Sunday, January 3, 2010

Japan Part One: Nagano

Shin-nen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu
Happy New Year!

I wish everyone health and excellence in the year of the tiger.

It feels kind of strange to be back in sunny California and hanging out in my sandals and shorts after spending almost two weeks in bitterly cold Japan. Well, the weather's not really the strangest difference.... Japan NEVER fails to amuse me with its wackiness :)

Speaking of Japan, let's get right into the trip recap, because otherwise, I will just babble on for days.

And let's just get the shocker out of the way first too.
I did not run nor exercise.
The entire time.
Gasp. !!!!

and you know how I feel about that? Perfectly fine! :)


My first wacky photo from Japan is from a family style "Italian" restaurant. It's a photo of the "kid's menu": (oh, and PS- click on any of the photos for a closer look)
The characters depicted are from the popular kids cartoon called "Anpanman" (which means "bean paste filled bread man") All the "good" characters are various breads, and they fight the evil "Baikin man" (Bacteria man). Note how the menu is not even remotely Italian despite the Italian flags stuck on every plate. Nice try. But I thought it's a pretty good example of showing how different portion sizes are. These plates are small; just as it should be.

Another thing that I thought might seem "wacky" to Americans is the gift my aunt and mom received, and were extatic about:

Assortment of Dried Fish

Lots of shiny yummy fishies
Sliced right down the middle. Eat me! Eat me!

Just for size reference. Try to ignore the bandaid on my finger. This is the "hokke" fish.
Most Japanese kitchens come with a special fish broiler. It's a small oven-like, drawer-like thing used exclusively for grilling fish. These dried specimens fit perfectly in the fish broilers, and the meat comes out so tender and juicy and delicious, despite appearances. We eat these kinds of fish with rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anytime in between. I'm a big fan. Yum.....

For the first part of my trip to Japan, I was up in Okaya city, up in Nagano Prefecture. My mother's side of my family reside in Okaya. (The same Nagano where the Olympics were held, but Okaya is nowhere near the Olympics site)

Holy Moly was it cold there. Like, pierce your nostrils cold. This little spoiled CA weather brat is not hearty enough to weather the cold. But recounting my shivering goosebumps does not make for an interesting post. So here are more photos:
My aunt and uncle (My mom's brother)
They own a bakery in Okaya called Happy Ojisan. And Holysdfosyeroweihf sdhfsdioo!!! Their bread is so amazingly wonderful, creative, yummy, doughy, fresh, and delicious. Since we don't have a bakery where I live, I had forgotten what fresh bread tastes like and feels like. Fresh bread just has this springiness, this doughiness, this smell... ahhhh I am salivating just thinking about it.

Since I really had nothing to do in Nagano, and it was too cold to do anything else, I decided to work two days at the bakery.
What???? voluntarily work during holidays?

Yeah.... you can roll your eyes at me. I won't be able to see it. But I am one of those weirdos who would rather work than rest be bored.

I might be a freak, but once you see these breads you might want to work here too:
(From L to R: raisin roll, Chocolate Danish, rolled up cinnamon churro thing, strawberries and cream on pie crust thing)
(from L to R: Sweet Potato flaky roll, boiled egg bun, chicken nugget roll, mini wiener bun. The cube looking bread on the far left is a layered maple flavored pie crust thing)
(From L to R: sprinkled donuts, chocolate glazed roll filled with chocolate cream, Anpanman roll filled with cream, chocolate glazed Christmas tree filled with chocolate cream, snowman rolls filled with cream)
Now all of these might sound fattening. And yes, they definitely aren't "diet foods". But remember that these breads are TINY compared to its American counterparts. And the cream fillings; they each probably contain less than an ounce of cream. And the amount of sugar used is probably 1/3. Like those donuts in the above photo are smaller than the palm of my hand. Do they even make donuts that small in America?

This is the kitchen of the bakery I worked in. I helped make curry for the "curry pan" (Curry filled dough that is deep fried), made tons of sandwiches, sliced loaves upon loaves of bread, made filling for "piroshiki bread" (don't know what it is, but had bamboo shoots, carrots, ground pork, onions, rice noodles, sugar, soy sauce, and other stuff in a deep fried bun), made "yakisoba pan" (hot dog roll filled with noodles) and rolled croissants. It was a lot of fun! The thing about working in a bakery is that it smells so delicious, and you get to eat all the fresh breads you want! I am so extra bummed that there is no bakery within 15 miles of my house. Blasphemy!

Another very Japanese thing is the Pachinko:
There are pachinko parlours EVERYWHERE. It's basically a sort of gambling slot machine thing. You have these little silver balls the shoot out, and you can "kind of" control where they go, if they land in a certain spot, the slot machine part kicks in, and if you get three of the same number, you win a whole bunch of more silver balls. Balls balls balls! (um yeah. sorry. had to slip that in) At the end of your session, you can trade these balls in for prizes. The prizes are actually super legit. And you can also trade balls for cash too. Balls for cash. Cash for balls. Yes. That is how it is. :)
Oh, I am wearing a mask on my face, which sold like pancakes in Japan this year. Everyone and their mom is wearing masks these days, making everyone look like some sort of deranged surgeon. Apparently, wearing these maks will save you from getting swine flu. Now I am not that scared of the swine flu, but I am wearing this mask to save me from the cigarrette smoke. Holy bejeeeesus! Was it smoky in there. Like, no oxygen was in there. Just cigaratte smoke. The mask actually helped a bit, and doubles as a Halloween costume. Perfect. I'll just be "Japanese citizen afraid of swine flu" for Halloween 2010.

Yeah. anyways.

Japan is filled with even more delights:
Exhibit A:
From the mail order catalogue from the train I took from Tokyo to Nagano I present you the
Head Expander???!!!
Please take a good, long, hard look at the above product. (click on photo to enlarge) Even though I can read Japanese, I have NO CLUE IN THE WORLD as to WTF this product is. It sure looks like the guy in the photo is enjoying it. I think it looks absolutely ridonculous. WTF WTF WTF. It costs nearly 100 bucks, too. Seriously. WTF.???

Exhibit B:
From the same catalogue
Forget the Snuggie! Snuggies are for wussies!
This is like the souped up version of the ever so popular snuggie. This full body suit includes pockets for your convenience, a hood to protect your dainty ears, and footsies for those toes of yours. This shit will keep you toasty and sweaty no matter the weather. Oh did I mention it's designed with the fashionista in mind? hahahahah.

And my absolute favorite thing about Nagano:
My cat Skipper!
He is the bestest cat in the world and I love him :)

This is Mikoto, my aunt's cat. All 18 lbs of him. I think he looks like an onigiri.

Next I will post part two of my Japan travels, and will focus on my time in Tokyo. I promise to deliver tons of fun photos and videos as well. Ooohh and a giveaway!!!!!

So yeah. Nothing to do with running or working out. (Don't worry. I have since jumped back onto the wagon) But Japan is such a trippy place. I just had to share with you all.

And again, happy new year!


  1. I am not a cat person really, but i would like to steal your aunt's super fluffy cat! Thanks for sharing your Japan pictures!

  2. OMG I love the recap so far! You are hilarious and the pics included are hysterical!!! Bring on part 2!!!

  3. Lovin the recap and picture! Japan has always been someplace I've wanted to visit, especially after spending time in China! Can't wait to see more.

  4. ha ummm I'd rather work at a BAKERY than just sit around all day treats? Yes pleeeease :) looks delicious!

    Dried fish for gifts? That custom definitely hasn't made it over to America ;) Staying in Japan for now with the head expander and "souped up Snuggie" (lol, nice).....

  5. I love all the pictures and recap of your trip to Japan! It looks like an amazing time :-)

  6. Love all the pictures!! That was really cool. Except the sealed fish looked kind of funny.

  7. I want the head expander. Do you think it would make me smarter? :)

  8. I too LOVE this recap. I have Japan on my places to go before I kick the bucket list. And let's be honest here, it just looks like such a fun place. I am in awe of the full body snuggie. That ish is not messing around! AND I love the "bean paste filled bread man." Reminds me of someone I dated once. LOL!



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