The Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park (the site of the 1975 World Expo) in Nago, Okinawa has a lot of local aquatic life. The main attraction are a trio of whale sharks. Japan currently has five whale sharks in captivity, while the rest of the world combined has eight. The three in Okinawa are often the focus of animal rights groups because of their status as endangered species as well as the fact that they are ocean-dwelling creatures in a small tank.
The critter posing for me in this photo is the giant Okinawan Spiny Lobster. I wanted to eat him, along with the Japanese people muttering "美味しそう。。。" ("Looks delicious...") behind me.
Not all of Okinawan traditional culture has disappeared beneath kitsch; within Shuri Castle, there's a tearoom that serves jasmine tea and traditional Ryukyu Kingdom-era pastries. They also give out sheets explaining how the cookies were made.
The ones with the rippled edges are called chinsuko, and are a popular souvenir to bring back to families and coworkers. These are what I decided to bring.
The areas around the military bases in Okinawa are a sad study in how poor areas adapt to suit wealthy tourists. Okinawan culture is largely hidden behind big, shiny American displays. This shopping area, Depot Island, was new and obviously targeted toward those from the base, seen in clothing and shoe sizes available, for example. Still, it had a charming feel to it as I explored the area near my hotel.
Yokohama Chinatown has many attractions. The ones that seem to catch on the best in Japan are those that lean toward the cute.
This パンダマン (panda bun) is filled with pork and is a classic Chinese food turned Japanese snack. In convenience stores steamed buns filled with curry, pizza sauce and cheese, or taco meat, cheese and seasoning can be bought for about ￥120. Of course, the typical and convenience store varieties aren't adorned with sad panda faces.
In Tokyo there is sometimes little else to do than go shopping. There are thousands of stores selling anything you could possibly want. Surrounded by so much consumerism there are often stores with products you couldn't imagine people buying (and yet people do!). But once in a while those same shops have some of the most interesting decor. If they were selling these chandeliers I might have considered buying one; but they weren't for sale. On the contrary, I was scolded for taking photos of the products beneath the chandelier while checking my photos. Rest assured, salesperson, I had zero interest in photographic your products, but you may want to rethink your sales strategy.
While I've shown it before, Christmas cake is something I couldn't skip taking a photo of on Christmas. Plus, it's a lot more photogenic than the McDonald's chicken we had...
This came together in about 20 minutes, including whipping the cream (though I had help with that while I washed and cut the strawberries.
The powdered sugar is the most snow I will see this year. (-_-);
Maid cafés are a very well-known eccentricity in Japan. Young women dress as maids and cater to customers' whims. While my friend was visiting from the US, we decided to go to one in my neighborhood. We ordered the "Maid's Choice" dessert and this came to the table. Later when I ordered tea to go with it the maid stirred the cream and sugar in for me while having us all make cute stirring sounds.
You're not allowed to take photos of the maids unless you pay for the in-house polaroids or the printed headshots sold at the register, but you can take all the photos of your food as you want once you warn them that you'll be taking photos of the food, and the maids will take your picture with your food if you ask (of course, they may ask you if you want one--they are supposed to be maids, after all).
Kanteibyo is one of the more famous places in Yokohama Chinatown. What most people probably don't notice are the lovely steps leading up to the temple. If you look carefully you can see the glowing red lanterns hanging from the temple behind the iron lace gates.
Despite being cold and closed, Chinatown never seems to disappoint.
Had my signup lesson for my cooking school today. This here pound cake is packed with Earl Grey tea powder and basted in rum. Probably shouldn't eat it for breakfast before going to work, but I surely will!
Melon soda is something that has certainly never caught on in the US, but with this unnatural color, I don't know why not. Despite the sickly color, it tastes quite good and goes rather well with yakiniku, fast food, and all manner of unhealthy eats.
Unlike ramune, the soda drink, this one is not considered just a child's drink.
In Japan you can often find critters called tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) in front of small shops. This one was in front of a ramen shop in Tokyo. He's an interesting blend of older, humorous tanuki with exaggerated...erm, bits...and the modern versions that are a bit more vague.
They're symbolic of many things, but luck and other good omens, as well as a bit of mischief are the main ones.
In Kita-Senju station, there was a tree of stuffed animals. I don't remember where the stuffed animals came from or why, but I suspect it had something to do with the fabric stand that was nearby, selling fabric swatches and make-your-own-stuffed-animal kits.
The last day at my old office building, so here's a parking structure near the old building. Apparently they needed to vent the building (and possibly temperature control too) so they built a large fan system on the outside. Due to space constraints, it is very flat.
A couple weeks ago I saw a nice cowl in a shop, but after looking at the price decided to make my own. It's been a challenge to knit and has certainly broadened my knitting skills. Here's the work in progress.
Japanese culture has absorbed many Western customs due to globalization, etc. One is Christian weddings. But as you can see from these dresses, they don't necessarily resemble weddings as we know them. There are chapels set up all over the place because Christian weddings are photogenic, but it's more about wearing multiple outfits and being fashionable--most brides will wear a white dress or have a traditional Japanese wedding followed by a "wedding party" where she wears a second (and maybe a third) dress. As far as I can tell, the party dress isn't usually white and most women look like pink powder puffs instead of brides. Pretty pink powder puffs, but still.
As a side note, I do really like this black dress, just not as a wedding dress.
In any case, that's what happens when cultures collide superficially.
This mochi is a special style kept on a shrine at New Year called kagami mochi (鏡餅). Typically a bitter orange is put on top to finish the presentation. The bitter orange, called daidai (橙,) is believed to promote long life because it also means "several generations."
These are storebought versions; homemade ones are two rice cakes stacked on top of each other instead of the tiered mold. The commercial versions add decoration to make up for the processing, perhaps.
Mochi, or pounded rice cake, is a classic treat year-round in Japan, but particularly at New Year. In order to make it by hand you put rice in a bowl and beat it with a hammer. This was on display in front of a mochi shop. Notice it's stamped with 福, the symbol for good fortune at New Year.
Today was my company's end of year party, or Bonenkai. The food was pretty good but I forgot to take photos of most of it and others didn't turn out. It seems I'm doomed to take pictures of desserts only.
Frozen cream puffs that were rather flavorless, but looked nice when plated.
Christmas cake is wildly popular in Japan. While not something I'd ever heard of at home, I'm a mild fan of it now too. For most Japanese people, Christmas cake is ordered in advance and picked up on Christmas Eve, along with fried chicken ordered from the local KFC, Mos Burger or other fast food joint or grocery store.
Here are some Christmas cakes in a variety of shapes, flavors and sizes.
Kita-senju has an interesting atmosphere. One notable thing that may not always be readily noticeable is the themed shop gates. When closed the street is lined with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Here's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I like that the dwarves are basically elves.
Little pottery shops like this are fun to look at, but are usually super expensive. When pottery is handmade it tends to get expensive, and these alcohol cups and bottles are likely no exception (I'm ashamed to admit I didn't go in to check...).