A. Osechi refers to traditional Japanese new year food. We do many seasonal events based on old Chinese calendar, in which one year is divided into five periods by five days called “Sekku”. Long time ago, there was an imperial banquet on each Sekku and special feast called Osechi was prepared to celebrate new period so there used to be five Osechi meals. Commoners started to follow the imperial Osechi meals tradition and call the biggest Osechi meal in January Osechi. So Osechi this days specifically means the one in January, not all five. Current Osechi is prepared in Jyubako, three (four traditionally) layers big lunchbox like container, that represents layers of happiness. This Jyubako style Osechi was invented by department stores to make it look festive and fancy. Foods put in Osechi are cooked well or pickled at the end of this year to refrain from using fire during “Sanganichi (Jan 1st, 2nd and 3rd)”. This is not to upset god of new year or god of fire by being feverish in kitchen at the very beginning of new year and also to make sure foods stay good until “Sanganichi. There are some rules about what to put in which layer, which makes Osechi quite a bit of work to prepare at home. Some people still make it at home but this days more people just buy it off the shelf. This time of year, department stores, restaurants and even convenience stores start taking order for Osechi. The most expensive Osechi for 2020 I found on Mitsukoshi department store (Japanese version of Harrods) website is 330000yen (3000USD) ! I’ll write about some of Osechi components in next posts.
A. Yes there is ! Basically things that take long to cook first and things that cook quickly, things that become tough when cooked too long and things easy to break down later. .
🍲Starting lineup : Vegetable that grow under ground such as daikon radish, carrot, burdock root, bottom part of nappa cabbage, chicken cut into chunk, crab body.
🍲Second stream : shiitake mushroom, middle part of nappa cabbage, Shirataki noodles (look like rice noodles), firm tofu, meatballs, medium thick fish slices.
🍲Third stream : Shimeji mushroom, Enoki mushroom, top part of nappa cabbage and other leafy vegetables, silken tofu, thin fish slices, thinly sliced pork or beef, other seafoods like oyster and crab legs. .
I’m too lazy to put ingredients one by one depending on how long I want to cook them. So I just put the starting lineup at the bottom of the pot so they stay in the broth, the second stream next so they are partially in and partially above broth, and the third stream on top so they are completely off the broth at the beginning. As they cook, stating lineup shrink and things on top gradually sink into the broth !
Texture is very important in Japanese cuisine so we normally try not to over cook things but when it comes to nappa cabbage in Nabe, I like it very much over cooked and “kuta kuta ( texture word for intentionally over cooked vegetable that almost melt in your mouth)” ! .
Best part of Nabe comes after you finish all the ingredients in the pot. Into the broth left in the pot, we add some cooked rice and beaten egg. Rice soak up all the broth full of umami and become like porridge or risotto !
A. There is a national holiday called “Kinro Kansha no hi (Labor thanksgiving day)” on November 23rd. The origin of the holiday is “Niiname-sai”, a religious ceremony conducted by the Emperor to thank for harvest of the year. It used to be “Niiname-sai National Holiday” until the end of WW2. After WW2, in the process of resetting national holiday under supervision of SCAP, it was renamed from “Niiname-sai” to “Kinro kansha no hi” to remove any religious colour, simply meaning “labor thanksgiving day”. The day of Niiname-sai is the day Gods and emperor first eat the newly cropped harvest of the year. So at the time it was still called “Niiname-sai national holiday”, people refrained from eating freshly harvested rice before the day to avoid eating it before Gods and the Emperor but after it lost the religious meaning, the tradition faded out. Labor thanksgiving day this days is just one of many national holidays and we do nothing special. But instead, we say “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisoisamadeshita” on every meal, both showing appreciation for the food itself, people who made the ingredients, people who cooked the food and also for the sun, rain, ocean, mountains...everything that is related to the food. So everyday is a Thanksgiving Day for us !
A. The wet towel you get at restaurants in Japan, usually with a glass of water or a cup of tea, is called “Oshibori”. You can use it to clean your hands before you eat and you can also use it just like a napkin during a meal.
It’s usually chilled in summer and heated up in winter but some restaurants give you either hot or cold all year round. Which one they give you is all up to their preferences, no specific reason ! Sometimes it’s simply because they only have a machine to heat it up.
A. In previous post, I explained about reason #1 so let’s move onto #2 in this post.
Reason #2 Japan’s mentality to accept everything and Japanize it.
As many of you noticed when you were in Japan, Japan is very good at taking something foreign in and Japanize it. But why ? Japan is not a single tribe country. When Japan was still part of Eurasia continent, many tribes from different part of the continent moved to where japan is now. Even after Japan became islands, people from continent island-hopped to Japan. Japan is a very small country already and on top of that, 70% of the land is mountainous leaving only 30% suitable to live so different tribes had to live right next to each other. They cooperated, interacted and mix bred and in this process, distinct border between tribes disappeared and they became one nation. So from the very beginning, even before Japan became Japan, culture here was like one big flexible net or patchwork, different tribes and cultures loosely woven together. And this is why Japan is open to something foreign and good at making it to fit its culture as a part of the patchwork. Now, why so many variations ? There are mainly two streams in flavor, seasonal and regional. Japanese people love seasonal food. Traditionally, people consider seasonal food is blessing of nature and good for health so people SERIOUSLY embrace seasonal foods. Nestle took the concept in Kitkat and do many seasonal flavor such as watermelon one in summer. You can also find many regional flavors. Purple potato one in Okinawa for example. Long time ago, regional products (can be foods or crafts) were used as currency and culture to eagerly produce their specialities grew in each region. So there has been always appreciation for regional specialities. And again, Nestle took the concept into Kitkat. The tradition to embrace and celebrate seasonal and regional items is still existing in Japanese mentality even though everything is available anytime of year or wherever you live days. And this is why seasonal or regional Kitkat are well accepted by Japanese market and Nestle is launching one after another !
A. More than 350 flavors have been sold in Japan. There are two reasons why KitKat has become so big and popular in Japan resulting in many variations.
Reason #1 Kitkat is not just a chocolate, it’s a communication tool for Japanese people.
Reason #2 Japanese mentality to accept everything and Japanize it.
In this post, let’s dig into reason #1. I’ll explain about #2 in next post.
Back in 2002, Nestle Japan noticed there was a obvious hike in sales of KitKat in February/March, exam season in Japan, specifically in Kyushu area. They looked into it and found out students in the area were buying KitKat as a lucky item. When you say “KitKat” in Japanese way, it’s “Kitto katto” which almost sounds like “Kitto katsuto” in Kyushu dialect, meaning “(you) will win (or pass the exam).” Students bought KitKat for themselves and also as a small gift for their friends to wish them luck. Nestle then did a nation wide campaign to promote KitKat as a lucky item for students and it worked well. It was popular snack before the campaign already but it accelerated its popularity and KitKat finally established permanent position as a lucky item. The packaging of KitKat in Japan has a blank space on the back where you can write message. It has become a tradition for students to write down message like “Good luck !” or “You can do it !” and trade with friends before exam. Research shows 20% of students brought KitKat to the exam venue and 50% gave/received KitKat. This trend gradually spread to other generations by loosening the original role as a lucky item and people started to use it as a very casual gift to deliver messages. When there is someone feeling down, someone leave a KitKat on the desk with message saying “Cheer up 😊!” for example. I personally think KitKat with messages perfectly fits to the character of Japanese people. People here are not very good at telling their feelings straight forward and just leaving message rather than saying it directly is easier and more comfortable. So this is why and how KitKat became a communication tool in Japan and as a result, so popular. Reason #2 in next post !
A. When you see fruits at a department store in Japan, you’ll be surprised to see 10USD apple, 50USD grapes or 100USD melon. Well, that’s not where we buy fruits😅. These fancy fruits beautifully packed and presented in a basket 🧺 or a box are usually for gift 🎁 . Then where do we buy fruits ? At local supermarket or grocery stores. When you walk around Tokyo, you don’t see those local supermarket because these are usually in residential area, not in sightseeing or shopping area such as Shibuya or Shinjuku and thus you don’t get to see fruits for daily life. At supermarket, You can get an apple for 1USD, grapes for 7USD, depends on the type of melon but a melon for around 10USD, maybe 1.5 times higher at the beginning of its season. You may think it’s still expensive but there is a reason. Japan is a small country already and 70% of the land is mountains not really suitable for fruits farming. So we have very small fruits farm where mass farming is not possible, machines can’t get in and everything has to be done by hands. As a result, the cost of fruits becomes higher and it’s almost impossible for Japanese farmers to compete with cheap imported fruits. So instead of competing in price, they compete in quality. Fruits in Japan are very, VERY sweet. Some of my guests thought it’s artificially sweetened but it’s never. Sometimes I see small sticker with number attached to each fruits. The number shows sweetness level. As it goes up, it’s sweeter. Farmers check sweetness of each individual fruit using sensor so they are sure fruits they produced are sweet and we, consumers, are sure fruits we get are sweet. Try some fruits. You won’t regret even if you pay double the price you would pay in your country !
A. Both kudasai and onegaishimasu roughly mean “please” but there are some differences in usage. Kudasai has two meanings, verb “please give me” and auxiliary verb “please”. .
Kudasai as verb literally translates “please give me”. This kudasai can be replaced with onegaishimasu when you are ordering/buying something.
This kudasai is equivalent to “please” in the case below. .
👨🏻🍳“What can I get you ?”
👩🏻“Two beer🍻 and french fries 🍟, please.” .
Kudasai as auxiliary verb literally translates “please”. It has to be used with verb.
This kudasai is equivalent to “please” in the case below. .
👩🏻“My fries are not salty enough. Please put some extra salt.”
👨🏻🍳“No problem. Please wait and I’ll get you some salt..” .
3️⃣Onegaishimasu is polite form of verb “negau” meaning “to wish” so it literally translates “I wish”. You can use this by itself without adding any other phrases or words. You can replace “please” with “onegaishimasu” in the script below. .
👩🏻🍳“Can I get you another drink ?”
👩🏻“Please ! I’ll have another beer🍺.” .
And two hours later... .
👩🏻“Hey, one more beer🥴!”
👨🏻🍳“You had enough. No more beer for you !”
👩🏻“Oh no. Pleeeeaaaase !” .
In this case, you are begging, no longer wishing, but you can still say onegaishimasu to show your strong desire !