Japanese Shave Ice

Melon Kakigori with Milk Ice Cream - Kanazawa, Japan.

Snow Cones can be refreshing on a hot day, but I’m usually disappointed by hard, course ice that lets all the syrup slide straight to the bottom of the paper cone. In Japan, I found Kakigōri (かき氷), or shave ice – a fabulous dessert which made me reconsider the potential of the snow cone.

Served not only at carnivals and roadside stands but also in nice restaurants alongside ice cream and cakes, most of the shaved ice in Japan is similar in texture to American snow cones, if a bit softer and more like, well, fresh snow. But at least once, in Nikko, I found shave ice that seemed to literally have been shaved from a block – it was as smooth as ice cream, and had a delightful crispness.

Unbelievable Shave Ice in Nikko, Japan!

The syrup that tops Kakigōri is not unlike that used on American snow cones, with familiar flavours like strawberry, lemon, and grape alongside melon, sweet plum and green tea. It is also common to pour condensed milk onto the ice, adding additional sweetness and richness. Many Japanese also like to add mild sweet bean paste, mochi rice cakes, or even ice cream to their shave ice.

Laura and I found some incredible Kakigōri in Nikko. The texture was totally different than that of an American snowcone, or even the other Kakigōri we had tasted – something like a cross between Italian shaved ice and cotton candy, very smooth and delicate. Served with strawberries in thick syrup and condensed milk, this was the most delicious dessert of our trip!

Late Night Okonomiyaki (Miyajima, Japan)

Mmm... Okonomiyaki. ^^

Miyajima shuts down quickly after the bulk of the tourists leave around 4 pm. The majority of those who spend the night on the island eat dinner in their Ryokans or hotels, so when 6 o’clock rolled around, Laura and I found that nearly all the town’s restaurants had already shuttered for the night. Luckily, the owner of our Ryokan told us that a small Okonomiyaki restaurant a few doors down was open until 8.

I ordered yakiudon with shrimp and Laura ordered yakisoba with pork. As usual with okonomiyaki they put just about a whole head of cabbage in each of ours. It boiled down a lot, but there was still more food on our plates than we could possibly eat. It was good, too – the amount and flavor of the sauce was just right. This wasn’t the best food we ate in Japan, but it was definitely a solid choice for a ‘late night’ meal.

Since the tiny okonomiyaki restaurant we ate at isn’t shown on the map, the best thing to do would probably be to follow directions to Ryoso Kawaguchi, and follow the road it’s located on a few storefronts north. If you’re going there at night, it should be one of the only places open, so pretty much impossible to miss.

<p>— Read more about <a title=”Japan 2009″ href=”https://vandrelysten.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/japan-2009/&#8221; target=”_blank”>Japan 2009</a>.</p>

— Read more about Japan 2009.

Photo: Toxic Environment Cow (Costa Rica)

Where: Costa Rica

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550


When I visited San Jose, the city was holding a CowParade public art exhibit. Dozens of artists had decorated cows, placed throughout the city, in ways that were sometimes beautiful, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes expressed a poignant social or political message. I made it my mission to look for these cows wherever we went. This cow, with it’s gas mask, green hooves, and carbon emissions statistics printed in green, warned passers-by about pollution and the toxic environment humans are creating for themselves.

Naantalin Aurinkoinen (Turku, Finland)

Naantalin Aurinkoinen is a small chain of cafes in Southwestern Finland, mainly Turku and it’s suburb of Kaarina. The name means “like the Sun of Naantali” -Aurinko means sun, and Naantali is a nearby town known for it’s lovely sunshine, even spawning the local idiom “to smile like the sun of Naantali”.

The cafe and bakery has a wide variety of goods, from fresh bread and the Finnish favourite ‘new potatoes’, to pizza, pasta, salad, hotwings, and panini sandwiches. The pastries looked the most tempting to me, though, and I picked the Mansikkajuhlawiener (strawberry pastry) because if you go to Finland in the summer you should eat strawberries at every opportunity.

Liisa's photo of my Mansikkajuhlawiener. It was five times more delicious than it looks!

The storefront of the Kaarina branch I visited.

Their website is only in Finnish, but your mouth will water just looking at it.

No Google Map this time, because there are multiple locations. This page on the website shows all the addresses.

/A Taste of Scandinavia

Buddhapada in Kamakura

Where: Kamakura, Japan

When: July 2009

Camera: Canon Powershot A550


I found this decorated stone in Kamakura’s Hase-Kannon Temple. It is a stylized depiction of the footprints of Buddha. In early Buddhist art, it was considered taboo to directly depict a being as sacred as the Buddha, so they alluded to his presence by showing his footprints, called Buddhapada in Sanskrit. These Buddhapada are covered with a variety of symbols. Look at the most prominent one, which looks like a sun or wheel. If it looks familiar to you, you may be thinking of the Flag of India, which has a similar design in the center. The wheel shown on both these footprints and the Indian flag is a dharmacakra, or a “wheel of law”, and symbolizes the Buddha’s path to enlightenment. Japan’s many sacred places are filled with items and objects that are often laden with symbolism. Knowing even a little bit about the many cultural traditions that make up Japan can add a lot to a trip through the country.

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Cereal with Milk and Iced Tea

Two for one!

Iced tea with lemon... always delicious over your honey oats! ^^

The first time I saw cereal prepackaged with milk in Costa Rica, I thought I was going a bit crazy.

But, once I remembered that most of the milk sold in Latin America is super-pasteurized and doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened, I got used to it fairly quickly. And then I saw cereal packaged with tea…

Six Funny Things about the Japanese Language

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.

1.) If you want to say you ‘love’ something, as in, you ‘really like it’, in Japanese, you use the expression ‘daisuki’. This is made of two components: Dai (Big) and Suki (Like). Big Like!

2.) Japanese people worry a lot about being polite, and in Japanese this includes using different words to refer to things you want to honor, and things you want to be neutral, or humble about. Sometimes these ‘honourable’ version of words simply add a prefix. Other times they are completely different words. And sometimes there are even more categories than this, showing different degrees of honor!  For example, when you talk about your boss’s car, you should probably say okuruma, instead of just kuruma.

3.) One way this manifests itself is in the names for family members. Obviously, you can’t use the same word to talk about your mother or your friend’s mother. You want to show your friend’s mother respect, but since you are talking about your mother in connection to yourself, it would be rude to honor your mother (and, by connection, yourself!). So your friend’s mother is (anata no) okaasan — (your) mother, and my mother is (watashi no) haha — (my) mother.

4.) The Japanese word for Manufacturer is Meikaa. Sound it out. This is an import word. Television Manufacturer is Terebi Meikaa. Sound it out!

5.) Japanese uses different sets of numbers to count things with different shapes. These are called counters. For example, one is ichi, but one year – issai, one bird – ichiwa, one dog or cat or insect – ippiki, one person – hitori. Although there is a ‘place holder’ counter for use when the counter is unknown, and some counters are not in common use, unique counters exist for such things as: paragraphs, footsteps, nursery trees (and stocks), bows during worship at a shrine, cannons, and theatrical acts.

6.) These numbers themselves can be made up from two different original systems – Chinese and Japanese. The basic words for four, seven, and nine, however, are problematic. Four is Shi, a word which also means death. This is unlucky, kind of like our number 13, so they replace it with the euphemism Yon sometimes (and in some cases you HAVE to say yon, such as Yoji (four o’clock)). The same goes for Ku, which means suffering and it often switched out with Kyu. Seven is Shichi, which Japanese people sometimes worry gets lost floating around next to shi (four) and ichi (one), so they sometimes say nana instead!

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.

Onigiri (Japan)

Onigiri on sale in Nikko. The average price of an Onigiri is less than $1.50.

Onigiri, (Kanji 御握り, Hiragana おにぎり), also known as Omusubi, are Japanese rice balls. They are relatively simple to make, especially once you get used to the basic techniques, but you can also buy surprisingly yummy Onigiri in any konbini (convenience store) in Japan.

Onigiri come in many different varieties. The most common shapes are the little triangles, shown in the picture, and disk-shaped Onigiri. Normally, Onigiri are made of plain, white, sticky rice, and have a single filling in the very center. The most popular fillings are Umeboshi (sour pickled plum) and salmon, although any reasonably dry and strong-flavoured ingredient works well… for example, I have made super-American breakfast Onigiri with sausage and egg.

There are also Onigiri that have a topping of fish or ginger instead of a filling, and some Onigiri are formed from rice flavoured with sesame, Katsuoboshi (fish flakes), or other traditional seasonings.

A little bit of dried seaweed is wrapped around the rice ball just prior to consumption. The idea of eating seaweed may be a little bit frightening to the uninitiated, but don’t be afraid! The flavour of the seaweed is very mild – not even my pickiest friends object to it. The main purpose of wrapping Onigiri in seaweed is to allow you to hold it without getting your fingers too sticky. And, it has a delicious crunch!

Onigiri make great breakfasts and packed lunches while traveling. Laura and I started each day in Japan with a nice, filling rice ball or two! Onigiri are easy to eat on the go, although remember that in Japan it is considered rude to eat while walking!

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Chokladkoppen (Stockholm)

No matter the season, Stockholm’s Chokladkoppen is delightful. Perfectly situated in the Stortorget square, the center of Gamla Stan, it neighbors the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Academy, and only the imposing Stock Exchange Building separates it from the Cathedral and the Royal Palace.

Everything in Stockholm is expensive, so once you surrender yourself to that idea, Chokladkoppen, where you can put down about 14$ on a slice of cake or pie and a drink and call it a meal, is a bargain.

The guilty pleasure Liisa and I counted as a meal.

I’ve heard the cafe is a lovely, cozy place in the winter, where you can duck in out of the cold for bowls of cocoa and hot pie. Liisa and I visited in the summer, so we sat outside in the square with iced chocolate and white chocolate cheesecake and watched the world go by instead. Everything tasted creamy and fresh, and the orange slices added a bright, tangy note to both the flavour and the presentation.

The food is delicious, the atmosphere and the location are top notch, and you won’t even have to go broke to experience it. I’ll definitely be returning to Chokladkoppen during my next trip to Stockholm.

/A Taste of Scandinavia

Chokladkoppen is the orange building in this picture from Wikipedia's Stortorget article.

Kamakura’s Daibutsu

Kamakura's Daibutsu is unusual in that it stands out in the open, not enclosed in a building.

No visitor to Kamakura, or even to Tokyo, should miss this Great Buddha. Housed in the temple Kōtoku-in (高徳院), it is a popular destination and so easy to reach on foot or by bus. Most maps of Kamakura depict the Daibutsu visually, so you need not read Japanese to find your way.

Cast in 1252, this Buddha was originally housed in a wooden temple. Notably, it was built completely with donations – no government funding whatsoever. A 1498 tsunami destroyed this building, and crushed hundreds of Samurai who were taking refuge inside, but left the huge bronze statue standing. Some repairs were done in 1960, particularly to strengthen the statue’s neck, but otherwise it has been standing out in the open, in it’s present form, for more than five hundred years.

The statue is made primarily of copper, with a large component of lead and tin. Even today we are not one hundred percent sure how it was put together. Originally the statue was covered in brilliant, shining gilt, but over the course of 700 years it has worn almost completely off. Specialists have said that that statue’s balance, intelligence, powerfulness, and dignity surpass that of the Todaiji Buddha in Nara.

Among those impressed by the statue’s longevity and serene demeanor are Richard Cocks, who after visiting in 1616 said that the Daibutsu must be larger than the Colossus of Rhodes, and Rudyard Kipling, who, after seeing the Daibutsu in 1892, mentions it repeatedly in verses throughout his novel Kim.

This Daibutsu has windows on the backside!

“O ye who treated the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
Be gentle when “the heathen” pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!”

If you go around to the back, you can see that this Buddha in fact has windows!

It is hollow inside and in fact for a time it was a den for gamblers and the homeless.

Now you can go inside for only 20¥ – about 20 cents.




/Three Weeks of Japan Mania