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Kouyou Destinations

dd

In Japan, the Koyou season is a time where the locals take the time out to enjoy the beauty of the autumn by going on nature hikes with friends and family, spending time at parks and eating at restaurants and cafes with good views of the colourful foliage.

Unlike the spring season’s Cherry Blossoms, which bring about festivals and celebration, the low key-Kouyou is a time for quiet appreciation. Aside from the activities listed above, the Japanese also have traditional snacks which only appear during this time of year. The goheimochi is one such treat, which are bunches of sticky rice broiled on sticks – sort of like a sweet yakitori.

Yes, the Kouyou season in Japan is a wonderful time. Here are some of the best places around the country to enjoy the stunning landscapes:

1. Hakone (best in November)

2. Nikko (best at the end of October)

3. Kyoto (best in November)

4. Kamakura (best at the end of November)

[tags]Kouyou, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto[/tags]

Kouyou Season in Tokyo

dd

As I talked about in my last post, seeing Japan in the autumn is an experience not to be missed. Indeed, many tourists as well as locals, plan a “kouyou” trip for this precise reason, which can mean that the prime sightseeing destinations at this time of the year can become overcrowded.

Planning ahead and getting a headstart before the crowds arrive is key here, and weekends can become even more hectic, with the traffic jams reaching gridlock. But if you find yourself in Tokyo or any other big city during the kouyou season, a trip out of town is not always necessary to catch a glimpse of the changing colours. In fact, a simple stroll to the nearest park, which often has a good range of trees, can be enough.

In Tokyo, the Inokashira Koen and the Hibiya Koen are good choices. The Inokashira Koen was the first park opened to the public in 1917, and bears the same name as the train station it lies adjacent to. The Hibiya Koen, on the other hand, near the Kasumigaseki subway station, is more western in style, posessing a wide range of trees whose colours change during the kouyou. Other places worth visiting is the Jingu Gaien Street near the Meiji Kaigakan art museum, the Rikugien, and the the Hama-Rikyu garden.

[tags]Tkyo, Kouyou, Autumn Tokyo, Tokyo travel[/tags]

Kouyou Season

dd

After a hot and humid summer comes the warm, beautiful glow of the Japanese autumn, one of the best times to travel to the country to see its natural beauty through the seasonal colours.

The “Kouyou” season in Japan, which comes in October and November is literally translated into red leaves indicative of the famous Japanese maple tree or “momiji”.

All over the country, establishments are decorated with red paper garlands and travel agencies have posters of grand autumnal landscapes plastered on their shop windows. Leaves of varying shapes take on the colours of a Japanese autumn, with the most famous Kouyou trees being the bright red Japanese maple, rich golden lacquer and beech and the sunny yellow gingko.

Unlike the internationally-reknowned Cherry Blossom season, which occurs in the spring and lasts only for fleeting periods to about a week, the autumnal season is longer, and appreciated in a quiet way by the locals without the fanfare of the cherry blossom festivities.

The dazzling array of colours and their varying intensities occur according to the altitude and speed of climate change. For instance, the richest colours appear in places where the temperature has dropped at rapid rates, while slower drops in temperature create less-intensely coloured leaves.

[tags]Japan, seasons, autumn, Japanese maple[/tags]

Robot Toys For The Grownups

ss

Is there a little boy in the world who isn’t fascinated by robots? Probably not, but
with Japan‘s declining population, where the people are getting older, Japanese toymakers are faced with a future where the demand for toys could be in fatal decline simply because of the lack of children.

So, companies like Tomy, one of Japan‘s leading toymakers have stepped up their production on toys which not only will appeal to the under 12’s, but to grown-ups as well. Or the Otaku at least, you know, the nerds.

For instance, Tomy’s new robot, the i-SOBOT was developed with these very young men in mind, rather than the 7-year-old dressed in Miki House.

Small enough to fit in a lunchbox, the 165-mm (6.5 inch) tall robot weighs in just 350 grams (12.3 ounce) and is, according to Tomy, the world’s smallest two-legged walking robot. With a price tag of around $260, its not surprising that an ordinary parent won’t bite (making the Otaku more likely consumers), unless you’re the Beckhams, that is.

Also to be unveiled in 2007 is a modernized version of the rather bulky “Omnibot” robots from the 80’s, now considered vintage bots. The spruced up models now also dance, play musical instruments (percussion), work-out and stand up on its own should Rover knock him down.

[tags]Japanese toys,Tomy, robots, otaku[/tags]

Japanese Family Recipes For Westerners

dd

There are few people in the western world who have not tried and consequently fallen in love with Japanese food. I’m not talking about the high-brow stuff of celebrity chefs (or indeed, of obscure dining establishments in Tokyo), but the simple family fare you can find in practically every major city in the world. Tempura, sushi (the california maki/tamago kind rather than the puffer fish), chicken teriyaki, beef sukiyaki and the simple oyakudon (which incidentally was served in my school cafeteria, which was NOT anywhere close to Japan).

For the cook in the home kitchen who has a hungry family with a yen for Japanese food (pardon the pun), the cookbook Japanese Family-Style Recipes by Hiroko Urakami is a favourite choice. With over 50 recipes for all the family to enjoy, backed up by a good-quality photo with every dish, the cookbook can inspire and teach even the most inexperienced with Japanese cuisine.

According to Tokyo-nativeHiroko Urakami, ” A characteristic Japanese family meal, includes a main dish of fish or meat, a side dish of braised vegetables, and a vinegared salad, accompanied by steamed rice and soup.

And he follows this through in this delightful and easy-to-follow cookbook with what its fans claim have fool-proof recipes which can please even the native Japanese. There are also a good number of substitutions for the Western kitchen, and its short and clear instructions demystify what many in the west believe Japanese cooking to be – perfectionist, time-consuming and much about the detail and presentation.

[tags]Japanese food, Japanese family cooking, Japanese cookbook[/tags]

Minding Your Ohashi Etiquette

dd

There is a proper way to use your “ohashi” or chopsticks in Japan, and knowing the correct do’s and don’ts when it comes to etiquette is imperative when in a Japanese dining setting.

Firstly, one has to have good command of the proper way to hold chopsticks . For westerners, this may take some practice, but as with all things, practice makes perfect!

Here are the three basic steps:

1. Hold the upper chopstick with the index finger, the middle finger, and the thumb.

2. Put the other chopstick between the bottom of the thumb and the tip of the ring finger.

3. Move the upper chopstick only when you pick up food.

Do’s:

* Set pairs of chopsticks next to the table’s edge, tapered ends to the left, at the front.
* When using chopstick holders (ohashi-oki’s) place them below the tapered ends.

* Turn your chopsticks around when you want to pick up food from a shared dish (family style eating) so as not to “share” your saliva with the other diners.

* When you finished using disposable chopsticks (wari-bashi), put them back in the bag and fold the bag in half. This indicates that they are used.

Don’t Ever:

* Stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice – it has morbid connotations of offerings for the dead.

* Pierce your food with the stick ala campfire cooking or make a kebab

* Pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. More connotations here with Japanese funereal customs involving bones.

* Wave you chopsticks above plates of food.

* Pick up a bowl or cup with the hand that is holding your chopsticks.

* Suck your chopsticks.

* Passing food from your chopsticks to somebody else’s chopsticks.

* Holding your chopsticks with five fingers is VERY impolite in Japan.

[tags]Japanese food, Ohashi, chopsticks etiquetts, chopsticks[/tags]

The Perfect Ramen

ss

Instant noodles aside, those who have the time and the resources should make the effort to head to the nearest decent ramen house and ask for a bowl. Its food for the soul! And, I might add, Japan‘s healthy “fast food”. By that I mean the “real” stuff, no disrespect to Mr. Ando.

For those handy in the kitchen,(and far from the many stalls and ramen houses of Japan) conjouring up a pot or bowl of this steaming hot, flavourful stuff should be attempted at home. The secret here, as any good chef will tell you, is in the stock. Ramen chefs in Japan are known to undergo years of training to master the art of the soup, and each ramen shop has its own special recipe.

There are several kinds of ramen, which are categorised by their type of stock. The “salt” (shio), “soy sauce” (shoyu),”pork” (tonkotsu) and miso.

Heres a great recipe I found, written by one named “Richard”, who like me, agrees that a bowl of authentically good ramen is not easy to find outside of Japan. His recipe is based on the ramen in Hokkaido, where miso is the popular base used.

There are four elements: Soup, Base, Noodles, and Toppings.

1. The soup is prepared beforehand.
2. Make the base, add to bowl.
3. Prepare the toppings.
4. Heat the soup and prepare the noodles.
5. Add the hot soup to the bowl and mix, add the noodles.
6. Quickly fry the toppings that need to be cooked and add them to the the bowl.
7. Add the uncooked toppings and serve.

Soup

In a large soup kettle add some uncooked chicken and/or pork bones, some fresk ginger shopped into chunks, and some greens like bok choy, chinese cabbage and/or spring onions. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 1-2 hours. Skim off the foam occasionally. Add salt to taste. Strain. Freeze and use for ramen, various soups and sauces.

The flavour may come from the base, but the body comes from the soup. If the worst comes to the worst, you can use water, or water flavoured with instant chicken stock, but for the real deal, you have to make your own soup stock.

Base

This is a paste of miso and flavourings that is the defining taste of miso ramen, so although it is fairly non-critical in terms of amounts and substitutions, it must be kept within certain bounds. Heat a tablespoon of cooking oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil and fry some minced garlic over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of miso paste and 2T soy sauce. Add chili oil or chopped dried red chili peppers to taste. Cook over low heat for about a few minutes.

Noodles

There is some choice here. Chinese dried egg noodles work pretty well, but you can also buy fresh ramen noodles in some supermarkets or better yet make them yourself with a pasta maker. (Flour, egg, water) I’m also comfortable using dried udon noodles. Limit the use of instant noodles is to life and death circumstances only. Whichever, the finish is the same: poor the noodles into a sieve or colander, and rinse with boiling water. Drain and serve. The rincing part is to wash off the starch, and it is important.

[tags]Japanese food, ramen, recipe[/tags]

The Japanese Instant Noodle Inventor

dd

Earlier this month, Momofuku Ando, the “Father” of instant ramen passed away after suffering a heart attack after eating his famous chicken ramen with his employees . At 96, the inventor of the dish that sustains students in universities all over the world was the chairman of Nissin Foods Corporation, which he founded.

Nissin Food Products, was started by Mr.Ando in 1948 as a means to help feed the war-torn people of Japan post WW2. His invention, the
“Chicken Ramen”, which was the first instant noodle in the world, was introduced in 1958 and became a huge success.

The famous “Pot Noodle” debuted in 1971 and the rest is history. In 1999, The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum opened in Ikeda City, western Japan paying tribute to this remarkable inventions.

The photo above shows Mr.Ando with his noodle invention for astronauts. He was showing off the “Space Ram” at the Instant Noodle Museum in Osaka 2005, a project he was very keen on. The first “space noodle” was brought aboard the space shuttle “Discovery” on the 26th by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

[tags]Japanese food, ramen, inventions, instant noodles, Momofuku Ando[/tags]

Global Conservation Wins 2006 Japan Prize

dd

With so much in the news about the dire situation our planet faces in terms of global warming, it was fitting that the Japan Prize for 2006 was awarded precisely in this terse area. British scientist, Peter Ashton, who specialises in asian forestry with a vision to promote the harmonious co-exsistence of humans and nature, won this year’s 50 million yen prize this January in Tokyo for his project which observed 3 million trees and 6,000 species in tropical forests around the world.

Dr. Ashton, who is a professor of forestry at Harvard University, is also the forest botanical advisor to the Sultan of Brunei’s government. Aside from authoring over 200 articles and several books on forestry, Dr.Ashton has already won awards for his achievements such as
the Sultan Qaboos of Oman Prize (through UNESCO), for research and training for improved management of tropical forests with his Sri Lankan colleagues, and the Environmental Merit Award of the Environmental Protection Agency, for significant efforts in conservation in New England and Asia.

Kunio Iwatsuki, panel chairman of the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan commented:

“Dr. Ashton’s research may form the basis of policy-making to optimize usage of forests by local people and enhance the sustainability of forest eco-systems……Younger people are concerned with conservation of the environment and over time harmonious co-existence will become an established field in its own right…”

[tags]Japan Prize, Conservation, Environment, Peter Ashton[/tags]

The Japan Prize

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The Japan Prize is Japan’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, and in the field of science at least is considered by many to be second only to the esteemed Nobel. First given in 1995, it is Japan’s way to award and honour “significant and revolutionary achievements of originality” in science and technology “for the peace and prosperity of mankind.”

The prestigious award is given by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan, for original and outstanding achievements in the advancement of science and technology, which are of benefit to peace for all mankind. Prize laureates win a cash prize of 50 million yen
(about $470,000.), as well as a certificate and medal of distinction.

Like the Nobel, there is no distinction made to laureates in concern to race, profession, or gender, except that they must be living. Also, a single person or a small group is eligable for the prize. Unlike the Nobel, who award a wider range of topics, from peace to literature, the Japan Prize is just awarded for achievements in Science and Technology (of benefit to peace).

Each January, the laureates are announced and the ceremony takes place during “Japan Prize Week”. The week highlights a number of activities centering on the theme, with academic lectures and so forth. The presentation ceremony itself is presided over by the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the Prime Minister and attended by eminent figures from around the world.
 

[tags]Japan Prize, awards, science and technology[/tags]