January 27, 2009

Umibudo (Sea Grapes)

Last night we went to an Okinawan Restaurant.  I had the glorious experience of enjoying Umibudo (Sea Grapes) also known as Caulerpa Lentillifera or Green Caviar.  They are a type of seaweed with no distinctive taste.  There are many different ways to eat Green Caviar but the most simple way is to dip strands of it in  vinegar sauce.  With each bite the tiny grape-like lumps pop and spread a light wave of salt and vinegar in your mouth.  It was one of the most delightful sensations my vegetarian taste buds have had in a long time!  

I hope the oceans in Okinawa stay clean and beautiful so that we can continue to enjoy delights like this!  There is some news that the US Marines want to build another air base right on top of Okinawa's coral reef and of course the Japanese government is doing what it does best, pretending that nothing is wrong...  It goes without saying that the consequences are disturbing not just for the immediate surroundings (and my appetite for Sea Grapes) but on a global scale as well.  

music released only in Japan by Alyssa Milano

There are some things on TV and on the radio that you can only see or hear in Japan. Bonus tracks only released in Japan and TV commercials with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Scarlet Johansson etc. Well, now thanks to Youtube, that is changing...
(Just type in the celebrity's name and "Japanese commercials"!)
Last night out of the millions of CDs in our home that we are currently downsizing, we found another extraordinary album (I wish we could open a CD shop.)  Alyssa Milano's second album ... titled ... Alyssa from 1989.  Only released in Japan from Pony Canyon.  Wow!

January 23, 2009


"Mottainai" is one word that means "too good to waste".  It is a word and way of thinking in Japan that is a part of its history and you hear it used almost everyday. 
It is reduce, reuse, recycle all in one.

The woman who helped make this Japanese word a part of global vocabulary is Wangari Maathati, an extraordinary person from Kenya who is responsible for the Green Belt Movement.
(Please check out the website at
For the Japanese website )

One of the things that you cannot exclude from the mottainai philosophy is the furoshiki.

Reusable tote bags/grocery bags have become a part of everyday life here in Japan (I'm sure it is the same elsewhere too).   But this is not a new concept for the Japanese.  There is the amazing furoshiki.  As seen in the picture above, they are reusable cloths that perform like a bag. The great thing about the furoshiki is its simplicity.  It's just a cloth, so you can fold it or wrap it around anything.  You can shape it into the bag you need. Of course you can make one yourself too!  (No leather is also a nice thing!)  The furoshikis in the picture above, are all very traditional Japanese style BUT there are a lot of new furoshiki designers making new "fashionable" designs as well.   

I like to have many colors on hand so that I have one furoshiki that matches each of my purses. I store my furoshiki in each purse so that when I change purses I don't have to waste time looking for the right color.  It also means that I will always have an extra bag in my purse and I can say "no thanks!" to any plastic!  They are durable, washable and can be used for other things as well : tapestry, book covers, table cloths, scarves....with a little imagination, just about anything!

January 21, 2009

Obama news in Japan

As the clock struck 1:00 am, the inauguration ceremony for the 44th President of the United States of America was broadcast here in Japan too.  
I was impressed with the accuracy of the  simultaneous interpreting.  However, it became obvious that the script was handed out in was way too good to have been done simultaneously...either that or I am an extremely jealous, it was waaaaay too good!

Media is the same anywhere...the Japanese were waiting for soundbites that could be used from President Obama's speech.  Despite the lack of a repeated word or phrase, the overall evaluation in the media seems to be good.  Every news show this morning has their own panel of "specialists" on America with tidbits on the Obama family vacation in Hawaii, the Bible used for the oath, info about the beautiful yellow dress/coat that the First Lady was wearing and of course speculations on how the Obama presidency will want to interact with the Japanese. ex)Will the Japanese have to send troops somewhere?  How much money will have to be "donated" to various causes? Will there be any "demands"? or will this be the beginning of a true friendship where we can all come to the table as equals and not the conquerer and conquered? etc...

The look on things is pretty light.  There will always be a few "specialists" who will try to keep everyone cautious of the American intent but most are optimistic due to the choice of staff President Obama has so far made.  I think more people were hoping that the inauguration would lead to higher scores in the stock market...which makes me very confused.  Why should stock for a company go up because of what someone says anyways?  I guess the questions is, am I supposed to understand this?  OK, back to something I do understand...Japan.

There are several cities in Japan that have the name Obama.  Just for that reason, these cities have been great big Barack Obama fans from the get go.  They have been using their 15 minutes of fame to get on TV and introduce their cities to the general public here...some of it is really embarrassing to watch
but this is Japan, and they love to play around with words here, no disrespect is intended.
The fad will soon fade out just like everything else...this is the land where everything is evanescent at birth.  It must have something to do with zen.

So, congratulations to the President and the First Family.  You have lots of friends here in Asia who are waiting to help America make the world a better place.  This is the land of the  "mottainai" philosophy ...the art of living eco in Japan!  I'll be explaining "mottainai" on another day!

January 20, 2009

Happy New Year - 2009 -

Each year has a guardian Japan there are 12 and they are as follows:
mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon (I know, I know), snake, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog, wild boar.
Many Asian countries have the same kind of idea so it is hard to say where it originated from...although I do not doubt that China will take the credit.

2009 is the year of the, if you were born 12 years ago or 24 years ago or 36 years ago etc, you are a cow. This may sound kind of lame but it's not. Cows are supposed to be stubborn and that can be a good thing, sometimes...In most Japanese residences you will be able to find a place where they have the year's animal (called "eto") on display. The above picture is my cow.
I don't have all 12 animals yet...I have 6 more to go, but I always buy mine in Hakata because they have great ceramic dolls called Hakata Ningyo. If you are ever in Fukuoka, you should get one. I like my cow.

The thing to my cow's left is called "kagami mochi" (kagami means mirror and mochi is rice cake in Japanese). It is like an offering to God as well as a symbol of good luck.
There are many ways to display your "kagami mochi" and enhance the "luckiness". For example if you place a piece of dried seaweed (kobu) with it, it will represent "yorokobu" which means "to be happy".

It's hard to tell with the picture above but my "kagami mochi" is plastic. However, there are real prepackaged rice cakes inside the plastic mochi. Before these plastic rice cakes came around they used to be real rice cakes...and since you have to leave them out for at least 10 to 12 days, sometimes longer...they tend to So although it may not seem environmentally friendly, it is tummy friendly. We eat the rice cakes on a day (this year was the 11th) called "mochi biraki", which literally means "rice cake opening".

Hopefully this year's cow will work a little harder than last year's mouse...It will be a year of change for many countries, so I hope the cow's stubbornness will be an asset and not something that will just get in the way of good change.

January 19, 2009

Japan is an interesting place.  I've lived here for a long time now and still can't wrap my head around many things.  But is there ever a logical way to explain a country and its ever changing society?  Nothings stays the same forever.  The overall character of a person or country may not change at the root, but they are always growing or evolving in one way or another!

There are many things here that will want to make you bang your head against a wall... but if you take a moment to enjoy the quiet moments in between the chaos, you will find an everlasting sense of peace.