Friday, November 18, 2011

Off to Kyoto; And, Expensive Pieces of Paper

We're heading off to Kyoto tomorrow, for four days of supremely dorky sightseeing. I'm hoping to finish a nice, long post about our last wacky excursion by the time we go, but I can make no guarantees.

In the meantime, I've spent half this week carrying two very expensive pieces of paper in my wallet: shinkansen (bullet train) tickets costing about $250 each. Yes, ticketing on Japanese trains is entirely done entirely with paper. Of course, most people buy their train tickets right before boarding, as trains run so frequently that there's almost always a seat. But this weekend is a major travel holiday, so we wanted to get ours a few days in advance.

Now, I don't know why carrying $500 in train tickets bothers me so much when I regularly carry a lot more than that in cash. (When in Rome.) But, boy, it does!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Weirdness: A Life-Size Inflatable Panda With Boxing Gloves and a Murderous Glint in His Eye

It turns out not a single part of that post title was a lie. Just when you think you understand Japan, it gives you something like this . . . !

Sunday, November 13, 2011


We say this a lot, but it bears repeating: Japan is a great place to eat.

Case in point: mochi, a chewy little cake made from pounding glutinous rice. (You can see me making some here.) Mochi has a variety of uses, from sweet to savory, but is most famous as a dessert snack. 

Daifuku (大福, literally "great fortune") is the most common variety of sweet mochi: it's rice dough, flavored or not, filled with something sweet, like red bean or chestnut. Decent, cheap mochi can be found in almost any grocery store, but the good stuff is a whole lot better and not that much more expensive. 

Nana and I have recently become addicted to a little mochi shop by our apartment that, in addition to the standard fare, has some really unusual stuff on offer.

We'll start with some standards, though: white daifuku with a chestnut filling, a block of sweet chestnut rice jelly (similar recipe, just with much lower rice content), and "black" daifuku (黒大福, kurodaifuku) in which the dough has been flavored with molasses.

And that's just the beginning! Below you can see a sweet, pink, almost sandy-textured bit of mochi designed to evoke the autumn cosmos, plus a red bean daifuku infused with yuzu, a regional citrus fruit more commonly used in spice pastes.
The cosmos one was nothing special, but I love the yuzu one on the left!
Once or twice, Nana and I have even tried some more exotic varieties. For instance, I failed to take a picture of the elusive akajiso daifuku - a red bean rice cake wrapped in red perilla, which is a slightly bitter, leafy herb related to mint.