Monthly Archives: April 2013

Food Adventures!

Since arriving in Japan I’ve been eating out a lot! Every new friend I make seems to result in another lunch date or dinner date. Some of the girls in my printmaking class have even been making food for me, which has been absolutely lovely!

Most of these foods, however, I’ve already experienced to some degree in Australia, such as sushi, katsu curry, udon, etc… The basics of everyday Japanese cooking. But there are also the slightly stranger foods…

Here’s the beginning of my Japanese food Adventures:

1. Deep fried Chicken Gristle

Yep. You heard right. Gristle.
I had this out one night with a bunch of the other exchange students and 3 Japanese people from our school. They took us to this really cool bar just off Shijo-dori where the walls were covered in posters and drawings, and you had to take your shoes off to sit down (a fairly common occurrence in Japan). As the menu was entirely in Japanese, we let the 2 Japanese guys order for us. The first thing that comes out is some simple tofu with spring onion on top. Fresh and delicious – a nice start to the meal. Next came out this delicious looking plate of battered deep-fried morsels – looking somewhat like KFC’s popcorn chicken. I was correct in assuming it was chicken… but not a part I would’ve expected… When we asked the guys what it was they didn’t know the correct word, so they just kept saying “joints”, which made us first assume it was bone marrow of some kind. Then we ate it… It was very crunchy, but still with a slightly gummy texture (which made it very difficult to break down), and we very soon realized it was not marrow, but the actual joints at the end of the chicken bones – the slightly transparent white bit everyone throws away. In all honesty it wasn’t that bad. The flavor of the batter was great, but the gristle didn’t taste like much, and the texture was not exactly pleasant.
My rating: 4/10

Here’s the bar.
(I apologize for this terrible photograph. Didn’t have my good camera on me)


2. Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) sushi

Everyone I’ve talked to who has tried sea urchin has only ever had negative things to say about it, so when this was ordered for us at a sushi place and I finally realized what it was, I’ll admit even the iron-stomached Casey was a little apprehensive… And I began to suspect our two new Japanese friends were playing a bit of a practical joke on us. But having never been the kind of person to turn down a meal, Nea and I looked at each other… counted down from 3… and took a bite.
At first it seemed a little slimy – kind of like melted butter – and as I chewed I kept waiting for a hit of some strong flavor to invade my taste buds. But it never happened. Sea Urchin really does have a very subtle flavor, and is not fishy at all like I was expecting. Really I think it’s more of the texture that people here enjoy, the buttery creaminess of it, and of course the rarity of it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you are going to eat it I suggest making sure it’s as fresh as possible. From what I hear this is supposed to be incredibly important. The sushi place we went to was particularly good in my experience as well, so I’m assuming the uni I had was above average in quality.
My Rating: 7/10

Here’s a photo of our new friends at the sushi place. I wonder what they’re gonna make us eat next…
(Once again I apologize for the dodgy photo)


3. Yuzu Marmalade

This one has been on my bucket list for sometime now, and I’m very happy to say I can officially cross it off. For those of you who don’t know, Yuzu is a citrus fruit grown mainly in Eastern Asia, that tastes somewhat like a mixture of lemon, grapefruit and mandarin. It is practically impossible to find in Australia, as it doesn’t keep very well during travel, and as of yet there are only a couple of small growers in Australia that I can find. Pretty much if you want it in Aus you have to grow it yourself, or buy the tiny bottles of juice for exorbitant amounts of money.
How I came across this was last week we had a welcome party in my class for new students (me and two other students), so our classmates brought heaps of treats for us! My good friend Ririko made an amazing sweet-potato cheesecake (which I wish I got a photo of), and another girl made what they call “Dry Curry” – like a fried rice but with little bits of meat and curry absorbed into it. It was all very delicious! But sitting there quietly in a little jar was homemade yuzu marmalade, made by the mother of Atsuko, another friend from my class.
Now yuzu is quite bitter and sour, so instead of just eating it on its own, Atsuko suggested putting some chocolate spread (also made by her mum) on a biscuit, then placing a small amount of yuzu on top.
All I can say is it was a fantastic combination, and I was not the only one who thought so.
Atsuko was so happy to see how excited I was she gave me the rest of the jar! And the chocolate spread along with it! I wanted to cry I was so happy. Been snacking on it ever since. It is definitely my favourite food discovery so far. (Atsuko also told me how to make it into a drink. Will be trying that one next time)
My rating: 10/10

And now for a decent photo! FINALLY


Kyoto City – a place where humans and nature collide

One thing that strikes me every time I come to Japan is the way the people here have managed to maintain a strong appreciation for nature and tradition, while living in such a fast-paced modern society. It’s something a lot of foreigners notice while traveling through Japan, and is perhaps at it’s most noticeable in Kyoto – the previous capital city, which has become a tourist hot-spot in recent years for it’s beauty and rich history.
This small city is filled with temples, shrines, vending machines, computers, trains, bamboo forrests, earthquakes, bikes, pachinko parlours, etc… You may be walking through a busy street downtown and suddenly find yourself inside a temple with incense and praying visitors. It can be quite surreal standing in front of a place like this, knowing that on your way out you’ll most likely be greeted by a vending machine, eagerly awaiting its’ next customer.

Now this all sounds a little sad, and I thought so too in the beginning. But in the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve been noticing just how carefully these things are navigated and arranged, and just how much the Japanese enjoy keeping a little touch of nature and tradition in their lives. For example, when you go to a temple, normally the vending machines are tucked away in their own separate buildings, or are only viewable on the way out, so as not to ruin the atmosphere. I’ve also noticed a lot of flower shops around the place, and small apartments covered from head-to-toe in pot-plants.

For my first project here in Japan, I’ve been documenting these small understated places and moments. Here are a few I’ve got so far:





Note: These are all digital shots, but I’m waiting on the film versions to be developed. Hopefully they work out!

Let me know what you think! Suggestions are always appreciated.

A very strange cafe and an even stranger restaurant…

Japan is known for it’s weird and whacky themed cafes and restaurants, so it was only natural that I go to at least a few during my stay here! I’ve only been here two weeks and already I’ve been to a Neko (cat) Cafe and the Ninja Kyoto restaurant. As these places tend to be tourist hot-spots, I assumed they would be severely overpriced and likely of bad quality… But I thought I’d give them a shot anyway…

And oh boy am I’m glad I did! The neko cafe was warm, clean and inviting – 800 yen to sit with the cats for one hour, and 200 yen per beverage (and apparently you can find even cheaper places than the one I went to!) The only real downside was that the cats weren’t particularly playful… and instead of stroking them or scratching them we were advised to hit them on the backside, and not softly… which was possibly a little too strange for some of us neko-cafe-newbies to handle. But on the plus side, I got some pretty adorable photos!

NekoCafe_20130407_00011NekoCafe_20130407_007335NekoCafe_20130407_005526 NekoCafe_20130407_005425NekoCafe_20130407_00156NekoCafe_20130407_002111NekoCafe_20130407_006732NekoCafe_20130407_007837NekoCafe_20130407_007636NekoCafe_20130407_00145 NekoCafe_20130407_003016 NekoCafe_20130407_00134 NekoCafe_20130407_00092
Oh, and at the end of our stay they handed out little business cards to us that were PERSONALISED TO EACH OF THE CATS. That way if you had a favourite you could remember it for next time. Genious!

Here are a few pointers for visiting a neko cafe such as this:
1. Take off your shoes before entering. Normally they supply you with a locker to put your other possessions in so don’t worry – your goods are safe! Just don’t let one of the cats swallow the key…
2. Wash your hands at the supplied basin before entering, and then again after exiting.
3. Do not wake sleeping cats or pick up the cats! If they don’t want to be patted don’t force them too much. You just need to relax and enjoy their company.
4. Do not speak too loudly in the cafe! It will depend on where you go, but if it is a quiet room please try to maintain the peace. Many people come to these places to relax, so it’s nice to be as respectful as possible.
5. Feel free to take photos if the place allows it, but do not use flash. And be aware that chunky cameras can look rather intimidating to the cats, so don’t overdo it or they may avoid you.

Ok, that’s all for the neko cafe! Now onto the Ninja Restaurant!

Around Kyoto_20130415_00092

I had been to this place once before on a school trip to Kyoto a couple of years back, and I always had fond memories of it. Some friends and I at the time simply stumbled upon it one night, and we were lucky enough to get a table!
First thing to know is that there’s three dining options here. There’s the buffet to the left, the a la carte restaurant in the middle, and from what I could gather a shabu shabu dining area to the right (with black ninja crepes!!). The main attraction here I believe is the a la carte option, which we went with. The names were just too crazy to resist! And the staff were just too adorable in their ninja outfits!

Out the front of the restaurant:

Around Kyoto_20130415_00081Around Kyoto_20130415_00166 Around Kyoto_20130415_00123

The food: (Seriously you’ve got to read the menu!)

Around Kyoto_20130415_002110 Around Kyoto_20130415_002211 Around Kyoto_20130415_002312 Around Kyoto_20130415_002713 Around Kyoto_20130415_002814 Around Kyoto_20130415_003218 Around Kyoto_20130415_003117 Around Kyoto_20130415_002915

Us and the staff:

Ninja Pose! (me above and emma below)Around Kyoto_20130415_00199 Around Kyoto_20130415_00188 Our super-cool ninja magician (kids would love it here!)

Around Kyoto_20130415_003016Around Kyoto_20130415_003319

Something that must be said about this place is how amazing the staff are. Sometimes their English isn’t the best, but they always apologize and try their hardest to give you an enjoyable experience. The lady in the image above even ran half way down the street after we left the store just to show us this scroll. I just wanted to give her a hug it was so adorable! And actually the food was very affordable considering how much service you get, and it was darn tasty too! I’m not sure how I feel about mayonnaise on pizza though… but it was certainly an interesting experience and definitely one you should try for yourself! I think all up we got an alcoholic beverage each, shared an entree, had a main each and then a dessert each and it only cost 3500 yen each. (In Australia you pay that kind of price for a main and a drink!) Although we didn’t do it this time, I would recommend doing a course menu, in which you get a sample of many of the dishes on offer (minimum 2 ppl). It seems to be very good value for money, especially if you’re catering for a group. (This place would be amazing for birthday parties! Lots of privacy with you own booths too.)
I will definitely be going back before my exchange is over.

The Journey Begins…

For the next four months I’m going to be studying as an exchange student at Kyoto Seika University. Coming from Australia with little knowledge of the Japanese language is going to be difficult enough, but this will also be my first time living independently of my parents. It is going to be quite an adventure, with many challenges to tackle along the way. Hopefully my experiences will help others looking to travel here or participate exchange to this wonderful and wacky country…

Ready to explore Kyoto!

Ready to explore Kyoto!

I’ve only been here 4 nights and already it’s beginning to feel like home. There are heaps of other foreign students here and so far they’ve all been lovely. I’ve already met a couple of my classmates in the printmaking department at the university, and even though their English wasn’t great, they tried their absolute best to help me out and get to know me. I hope everyone will be like this when I start classes next week!

Fellow exchange student Emma. She's from the UK.

Fellow exchange student Emma. She’s from the UK.

In the meantime I’ve been exploring my local area with the other exchange girls from my dorm. We’re staying in Iwakura, in the Northern region of Kyoto. It’s a very scenic place, with cherry blossoms and bamboo groves everywhere. Actually there’s a mountain out the back of the dorm building and a path that leads through the forrest to the university. It’s absolutely beautiful! And apparently there are monkeys!

The river near my dorm

The river near my dorm

I’m still trying to settle in properly at the moment, but when I do I’ll try to blog more.
And if there’s anything you’d like to know about Kyoto, Japan, going on exchange, etc… Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll help if I can!