Introductions

Our Research

Food is an integral part of any culture and has a unique way of bringing people together. Through our blog, we plan to explore the ties between historical Japanese sites and the niche cuisine of the areas. The locations we have on our itinerary for this program are well-known if not famous, and many of the classic local dishes may not be considered by the average traveller. With this in mind, the aim of this blog will be to act as a kind of supplementary travel guide and information page in regard to these niche dishes. By associating specific dishes to specific landmarks, other travelers going to Japan will have the opportunity to plan for the must-eat meals and different niche dishes to try during their tour to get the most of their trip and fully immerse themselves in the culture.

When trying the more traditional dishes we hope to gain insight as to the social aspects and etiquette that are tied to the dishes. For example: the correct way to eat them, the proper utensils and condiments, and the way they are served by the host or chef; furthermore, as we focus on specific dishes to each famous historic location we visit, we will research the specific conditions and resources of the area that made these dishes to be a quintessential meal in the area. We will compare the local dishes that are traditional with what has emerged through modernity and subsequent access to different ingredients. We will try anything and as many dishes as possible in each area and provide a report which will break down the flavors, textures and whether we enjoyed the different local dishes.

Who We are

Edmund Ho (1st photo)

Hi my name is Edmund Ho, I’m coming to Japan this May and studying abroad for two weeks in Kanagawa and Tokyo. I’m optimistic and outgoing guy that loves food. I’m also a badminton player and have been playing the sport competitively for about 10 years now. This will be my second time coming to Japan, where I went last year for the first time for vacation on my own. I am fluent in English, Chinese, and Japanese and partially in Korean as well. I am coming to Japan, because I just love the country so much and have so many friends living here. My main reason for coming this time as a student, instead of vacation is because I really want to gain some international student experience. I am graduating soon and this will be my last chance to experience the feel of being an international student. I am looking forward to coming to the country again, playing badminton, eating lots, seeing my friends and in general just having lots of fun in Japan. It’s a country that I truly fell in love with and will make sure to take lots of photos, eat lots of food and enjoy this trip to the fullest. This trip I’ll try my best to immerse into the Japanese country and learn as much as I can while I’m an international student. I plan to travel another week after to Kyoto and Osaka as well. I’m really excited because this may be the last time I come to Japan for a while. But, I’m ready to have fun, Edmund is coming to JAPAN!!!

Emma Phillips (2nd photo)

Hi I’m Emma. I have just completed my third year of my English degree, I have geared my studies of English literature towards post colonial theory. Japan is fairly unique in its extreme rejection of colonial forces from Europe and I am looking forward to learning about the ways they defended their culture and stood up against Christianity. Next year I am participating in a semester abroad in Singapore, a country that was not as successful in defending itself against colonialism. By studying in each country I hope to compare and contrast the ways in which the cultures developed through either rejecting or accepting the ideals of colonial invaders.

Liam McConnell (3rd photo)

My name is Liam, I am currently in my 3rd year of communications and media studies at the university of Calgary, transferring from the new media production and design program at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology). My first interest in Japanese culture came from watching and reading a lot of Anime and Manga, including running a podcast show reviewing good and bad anime (weebs.podbean.com). All the anime I was watched lead me to be interested in other aspects of Japanese culture, specifically the camera industry; which is where I’m focusing with my individual research for the group study course. Another reason for my focus on the camera industry is my love for photography; I’m planning on taking around 3000 photos (conservative estimate) during this trip. I took an introductory Japanese language course this winter in preparation for this study trip, and had a lot of fun learning the basics, so hopefully I will be able to practice my new skills while I’m here. I look forward to posting more on this blog, talk to you then!

Aleksa Zeljic (4th photo)

Hey, my name is Aleksa Zeljic. I just finished my second year as an Urban Studies major at the University of Calgary, and plan to eventually go into architecture and design. This study abroad opportunity was introduced to me by my friend that is going on a different program, and I found a lot of interest in the Japan: Culture and Life program. From a young age, I used Japanese temples, clothing, and scenery as inspiration for my drawings. The unique style and culture of Japan really resonated with me throughout my life, and I knew that I needed to take this study abroad opportunity to better understand Japanese culture. This blog is dedicated to documenting our groups’ experiences in Tokyo and surrounding areas, and having fun on our travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured post

Last Blog Post – Aleksa

Hey everyone, I’m finally back home in Canada and feeling the jet-lag real bad, but I wanted to share my reflection of Japan overall. Japan was such a culture shock, and I don’t think I was able to fully adjust within the couple weeks that I was there. Although it was completely opposite to what I’m used to, I’m so happy to have been thrusted into what feels like another world, and get to get an insight into the fascinating and beautiful country that is Japan.

That being said, lets move on the whats more important: Food. I’m probably going to miss this part of Japan the most, the amazing prize, taste, and convenience of food there. This one day that I’ve been back I’ve been reflecting on all the foods I’ve devoured, and I want to explain which foods stand out in my memory. The first thing I ate in Japan was a melon-flavoured bun, which I’ve probably mentioned in a previous post. This really stood out because there isn’t many melon-flavoured things in Canada, and I later found out that melons are incredibly highly-regarded, and treated as a status symbol in Japan. I’ve encountered a couple luxury fruit stores, with melons held in glass displays, almost as if they are jewelry. Fruit are also given as gifts, which I learned from our trip to the grocery store. I find this so bizarre, as fruit are seen as such mundane foods in Canada, and when I told my friends and family about this they all seems so confused and amazed at the same time.

Another stand-out food moment was the ice-creams in Japan. On my trip, I ate ice-cream everyday, and I blame both my lack of will-power and the availability of ice-cream nearly everywhere that you are. On the street, giant statues of ice-cream remind you of exactly what you are craving, and the prices and variety of flavours are just as irresistible. One in particular soft serve was my favourite, which was the Soda flavour, that comes in a satisfying light-blue colour and a delicious pop flavour that is insanely difficult to describe. Another Ice-cream that I was obsessed with was this long, waffle block, filled with vanilla ice-cream and a hard strip of milk chocolate through the centre. Wow. I swear I ate at least 10 of these, the crisp waffer combined with the soft ice cream and snap of chocolate was just perfect. They sold these at 7/11 for a couple hundred yen, and were always the best dessert after a salty meal. Ice-cream is one of the few dairy products that I noticed that are popular and easy to find. Other products such as cheese and milk are a little harder to come by, and I think it comes from the fact that the Japanese have lived off rice based products, and dairy has never been a staple in much of Japanese cuisine.

I was going to review all the stand-out foods that I’ve encountered, but there are far too many. Most of them being desserts. So I’m going to conclude with my final and favourite dessert from Japan: Baumkuchen. Although it’s a German cake, it was introduced to Japan during World War 1, and became one of the most popular desserts. They can be found in several restaurants and of course, 7/11. These soft, circular pastries are so delicious, and different from any cake I’ve tried before. When you come to Japan, this is definitely a treat you don’t want to miss.

Overall, my time in Japan has been amazing, and I’ve met some incredible people and seen beautiful things with them all. I will definitely be coming back someday soon, and be trying more foods!

Till then, thank you for checking out our blog, and I hope you learned a little more about Japan and it’s lovely relationship with food, through me and my friends Liam, Emma, and Edmund

Bye!

~LEAE Japan

Emma’s Final Blog Post

For my final blog post for this Japanese adventure I just wanted to share some experiences of amazing restaurants and cafes I went to. I really want to share with you guys what you should not miss should you ever make your way over to Japan.

My absolute favourite restaurant I went to was Gonpacchi in Roppongi. Gonpacchi was the restaurant that inspired the infamous scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film Kill Bill vol.1 in which The Bride kills all of Oren Ishi’s henchmen, The Crazy 88’s. I am a huge fan of the Kill Bill films and I could not pass up an opportunity to dine where Tarantino had not only set foot into, but actually was inspired by! Not only was the restaurant’s layout cool, the atmosphere was so lively and amazing I would recommend anyone go there for the experience of seeing it alone. Unfortunately, I did not get to eat there but I did have a couple of incredible cocktails (particularly the grapefruit sour) that were shockingly inexpensive! Gonpacchi is definitely a must if you ever find yourself in Tokyo!

The second place I would to anyone going to Japan is Bakery and Table on lake Ashi. The baked goods were so incredible and I can say this with complete confidence as there were 17 of us who went in there and we were all raving about our pastries. I had the potato and onion bun and the french milk bread. I have been thinking about them for the last week! Though considering my entire group’s ravings about their food I don’t think they make a mediocre thing in that bakery! It was also so beautiful inside with beautifully upholstered booths and an incredible view of the lake.

For sushi I would recommend Genki sushi. It is a little touristy and there didn’t seem to be many locals in there but it was seriously good and so fresh. Plus there was the added fun of ordering whatever you wanted off of the iPad and having it come zooming out to your table on a conveyor belt.

Lastly I would recommend the crepe stand called Mommy and Toys in Harajuku. I had the strawberry and whipped cream crepe and it was a heavenly experience. I don’t know how it happened but I think somehow I managed to stumble upon the best crepe stand in all of Tokyo the first time I got a crepe. Nothing else has measured up and you would seriously be missing out if you skipped it.

Overall the restaurants in Tokyo were great and it would be hard to go wrong. Whether you stumble into a tiny ramen shop down an alley or dine in a trendy restaurant in Harajuku I am sure you will find great food and great baking. Thank you, Tokyo for keeping me so well fed over the last two weeks!

Going Back In Time by Liam McConnell

*edit, June 22nd: I’ve recently discovered that the Golden Gai area is somewhere different in Sinjuku, and is not the place mentioned in this blog post. With that being said, both locations will provide similar experiences and are definitely worth checking out!*

For my next blog post, I am going to talk about some interesting spots in Shinjuku for late night food and drinks. The first is called Golden Gai, also known as ‘piss alley’ or ‘memory lane’. I first discovered the Golden Gai accidentally when walking through Shinjuku looking for a specific camera store; surrounded by the usual bright neon signs and vending machines was a narrow alleyway filled with smoke, people, and lanterns. The first thing I did was take a walk through the entire alleyway to the other side, and during my walk, I felt like I was transported back in time to another era. Golden Gai is lined with cramped Izakayas (Japanese-style bar) where you can see many business people, locals, and tourists grabbing a drink and some grilled skewers. I have since been back to walk through the alleyway to take pictures three different times; it is one of the most photogenic spots I have encountered this entire trip.

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After returning home the night I first experienced the Golden Gai, I started doing some research into the eclectic location. There has been a specific effort by the community to make the alleyway maintain its 1960s atmosphere; much of the nearby area was previously damaged by fires and subsequently rebuilt, but Golden Gai has remained mostly intact. There are also some very unusual food items you can order at certain Izakayas, including roasted salamander, pig testicles, and a still-beating frog’s heart! I did not see any of these items when I was walking back and forth through the alley during my trips, but I wish I had. The cramped nature of the alleyway was not very enticing for me to sit down and have a drink, but I did go to a similar-style of Izakaya a few blocks away called, “Nihon Saisei Sakaba.”

Nihon Saisei Sakaba looks like the average Izakaya, with a vintage aesthetic and a standing bar, but a slight twist comes with the grilled skewers you can order from the menu. Costing only 150 Yen a skewer, you can have an assortment of strange animal parts, such as gullet, rectum, heart, womb, lungs, stomach, etc. My friend and I tried the stomach, womb, heart, and diaphragm skewers, and apart from the texture, they all tasted fairly normal; my favourite would have to be the diaphragm because it was the closest to resembling an ordinary steak! I recommend this place if you want to have an authentic Izakaya experience, with some decent alcohol, and to weird out your friends with the unique food options. The bathroom in the place is also unique because it’s a converted meat freezer…

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It is not necessary to go to such eclectic places as Golden Gai, or Nihon Saisei Sakaba to have a good Izakaya experience; there are plenty of other places worth checking out in Tokyo, and there is a special charm to wandering around and picking a place to just sit down at with no previous knowledge. At the very least I recommend that you take a walk through the Golden Gai in Shinjuku as you will feel as though you just walked through a time machine.

Final Blog post – Edmund

For my final blog, I wanted to talk about my final thoughts, reflection and aspects about the Japanese culture I learned and experienced while living here. Having previously studied Japanese culture and prior experience living here, I still have many aspects I haven’t completely learned yet. It’s a country completely different from Canada in what it offers, culture, food and more. The people in Japan, I feel they grew up learning about discipline, rules and cultural customs when they were little. These were strongly enforced in them and as they grew up, it slowly became part of their lives. The rules of never being late, separating the garbage, cleaning their own places, walking on the left side of the road and standing on the left side of the escalator. These are all but some of the rules and customs they learned and grow up following. Its different in Canada in the aspect where were freer to do what ever we want. As I stay an studied longer here, these cultural aspects slowly began to embed into my body and became natural habits for me as well. In which I would bow when people bow to me, I would naturally say arigatou, I would walk on the left side, and I would natural separate my trash into specific sections. As I continued to stay and study here, their cultural norms became more normal for me and they were soon part of my life. I feel Japanese people have been continuing this for the long-life span of their lives and this naturally becomes a norm for them.

I also wanted to emphasize on how nice and friend Japanese people generally are. No matter where I go, I look Japanese however ask I watch my classmates ask for assistance in English. Japanese people always try their best to aid and service. Even during my short time at the international dormitory, I could meet lots of friends of different culture and backgrounds. Some were English major, economics, English literature and more. Each of these students had their own unique characteristics, but all of them would always aid or help if I asked. I felt this was amazing and admirable. In Canada were a friendly country, but here I feel everyone is open and easy to talk to and its easy becoming friends with everyone. I feel Japanese people accept and welcomes everyone to their country. Of course its important to understand and learn their background culture too, however it won’t take long to adapt if you try.

The Prince (Hotel) and the Pauper… of Food

Hey! It’s Aleksa, these last few days in Japan have been so interesting food-wise. In the mornings, I’ve been getting up earlier and getting more than just the convenience store snacks for breakfast, I’ve been keen on getting real, and filling meals. Many sit down restaurants have an elements of “fast food” to them, while still maintaining restaurant quality food. The other day, I went to a place that requires you to order the meal from a ticket machine, then give the ticket to the restaurant worker, and then wait a short amount of time for your delicious meal to arrive. Some days when I don’t have the energy to take the train for some great food, I will find some amazing little places around our station. These hidden gems have quite similar styles of food, but if you look hard enough, you can find some unique meals. I went to a tiny, ticket-machine restaurant, without a single English word in sight, so I took a chance and picked a 500 yen meal, not knowing what to expect. After my meal arrived after about 5 or so minutes, I was impressed with the presentation. It was a bowl with rice, topped with slices of pork, with onions and a delicious garlic sauce.

For something that could be labeled as “fast food,” this meal really was worth the price. The serving size was decent, and the quality of the food was amazing. The restaurant has a quaint atmosphere, with an adorable woman working with her two sons, none of them spoke any English and it was perfectly okay.

Moving on to something a little more upscale, our group was taken to the Prince Hotel Tokyo to try an all-you-can-eat buffet. We were greeted with a lavish lobby area, and suited-up guards, so I knew this meal was going to be great. I felt a little under-dressed, as I looked as if I was dressed up as a “tourist” at a Halloween party. Nonetheless, I was excited to try this meal, even if I didn’t look like I belonged in this exquisite setting. The foods looked too beautiful to eat, I passed through the buffet just in awe of how lovely the presentation of it all was. I started off with something I don’y usually ever eat, salad. I ate at least 3 bowls of salad, and I don’t regret the multiple scoops of sesame dressing for each bowl. Moving on to the main course, with meats of all varieties, sides, seafood, small fancy appetizers, pretty much everything and anything was at this buffet. All of the food was divine, there was not a single thing I tried that I didn’t like, even the foods I’m not particularly a fan of usually. The dessert was also incredible, with French macarons, cakes, ice-creams, cookies, everything. Although the taste was great, the presentation and beauty of the food from the buffet was just as good.

When comparing these two meals, it is obvious that the buffet would cost more, considering the presentation, service, flavour, etc… But, the small restaurant with the ticket-machine and nice service, both eating experiences are on the same level for me. There is something about a cheap, quality meal with a great atmosphere that cannot be beat by luxury buffet.

A Reflection on 2 Weeks of Japanese Cuisine

Hey guys, its Emma here! I thought that I loved Japanese food and junk food and that I could live on those two things alone for the rest of my life. However, over the last week I have really slowed my roll on those kinds of foods. While I think its amazing that you can get decently good quality food at an excellent price at convenience stores like 711 and FamilyMart I don’t think I have ever wanted to eat a bowl of fresh vegetables so badly in my entire life. I am a little bit surprised as to how few vegetables there seem to be in the Japanese diet. The Japanese diet is renowned for being one of the healthiest diets in the world and the people of Japan have some of the longest life expectancy in the world which is a phenomenon that is directly associated with their diet. Furthermore, in my individual research on beauty in Japan many beauty bloggers chock the beautiful skin of Japanese women to a healthy diet with lots of vegetables like broccoli as well as lots of fish. I don’t think I have seen a single head of broccoli since I have arrived here, so I am a little bit flabbergasted as to where these women are supposedly finding all of these vegetables. I also feel the most bloated I think I have ever felt in my entire life. I don’t understand how these women are so petite with such a carb heavy diet.
Now that the end of the group study portion of my time in Japan is reaching its end I really understand what the international office was warning us about in our pre departure health and safety seminar. When Katherine warned us that there would be ups and downs and a levelling out I didn’t completely believe her. Having traveled in a group in the past I was sure I was immune to whatever phenomenon she was describing. However, I did not expect to become this disenchanted with Japanese food! I can’t recall if that was something she warned us about or not but I can honestly say I have had my fill of ramen, sushi and 711 food.
One thing I am surprised about is that I was not nearly as adventurous in my eating habits as I had set out to be. I wanted to try whatever strange, but local cuisine was available to me throughout this trip and I kind of let myself down. Though I started the trip quite strong, eager to try everything for the last few days all I have been wanting to eat is salad. I guess that is just reflective of the way in which as you settle into a culture it becomes slightly less exciting and highlights the things from home that are really important to you. While I am excited to continue on my adventure through Japan I am thankful for the clarity that travel has brought me in regards to what I love about home.

Stay tuned for when I get back into the saddle of weird food!

Cheers,

Emma

The Versatility of Rice by Liam McConnell

Hello again, for this blog post I will be talking about rice; specifically, it’s versatility and many different used in Japanese food. I was inspired to choose this topic after trying Mochi for the first time at a traditional tea ceremony. Rice is a very important food for many cultures around the world; sometimes it is the main feature of a dish, and sometimes it is acting as the foundation for the meal.dsf8614.jpg

Most of the rice I have had during my trip here has been Japonica rice, which is the main rice used in Japan, Korea, and China. This kind of rice is known for its short grains and sticky texture, which makes it easier to pick up with chopsticks. Sushi, the titular Japanese dish, would not be as enjoyable to eat were it not for the rice’s ability to stick together. Mochi, on the other hand, is made of glutinous rice, which is even stickier that its relative Japonica rice. The traditional process through which Mochi is made, called Mochitsuki is particularly entertaining; it involves 2 people shouting rhythms to coordinate one pounding the mocha with a wooden hammer, and the other quickly moves his hands to flip the paste over. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to witness this on this group study program, but there are some entertaining videos you can find online that I encourage you to check out.535px-Making_mochi_with_an_Usu_and_Kine

Mochi can be used for a variety of dishes, such as soup, confectionery, and ice cream; this reflects on the overall versatility of rice. Potatoes are the only item used regularly in western food that I can draw a comparison to rice with because they can be used in many different dishes. Every Japanese meal I’ve had during my trip, with the exception of ramen, has been served with rice. It acts as a nice compliment to any dish, whether it is cooked together with main ingredients, or just on the side. Rice is a staple in Japan, as well as the majority of Asian countries, and many other parts of the world.

Rice isn’t only used as food though, there is also the popular alcoholic beverage Sake. During the symposium we had from Senshu University students, Midori gave my table a very informative presentation on the different kinds of Sake, and how they should be consumed to ensure the best experience of flavour. Sake tends to be served at room temperature, chilled, or warmed in porcelain, depending on the dish and/or occasion, and the flavour can range from sweet to savoury. Before this trip I had only tried Sake a couple of times in Alberta, and I can’t say I enjoyed it too much, but the Sake I’ve had here is Japan has given me a new thirst for the beverage; especially when served chilled!

Learning more about torii and Japanese food style II – Edmund Ho

Blog Post 2

Following my first post, I want to continue to focus on my topic on the torii specifically focusing on the Hakone torii. The adventure to Hakone was tiring, in which we had to take a train, gondola, cable car, bus and a boat to arrive at our destination. The entire adventure took us approximately six hours from our dormitory to arrive at the location. However, the view that awaited us was just breath taking. It was a country side in which a giant lake was in the middle and was surrounded by mountains and forests of trees. Among this lake there like a torii gate standing on its own alone the shore side. This is what is known as the famous Hakone torii. It’s part of the Myojin torii family that is classified as a Ryobu torii. The design of it is like other torii, except it sizes is quite large and is supported by pillars on the sides. I felt this torii gave off a real mysterious feel, since across this gate lied a huge lake that was just breathtaking. I had to take 1-2 minutes to look up and truly appreciate the beauty of this. I felt the color and how the torii’s isolation in the mountain really gave off a spiritual and mysterious feeling as if it wasn’t part of this world. It was truly a view and landmark sight that I won’t forget ever soon.

Continue to the second part of my other posts of focusing on the unique aspect of Japanese food. During my trip to Hakone, I could experience a more traditional style of dinner meal. This meal consisted of shiitake, sardines, miso soup, tempera, rice, pudding, hamburger steak and salad. Most of my classmates weren’t very satisfied with meal due to the taste and it being a cold form of meal. But coming from a traditional Chinese family, the meal was quite enjoyable and gave off a very traditional feel to it. I also learned more about the traditional concept of the placement of the chop sticks and food. The soup is usually placed on the right side, while the rice is placed on the left side. Lastly the chop sticks are placed directly in front you. The meal is then started with “Itadakimasu,” and when finished with “Gochisosama Deshita.” Following the whole traditional pathway and order for eating the food was a interesting and learning experience. Its different from Canadian culture in which we just eat when we want, at times we eat before other people, eat in front of tv and just leave when we finish. I feel that Japanese people are really disciplined, and have a clear distinct path and order for how they do things. These habits and customs become a part of their culture and daily lives.

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