Happy New Year (Ake-ome!)

Happy new year wishes to everyone! So. Here we are, it's going to be 2008 by the end of tonight. Looking back on this past year, I've had some ups and downs, but generally this has been a great year. It's now just five weeks until I leave for Japan on a one-way plane ticket. Whew. I've gotten together all of the documents I need to be able to work in Japan, and I just have to take them to the right government offices here in America. Once I've got my visa stamp, there's little more I need to do besides prepare culturally and mentally for the transition to Japan. It's all very exciting. For the past five years, I've been working toward this goal in various ways. From language studies to research to cooking, I've learned as much as a could. Now, I feel comfortable with the idea of living and working in Japan and really look forward to it. Once I'm there, I'll be able to write much more from a local perspective. I also received a new digital camera on Christmas, so I can take more of my own photos as well. I'd like to thank all of my friends who may read this, and welcome new readers to my blog. Once again, a happy new year to everyone. Let's make this one an outstanding year!


Ikkaku Restaurant

This photograph was taken by bloggers who visited Marugame City, and give a savory account of their experience. It is definitely one of the restaurants I plan to try right away. My fellow bloggers note, "Since it first opened in 1967 this izakaya has become so immensely popular for its signature dish, that it has spawned branches not only on its home turf, the island of Shikoku, but also across the country in Yokohama City (near Tokyo) and soon in Osaka as well." Further, "Ikkaku's menu is short, simple, and straightforward consisting of 'Oyadori' (adult chicken), 'Hinadori' (young chicken), and a few other small dishes like edamame, salad, chicken rice, and soup ... once people have the Ikkaku experience, it is difficult to go back to eating tender chicken ... it is almost as if tender chicken does not have the flavor or provide the satisfaction that should come from eating this farmyard (or probably freerange in this case) fowl. And, as we cleaned the last bits of meat from the bones, we could clearly understand why..."


Christmas in America and Japan

One of the interesting differences between America and Japan is the way we treat Christmas. In Japan, it is more like a dating holiday, similar to Valentine's Day in America. It's also common in Japan to get Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas, because it seems similar to turkey and that seems in the spirit of an American Christmas. At least, that how I understand it. Ok, that's a fun and interesting way of doing Christmas.

What we have done in my family is quite different. First, we light up a Christmas tree -- this is the one in my house -- and decorate it with ornaments collected over the years. I understand that in Japan some people do get a tree, but in American tradition, real trees are almost always used, not plastic ones.

The other interesting thing is that you don't have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas. As long as you feel connected with your family and friends, that's good. It's not a dating holiday in America, rather it is about family togetherness, and exchanging gifts.

But the real reason I wrote this journal entry is that it will be my last Christmas before going to Japan, where I'll be separated from my family for a long time. That means family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas won't be the same for me. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I feel attached to the good feelings that have come from my family, and our traditions. On the other hand, I'm very excited to try something new. Did I mention Japan's Christmas cake? More to come on that, in the food section.


Marugame Castle (丸亀城)

The Castles of Japan notes the history that "The Marugame Castle's tenshu was built in the 17th century. The original castle was destroyed through Tokugawa's policy of one castle per feudal domain, but Yamazaki rebuilt the castle in 1641. The following year, he added more and more to this castle complex and continued to do so for 30 more years. In 1869, a fire destroyed everything except for the tenshu and two gates."

But don't let that stop you. I'm told that it is an excellent place to watch the sunset, and in spring you can view hanami (cherry blossoms). "Kameyama Koen is a park created in the ruins of Marugame Castle. Kameyaka Koen is famous for cherry blossoms, and a cherry blossom festival is held every year. There are about 1,000 sakura trees in the park. The view of cherry blossoms and the donjon is beautiful. Paper lanterns are hung, and visitors can enjoy the cherry blossoms at night." (Go Japan)

See here for location, directions, and practical information. (You can see a larger picture of the park and castle's tenshu on the Japanese page.)


Sanuki Udon (さぬきうどん)

Takamatsu is known for delicious sanuki udon noodles. They are variously described as "a must try" by many sources. The city's own website tells us, "You can find good noodle shops everywhere in Takamatsu, which serve delicious specialties of noodle at reasonable prices. There is a variety of shops. Some are selfsevice shops where customers go to the counter and pick their dishes for themselves and some where they boil theirs and help themselves with the soup for it, some where they have to grate radish onto their dishes. Some shops go so far as to give noodle making classes to let the customers eat noodles of their own making."

A blogger at Japan Newbie has posted an interesting photo gallery documenting a trip to get fine Sanuki udon. Here are ways you can access Takamatsu.

In Yashima, there is Waraya, "a popular udon restaurant down the steps from the parking lot outside the Shikoku Mura exit of Yashima station, in a building that wouldn't be out of place in Shikoku Mura. If you go in a group, get the kazoku udon, an enormous wooden bowl of noodles, enough to feed four. (843-3115. Open daily 10am-7pm). (Let's Go)


Kochi (高知): A Few Notes

Have you seen this kind of perfect water before? Absolutely perfect blue-green, lapping gently along the shore. Kochi is just inland off the Pacific, and is the capital of Kochi prefecture. The Kochi region is often just called Tosa, because of the local cusine, tosa ryori, which is based on huge plates of sliced fish. If you will be in Kochi in August, check out the Yosakoi dancing festival, which is under-reported. There is plenty of nightlife, and the locals stay out later here than elsewhere in Shikoku.

Godai-san is a mountain-based park. It gives a great view of Kochi Port and is home to the 31st temple on the 88-Temple Pilgrimage. Start with the vista from the Godai Tembo Service Center, where there is also a restaurant and souvenir shop. Head up the stairs to the lookout platform, where you can watch ships in Kochi's harbor. (Let's Go) Unfortunately, no bus lines run to the mountain, and a cab from Kochi station costs almost 2,000 yen (US$20). You can, however, catch a cab from the Kochi Museum of Art, which is much closer to the park.

Naoshima (直島): Art Island

Naoshima (直島) is a small fishing island off the southern Japan coast on the Seto Inland Sea, between Honshu and Shikoku, within eyeshot of the city of Takamatsu.

The image shown here is "The Oval," by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Oval is among the collection of art museums on Naoshima island, known as the Benesse Art Site. The museums includes hotel rooms for visitors.

Metropolis City Guide notes that "You could hate contemporary art and still love Naoshima. It's a romantic destination in Japan's version of the Mediterranean-a lush island with crescents of coarse sand lapped by the transparent-green Seto Inland Sea. For art fans it's even better. Perched high on a southern cape looking across the water to Shikoku is the Benesse House Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum. Cai Guo-Qiang's Cultural Melting Bath (1998) exemplifies the mood. The interactive installation -- a Jacuzzi surrounded by Chinese limestone boulders set in a seaside forest -- is perfect for watching the sun set behind the distant Seto Ohashi Bridge." As for transportation, "there are no bridges to Naoshima. The journey into art paradise starts with a short ferry ride, a liquid buffer between harried city and island calm. You wind past small islets and through a narrow channel to arrive at a village. A 15-minute bus ride later, you reach the museum complex."

From what I have seen and read, I believe that Naoshima will not disappoint, whether you prefer art or nature. When I have had the chance to visit, I will write a review and an update.

Benesse House Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum. Gotanji, Naoshima-cho, Kagawa-gun, Kagawa Prefecture. Daily 8am-9pm. Tel: 087-892-2030. Adm: Adults ¥1,000, children ¥500 (free for hotel or camp guests). Hotel price: ¥7,600-50,000/person per night. Pao and tents: ¥4,000-4,500. Meals not included. To reach Naoshima, take a shinkansen to Okayama, then a local train to JR Uno station. Or fly to Takamatsu in Shikoku. Ferries run regularly from both towns. See website for transportation information (English and Japanese)


Setonaikai (瀬戸内海): Sunset Points

One of the best nature experiences is to watch the sunset. It is worth the effort to visit the Setonaikai (Inland Sea) for this. Planet Ware notes that "The Setonaikai is a wide arm of the sea extending between the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, with about a thousand small islands and islets, magnificent beaches and quiet little coves containing small fishing villages. The exceptionally mild climate ensures a rich and varied pattern of vegetation." Further, "Much of the area was declared a National Park in 1934, including part of the island of Shodojima, the Yashima Peninsula, the island of Sensui, Cape Abuto and Mount Washuzan. The Inland Sea National Park (land are 254sq.mi/ 659sq.km) now extends much farther southwest reaching as far as the coasts of northeastern Kyushu. In the east it extends to the island of Awaji."

Welcome to JP tells us that "The Setonaikai National Park covers the entire expanse of the Inland Sea, measuring about 250 miles/400km and surrounded by the main islands, Shikoku and Kyusyu. The park is home to a thousand small islands, islets and rocks and to the Naruto Strait known for its large whirlpools, called "Uzushio". The Naruto Strait is a narrow channel located between the islands of Shikoku and Awaji, the biggest island in the park. Beautiful beaches, caves, terraced fields and inland sea make this park a popular tourist attraction."

If you want to view the various islands by cruise boat, take a look at Kazenooto. They offer sunset cruises for a variety of prices. (They're expensive, in my view.) There are cheaper ways, such as a ferry. Let's Go Japan says, "Sunport Takamatsu refers to the development around the port, as well as the port itself, which connects Takamatsu to Inland Sea Islands, Kobe, and Osaka. ... Confirm your plans at the Information Plaza outside JR Takamatsu Station (Japanese). Rates to the islands appear to be about 500 yen (US$5).


Body Language

The monograph The Japanese Way (Takada and Lampkin) gives this advice: "Body language often has more impact than the spoken word [in Japan] ... and there are some sharp differences between Western and Japanese gesturing practices." Let's explore a few examples.

  • Me/Myself
    Japanese: Point to your nose.
    Western: Point to your chest.

  • Come Here
    Japanese: Turn your hand palm down and wave your fingers.
    Western: Palm up and curl your fingers. This is demeaning in Japan.

  • Excuse Me (Please Move)
    Japanese: Open hand held vertically, hand waved back and forth, nodding the head.
    Western: Gently tap people on the shoulder and say "Excuse me, excuse me."

  • Leave It to Me
    Japanese: Tap the chest lightly with an open palm.
    Western: Nod while talking, keeping a serious face or a confident smile.

  • Hesitation/Embarassment/Confusion
    Japanese: Inhale air audibly through the theeth.
    Western: Tilt your head slightly sideways with lips closed and say "Mmm..."

  • Power
    Japanese: Crossed legs, folded arms, when used by a junior member of a company or by a person younger than 40 can be taken as a lack of manners or as arrogance.
    Western: People in power usually keep talking if you try to interrupt them, without even the slightest hesitation or any notable change. A junior member of a company should make extra eye-contact when listening to a superior.

  • Thoughtfulness
    Japanese: Silence is considered an indication of thoughtfulness, wisdom, or deep appreciation for what is happening around a person. Closing one's eyes when listening to a speaker indicates concentration on what the speaker is saying and is not considered rude.
    Western: An occassional nod or "Mm-hmm" indicates an affirmation that you are listening. Asking positive or particularly thoughtful questions to the speaker indicates that you care about the topic. Silence and closing your eyes indicates that you are bored and are not listening at all.
As for bowing versus shaking hands, I'll cover that in a future chapter. For extensive details about Japanese body language, see also Japanese Body Language: Non-Verbal Communication in the Classroom by Robert L. Seltman.


Takamatsu City Museum of Art

Takamatsu, the capital city of Shikoku, describes the museum on its public web page: "Takamatsu City Museum of Art is a modern building in the heart of the city. It is where you will find Picassos and Chagalls as well as the works of Nagare Masayuki, world famous sculptor, Inokuma Genichiro and Kimura Chuta, both abstract painters, Fujikawa Yuzo, who studied under Rodin in France, Isoi Nyoshin, a living national treasure, lacquerwork artist" and more.

A travel guide describes it as "a bit out of place ... surrounded by restaurants and little boutique stores ... but it puts together nice collections of contemporary and traditional art." From this photo, I'm not sure what they're talking about.

Where is it? 10-4, Konya-machi. Tel: 823-1711. Open Tues-Fri 9:30am-7pm, Sat-Sun 9:30am-5pm. Entry is 200 yen (about US$2) or 150 yen for students. Special shows can cost more.

West Japanese Dialects (Kansai Japanese)

Anywhere west of Nagoya, you'll find dialects of Japanese that differ from so-called "standard Japanese." Peter Tse notes that "broadly speaking, the main differences between Western [hougen / dialects] and Eastern Japanese can be summarized in seven points."

1. Negative verbs end in nai in the east, but in hen in the west. For example, 寿司を食べない becomes 寿司を食べへん。The same with courteous forms: 食べません becomes 食べまへん。However, my sources say that in Kagawa prefecture, the -hen ending is not used in its full form. You are more likely to hear 「寿司、食べん」。So, in Kagawa, tabehen becomes taben.

2. In the past tense, verbs end in -nakatta in the east, but -henkatta in the west. For example, 寿司を食べなかった becomes 寿司を食べへんかった。

3. In Tse's words, "The past tense of Eastern Japanese has a double 'tt' sound, but Western Japanese frequently has a single "t" sound instead, sometimes accompanied by a long vowel sound like 'ou.'" So, Western Japanese does not form crisp double consonants. For example, そうだ思った becomes そうだ思うた。

4. The verb "to be" for animals and people is iru in the east, but oru in the west. For example, 人がいる becomes 人がおる。

5. The copula da in the east is ya (in Kansai) or ja (in Chuugoku). For example, そうなんだ becomes そうなんや or そうなんじゃ。

6. The adverbial form of adjectives ends in -ku in the east, but usually lacks -ku in the west. For example, 早く食べる becomes はよう食べる。

7. The imperative form of verbs in the west can differ from those in the east, but both forms are commonly used in the west. For example 早く食べろ can become はようたべえ。

I'm told that you don't need to be able to speak in the dialects to communicate. Everyone I've talked to has said that it's not important because you can use "standard Japanese." However, you will likely often hear dialects in west Japan. Moreover, I think it's important to learn a few things about local language.


Dogo Onsen

One of the main attractions to Shikoku is Dogo Onsen. That's in Matsuyama. More details when I've had the chance to visit, but here is what I know so far. First of all, an onsen is a mineral bath. Dogo is Japan's oldest and most famous one. There is a streetcar in the town, still active but rare in Japan. The streetcar can take you to the "onsen town," Dogo. When people mention Dogo Onsen, they are referring not only to the bath house, but to the entire surrounding town.

The streetcar has 5 lines. Line 3 goes from Shieki station to Dogo, and line 5 goes from the JR (Japan Railways) station to Dogo. There actually isn't a line four, because four is not a lucky number in Japan, just as many Western buildings have no 13th floor. Actually, it's best to avoid the number four whenever you can. Take a look at any product packages, and you'll see that they usually come in sets of five.

A simple entry to the Kami-no-Yu (Bath of the Gods) costs 300 yen (about US$3), but you get nothing extra, meaning bring soap and a towel. For another 320 yen, you can borrow a yukata (robe) and receive green tea and rice crackers after your bath.

If you prefer, try the Tama-no-Yu (Bath of the Spirits) for a total of 980 yen (about US$10). It's said to be a step up, but again I've yet to try it.

There is a special bathing room for the Imperial Family, but you can only see it briefly, for 210 yen.

Nearby, check out Isaniwa Shrine. Don't forget to try the local specialty, Botchan Dango, which are balls of mochi rice on a stick. The rice has been pounded into a glutinous paste. The three balls are different colors. One is colored by red beans, the second by eggs, and the third by green tea.

I've heard this is best as an overnight trip. You don't have to spend a lot on hotels, although can if you like. There is the Matsuyama Youth Hostel (where you can also get courses on bending spoons and reading auras), and that costs 2,900 yen a day. Higher on the scale, there is Dogo Kan, which costs at least 17,500 yen and probably more. Both worth exploring, depending on where you are coming from.

U.S. Culture Point: There are just a few onsen in the United States. During my childhood, our family didn't often take baths, actually. Not even in the house, because we used a shower. And, we would shower in the morning to start the day. In Japan, people generally bathe at night in a bathing area, before getting into a bath of clean, hot water, just to soak. Since bathing is so much more common in Japan, there are many onsen. But let's talk about a special one in America, called Ojo Caliente. If you ever visit the state of New Mexico from Japan, please check it out. There is also an onsen in New Mexico that echoes a Japanese onsen, called Ten Thousand Waves. It's up to you. If you've never been to Japan and want that kind of experience, like getting Japanese food in America, I suggest you'd enjoy Ten Thousand Waves very much. If you're already familiar with mineral baths and care more about being surrounded by nature, I suggest a private mineral bath at Ojo Caliente. Ten Thousand Waves does offer private baths, but the last time I checked, their tubs were synthetic, while those at Ojo Caliente felt more natural. In America it is expensive to do this, and it's considered by many to be "a treat." Something special, or a gift item. Few people could afford to visit an onsen every day. So, onsen are not used for general health as much in America.

Professionalism in Japan

The emphasis is on conformity, deference and hierarchy. Doesn't mean you can't have fun in your life -- you should -- but here is what it does mean:

1. You'll probably have to wear a suit at your workplace. Best picks are conservative, meaning dark with no particular flare. Don't be a fashion designer expressing yourself, just fit in.

2. Treat superiors with tremendous respect, and basically just don't question what you're being told. Particularly when getting feedback on your work. If you're in a relatively low-ranking position, as I am, then you also will need to apologize as part of receiving feedback.

3. The customer is actually always right. It's an old saying, but actually true in Japan. Whatever the situation is, make sure that your customer or client is clearly happy with any transaction.

4. Read your company's policy book, and follow its rules. If you have a question about a rule, the best way to bring it up with your supervisor is at meeting, when it is time for open questions, at which point you could ask for advice on how to follow the rule.

5. Keep a positive frame of mind. If you've come from a place like Europe or the Americas, where things are different, just accept Japan's way as a new way for you to be a professional.

6. If you keep a blog, don't talk about the office. You can talk about working in general, but don't talk about your specific workplace, or your co-workers, or your clients in particular.

7. Don't use your real name on the internet unless you want people to know you wrote it!


Yum, Octopus Balls!

Have a look: this video from YouTube shows a local snack, called takoyaki. (Tako means octopus and -yaki means fried or baked.) You can find takoyaki in many Japanese restaurants in the Western world, but as the video shows, they are just not the same as in Japan. I remember from travels in Mexico that my favorite food was always from the vendors on the street. I don't care what anyone says, my vote is, it's delicious. The people in the video are speaking Japanese in a West Japanese dialect. So, food is a little different in Japan if you weren't born there. More on that later.

Where in Shikoku can I get this? You can always ask your local tourist office for directions and advice. If you live in Takamatsu city, the Information Plaza address is 1-16, Hamano-Cho (Tel: 851-2009). Just outside Takamatsu Station's south exit.

Why Shikoku?

I'm often asked why I chose to live and work in Shikoku. This image is Awa-Odori, a traditional dance that happens in historical Toukushima. In Shikoku, you can experience these festivals, but also take a very short train ride to the outdoors. I really enjoy being in nature, and that's part of the reason why I prefer Shikoku over a more intensely urban area. Even though the cities are still cities, it is the ability to get to the countyside that I care about the most right now.

I've had the chance to talk via Skype with several people from Shikoku, and it is true that everyone has been very friendly. I don't mean anything against people from East Japan, I know many people are very friendly. Just ask we can't really talk about "American" ideas, it varies. But I will say that the people I've met have been great and I look forward to becoming better friends!