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January 2016

December 2015

Hatsumode 「初詣」

Other than Hatsuuri「初売り」, first thing to be done on a new year is always usually known as Hatsu-Something. Hatsu mean first in Japanese. So the first prayer at a shrine or temple is known as Hastsumode 「初詣」.

image from upload.wikimedia.org Higashifushimi Inari Shrine. Image by ITA-ATU, from wikipedia.

It is believed that going for Hatsumode is very lucky and will cleanse away the bad luck from the previous year and start a new year with better luck.

Japanese will visit the Shrine or temple to pray for good luck and buy lucky charm or items such as omamori, or any auspicious items. At the same time, old and used lucky items such as omamori are returned to the shrine for them to be disposed in a proper way.

image from upload.wikimedia.org

Praying at Hatsumode. Image by 大阪, from wikipedia

During this period, most popular shrine and temple will be packed with believers going to pray for a smooth sailing and a lucky year ahead. If you happen to be in Japan during the New Year period, maybe you could participate and enjoy it.

How to pray

This may vary with different shrine/temple. So if you are unsure, maybe you can follow the Japanese in front of you.

  1. Ring the bell twice.
  2. Toss you donation into the offering box. (Usually we use coins)
  3. Bow twice
  4. Clap your hand twice
  5. Make your prayer
  6. Bow once

Other than praying, maybe you want to try your luck to have your fortune told by drawing a stick or paper. You can also buy omamori for good luck and protection too.

We hope you could enjoy a memorable trip in Japan during the New Year.  


Apple Japan Stop Lucky Bag Sales 2016

According to Yahoo News Japan (http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20151226-00000029-zdn_pc-sci), it seem like Apple Japan will not have the 福袋 sales 2016

毎年恒例のアップルストア福袋「Lucky Bag」が、2016年は販売されないことが明らかになった。

-Yahoo News

image by from pbs.twimg.com

Queue outside Sapporo Store Jan 2015 Image by Twitter user @oojyo1021

So this coming year, we will not be seeing this scene at the Sapporo store. According to some twitter users, the Apple fan queue in the freeze cold, some the authority had came to check the health of some who seem to be asleep.

The reason given was that Apple wants to provide the same service standard throughout the world. It is further believe it could be due to the resale of the product in the lucky bags and some public order behaviours.

Sorry Apple Fans, no more Apple福袋. 

If this is reversed, we will keep you updated.

 


Yakitori - A simple recipe.

Yakitor is a popular dish in many part of the world, it is a form a grill meat on skewer.  An authentic yaki tori is skewed on bamboo skewers and grills on charcoal fire. Is this similar to the Satay we ate if we visit Singapore and Malaysia? 

Momo Yakitori 「もも焼き鳥」

Yakitori has a long history which can be traced to HeiAnJiDai 「平安時代」which is between the year 794 and 1185 where it was served in the banquet. It has different name in different period in Japan.

The traditional way of grilling yakitori uses Binchotan「備長炭」, which is a type of traditional charcoal used in Japan dated to Edo period. This high quality charcoal burns at high temperature and is long lasting. 

Nowadays, most shops that sell yakitori use electrical grill that contain an array of heating element that is similar to our home toaster oven. 

So today I am going to write a post on home cooked yakitori using toaster oven.

For recipe, please read on.

Continue reading "Yakitori - A simple recipe. " »


Yamanote Line 「山手線」 - The new E235 rolling stock

Editor Note:This article is written by our guest writer who is a railway fan. She has gone on for further study, so she won’t be writing here frequently.

Many travellers arriving in Tokyo and plan to travel within Tokyo will be familiar with Yamanote Line. The Line that run through major urban centres and place of interest such as Akihabara, Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Ueno, Yoyogi etc.

"YamanoteYamanote Line E231. image by LERK from wikimedia

This olive green Yamanote line has a long history that is dated back to 1st March 1885 (The late Meiji era). The loop was completed in 1925. The olive green colour that indicates the Yamanote train was introduced in December 1963.

E235 ECU of Yamanote Line. Image by Rsa from wikimedia

E235 ECU of Yamanote Line.Image by Rsa from wikimedia

Priority Zone in E235 Car.Image provided by JR East

Priority Zone in E235 Car.Image provided by JR East

By 2020 in time for 2020 Summer Olympics, the rolling stocks will be completely changed to E235 Electric Multiple Unit (EMU). Physically, the olive green will only be featured on the driver cab and the doors instead of a full solid line across the cars.

The interior of the car will have a total of 9 priority seats and an area for wheelchair or baby stroller located at both end of each car except the end car. For our Singapore readers, each car has a sliding door at each end to separate the cars, different from the metro trains used in Singapore. This could be used for individual car climate control; some cars may not be that cold as compare to others.  

The first E235 was put into revenue service in 30 November 2015 but was pull out of service due to some technical difficulty. The latest update is that JR is putting the ECU into testing from 27 December onward, and if there is no other technical issue, we may see the train in revenue service soon.


First Sales of the Year and lucky bag「初売り」と「副袋」

Right after the new year, many shops and departmental stores will have the first sales「初売り」 and lucky bag「福袋」 sales. The original idea of such sales come about due to a belief that there are good luck from the leftover (残り物には福がある). Furthermore, coupled with the superstitious belief that one should not start a year with unwanted goods, it brought about the New Year sales and lucky bag.

初売り(First sales). Wikipedia image by Wkatsuhiro
初売り(First sales). Wikipedia image by Wkatsuhiro

During the new year sales, goods are given a high discount and shopping can buy lucky bag from the store or these days even online. All lucky bags are packed and sealed, shopper will not know its contain until they bought the bag and open it up. 

Shopper are not suppose to open up the bag to see its contain before buying them. Doing so is rude and unethical. 

Queue at the New Year Sales. Image from wikimedia by Wkatsuhiro

Queue at the New Year Sales. Image from wikimedia by Wkatsuhiro

Usually the value of the items in the lucky bag are of a higher value than the price tag of the lucky bag. Therefore, during the new year sales, it is common to see long queue at the shops and department stores to grab up these bags and enjoy the discount offered by the stores.

Some stores will give out premium tickets in advance for their New years sales. These tickets will give the holder certain percentage of discount or an exclusive invitation to the sales. 


Premium ticket from ABC Mart

Such sales and lucky bags are not exclusively to Japan's companies, even Apple has News Year Sales and Lucky bag. Since 2004, the Apple brick and mortar store in Japan has lucky bag sales. Each bag cost around 35,000 yen, the value of items in them exceeded this amount.

image from Twitter user @taivas2918

Macbook Air in the lucky bag in 2015.Image from Twitter user @taivas2918

Items which are maybe included in the bag are:

  • Macbook Air (¥102,800)
  • Apple TV (¥18,400)
  • Beat earphone (¥20,600 )
  • Traveller Charger (¥5,800)
  • Mophie powerstation (¥8,800)
  • Air Jacket (¥5,400; estimate price.)

From what I can see in the picture, the total value is already ¥161,800 and that hasn't include the bag. It is already far exceeded the price tag of one lucky bag. Of course, this should be the most expensive items in the bag.

All lucky bags are packed with random items, but according to consumers who bought them, most would agree that the item value far exceeded the amount paid for the lucky bag.

If you are in Japan, maybe you want to try your luck? There are 3 stores in Tokyo, of which 2 are in shibuya and 1 is in Ginza.

Latest Update (30 Dec 2015):

It seems like Apple Japan is not going to have the Lucky Bag Sales 2016. Read more here


Merry Christmas 2015

東京都新宿区のクリスマス装飾 (Christmas Deco in Shinjuku)

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas! Today is Christmas eve, many of us will be either partying or doing last minute shopping. Please stay safe during the festive period.

From: Sunflowerの生活 Management. 

皆様、

メリークリスマス!今夜はクリスマスイブ、多くの人がパーティーや買い物を行きます。海外の友達がパーティーに安全でください。

「Sunflowerの生活」の管理者から


Karashi Mentaiko Spaghetti (辛子明太子スパゲッティ)

Since tomorrow will be Christmas eve, we will push forward food recipe blog by a day.

Today we decide to share with you the Mentaiko Spaghetti

辛子明太子スパゲティ Karashi Mentaiko Spaghetti

 

Mentaiko is marinated roe of pollock. Mentaiko has slightly different name in Korea and China. In Japan, it is commonly known as karashi mentaiko. Karashi mentaiko is so popular that it is usually available at the airport and train station.  Mentaiko is eaten with onigiri or by itself with sake. Other popular way of eating mentaiko is to mix it into spaghetti topped with seaweed.

For recipe, please read on.

Continue reading "Karashi Mentaiko Spaghetti (辛子明太子スパゲッティ)" »


Yuzu Bath 「ゆず湯」- Hot bath in Yuzu (A type of Japanese Grapefruit)

image from blogspot.com

ゆず湯 (Yuzu Bath). image from blogspot.com

Today is winter solstice, we Japanese will soak ourselves in the yuzu bath. It is believed that yuzu has many beneficial properties. There is a saying that if one bath in yuzu, one will not catch a cold 「ゆず湯に入れば風邪を引かない」.

As many know, winter solstice is the coldest day of the year, with the shortest daylight in the northern hemisphere. Therefore many would bath ourselves in Yuzu to prevent catching a cold.

This practise started during the Edo period where yuzu was added to the public bath where the community gathered and enjoy the hot bath during the cold winter.

image from livedoor.blogimg.jp

image from http://blog.livedoor.jp/kumano6/

 

How the bath is done

5 to 6 slices of yuzu is place into the bath and one soak in it. For those who have sensitive skin to citrus, one may place the slices in a cloth bag and soak in the bath not more than 30 minutes.

For those living outside Japan, you may try to find the Yuzu from a local Japanese Supermart which may import them into your country.

 


Preparation for New Year

Kagami Mochi 鏡餅

New year is around the corner again, in less than 2 weeks it will be new year. This coming new year, we are ushering in the year of the monkey. 

I spend last Sunday to clean my room from the top to the bottom. This is done to ensure the house is clean in order to invite in the Toshigami 「年神」 - The New year god into the house. 

The cleaning up is awesome, I cleared up 4 bags of items - Plastic, 2 bags of paper, general waste. Shall we talk about recycling habit another time? Maybe we should. 

After cleaning up, it is time to get the decoration. There are several types of decoration for the new year, they are namely the

  • Kadomatsu 「門松」
  • Shimekazari 「しめ飾り」
  • Kagami Mochi「鏡餅」

 

Kadomatsu 「門松」

A pair Kadomatsu 「門松」. Wikipedia image

Kadomatsu is a traditional new year decoration placed in front of the house. It is place to receive the toshigami. They are made primarary with bamboo and pine. There are miniature version of kadomatsu available to be purchased together with the kagami mochi in the supermart these days. 

With Tokyo apartment size which is generally small, usual a smaller version of the Kadomatsu is used. Sometime it is totally forgo. If one goes into the countryside of Japan, one can see large pair of Kadomatsu like the photo.

As for me, I do not own the whole apartment, so I cannot place it at all.

Shimekazari 「しめ飾り」

Shimekazari 「しめ飾り」. Wikipedia image.

Shimekazari is a small rope made from rice straw, with shide a zig-zag pieces of paper and pine twigs. It is always decorate with an Japanese bitter orange know as daidai 「橙」、which has the same pronunciation of 代々 which mean generation after generation. It is an auspicious symbol. 

As for me, I cannot display the shumekazari, same reason as Kadomatsu.

 

Kagami Mochi「鏡餅」

Kagami Mochi「鏡餅」. Wikipedia image.

Kagami Mochi is made of 2 round mochi, one bigger than another, and stacked together. It is shaped as the traditional coin shape and it usually has a Japanese bitter orange known as daidai(see above explanation about daidai).

The kagami mochi is place in the house to welcome toshigami too. It is kept until the 2nd weekend and a kagami biraki「鏡開き」 ceremony is performed where the mochi is break into smaller pieces, cook and eaten. Knife is not use as it signify the cutting of ties, breakup of family. Usually a hammer or using hand to tear it into smaller pieces.  

I hope with this post, you will have a little insight into Japanese New year.


Obento - A packed meal for lunch & picnic

Almost everyday, I have to think of new ideas to cook our lunch. Usually, I make bento to bring to work or school. A good bento does not only contain great nutrients for the body, it is also pleasant for people to enjoy his / her bento.

Many people wants to try to make bento, but the common worries are that it may take up much time in the morning hence dropped the ideas or worry about food spoilage in hot weather. Many mothers prepare bento for them children in the morning, it usually take less than 30 minutes if the ingredients are pre-prepared the night before. 

Most important advice to remember in preparing bento is that all food must be fully cooked, cool before packing them. This will prevent spoilage.

IMG_4736

Therefore today, I made a bento which was taught to me by my mother. I used to bring this to school when I’m younger. It is very simple to make and usually take less than 45minutes of preparation and cooking time. Let’s start.

For recipe, please read on.

Continue reading "Obento - A packed meal for lunch & picnic" »