Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cream and Anko and Melon, Oh My! (Hannah)

They say the first step to curing an addiction is admitting you have a problem. Well here I am, taking that first step. I’ve become addicted to cream custard buns.
Pre-packaged cream pan you can buy at almost any store.
It’s gotten to the point that every time I see a bakery I have an almost insatiable urge to go in and buy a piece of bread. It’s never too expensive, rarely over two hundred yen, but it adds up in the end I suppose.

I guess it started when I visited the bakery across from Gotenyama station that I mentioned in a previous blog post. It’s rarely open in the mornings when I pass by, but I’m lucky enough to find it open on the way home after some afternoon classes. It’s a small bakery run by a husband and wife; the husband does most of the baking in the back (I have yet to see him, this is what I’ve heard from a professor who is also a regular there) and the wife runs the front.
Front of the Gotenyama bakery; it was early so it wasn't open, yet.
The first time I went there, I found an pan (red bean paste buns) and a cream bun, but I wasn’t sure what the latter was at first, but it sounded good. From the first bite it was perfect. The soft, fluffy sweetness of the bread coupled with the way the cream melts in your mouth… was it addiction at first bite? Now I try and drop by at least once or twice or week. The wife I think has recognized me at this point, and she often tells me my Japanese is very good. She didn’t seem surprised to see a foreigner in her shop however, which makes me wonder if other foreign students have become regulars.

First bite out of a cream pan.
There are some variations of cream buns. I’ve found in all my wanderings that actual bakery bread, and not the prepackaged buns in the above photos, is much better. While the pre packaged ones are still delicious, the bakery buns are noticeably fresher, and while the taste varies a bit from bakery to bakery, it’s still absolutely delicious.

Japanese bakeries are different than American bakeries. In America, and Panera Bread comes to mind, there are the bread displays, you order what you like and it is given to you. In Japan, when you walk in there are small plastic trays and tongs next to a display of bread. It’s typically laid out in a line fashion, so you go down this line of bread and put the bread you want on the tray using the tongs. When you’re done, you take it to the cashier, who will check you out and wrap the bread in small individual plastic bags. Voila! Unless I get a drink, three pieces of bread rarely costs over five hundred yen. Most convenience stores just have a rack of bread.

7/11 bakery.
I’ve also tried other forms of Japanese baking, from different types of an pan, melon bread (a misnomer, since the bread a, does not taste like melons, and b, does not have any melon in them), corn bread (with actual corn kernels), and curry buns (with actual curry). Yet I still stand by my assessment. Cream buns are the best.

And you know what? I’m not sure if I want to get over this addiction.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Not Your Standard Arcade (Ethan)

 For this post, I was asked to write about becoming a “fan” of something.  There are quite a few things I thought of writing about but the one that stood out most, and that I visit most frequently, is the local arcade.  For an American, the word arcade probably brings to mind a place marketed more towards kids.  A place where you can win tickets and turn them in for prizes, where you can eat pizza, and where you can have a birthday party.  I quickly learned after my first visit to Sega World, the local arcade, that Japanese arcades are not like this at all.  I’ve been visiting Sega World about once or twice a week since I got to Japan and it still doesn’t fail to impress me in terms of how diverse the customers are and how different it is from American arcades.
The front of the Sega World arcade I go to
When you first walk in to the arcade, you are greeted by several rows of UFO catchers, which are very similar to American skill crane games.  These machines are filled with snacks, stuffed animals, anime merchandise, and much more.  What really stands out about these, though, is how easy they are.  In America, skill cranes are notorious for being near impossible to win.  Here, however, many are winnable in just a few tries and I’ve even managed to win a couple in just one try.  This depends on the machine and the popularity of the prize in it of course but it still impresses me.  Even stranger to me is that the employees will open the machine and move prizes around to make the one you want easier to win.  I’ve noticed people ask the employees to do this but I’ve even been approached by an employee (who I found out goes to my school as well) and asked which prize I wanted.  He even showed my friend the best way to drop the claw to win certain prizes.
One of the many rows of UFO catchers
Past these machines, the first floor is filled with rhythm games, children’s games, and gambling games.  Each of these types of games are contained in their own part of the arcade and I’ve noticed that all of them seem to be popular with different crowds.  The kids games are obviously popular mainly with younger kids (I’d guess around elementary school age), and are usually based on children’s cartoons.  I do see some older people play these games occasionally though.  The rhythm games seem to be more popular with middle school and high school students.  Many of them look like they have spent a lot of time practicing the games as well.  The gambling games, pachinko and slots, are mostly played by older people but I tend not to spend a lot of time in this area so I don’t know a lot about it.
Slots and Pachinko machines
The second floor of the arcade is filled with even more games but has a much different atmosphere.  The lights are dim, it smells of smoke (smoking is allowed in the arcade), and the games are almost all fighting games.  The people in this area look to be about 20-40 and are almost exclusively all male (I can’t recall any particular time I’ve seen a woman on this floor).  This part of the arcade feels a bit less inviting to me but I do spend some time playing games on the second floor as well.

While there is this large mixture of demographics at the arcade, they tend to stick to their areas and there isn’t much social exchange between the groups.  Even within the groups many people keep to themselves or their friend group.  Because of this, I tend to not interact with other customers (except my friends of course).  I don’t avoid people and I don’t think they avoid me (people will come play games next to me sometimes), but I think many people would rather keep to themselves here.  I do think it might also be a little strange to see a foreigner in a place like this and that might also affect my interactions as well.  I do hope to try to talk to some people at some point and hopefully learn more from the regulars at the arcade about Japanese arcade culture but for now I do my own thing and everyone does theirs.  I continue to go to Sega World every week and probably will for the whole semester.  It’s an interesting place and I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about entertainment in Japan just by observing how different groups of people use the arcade.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Daily Consumption in AIU (Millie)

In the student hall first floor, there is the only one store on campus, named “AIU SHOP.” Nearby, the café which called “College Café” is the only place you can read here in a quiet afternoon with a cup of good coffee. These places become my favorite places in AIU.
AIU SHOP, photo by Millie
I fell in love with the Japanese snacks when I went to “Mitsuwa” (Japanese style supermarket) for the first time in Chicago. Since that time, every time I go there, I will buy a big box of snacks. It is so lucky for me to come to japan. Even if I can’t often go to the supermarket (because AIU located in the rural area) to buy snacks, I am still able to get a lot in AIU shop. For me, AIU shop is more like a convenient store, I can buy my food here for daily: the onigiri (rice ball), sandwiches, and even the box set. Especially, I love the onigiri most!! I don't know why, but the onigiri made at the AIU shop is better than any other one I’ve ever eaten. I have already had this for several weeks for my breakfast. (^ ^)
Onigiri, photo by Millie
College Café is close to the AIU shop, I usually buy an onigiri from AIU shop and then order a cup of cappuccino in the Café to start my new day. If you are lucky, you can even hear the band practice (two practice studios located opposite the café) in front of you. It’s also a good place to chat with friends, do some individual studies, and meet the group members, etc.

College cafe, photo by Millie
I’m looking for ways to provide relief and comfort when facing this unfamiliar environment. Fortunately, these two places offer a new space for me to blend with this new environment.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Getting Lost in Harajuku (Emma)

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to focus on for this blog. Was I going to talk about the Gyoza shop that I can’t stay away from, or the coffee shop near my campus that is always there to give me a caffeine boost? However, as I began making plans for this weekend I realized that there is one place I’ve frequented more than any other: Takeshita Dori.
Takeshita Dori
Harajuku was definitely one of the things I looked forward to before coming to Japan.  In many ways it’s different than what I expected, but every time I visit I find more things that I want to look at and explore. Just people watching is an experience of it’s own, and finding a spot at a cafe and looking out the windows could entertain me for hours.

As the youth fashion district, a lot of the shops are primarily for clothing and accessories, many of them promoting very cute and pastel colored items.  The ‘shoujo aesthetic’ is very apparent, and as a shopping district the whole area is dedicated to young consumers. Most of the shops are on Takeshita Dori, but there are many winding side roads teeming with local shops and restaurants.
A look inside...
One of the stores that I’ve found myself frequenting is a small sticker shop called B-Side Label. While I was originally drawn in by the walls upon walls of stickers, I keep coming back because the staff are always so nice. This store was one of the first places in which I’ve had an extensive conversation in Japanese with someone I didn’t know. After returning and having the same staff members recognize me and continuing to engage in conversation, I’ve made an effort to stop by whenever I’m in the area. The fact that they have a whole line of stickers just for Halloween certainly has not kept me away.
Stickers upon stickers.
Harajuku is also a destination for those who want to show off their coordinated outfits, and underground fashion styles. While I haven’t been too adventurous, I have found the experience of walking around in a wig and stylized outfit to be much more rewarding. Dressing up, you can feel much more like a participant than just an observer. This may also be because as a white person going to Harajuku, usually people assume you are just a tourist and can speak limited or no Japanese. Dressing up usually lessens that assumption, and I’ve had more interactions with people when I dress to match the Harajuku vibe. It is one of the few places I’ve been where I’ve had conversations with people outside of my school, and mastering an area has really made me feel like I live in Tokyo.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Little Out of Place (Ethan)

For my scavenger hunt I was told to “find the site where Oda Nobunaga died.”  Naturally I turned to google first to find out more about Nobunaga’s death.  I found that Oda Nobunaga was staying at a Buddhist Temple called Honnoji when he was betrayed by one of his armies, led by Akechi Mitsuhide.  They surrounded the temple and the fight ended with the temple burning to the ground and Nobunaga committing ritual suicide.

I used google maps to find the location of the temple and headed there with a friend after class.  We got off at the Sanjou station and ended up walking through a shopping district that was crammed with every type of shop imaginable.   I was beginning to wonder where the temple could be in all of this when all of a sudden we turned to our right and saw the entrance to the temple among the row of shops.  I was surprised by this location but glad it wasn’t too hard of a find. 
The shopping district we walked through
Entrance to the temple
We first walked up to the temple itself to get a closer look.  It’s a pretty ordinary temple and nothing too major stood out.  Next we took a look around the back of the temple where there were several monuments.  At times like this I wish I knew more kanji and could read about what all these monuments are for.  I was able to figure out, however, that one of them was a memorial to Oda Nobunaga, the reason I came in the first place.  This was exciting and I was glad I was able to find it.  After this, we went inside the temple, which was decorated with beautiful gold ornamentation and a giant Buddha statue.  I was very impressed by the interior decoration, as it was such a contrast to the rather dull exterior.  (Unfortunately, pictures of the inside weren’t allowed so you’ll just have to take my word for it.)  Finally, we explored a cemetery near the temple with rows and rows of old graves.  On our way out, we tried to enter the temple’s museum, which includes many Oda Nobunaga related artifacts.  Unfortunately, it was closed and we couldn’t enter, but I plan on going back in the future.  

My mission accomplished, we left the temple with a sense of accomplishment and went to explore the rest of the area.

The temple

Memorial to Oda Nobunaga