People watching – Kimono on the train

After living in Japan for a while, you start to experience something that I like to call the ‘hello-you’re-in-japan-face-slap’. I have talked about it in previous posts. It means that you have gradually gotten used to all the wonderful Japanese things that excited you so much at first. Life in Japan has started to seem so normal. But even then, from time to time, you will experience something that really makes you feel like you are in Japan. Like that time I ran into a monk in a fabric store. The excitement I feel at such a time, is the reason I call it ‘a face-slap-moment’.

Another good example of a face-slap-moment is seeing ladies in kimono on the train. Even towards the end of my year in Japan, I still felt really excited whenever I saw someone in kimono. Apart from the summer festivals, you really don’t see that many people in kimono anymore (with the possible exception of Kyoto). It is very hard to wear kimono and many young people don’t know how to do it. If you see someone in kimono, it is usually an elderly person.

I managed to snap a photograph of these two ladies on the subway in Nagoya:

lady in kimono on the train in Japan

Ladies in kimono on the train in Japan. If you look closely, you will see the slightest hint of a green kimono, to the left of the lady in the yellow kimono.

Lucky for me, these ladies took the same transfer that I did. This gave me the perfect opportunity to follow them throughout Fushimi station in Nagoya and keep taking sneak photographs.

kimono on the train in Japan

Here we have a better view of their complete outfits

lady in kimono on the train in Japan

On the escalator I managed to get a close-up of the obi and the kimono fabric. People probably thought I was crazy taking all these photographs. Or maybe they just thought “*sigh* foreigners…”. Fortunately, Japanese people are too polite to comment on it.

lady in kimono on the train in Japan

Escalator close-up of the lady in the green kimono. She was standing a bit farther away from me.

Japanese ladies in kimono waiting for the train

My best photo opportunity came at the end, when they finally stood still, waiting for the next train. Aren’t they lovely? The posture of the lady in yellow is so elegant and the kimono are gorgeous!

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The sushi train

Ask anyone to name something typical of Japan, and it is highly likely that they will say ‘sushi’. After my return to Belgium, I have often been asked if Japanese people really eat sushi every day. The answer is no! Japanese cuisine is incredibly varied and there is so much more to it than just sushi.

Since I am not a fan of these stereotypical ideas about Japan and did not want to encourage them further, I have put off writing about sushi for more than two years. But despite all my ranting, I cannot deny that sushi is in fact a part of Japanese cuisine. Moreover, it is an extremely delicious part of Japanese cuisine. By the end of my stay in Japan, I could be found in a sushi restaurant on a weekly basis. (*´∀`*)

So it seems that the moment has finally come. It is time for a post about sushi.

In Japan, sushi is often enjoyed at a restaurant, rather than at home. There are many different kinds of sushi restaurants, ranging from extremely high-end places where the chef personally prepares each delicacy in front of you, to the more moderately priced conveyor belt restaurants (kaiten zushi 回転寿司 in Japanese). Even in the conveyor belt category, there are different prices and qualities. Today I will talk to you about the lowest of the lowest: Kappa Zushi. Although this is not a great introduction for a restaurant, I assure you that compared to most European (or at least Belgian) sushi restaurants, the quality is still very good.

kappazushi logo

Kappa Zushi logo

kappa_zushi_mascotte

Interior of a Kappa Zushi restaurant. The mascots of Kappa Zushi are these two green creatures. In Japanese, kappa is a water monster from folk tales. But it can also mean a sushi roll with cucumber in the middle. Hence the choice for kappa as mascots I guess. Despite their best efforts to make these kappa seem cute, they still scare me a little – image from the Kappa Zushi website

kappazushi conveyer belt

Kappa Zushi conveyor belt

tuna sushi on the conveyer belt

Tuna nigiri zushi on the conveyor belt

At conveyor belt restaurants, the kitchen prepares a standard selection of different sushi dishes and places them on the conveyor belt. The sushi passes by all the tables and the customers take off whatever they want to eat. Usually the colour of the plate determines how much the sushi costs but at Kappa Zushi, all the sushi costs 105 yen per plate (about 1 euro at the time we were in Japan). At the end of the meal, the plates are counted to determine the price to be paid.

kappa zushi stack of plates

Our stack of plates at the end of the meal

In case you don’t find what you are looking for on the conveyor belt, you can also order  directly from the kitchen (for the full Kappa Zushi menu, click here –  click on each category to see more sushi). Kappa Zushi has a computerized system for those orders. You operate it with a touch screen above your table. Not an easy thing to do if you can’t read kanji. There is one button that summons a waitress. I am afraid we accidentally summoned the poor lady twice before we figured it out. But if you press enough buttons, you will eventually end up in the orders menu.

kappa zushi touch screen

Kappa Zushi orders menu. You might notice some unusual sushi like tonkatsu sushi (fried pork cutlet) and beef sushi. You will definitely not find any meat sushi in a high-end sushi restaurant.

hamburger sushi

Another special sushi: hamburger sushi. I guess you can pretty much slap anything onto a piece of rice and call it sushi.

Now comes the best part: the orders are delivered on a special sushi train! It is shaped like a shinkansen and swishes over to your table in no time. You take off the plates and the train goes back to the kitchen. Never mind sushi quality, that train in itself is a reason to visit Kappa Zushi!

Something else that I love about Japanese conveyor belt sushi restaurants, apart from all the sushi, is the table side tap of hot water. You get a cup, a tin of green tea powder (different from matcha) and you serve yourself from the tap at your table. All you can drink green tea and an endless stream of sushi passing by under your very nose… pure bliss!

kappa zushi tea

Tea can in the bottom left, cup in the middle, and the tap is below the conveyor belt, next to the red box with pickled ginger. The black box holds the chopsticks. Each table also has their own supply of soy sauce and wasabi.

If this post has made you hungry, or you want to see the sushi train for yourself, you can find your nearest Kappa Zushi restaurant on this map (Japanese only). This is the Kappa Zushi in Toyota City:

KappaZushi_ToyotaCity

Kappa Zushi in Toyota City – image from Google Maps Streetview

People watching – Legs for Days

After having lived in Japan for a while, I gradually started feeling more and more at home there. As life in Japan became ‘normal’ to me, I often forgot that I myself still looked all but normal to Japanese people. A tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed gaijin stands out in a Japanese crowd, no matter how ‘Japanese’ the gaijin in question might feel on the inside.

My acclimatization to life in Japan, and consequently my familiarity with that sea of dark-haired, fairly short Japanese people had a funny consequence: I started feeling surprised whenever seeing a gaijin (‘OMG, look, a gaijin, I wonder what they’re doing here’) or tall people (‘I can’t believe how tall that person is! Look how much they stand out.’). After which I was of course forced to remind myself that I am, in fact, a tall gaijin myself.

Nevertheless, it prompted me to attempt a sneak photograph of an exceptionally tall Japanese lady that I saw on the train. Especially her legs seem to go on for days:

Legs for days, in Japan

Do you think she noticed my sneak photography attempts?

Kids sleeping on the train

Japanese people have the remarkable ability to take a nap anytime anywhere. A favourite place for those power naps is the train. While most adults try to maintain a fairly upright position even while sleeping, these kids seem to have no such reservations and have comfortably settled themselves for a nap on the way home.

kids sleeping on the train in Japan

Kids sleeping on the train in Japan

 

The mask

A typical image that Westerners have of Japan, is a subway car filled with business men and school girls, all wearing white surgical masks.

Mouthmask on the train in Japan

Someone wearing a mouth mask on the train in Japan

In the West it is considered a bit suspicious to cover your face in public. Masks are usually reserved for bank robbers and superheroes. We think that those Japanese people with their white masks look a bit silly and a bit dodgy.

In Japan, the wearing of such masks is completely normal. They are worn for various reasons: for example when the flu is in town or to avoid catching a cold. People with allergies wear them to avoid ingesting pollen.

Mask on the train in Japan

Salaryman wearing a mouth mask

When I had just arrived in Japan, those masks took a bit of getting used to. Especially when I was talking to someone who still had their mask on. It is a bit difficult communicating with someone if you can’t really see their face. But of course I got used to it and after a while I didn’t even notice the masks anymore.

I even went as far as wearing one myself at some point. There was a big cloud of yellow dust, pollution from China, travelling over Japan. I had already been coughing for a few days and I also started getting chest pains from an irritated trachea. “That does it”, I said to myself, “it is time for a mask”. And indeed the mask made a big difference. The irritation to my throat and trachea were greatly reduced.

The first time venturing out in public with the mask I felt quite self-conscious. Don’t I look very silly with this thing on my face? But no Japanese looked any different at me. Even my husband didn’t poke fun at me. Wearing such a mask is just very normal in Japan, and I am beginning to understand why!

Mask on the train in Japan

Cute mask with pink bows on it. Sorry for the blurry picture. It was a sneak photograph on the train.

People watching – Sartorial Japanese man

I have recently become enamoured with the blog ‘The Sartorialist’. It is one of the most famous blogs out there and I can see why. The posts are short and simple, always revolving around a single fashion photograph. Although not every featured look is to my taste, it is interesting to see the different styles that people adopt. And the photographs are always beautifully taken.

the sartorialist screenshot

Of course I was wondering what the blog name meant and after some research I came across a video in which the author explains all about it. Apparently ‘sartorial’ means tailored, but it can also mean someone whose look is well put together or someone with great personal style.

Looking at the man in the picture below (taken on a Japanese train in April of this year) the word ‘sartorial’ comes to mind. Although people might argue about exactly how stylish his big hair and tight jeans really are, at least there can be no discussion about the fact that he has a clearly defined and deliberate look. In any case, I am a fan. It takes guts to wear a tailored jacket made out of sweat pants fabric.

Stylish Japanese guy, wearing a tailored jacket made of sweat pants fabric

Stylish Japanese guy, wearing a tailored jacket made of sweat pants fabric

Japanese university graduation outfit

The school year in Japan starts in April, rather than in September as it does in Europe. Most kids have one or two weeks of holiday before the start of the new school year.

All through the month of March, children and parents are busy with graduation ceremonies. There are lots of ceremonies to be had: elementary school, junior high school, senior high school, university, …And that’s just graduation. Come April, they can do it all over again when they have their entrance ceremonies.

For university graduation, girls usually wear ‘hakama’ (Japanese style pants). It’s very exciting to spot someone in that kind of traditional Japanese attire amongst the mass of Western style clothing.

university graduation hakama Japan

This was the best picture I could get of her. I have to improve my sneak photography skills.

university graduation hakama Japan sleeping on the train

I think she was tired from an exciting day because she was dozing off on the train.