A sugidama is a large ball of tightly bundled cedar that usually hangs from the roof of sakaguras(sake breweries). It is also known as the sakabayashi and is most likely the most traditional way of marking where sake can be found. If you see this ball hanging from the sign out front, then the place most likely has a wide and varied list of sakes to choose from and will be worth checking out. Happy Hunting!
You know its got to be amazingly fresh if it’s from Tsukiji. But…
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Today we celebrated Christmas in Japan with the traditional Christmas Cake!
It is a layered sponge cake covered with icing and real strawberries. It’s packed full of strawberries, too!
It also went well with the champagne!
Happy Holidays to everyone!
Attached are some photos of the cake and a few other images we thought might get you in the Tokyo Christmas Spirit!
Candy bags and Santa Boots are popular here in Japan. Once you eat all the candy in one of the boots, it’s supposed to be good luck, if you can dance around in them afterwards! Or so we were told…
Christmas as a holiday in Japan is a bit different than Christmas in the west. It’s a day for the kiddies and presents, if they are not an adolescent and still believe in Santa Claus. Otherwise, no presents! Why? Because Santa is the only one that brings presents, so once you stop believing in him that party is over. However it is common in Japan to give Christmas presents.
Hoteiosho is a priest or a God who closely resembles our Santa Claus. Hoteiosho is depicted as a kind old man carrying a huge pack in which he brings presents to local houses for the children. Children think he has eyes in the back of his head, so they behave at their best in case he is around.
There is no traditional ham or plum pudding on the Christmas table in Japan. It’s not a family holiday. It is a day spent giving to others especially doing nice things for those that are ill in hospitals.
And it’s not Christmas day that is the big day in Japan! It’s Christmas eve – more later. But that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise in a land where only 1 per cent of the people are of the Christian faith or belief.
The Christmas holiday is mostly for couples with Christmas Eve being the big day and a huge date night. Christmas Eve is the time for boyfriends and girlfriends to get together, exchange gifts and spend a romantic dinner and evening together much like Valentine’s day is celebrated in the west. Advertisements appear for special Christmas Eve and Christmas day hotel and restaurant dinners and shows, generally with a strong romantic theme. So if you have ever felt lonely at Christmas don’t come to Japan for the holiday. There is literally a desperate scramble here to get a date for the Christmas holidays that borders on the pathetic. There are reports that single women don’t even like to talk about the holiday. So if you want to make one of them happy and ask them out you may not get turned down. Just bring a strawberry cake with you as it seems to be the traditional food of choice.
It’s hard to get a reservation at most nice restaurants in Tokyo on the night of Christmas Eve. Most are booked so be sure to get your reservations early and get that table. You wouldn’t want to be out in the cold with your date.
Bounenkai(忘年会) season has begun and these drinking parties in Tokyo and across Japan can be exhaustive. That is, if you are not prepared. A Bounenkai, if not familiar, is a year-end party with lots of food and drinks. Work places throw them for their employees to celebrate the past year together and reflect on a job well done. They are also about forgetting the past year and putting it behind them. Don’t worry if you get too drunk as you as 3/4 of the country are out of their minds this time of year. There are even public service announcement cartoons on the JR Lines about getting drunk and stumbling. Only they actually depict falling in front of the trains. So do have a good time and please don’t try that.
But the Bounenkai season does explain why the subways and trains aren’t as fun as usual, as you have to watch your step when commuting or you might slip where you rather not or you might just have to stand next to someone that doesn’t seem like they are fit for human consumption and should have never been allowed into public in the first place. Either way it all fun and this time of year is for celebrating.
If you have the good fortune of celebrating your first Bounenkai, then you should maybe go in with a little knowledge of what to expect. They can be a little confusing for someone not familiar with the tradition.
Helpful tips on how to survive the Bounenkai(s):
- This is a time of many parties and most people go to a new Bounenkai every night. So if you have a string of them to attend don’t get super drunk the first night. Save that until the last one as you shouldn’t refuse an invitation even if you have a wicked hang over…
- Don’t forget your boss is your boss. Don’t get overly friendly or think he’s your chum after a few drinks.
- Make sure your boss is always drinking something and get him as drunk as possible. He’ll thank you.
- Make sure you eat everything offered, but don’t go for seconds or eat more than your share.
- Relax! Don’t go in the suit. Wear some jeans and take it easy. Be yourself.
- Keep your jokes to yourself. Don’t tell any. Let the other guys from the office tell them.
- Keep your mouth shut if you have a crush…also keep it shut if someone confides in you. No need to start off the new year with a world of rumors flying around the office.
- Wear clean socks! New socks if you got them.
- Don’t forget to say everything is delicious. Every time you eat something even if it’s not. The party will be smoother.
- Don’t get feely-feely. No one likes to be man-handled, nor do they know how to deal with it. It might be chummy drunk and happy huggy you, but don’t do it in Japan.
You can get all sorts of specialist snacks in Japan. The Japanese are known for bringing back souvenirs from the places they visit. This often equates to cheap snacks from the far and exotic to nearby towns and places within Tokyo. The exclusive green tea KitKat from Kyoto is a case in point. That it is actually better tasting than a regular KitKat, may be a matter of opinion, but it is tasty.
The famous chocolate covered pretzel sticks called Pocky Sticks(Japanese: 小枝 , Koeda) come in a taste to cater to any demographic, such as the bittersweet chocolate one known as the Men’s Pocky or the Decorer Pocky (which features extra decorative icing). There is even a Mousse Pocky (which features extra thick, “creamy” mousse-like icing and is more exclusive). Unlike other Pocky variations, Mousse Pocky packages contain fewer pieces than regular Pocky with only nine pieces per pack.
Pocky come in dozens of varieties such as chocolate, strawberry, and almond. Some of the more unusual flavors include the seasonal flavors of honey (spring) and kiwifruit mango (summer). Regional flavors of Pocky include grape (Nagano), yūbari melon (Hokkaidō), giant mikan (tangerine, sold in the Kyūshū region), powdered tea azuki bean (Kyoto), Kobe wine (Kobe). There are also such flavors as banana, coffee, caramel, marble royal milk tea, melon, milk, honey and milk, cream cheese, berry, sweet potato, coconut, crush (crunchy cracker pieces in chocolate), pineapple, pumpkin, hazelnut, kurogoma (black sesame), kinako (soy bean flour), marron, and green tea.
The Japanese also have a wide range of tastes in their snacks, whether its chocolate, eel, or squid. Yes, that’s right squid. There has been a resurgence in nostalgic candy and vintage snacks in Tokyo among baby boomers and the younger crowd. It has gained popularity in pop-culture as well, especially after being featured in the blockbuster film 20th Century Boys.
Dagashi originated in the Edo period and was made for the common classes and was usually made using inexpensive ingredients and lots of unrefined sugar. Dagashi sweets became popular because they were cheap and they were usually bundled with lottery tickets that could be redeemed for cheap prizes.
Dagashi is distinct from the Meiji period candies that followed afterward, which include some of the more familiar chocolate and artificially flavored snacks that can be found at convenience stores today.
Vintage Sweet shops peddling cheap junk foods and snacks, (駄菓子 , Dagashi), can still be found around the city though in smaller numbers. There are a few that have been around for over a century.
Here’s a list of some of the still around in Tokyo today. Kamikawaguchi-ya is the oldest one in the Kanto area and has been in business for 227 years through 13 generations. It’s a small stand located within reach of the Kishi Bojin temple.
Kamikawaguchi-ya 3-15 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku. Tel: 03-3980-9779. Open daily 10am-6pm(summer) ; 10am-5pm(winter). Closed on rainy days. Nearest stn: Zoshigaya.
Ebisu Dagashi Bar 1-13-7 Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5458-5150. Open Mon-Sat 6:30pm-4:30am, Sun & hols 6pm-1am. Nearest stn: Ebisu. For other locations, see www.servicemart.co.jp
Daiba Itchome Shotengai Decks Tokyo Beach, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3599-6500. Open daily 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Odaiba Kaihin Koen. www.odaiba-decks.com
Haikara Yokocho 3F Yokohama World Porters, 2-2-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama. Tel: 045-212-3153. Open daily 10am-9pm. Nearest stn: Minato Mirai. www.yim.co.jp
Inokuchi Shoten 1-18-11 Higashi-Nippori, Arakawa-ku. Tel: 03-3807-4321. Open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, closed Sun, holidays and first, third and fifth Sat. Nearest stn: Minowa. www.inokuchi.net
Shibasaki Shoten 4-32-7 Kuramae, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3861-6637. Open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat 9am-3pm. Closed on Sun and holidays. Nearest stn: Kuramae. www.dagashino-shibasaki.com
- Beets: Think of beets as red spinach because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
- How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
- Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
- How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
- Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
- How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
- Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
- How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
- Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
- How to eat: Just drink it.
- Dried plums: So they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.
- How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
- How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
- Sardines: Otherwise known as “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
- How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,” it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
- How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
- Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
- How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
- How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.
You can find more details and recipes on the Men’s Health Web site, which published the original version of this list.
I’m a sucker for any gimmick, so I tried the Fuguhire sake. This means hot sake with flame broiled blowfish fins floating in it. And well as I’m not a fan of hot sake, I prefer cold and if anything floating in it maybe a slice of cucmber, I was a little surprised by the taste. At first it tasted the same as regular ole hot sake, but as I got closer to the bottom it got a little more and more fishier. The last drop was a little too fishy.
Now I have heard that some take their blowfish fins home for further soaking , but for me I think I’ll stick with the old cold sake and a cucumber slice routine.