Friday, July 29, 2011

Ethnic Food in Japan

Now, another Japanese culture post! Tufugu has even more Japanese cultural bizarreness.

You’ve heard of the uncanny valley, right? When a robot is really lifelike, but just different enough to be creepy and unsettling--that’s uncanny. That’s how it feels to eat some Japanese ethnic food. It’s just... not quite right. What’s so weird about it?

Italian-Japanese Food

Pasta is kind of like noodles, so it makes sense to put shrimp and crabs in it, right? Lasagna is pretty much the same, except with the seasoning toned down to perfect blandness. And the pizza... well, as you can see, toppings at this restaurant were arranged in a sakura-blossom pattern, and the pizzas were tiny and made with minimal cheese. Patrons ate everything with chopsticks. Makes perfect sense for Japanese people, just kind of unsettling for me.

French-Japanese Food

Most bakeries in Japan have French/European influence, but with modifications for Japanese tastes. The most popular bread is snow-white and fluffy, but sourdough and cinnamon-raisin bread are available. About 90% of the bread is sweet, but there are sausage rolls (yes, including fish sausage rolls). I’m actually a big fan of anpan and melon bread. Probably the weirdest thing in Japanese bakeries is how perfectly iced the cakes are. Crepes, available from street-side vendors, are offered with the usual fillings (strawberry, chocolate, and custard) with the occasional exotic place offering savory fillings. Probably the weirdest thing about crepes is that they’ve been made into food you can eat on the go: wrapped up with a paper cone like an ice cream.

American-Japanese Food

If you ask for a hanbaagu (ハンバーグ) in a restaurant, you’ll get something that looks like the above. It’s kind of like meatloaf, and due to the insane price of beef in Japan, it’s a good way to stretch out hamburger meat. There are McDonald's in Japan, which are very popular with both adults and children; if you want an actual hamburger it’s hanbaagaa (ハンバーガー). This ad suggests that children are indeed, wild about McDonald's:

And now, for the most unexpected interpretation of an eggroll:

Yes, that’s a roll with a mashed-up boiled egg on top. Yum!

There are tons more hilarious versions of ethnic foods in Japan (soy burgers, sardine pizza, oh and no one knows what a taco is). What’s the weirdest/most uncanny ethnic food you’ve come across?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Koko video

This is Koko running around our backyard. She loves pouncing on anything moving (flies included), so I think we'll have to include waggling shiny things around her as part of the playtime routine.

In other news, I went to the Decemberists concert in SLC and it was AWESOME. Seriously. They had dueling guitar solos and everything. Keep the classical cadenza tradition alive through rock!

Friday, July 22, 2011


We have a puppy. She's a shiba inu named Koko and she's 8 weeks old, and she is super-adorable. And it's a good thing too, because she is basically a patience-testing machine. I'm learning what kinds of chew toys she likes and how to get her so worn out that I have some time to not worry about her while she's sleeping. She's doing very, very well with housetraining (probably thanks to her excellent breeder). She also wants to chew our chairs and dig through the last stair. So if you have tips on helping puppies chew the right things I am game.

Friday, July 15, 2011

NHK’s Efforts to Teach a Nation English

A little background here: I wrote some posts on Japanese language/culture for an internship application. I didn't win the internship (no surprise), but I'd still like to share the posts, because I worked hard on them and I think they're interesting.
Japanese people really, really want to learn English. as evidenced by the sheer amount of English learning material produced and consumed in Japan. Most of us know the problems with traditional English learning in Japan: too heavy reliance on kana pronunciations, overly focused on rules and not focused enough on fluent, self-generated speech. While they may not be famous for good oral proficiency, most Japanese people do pretty well with written English, and they’re trying really hard to get better at speaking. What are they doing right?

Trad Japan

NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting company, has a large English-teaching empire. One facet of this is the monthly Trad Japan. The magazine is a collection of short essays about Japan in Japanese and English, with explanations of tricky phrases.

To round it out, they’ve transcribed some interviews with a proper-sounding British person (you know, to get conversational English in there). The website has English audio samples of the material, and it really looks like they’re doing their best to keep adult learners interested by discussing Japanese culture from a westerner’s point of view while using real English.

Little Charo 2

From the same company comes English education for Japanese children. The cartoon Little Charo 2 (リトル・チャロ2) is set in a universe where animals speak English (humans still speak Japanese). English becomes a cipher to decode; the key to understanding the fantasy-like “middle world.”
The series has a website where children can test their knowledge with quizzes and role-playing video clips (completing the “scrambled scenes” rewards you with the Japanese of the English sentences). Little Charo even has his own DS game: (embed this youtube video here)

Along with Little Charo 2, NHK has a variety of bilingual shows for adults. Personally, I’d love it if we had some bilingual shows other than Dora the Explorer and more language learning DS games. NHK has the right idea: make language learning part of your daily entertainment, and make it fun with good design and interesting content. What aspects of Japanese English-learning material do you admire?