An insatiable appetite

Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population but consume more than 24% of the resources.

If the size of the economic were to correlate with the amount of resources consumed, Japan being the third largest economy, Japan shouldn’t be that far behind the U.S. in energy consumption.

Japan has less than half of U.S. in population and consumes 1/5 the energy the U.S. consumes.

My wife brought up the fact that in Japan, garbage disposals and dishwashers are not as prevalent as they are in the U.S.

Looking at those figures, it makes sense.

The quality of life in the U.S. is good, generally speaking.

Imagine a kitchen without a garbage disposal and dishwasher.  We wouldn’t know what to do.

Yet Americans complain about this country.

I suppose it’s like someone who has a million bucks wanting two million in the bank.  The appetite is insatiable.

Source:

http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/energy_japan

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In pursuit of perfection

I am just fascinated by Ichiro, a professional baseball player with the Florida Marlins.

He is such a disciplined player.

Whether it’s hitting, playing a position in the outfield, or on base stealing bases, he executes every play with perfection.

He’s known to be on the baseball diamond two hours before a game to warm up.

His style is very Japanese.  It’s called being a “shokunin,” or loosely translated as professional.

I recently saw a video about a blowfish chef and a sake maker in Japan.

What I found interesting about these shokunin was their pursuit of perfection in their craft.

For example, it takes 10 years of training to produce a skilled blowfish chef.  The sake maker is the 55th in line, carrying on a tradition of more than 850 years.

Jiro the sushi chef from the famous documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is another prominent shokunin.

There is something noble about dedicating oneself to a single craft in pursuit of a singular goal: to do it better the next time.

Shokunin is a concept and a state of mind that I would like to instill in my children as they get older.

In the meantime I’ll just enjoy watching Ichiro play on TV

What you don’t know can hurt you

What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

Well, you won’t be hurt but you’ll be missing out.

Georgia is a great example.  Before moving here, I had my preconceived notions about this state.

Now that I’ve been here almost a year, I must admit that most of those notions have been turned on its head.

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Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, Georgia.

One of the culprits injecting these half-baked ideas was a book by Malcolm Gladwell book, Outlier (Gladwell is not the culprit but an anecdote used in the book is).

In this book he highlights an experiment where the general disposition of Northerners and Southerners are tested.

The result is that Northerners tend to be more light-hearted and easy going whereas Southerners are quick with their temper.

The book examines why this may be the case – something about poor people being materially deprived and only thing worthwhile on their possession is their personal honor.  Suffering dishonor or indignity, however slight the offense, would push these poor people to protect their integrity by any means necessary. This has some validity I suppose, considering the agricultural history of the region.

Yet this isn’t the South where Hatfield and McCoy families are feuding over a hog. Those days have long past.

From my experience, the general disposition of Southerners, at least where I live, is easy going and good natured.  Southern hospitality is also well and alive.

So you could be missing out on valuable life experiences if you refer only to your preconceptions and predispositions.

In this way what you don’t know can hurt you.

A very special dessert

The Japanese are known for taking something and enhancing it.

Dessert is no exception in the art and science of perfection.

Called pudding in Japan (purin, if accurately pronounced in Japanese), Flan in Europe and Americans would call it caramel custard.

Online search yields other names: crème caramel, caramel pudding, caramel cream flan.

Ask for pudding in Japan, they mean this mount of heaven dripping in caramel sauce at the top.

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Taste it and you are hooked for life.

Pudding found elsewhere in the world, although delicious in their own right, lack the depth of flavor and texture offered by this Japanese delight.

The caramel sauce running down the soft silky custard will engulf your senses, leaving the palate begging for more of the same.

Just thinking about it, writing about it, is whetting my appetite: a sensory overload.

In the restaurant scene from Matrix Reloaded, the French guy sends a dessert over to a very beautiful woman.

Watch the scene and you’ll understand.  Eat a Japanese pudding and you’ll be living the scene, minus the part where she goes to the bathroom.

The Japanese have taken this dessert and perfected it: a flawless caramel custard.

Best ramen noodles of all time

Without a doubt, hands down, this is my favorite ramen.

Umakachan, is a pork-bone, or tonkotsu, flavored ramen, which is prominent in southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

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What sets this ramen apart from others?

It comes with seasoning oil that adds an indescribably savory essence to the soup.  The sesame seeds in the soup also enhance the flavor.

There is no other ramen like it.

Umakachan rarely makes an appearance at grocery stores beyond Kyushu.

Not every Japanese person would be familiar with this instant noodle, unlike “Cup Noodles,” which is universal.

Umakachan means, delicious.  And it is.

I read somewhere that ramen noodles force your digestive system to work overtime. The implication is that it’s not really a healthy choice.

So, eat ramen sparingly.

 

Simply, rice

Fluffy, moist, and steaming, that’s what the good stuff is made of.

I’m talking about sticky rice.

Once you’ve had it, you cannot go back to the dry and flaky kind found in the shelves at your local grocery store.

Actually, you can buy sticky rice at your local grocery store.

Waltz over to the international aisle and grab a bag of rice with Chinese characters written on the bag.

I used to be under the false assumption that rice makers made the difference.

But that myth was dispelled when I bought a low-end rice cooker from Target that cooked delicious rice.

It’s all about the rice.

Open the lid and let the steam rise. The aroma of freshly cooked sticky rice is something special.

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Made too much? Take single serve portions and wrapped them in Saran wrap. Microwave for 60 to 90 seconds and you’ll have nice and steamy rice just as good as some coming freshly out of the rice maker.

It’s a thing of simple beauty: Simply delicious.

What are you drinking?

Free refills on soft drinks and at the end of the meal, you leave a tip.  The experience is as American as it gets.

In Japan – generally speaking here – you pay for every cup of soft drink ordered at half to two-thirds the portion that you would get in the U.S., but tipping is not required.

And for less, you pay more.

On average, a glass of soft drink will set you back about three to four dollars, for less than 16 ounces. So sip sparingly when in Japan.

However, enter a traditional Japanese restaurant, then you get to drink all the green or barley tea you want. The catch is you get a really small cup.

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Here in America, you drink till your heart’s content and your stomach.  And with that comes problems of obesity and associated health issues.

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Toss in free chips and salsa if you’re at a Mexican restaurant, and dinner rolls if at a run-of-the-mill joint, to the already generous portion of entrée at the table.

I guess the free stuff is not so bad.

Now back in the U.S. for less than a year, my doctor is already warning me about my sugar intake. Just can’t stay away from Southern ice tea!

Many get the “half and half,” half sweet and half non-sweet. I’m on this regimen now.

At home I drink water and barley tea.

I imagine many American-Japanese households consume beverages from both cultures.

Sake is always good on a cold winter night with a bowl of hot-pot.

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I can’t have my burger without Coke.

What are you drinking?

Delicious instant noodles of Japan

We’ve all lived through the dark days of eating ramen noodles, when our pockets were empty and stomachs even more so.

Whether it was in college or growing up, we owe our lives to the sustenance provided by the 10 cents-a -bag wonder conceived in Japan.

Ramen noodles permeate the everyday lives of the Japanese people and the attitude toward it is not as gloomy or desperate.

Ramen is simply the stuff of happiness.

Go to the grocery store in Japan and you’ll find that one whole side of an entire aisle is filled with ramen.  Ramen are sold in cups, bowls, and bags with myriad of flavors, ranging from soy sauce, pork stock, salt, miso, and yuzu pepper.  There are regional variations as well from Sapporo, Kyushu, Okinawa, and Wakayama to name a few.

At some stores the entire aisle is dedicated to instant noodles.

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Ramen abound in those aisles but look closely and you’ll find instant soba and udon noodles in the mix. Soba noodles are made from different kind of flour and they are not curly, but straight.  Udon noodle are thicker than soba or ramen noodles.

And even within Japan, to accommodate the subtle palate of its people, instant noodles of the same brand and name tastes slightly different depending on which region you’re in.

That is because the people in eastern Japan savor in stronger flavors than those in western Japan.

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Noodles sold in western Japan on the left and eastern Japan on the right. Appearance is the same but the taste is slightly different.

The only redeeming quality about the ramen sold in America is the price, but that is not enough to make up for the dreadful soup and stringy noodles.

Much like St Francis of Assisi, who came out of his cave and brought Christianity out of the dark into light in the 13th century, Americans need to come out of the ramen abyss.

Eating ramen doesn’t have to be a terrible experience.  Go to a Japanese or Asian grocery store near you and explore the ramen aisle.

To Pierce or Not to Pierce?

One mind split two ways. That is the problem!

My wife asks, “Should we get our baby girl’s ears pierced?”

As a dad, a male of the species, I do not take much interest in the question because I see it as a mom problem.

But my wife points out that in Japan it is considered child abuse to get a baby girl’s ears pierced where as in America it is OK after the baby has received the proper shots after turning three-months-old.

My Japanese wife, who is a type A personality with go-against-the-grain sensibilities, is torn.  She would like to get our baby girl pierced but after all she is Japanese and it’s just not done in Japan.

Social norms hold together the fabric that is the Japanese society.  Even she dares not to take this matter lightly.

So, she consults me. Initially I am indifferent but more I think about it more I become uncertain about the question.

Then I say to myself, “When in Rome…We’re in America and my wife is in favor of getting the piercing done. So why not?”

With our minds made up, we go to the local mall to get our baby girl pierced.

The store employee readies everything, including the piercing tool. At this point I am unable to stomach what’s about to happen to my little baby girl.

As I walk away, a scene from the movie Braveheart is playing in my head, where Mel Gibson is tortured in a classic medieval fashion. Oh, how the same fate awaits my baby girl!

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No wonder the Japanese think this is child abuse.

My attempt to leave the scene is thwarted when my wife asks for my assistance in holding our baby daughter’s head steady.

With two quick piercings and a loud wail, it’s all over.  The cry subsides within 10 minutes.  No big deal.

A couple of months later, as I write this blog, I look at my baby daughter and her cute piercings with satisfaction.

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One mind split two ways. That is how my children will grow up: two conscientiousness, one American, one Japanese, that will persist their living being.  They will be as bewildered as I am by the similarities and differences found on both sides of the Pacific.

But follow the golden rule, “When in Rome…” Then you will be all right most often than not.  If you don’t like Rome, go to Greece.

Living in Japan: A Gift That Keeps on Giving

When a colleague returns from a work trip or vacation in Japan, local sweets or food of some kind are brought back for everyone at the office to enjoy.  This is called “omiyage,” which means a gift or souvenir.

You would return with fish roe if you were in Fukuoka, rice cake in Mie, the local sake if the area is well-known for it, melon in Yubari, salt cookies in Okinawa, Umeboshi (dried plums) in Wakayama and the list goes on.

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A typical omiyage shop in Japan.

So omiyage is brought back to the office and hopefully everyone is happy.

I remember an American co-worker who brought cheese back from Wisconsin and another who brought back peanut brittle from Virginia.

Incidentally I am also from Wisconsin so cheese is an easy choice for omiyage.

If you’ve lived in Japan you know that omiyage could be something as delightful as cherry blossom flavored Kit-Kat to something more unusual as fish cakes.

Chime in and share your delightful or strange omiyage experience.