Category Archives: Japan

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Capturing the surreal –

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As I mentioned in my introduction for English Avenue, one of my hobbies is photography.
As I got more into photography different aspects began to appeal to me more than others.
One particular aspect that I’ve become obsessed with is geometry in photography – either in the form of lines or symmetrical patterns.

Life’s Treadmill.

However, geometric photos alone can be a little boring – they need a human element to bring the photos to life and to give the photos a sense of scale.
Often just a lone figure is great but, occasionally, more than one depending on the scene.
Also, the combination of geometry and the human element give the photo a kind of surreal look – hence the title of this blog – Capturing the surreal.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Around this time, one of my English students introduced me to the work of Giorgio De Chirico – an Italian artist whose art influenced the ‘Surrealists’ – a cultural movement that began in the 1920s.
I found his artwork to be both inspirational and beautiful and I wanted to try and create real life photos that were similar to some of his artwork.

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street by Giorgio de Chirico.

I began searching Tokyo and the surrounding area for forms of geometry I could incorporate into my photography.
I’d often spend 30 mins to an hour before sleeping doing google searches or searching Pinterest for locations I could use.
I found some amazing locations – not only in Japan but around the world and started making lists of places to visit.
As I got more into geometric photography I also started to notice patterns and lines in my everyday environment that I hadn’t noticed before.

Stepping out of the shadows.

The one downside to this type of photography was the time I would sometimes have to wait for the right person to step into the frame.
Sometimes I’d go to a location and no one would be there to step into the frame, which was pretty frustrating.
Another aspect that I was keen to combine was shadows.
This provided another problem as it meant I was dependent on the right weather as well as the right time of day for the location to be in the light and not the shade.
However I did learn that a few locations would work just as well in the rain or just after the rain.
A further problem was being able to get the right vantage point (height) so that I could show the sense of scale – a problem I’m still dealing with regarding some locations.

Rain check

‘Capturing the surreal’ is an ongoing project for me and I’m really looking forward to being able to add some locations I’ve found further a field in Japan and abroad.

And, as a final note, if you have any geometric location recommendations please let me know.
I can be found on these links:

https://www.instagram.com/laurence__bouchard/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/drzzz/
https://www.facebook.com/laurencebouchard2015

*Below are a few more images:

Some lines have to be crossed.

Out on the tiles.

From a jack to a king.

Detour.

Life through bars.

Untitled.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Japan Should Change Its Traveling Ways –

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If you’re coming from another country, particularly the U.S., Japan is a relatively easy country to navigate.
Best of all, with the JR Rail Pass, it can be very affordable, which includes use of the bullet trains (shinkansen).
You can go wherever you want in Japan for just a few hundred dollars.

If you live in Japan, however, it’s another story.
Travel within Japan can be prohibitively expensive, even among foreign residents.
Of course, a big reason so many foreigners move to Japan is to explore it, so the irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone.

Such is the case with me.
I came to Japan for a number of reasons, one of which is to explore the country and to travel within it.
Despite being a resident of upwards of six years, I haven’t traveled anywhere beyond Osaka.
It’s just too expensive, and with not enough return on the investment, it’s difficult to justify the expense.

Visiting the likes of Hiroshima and Kyushu will likely have to wait until I return to Japan as a visitor from the U.S.
I can buy the JR Rail Pass then and go wherever I please.
It will sure be convenient, and I can finally explore Japan in the way I couldn’t when I actually lived here.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?
That’s why Japan should offer the same pass for its foreign residents who contribute their labor and tax money to the country.
We invest more of our time and money than any tourist.
We should enjoy the same benefits.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Bigotry in Japan? –

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News reports about possible racist jeering at sumo wrestler Terunofuji, who hails from Mongolia, has spread quickly among many outlets in Japan.
The sumo wrestler performed in a way that some feel isn’t quite in line with the methods of a true grand champion, even if his tactics are technically allowable.
Still, the incident left a bad taste in the audience’s mouths, and some alleged racist heckling ensued.
The crowd reportedly jeered at him, “Go back to Mongolia!” after he secured a victory.
I’m not particularly interested in sumo wrestling as a sport, but the incident raises questions about the levels of bigotry in Japan.
How much does it exist, and against whom is it directed?
A lot has been written over the years about prejudice in Japan against Japanese-born Koreans.
This is a recurring problem with which Japan has not successfully dealt.
Other possible issues remain, such as bigotry against other minority groups and ethnicities.
I remember seeing a strange video on the Internet several years ago.
It was filmed in Japan, and it showed people protesting Americans.
One man had a megaphone and shouted, “White pig go home!” at some white people.
It was a shocking video, to say the least.
I don’t know to what extent this might represent people’s feelings in Japan.
Like many places, Japan must deal with this issue.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but this kind of prejudice does seem to exist, as it does everywhere.
I hope a day will come when these problems never have to be addressed again.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Christmas in Japan –

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Japan, of course, is not a Christian country.
But Japan doesn’t let that fact stop it from celebrating Christmas.
Like Halloween, Christmas is a holiday that has been imported to Japan, even if the history of the holiday isn’t all that well known among the revelers.
Even in America, Halloween’s roots are pretty much forgotten these days, but Christmas is a completely different story.
It is, by far, the most important holiday of the year.

Families travel great distances to get together.
A lot of money is spent on buying and exchanging gifts. (Other than birthdays, America doesn’t have the same tradition of gift-giving that Japan does.)
Even more money is spent on buying Christmas decorations and Christmas trees.
Most families go all out to make Christmas a special holiday.

That’s why it’s so interesting to see the way Christmas is celebrated in Japan.
Some of the trappings are evident (Christmas lights, Christmas trees, etc.), but missing is the strong familial (and even religious) connotations.
Naturally, not every family who celebrates Christmas in the U.S. is deeply religious, but I think there’s a level of seriousness and importance missing.
Still, it’s a fascinating thing to see.
I guess I shouldn’t even bring up the KFC connection, which still baffles me.

In many ways, Christmas and New Year’s are the exact opposite of each in the two countries.
In America, New Year’s is strictly a party.
There is no other significance attached to it whatsoever.
Christmas (and to a lesser extent Thanksgiving) take care of all that for us.
But, in Japan, New Year’s is as serious as holidays get.
It truly is the Japanese Christmas in that way.
All that’s missing are the trees and decorations!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- How to find good food in Japan –

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One thing I noticed immediately after coming to Japan was that most Japanese food restaurants specialized in a particular style of food.
A ramen restaurant served only ramen (and sometimes “gyoza,” a popular side dish), an udon house served only variants of udon, a sushi bar
served only sushi (unless you go to “kaitenzushi,” which is conveyor sushi restaurant), and tonkatsu (Japanese deep fried pork cutlet, similar to schnitzel) place only had deep fried meat.

This was kind of strange to me.
In Vancouver (as of 2008 when I left*), most Japanese restaurants had pretty much all kinds of Japanese food.
If you walked into a Japanese restaurant, you could always find sushi on the menu.
And it wasn’t weird to go into a Japanese restaurant with a picture of sushi on the street sign and finding “katsudon” (tonkatsu on rice with onion and eggs) on the menu.
In fact, one of the more popular all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants also had Korean and Chinese food on the menu.

At the time, it wasn’t really clear to me why the restaurants here didn’t bother trying to appeal to a wider customer base.
But then I learned that food in general is one of the most popular topic with the general public, and that “good food” is highly sought-after.
So for a restaurant to become and stay popular, it paid off to advertise itself as a specialist rather than jack-of-all-trades kind of restaurants.

So how do you know if a restaurant’s actually good rather than just trending at the moment after being featured in a variety show on TV?
There’s a website: Tabelog (http://tabelog.com/en/).

It’s the most popular restaurant guide in Japan, and it aggregates user reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
The site used be in Japanese only, and using it meant tabbing between Google to search for the kanjis I needed so I could copy-and-paste them in the search field.
And then switching tabs again so Google Translate could make sense of the reviews for me.

The good news is that the site is now also (partly) in English, and is fairly foreigner-friendly.
One oddity about the English version though, is that you can only search for restaurants by location (but not the name of the restaurant). I have no idea why the search function is missing such a basic feature, but the site’s still useful for tourists and for those interested in exploring new restaurants.

If you know the name of the area you’ll be close to (e.g. Shibuya), type that in the “Location” field at the top right corner on the main page.
If you know that you’ll be close to a major station, click that from the names list that appears (e.g. Shibuya Station).
I found that I tend to get better results that way.
You’ll now see a list of the restaurants in the area with reviews, which can be sorted according to “Standard,” “Overall ranking,” or “Reviews.”
I don’t really know which factors “Standard” takes into account, but after a quick search of restaurants near my home station, I can say I agree with the ratings for the most part (with either “Overall ranking” or “Reviews”).
Just a quick note–if a restaurant has reasonable number of reviews (say, 50-100) and the average of the scores is above 3.4 stars, then you can be assured of above-average quality.

The user reviews are displayed in their original language (Japanese).
If you want to know what people wrote about the restaurant you’re thinking of visiting, you still have to put your faith in the veritable gateway to knowledge that is Google Translate.

That’s about it for this post.
So get out there, and find something new restaurants!
If you find a good one, be sure to let others know in the comments section.
Happy eating!

*It’s different in Vancouver now, and the idea of specialized restaurants took off in popularity a few years ago.
When I went back last year, there were popular sushi bars and ramen houses that served only dishes they were experts at cooking.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい! 天日干し野菜・きのこのすすめ! Sundried Vegetables & Mushrooms!

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天日干し野菜を始めませんか?

Why don’t we start eating sun-dried vegetables?

長期保存ができ、栄養価も高いといわれる「干し野菜」は昔ながらの知恵です。
冷凍庫や冷蔵庫のなかった時代には保存できる食材として重宝されていて、
長旅の食糧としても活用されていました。
人々の生活の中で生まれた知恵である「干し野菜」は、保存食として今もなお私たちの生活を豊かにしてくれています。

So-called “sun-dried vegetables” with a long shelf life  and high nutritional value are an age-old wisdom. In times when refrigerators and freezers were non-existent, foods that could be preserved were particularly invaluable and were also used for long trips.  Born from the lives of people ages ago, the ingenuity of sun-dried vegetables as preserved foods can also benefit the lives of those living today.

 

天日干しの干し野菜にする事で、余分な水分がなくなり、
野菜に含まれるビタミンD・ビタミンB群・カルシウム・鉄分・ナイアシンがアップします。
日光の紫外線に長期間当たる事で成分が変化する野菜がみつかったり、
ダイエット脂肪燃焼に効果を発揮する干し野菜も報告されています。

During the drying portion of the process, extra liquid is extracted from the vegetables through evaporation and the natural occurring vitamin D, vitamin B group, calcium, iron, and niacin in the vegetable increases. It has been found that prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultra violet rays change the chemical composition of the plant.  It is also reported that some dried vegetables are effective for dieting and burning fat.

 

旬の食材をたっぷりと収穫して保存、きちんと使い切る昔ながらの知恵のひとつです。
天日に干すだけですので塩漬けや砂糖漬けなどより手間いらずで単純な保存法です。
世界中にさまざまな乾物が生まれているのもその手軽さゆえでしょう。

Preserving vegetables after a harvest when seasonal crops are plentiful and using exactly as much as one could spare over the year is another age-old wisdom of the past. Since for sun-drying one only needs to use the sun and air, you can preserve foodstuffs simply without the use of salts or sugars. Throughout the world many types of sundried food have been produced due to the simplicity of process.

 

乾物には他の保存法にはない優れた付加価値があります。
それは、天日乾燥することで、旨みや香り栄養が増すということです。
きのこ類も旨味がさらに凝縮します。
天日干ししたきのこで出汁をひいたり、炒めたりなどオススメです。
調理時間がとても短くなり、調味料も少なめでしっかりと味がつき、
普段食事に時間をかけれない忙しい方々にも簡単で栄養のある食事をいただくことができますのでオススメです。

For dried foods there are other benefits which are not seen in other preservation methods. In the process of  sun drying umami flavor, aroma, and nutritional value are enhanced.  For mushrooms, umami taste is further condensed after they are dehydrated. I strongly recommend using sun-dried mushrooms for making dashi soup or broth, or frying them as ingredients for fried foods.  Dried foods make the cooking time shorter and the amount of seasonings smaller to get  distinctive taste. Even for busy people who have little time for preparing every day meals, I would recommend trying dried foods to have easy-to-prepare and nutricous meals.

 

キビ麺パスタ (天日干ししたmushroomを使ったパスタ)

Kibi millet Pasta with Sundried Mushroom

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By Yumi, Heathy Food Stylist