Golden Shower

There is a Thai restaurant in Toyota City called ‘Golden Shower’, I kid you not. We were a little apprehensive when we first saw the place, as no doubt there are many places in Japan where one might go for an actual golden shower. But after a closer inspection it seems like this is just a Thai restaurant with an unfortunate name.

golden shower thai restaurant

The text on the sign reads 'Thai curry - ethnic food'

Some research taught me that the ‘golden shower tree’ is a beautiful flowering plant, native to South Asia. I guess the owners of the restaurant might not be aware of the other meaning of the term

Golden shower tree

Golden shower tree - photo from Pixdaus nature photography (click on the photo to go to their site)

The Mochi Mobile

Anyone who has lived in the Toyota City center or has visited Toyota City will know the characteristic sound of ‘The Mochi Mobile’. It’s a little van that drives around the city while blasting it’s characteristic song from a megaphone. This is what it sounds like:

I’ve heard the wildest theories about the significance of this van among the foreign residents of Toyota City. One couple even thought that the van belonged to a cult in search of new members. But nothing could be further from the truth. The van is selling ‘warabi mochi’, a jelly like candy dusted with sweet soybean powder, popular in the summertime.

warabi mochi in toyota city, japan

Warabi mochi: jelly like white balls with soy bean powder. Doesn't look very appetizing, does it? But the taste is refreshing in summer.

In the wintertime there is a similar van that sells grilled sweet potato (yaki imo). And of course this van also has its own song.

This is what the grilled potato looks like:

grilled sweet potato (yaki imo) in toyota city, japan

Grilled sweet potato (yaki imo) - again doesn't look that appetizing, does it? The taste is described by its name: it tastes slightly burned and like a potato, only sweeter.

Winter flowers

When returning to Japan after our two-week holiday in Belgium, we got our first taste of winter in Japan. It has gotten cold (maximum 5° C at midday) and it even snows occasionally. But I was very surprised to see flowers blooming even in this weather.

While I normally associate autumn and winter with barren trees and the withering of nature, I have encountered blooming flowers in Japan all throughout autumn and now also during wintertime. How wonderful to see those specks of colour in an otherwise gray winterworld.

Hedge blooming in December, Toyota City, Japan

Hedge blooming in December in Toyota City (December 26th)

Autumn cherry blossoms, Takayama, Japan

Autumn cherry blossoms in Takayama (November 14th)

Autumn cherry blossoms, Kōshō-ji temple, Nagoya, Japan

Autumn cherry blossoms at Kozoji Temple, Nagoya (November 11th)

Flower at Kojakuji Temple, Asuke, Toyota City, Japan

Flower at Kojakuji Temple, Asuke, Toyota City (November 13th)

Iris blooming in November in Toyota City, Japan

Iris blooming in November in Toyota City (November 17th)

Christmas in Japan and Belgium

Christmas is not a traditional Japanese holiday. Only about 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. New Year is a lot more important in Japan and is celebrated with many traditional Japanese rituals.

But Japanese people never turn down an oportunity to have a festivity or festival, so just like Halloween and Valentine’s day, Christmas has been imported into Japanese culture. And just like they do with anything else imported from other cultures, the Japanese have adapted Christmas to their liking and invented their own ways of celebrating it (click here to go to an overview of Japanese Christmas customs by Billy Hammond).

Christmas decorations in Matsuzakaya, Toyota City

Christmas decorations in Matsuzakaya, Toyota City

But what struck me most so far is the difference in the anticipation leading up to Christmas. In Belgium, people eagerly look forward to Christmas all through the month of December. In Japan, I hardly noticed any anticipation for Christmas. December in Japan is more about forget-the-year-parties (bōnenkai) and preparing for New Year.

In Belgium, as we have long, cold and dark winters, Christmas and the month leading up to it are all about coziness, light and warmth. Some of the anticipation rituals include:

Advent wreath

Advent wreath

  • Putting a Christmas tree in the house and decorating it.
  • Making an advent wreath, either one to put on the front door or an indoor version with four candles. The first Sunday of December one candle is lit, the second Sunday two candles are lit and so on, symbolizing the return of the light after the darkest time of winter.
  • Every city puts a nativity scene on the central square. A nativity scene is an imitation of the stable where Jesus is said to be born. The nativity scene often contains live animals!
Nativity scene in Belgium

Nativity scene in Belgium - with a real live donkey in the background

  • There are bonfires and people gather around to drink warm wine or heart-warming liquor (‘jenever’).
Christmas bonfire in Belgium

Christmas bonfire in Belgium

Even though Christmas has lost its religous meaning to a lot of people in Belgium, it is still deeply embedded in our culture. Even non-religious people consciously or unconsciously keep celebrating Christmas as a means of getting through the darkest time of the year.

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This article was submitted to the J-Festa blogging festival December edition, themed ‘Christmas in Japan’.

Buying a cell phone in Japan

Buying a cell phone couldn’t be easier in Europe. They practically throw the things at you. But what is normal in Europe, often isn’t in Japan. In Japan, buying a cell phone and registering for a phone number is serious business. It’s best to set aside the better part of a day to do it. And if you’re new in Japan, I recommend getting some help from a local.

To buy our Japanese phones, we went to a huge electronics store in Toyota City called Eiden. It’s two floors of electronica heaven – or hell, depending on how well you respond to an overdose of visual and auditory stimuli.

Eiden electronics store in Toyota City

Eiden electronics store in Toyota City

First things first: picking out a phone. Typical Japanese cell phones are a lot bigger than European ones (my Japanese phone is 11 cm by 5 cm). Although these days, many people in Japan have a smart phone, which pretty much looks the same all over the world.

Japanese cell pones in Toyota City

Japanese cell phones

Picking out a phone is it the fun part. After that, the paper work begins. There is an endless pile of forms to complete, documents to register and questions to answer. All the registration is done by means of carbon paper, not computerized forms. Not quite what I had expected from a high-tech nation like Japan.

Fortunately the famous Japanese customer care makes it all bearable. We are helped by the most ‘kawaii’ (cute) and bubbly salesperson ever.

Sales person in Eiden electronics store, Japan

Cute sales person

While we are waiting for our documents to be checked (which takes more than an hour), we are free to wander around the store or even go grab a bite to eat somewhere. They will contact us when everything’s ready. As if that’s not enough in terms of customer care, the store features a rest space where the weary shopper can repose during their shopping spree.

Rest space in Eiden electronics store, Japan

Rest space for weary shoppers in Eiden electronics store

After having spent many an hour in that store, we finally get our phones. Now we’re ready to start having a social life in Japan. FYI: phones in Japan come with their very own e-mail address. So it’s even possible to send e-mails to phones that don’t connect to the internet. Very convenient!

eiden  toyota city

Eiden Toyota City, or at least how it's supposed to look like according to Eiden website (click on the photo to be redirected).

Starbucks Coffee Japan

Since Starbucks has been fueling my JLPT (see previous post) cramming efforts for a few days now, it seemed like the right time to write something about Starbucks in Japan.

In Belgium I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Starbucks since there are so many nice and locally owned coffee bars. Besides, there are only 3 Starbucks in Belgium. But in Japan, if you feel like having a decent cup of coffee, Starbucks is as good as it’s gonna get. And I have to admit that despite my initial scepticism, I have become a fan.

starbucks toyotashi 2

Starbucks in Toyota City

The atmosphere in Starbucks is nice. The cozy feel is even more appealing now that it is getting colder. In addition to that, the coffee is quite good, though a bit expensive for European standards (but reasonably priced for Japanese standards). And it is a popular place to study among young and old alike.

starbucks toyotashi 1

Starbucks in Toyota City - people studying everywhere

students in sakae starbucks japan

High school students studying in a Starbucks in Sakae (Nagoya, Japan)

Surrounded by a bunch of studying high-school students and with a warm mug (I love that it’s a mug instead of a cup) of delicious energizing coffee in front of me, I memorize Japanese vocabulary at an unseen speed. Let’s hope my caffeine overdoses pay-off at Sunday’s exam.

Starbucks in Toyota City is in the Matsuzakaya building near the train stations ‘Shintoyota’ and ‘Toyotashi’. My recommendations: Caffe Latte or Chai Tea Latte.

toyotashi_station_area_Japan

People watching – The Bunnyman

When heading to the station one busy November morning, I ran into ‘The Bunnyman’. He was an old guy, who was seemingly just hanging out near the station. But what made me stop in my tracks to take a picture were the bunnies. On the ground in front of him, there was a bag with two bunnies on a leash attached to it.

Two bunnies in front of Toyotashi station

Two bunnies in front of Toyotashi station

Bunnyman was obviously very pleased to have attracted my attention. As I was taking pictures of the bunnies, he produced a small bird from somewhere behind him and offered it to me. It was very tame, just like the bunnies. I held the bird for a moment, took a quick snapshot of Bunnyman and unfortunately had to rush off again.

An old man haning out with his animals in front of Toyotashi station

Bunnyman is offering me a small bird

What a wonderful encounter! It totally made my day. I did feel a little sorry for the animals though…