the previous day and I’d have been happy to translate them at home. But I didn’t get anything like that. So I’m only left to assume that… had I been on the ball or blown it aside, it wouldn’t have made a big difference to them.

What really gripes me is that the class I ultimately voted as best came in second. Had my vote been counted, would they have one first perhaps? Maybe an upset? I really don’t know. Ironically, the class I thought did the worst won first place. Maybe I just don’t have an ear for Japanese music. That’s probably why stuff like this drives me up the wall.

If this were an isolated incident, I might look it over. And truth be told, the teachers at Okishio are great. No one is rude to me, no one mistreats me. If anyone has a problem with me, they keep it to themselves (though actually that sort of thing does really bug me). But truth also be told… they just don’t involve me a lot. For the most part, I’m there to stand in class and pronounce new words and sentences. And outside of that, it’s just my job to be the goofy foreigner at school. And there are times I’m even content with this. But there are also times where I do actively try to get involved; where I do try to make assignments and games for the lesson material. And a lot of the time, it just feels like I’m getting in the way. The teachers then have to hassle changing their plans to fit my stuff. And that’s really not what I want to do.

But I also don’t want to be remembered as the guy who sat around and got paid to do nothing.

Aboshi Chouchin Festival 2011

24 Oct

Last Friday I had my first proper Japanese festival. Many festivals are held in October because of harvest season. Two weeks ago I missed our local Shinzaike Festival since I was in Tokyo. Last week I missed the Nada Festival since, well, I wasn’t my peppy self that day. But I did make it to Aboshi, and it was so fun and fascinating it made me regret missing the others.

The whole thing does have sort of a state fair-like mood to it. The streets are lined with tents and booths for food vendors, toys and games. I ate way too much chicken karaage (and found it it’s possible to eat too much chicken karaage). What differs, though, are the main attractions. At the start, groups of volunteers will carry shrines (called the Usuki Hachiman shrine) by crowds of thousands. And it takes 20~30 people to carry these things; they’re huge and heavy, and actually have four drummers inside of them. The people carry the shrines for hours, and I’ve heard it’s not terribly uncommon for devastating accidents to occur. Thankfully, everything seemed safe at this one.

Sorry for the shakiness at times; there were tons of people and I occasionally tried to get closer. If you want, skip ahead to about 14 minutes for the “action” to pick up. When the shrines start moving you can hear the police throw a fit, making sure everyone clears room for them to go by. At some points I had to get pressed up against a wall. The shrines will make sudden movements left and right… and I’m not sure if this is part of the show or if it’s the carriers trying to keep their balance (though I imagine the former).

This video covers the first shrine. Eventually the other two take off in similar fashion.

I was told the symbolism of the shrine carrying originates from a war Japan had with Korea some hundreds of years ago. A Japanese ship was stuck by the dock because of algae that’d accumulated on the belly. So all the sailors got out and lifted the boat up to clean it off, occasionally letting it fall back into the water (which explains the sudden drops). I’m guessing Japan must have won the battle if this is still celebrated, although Japan’s history of trying to conquer Korea isn’t very successful.

After the shrine displays are over, though, comes the lantern smashing.

This is where the Chouchin (paper lantern) Festival gets its name. Held in numerous waves, thousands of paper lanterns on staffs are touted out to smash larger, lantern-like structures, which often seem to have certain themes (I am suspecting they are made by the community). The smashers will surround the larger lantern, singing a tune and thumping their lanterns against the ground with an accelerating beat. Then the song abruptly ends and it’s smashing time. This goes one for two to three rounds before the next big lantern is brought in.

I have no idea what the cultural significance of this event is. But I guess it’s like piƱatas meets musical chairs meets… Japan?

All in all it was a fantastic though slightly tiring experience. I also ran into some of my ES students and teachers from the Aboshi area, including the principal who likes to pat my belly. Wouldn’t be a party without him! The only thing to mar the night was that I fell off my bike on the way home and blew the front tire, and had to walk the rest of the way in the rain. But overall still a positive experience!

Enjoy a bunch of additional pictures, including the booths and such.

Kyoko

20 Oct

Well I might as well get this out of the way since it’s probably one of the more interesting things to my readership to come up on this blog.

I met Kyoko today. She’s a bit older than me; I’m going to suppose in her 40s maybe, or late 30s. Like I said, I have enough sense not to ask. But I did tell her my age and she said I’m quite a bit younger than her. She did look quite good, and was very fashionably dressed. Japanese women are very good at beautifying themselves.

We spent about a couple hours together. We walked around Himeji Castle until we found a suitable place to sit. Mostly we just talked about our interests: favorite foods, favorites animals, what motivates us to learn each others’ languages. That sort of thing. I think for the most part we spoke in English, which I kind of let happen. Her English is pretty good; she things my Japanese is better but she can listen to me pretty well, without having to stop and ask me to repeat something or clarify a meaning. With me speaking Japanese, most of my trouble is just getting started.

Eventually I pulled out my Arizona picture collection, which I had on me since I’d come straight from ES. I felt a little sheepish; I basically gave her a lesson that I give to students, but she seemed to enjoy it. I think even Japanese adults get into that stuff. I was kind of troubled at one of my schools because before class the principal saw me bring out my photos and wanted to look through them, and he got them all mixed up. And I’m not going to tell the principal he can’t do that. Same principal also likes to pat my stomach and say “big body.” I think you’d get arrested for that in America.

Kyoko has friends in Seattle, where she also visited for a few weeks. She wants to learn English better to talk to her friends, and she plans on moving there for a much longer term in the future. She’s also interested in Native American studies, and is a big fan of the author Sherman Alexie. I’m probably inept there since, despite coming from Arizona, I know very little about Native Americans. Also I’ve only read a couple of Alexie’s stories (though I do think he’s a great writer).

All in all Kyoko was very friendly and kind. I would like to see her again, and I think we will try to meet every Thursday, so long as the weather is good. I do wonder if I’m the kind of person she was hoping for. I’m sure she’d have preferred someone closer to her age. While I’m making a guess, I think she’s single, and if you remain single when you get older it gets harder to fit in with society. Actually, a lot of middle aged and elderly Japanese do get into second language studies simply because they want people to talk to.

I guess if I’m worried about anything, it’s that she may prefer to find someone else but is too afraid to tell me. Though I think I will keep seeing her so long as she’s interested.

I have a date tomorrow

19 Oct

Yep, I’m that much of a mover and a shaker. Until next time, folks!

… … …

Okay, so really, I am meeting a “conversation partner” tomorrow. At the Egret Center, where I take Japanese classes, they have want-ad postings from people seeking conversation partners to better their foreign language skills. In my case, I know a lot of Japanese but I take a long time assembling it in real time, because I rarely use it conversationally.

Anyway, when the postings caught my attention, I decided to select Kyoko’s post, my partner. I’m not sure what stuck out about it. Maybe it’s the cute cat face she drew next to her name, or maybe just her apparent level of proficiency (which seemed better than the other postings).

This week we’ve been emailing back and forth, trying to setup a meeting time and sort of gauging each others’ proficiencies. Initially I didn’t use any Japanese; I guess it just didn’t strike me. But eventually I decided to throw some into my mails; if I didn’t seem interested in Japanese she might think I had other intentions, perhaps. Then, maybe the last two mails I kind of overdid it, and she questioned if I should find a better conversation partner since she doesn’t think he English is as good as my Japanese. Sheesh, women! And besides, mail doesn’t give insight to the computation. While my Japanese looks good, you wouldn’t know it might take me as much as 20 minutes to write a simple response.

So it’s no date. But does she have any intentions? I mean… I kind of hate to bring this up, because it sounds like a stereotype, but I have heard from multiple people that women frequently look for conversation partners with some intent of finding a deeper connection. And I’ve met a handful of people who have met spouses that way; at least one lives here even. Ultimately it’s nothing I should worry about… but having the prospect on my mind will probably make me act a little awkward.

And frankly it’s even too soon to think of those things. I hardly know anything about Kyoko. Namely, her age and what she looks like. She lives in Kakogawa, which is fairly far. She works at a clinic six days a week, I guess as a caretaker (she mentioned she’s not a nurse but she helps patients). Because she works full time, and has had conversation partners before, I am going to suppose she’s beyond college age. She could very well be in her 50s or 60s, for all I know. But the fact she uses a mobile phone and mails me from it makes me want to bring the perceived age down. So, I would suppose somewhere around 25~35. Of course, unless she explicitly tells me, I will probably never know for sure (I don’t know much about women but I know well enough not to ask their age).

She might even have a boyfriend or husband already, so!

In other news, I found a small centipede outside of my bathroom this morning and that was kind of a conniption. I don’t think centipede bites are very dangerous, but I’ve heard they can be very painful and last a while. Now I’m always looking around at the ground for anything that might be a centipede, which is causing paranoia since my apartment is pretty messy.

As for the centipede I found, I took care of it in the most humane way I could manage: tossing it down the sink drain and drowning it. And then I put a glass over the drain in case that didn’t finish it. Last thing I need is a vengeful centipede.