25 ways Japanese politeness can get on the nerves of Japanese people

RocketNews 24:

There is such a thing as being too courteous, and an online survey ranked the 25 most common examples of just that in Japan.

Japan is legendary for its adherence to etiquette, formality and customer service. However, sometimes these acts of kindness can go too far beyond what people need from friends, family, and businesses.

Whether by making people feeling uncomfortable, burdened to reciprocate, or just plain embarrassed, these are 25 things that Japanese people could use less of, according to a ranking by survey-meisters over at the website Goo Ranking.

25 Yakigakari: The person sentenced to grill

Much like in the west, at Japanese barbeques or yakiniku joints, there may be one person in the group who takes the tongs and never, ever lets go. While constantly providing the rest of the group with grilled meat and veggies, they have almost no time to enjoy the food themselves.

This can make the rest of the group feel uncomfortable as they wonder why the yakigakari won’t give it a rest. This can also irk people who want their food cooked in a particular way, but can’t get past the yakigakari’s monopoly of the grill.

24 Surprise Birthdays

Surprise!!! At least, you better act surprised – and thrilled for that matter – because you have suddenly become the star of an event you were not prepared for. Not only that, you have become the crux of the mood for the entire evening’s festivities and will let everyone down if you’re not feeling particularly into being asked, “We’re you surprised?” a few dozen times and whatever else we have planned for you.

23 Sharing Homegrown Vegetables

This doesn’t seem like such a bad thing at all, and actually isn’t. The homegrown foods often surpass store-bought in terms of freshness and nutrition. However, they can sometimes come in quantities that’ll make your head spin.

22 The Nabe Judge

Known in Japanese as a “nabe bugyo” or “nabe judge,” they are the person at a group dinner who dictates what should and shouldn’t go into the mixed hot-pot known as nabe. Although, they’re acting in the interest of everyone having the best possible meal, their authoritarian ways of controlling what should be a casual meal can be annoying to others.

21 Constant Omiyage

Contrary to western countries who buy souvenirs for mainly themselves, Japanese travelers will often stock up on omiyage or presents for their friends and families back home out of a sense of obligation. They can range from snacks or liquor to clothing or distinct national items like Swedish surströmming.

20 Mid-Year and End-of-Year Gifts

In Japan giving gifts for birthdays or Christmas isn’t quite as prevalent as some other places. However, there is the annual traditions of giving presents half-way through and at the end of the year. And with it come the same anxieties and work that go into present shopping as people everywhere feel.

19 Predictive Text on Mobile Phones

Even machines are capable of being intrusively helpful. Personally I’ve never had a problem with it. In fact, I’m typing out this entire article on a mobile phone and ham tonne had probation Yeti.

18 People Serving You Food You Don’t Want

Most restaurants in Japan have shared eating where everyone picks from the same plate. This style is fraught with potential acts of rudeness unintentional and otherwise, one of which is a person handing you a plate of squid meat soaked in its own fermented viscera (shiokara) under the assumption that you want it.

In such an instance you would be the jerk for refusing the cephalopod guts, leaving you with no alternative but to dig in.

17 Friends and Family Playing Cupid

This one’s probably pretty universal. You might think there isn’t anything worse that being thrust into a potential relationship with some stranger at the whim of a third party, but we haven’t gotten to number 13 yet.

16 Handmade Candy and Presents

I have to think this one really hinges on how well the giver can make candy and presents, so it’s best to perhaps consider this a wild-card in the rankings.

15 Send-off at the Beauty Salon

I wouldn’t know this first-hand since I never go to beauty salons. I’m a manly man who gets his hair cut by fighting a bear and letting it win just enough so that it begins biting off my excess locks.

However, I have seen the pomp and circumstance that goes on after someone at a salon in Japan has just completed their cut, dye or whatever else. A group of staff crowd around the customer waving goodbye and offering their heartfelt thanks in enthusiastic voices on the streets for all to see and hear.

While it’s nice to be congratulated on our achievements in life, getting our hair done probably doesn’t warrant such acclaim.

14 Housework Done by a Husband who Sucks at Doing Housework

Luckily my wife doesn’t have this problem. In fact, just the other day I was doing the dishes but ran out of soap. Thinking quickly I grabbed a bar from the shower and finished the job on time.

You should have seen the look on her face when I told her, too. She was so amazed she had a husband as cunning and resourceful as I, that she went into the bedroom and locked the door, giving me the entire house to myself for the evening!

13 Getting Set up with Someone Else’s Ex

This one really shouldn’t need an explanation, but since it’s on the list perhaps one is in order for some people.

It’s exactly as if I came up to you and offered you my toothbrush. I tried it out a few times but it didn’t work quite right or just wore out over time.

Of course, your response would probably be to kick me in the shin and walk away, and would have every right to do so. So if you try to set someone up with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, you ought to be prepared for the same kind of reaction.

12 Convenience Stores Asking about Point Cards

Not a day goes by that I don’t get queried by my convenience store clerk as to whether I have a T-point-super-member card or whatever. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that just getting one would be less of a hassle than constantly being asked for one. Also, consideration of how often I’m apparently going to a convenience store to be annoyed by this logically indicates that I should take advantage of a point card.

Still…I refuse to give them the satisfaction.

11 Exchanging Birthday Gifts with People you Don’t Care About

I was going to comment on the custom of obligatory gifts to certain co-workers and other people you’re not all that close with. However, I was contacted by high-ranking members of the gift certificate industry who informed me that I “had better shut up” about this tradition if I “knew what’s good” for me.

10 Neighbors Receiving Packages on Your Behalf

I’m actually surprised this is even legal, but apparently it goes on in Japan. If a courier comes to your home when you’re not around they may go to your neighbor’s and ask them to hold it sometimes under the pretense of mistaking the address. Often, if your neighbor is like mine who refuses to have anything to do with you, they’ll just politely decline and the delivery staff will have to write out one of those little papers.

However, if you have one of those nosey types next door, prepared to have your Gackt hug pillow from Amazon in the hands of another.

9 Getting a New Year Card from Someone You Haven’t Heard from Since Forever

In Japan, exchanging New Year Cards is an annual custom wherein people give out small postcards to pretty much every conceivable acquaintance from their high school friends to the guy who refills their water cooler.

With such a wide range of people it’s only natural to have or be an unrequited recipient of a New Year Card. While most people simply shrug it off, there still is a pang when you get that card from an old middle school friend whom you haven’t seen or heard from in 20 years. Upon realizing you haven’t sent them one, you have automatically become a jerk. Happy holidays!

8 Kids’ Clothes Bought by Your Mother-in-Law

Always a sticky situation: naturally when your mother-in-law presents you a with sweater using slightly outdated wording like “Mommy made a very gay baby!” you have no choice but to bring it out during family gatherings which hopefully aren’t public.

7 People Bring You Food From a Buffet

Aside from the increased exposure to disease vectors, part of the fun of going to a buffet is being able to customize your own dish to your liking. However, if someone takes the liberty of getting your food for you, you might find yourself filling up on pizza slices before being able to partake in any squid soaked in fermented viscera.

6 Public Toilet Paper Folded into a Triangle

I actually rather like “fire fold” in which the cleaning staff will fold up the end of a toilet paper roll into a neat little triangle. After all, it’s a sign that this toilet had been freshly cleaned just before you arrived.

However, from a glass-half-empty perspective I can also see issues. The cleaner had just finished scrubbing away at toilet soiled by lord-knows-how-many people and then immediately without washing their hands folds up the toilet paper to finish the job. This could mean you are potentially wiping with the particles of fecal matter of an untold number of people.

5 People Worrying about Your Future Marriage and Children

This one will probably be in the top five of any such list around the world. The much loathed “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” question comes from a place of caring but is as annoying as it is futile.

I mean really, has anyone who has ever felt the need to ask that question actually gotten a reply with a definite timeline?

4 Hairdresser Chats

Again, I have no personal experiences with this. Even when I can’t find a bear to fight, I usually frequent the dankest barber shop in town, where my “stylist” clearly has given up on life and would rather end it than engage in conversation with me – just the way I like it.

3 Rescheduling after Refusing an Invitation to Go Drinking

Most people’s response when asked to join a group of people they loathe for drinks would be to suck air through their teeth and say, “Sorry, I have plans.” And just when you think you’re in the clear, the entire group decides to change the date just for you. This becomes doubly damning if the new date is when you actually have something planned and are forced to either cancel that engagement or begin to let the others on to the fact you don’t like them.

The foolproof method would be “sick relative that requires constant care” excuse. Of course in doing so, you run the risk of stirring up some bad mojo.

2 Clerk Arbitrarily Determines your Receipt is Unnecessary

This incident often occurs in the fast-paced retail world of convenience stores. I can perfectly understand where the clerks there are coming from as it’s highly unlikely someone needs a proof of purchase for a pack of Pocky.

So rather than force a useless slip of paper into your valuable pocket real-estate, they considerately just keep the receipt for themselves. However, when you work here and a pack of Pocky is a legitimate business expense, you have to go through the whole rigmarole of asking for the receipt yourself.

A lot of convenience stores work around this issue by providing a receipt bin at the counter for customers to toss it in if they don’t need it, but the problem still seems to persist for it to make number two on this ranking.

1 Being Escorted out of a Clothing Store After Purchasing Something

Although not as boisterous as the beauty salon farewell, clothing store staff will sometimes walk their customers to the exit as if the shop were some Byzantine labyrinth requiring a guide. Aside from being an unnecessary courtesy it seems a little bad from a sales standpoint since it bars the customer from making any subsequent impulse buys on their way out.

10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food

Japanese food

RocketNews 24 (by Michelle Lynn Dinh):

Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.

1) Never use your hand to catch falling food

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Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Using tezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.

2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half

In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.

3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce

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This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.

4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl

Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.

5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

shijimi clams

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl

When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.

7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice

Mayoi bashi

Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”

8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl

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You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.

9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate

Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.

10) Never raise your food above your mouth

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, itadakimasu before eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.

***Bonus***

Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.

Interactive online map of Kyoto lets you toggle between modern day and the 9th century

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

If you’re a history buff, or time traveler, this could come in handy.

With all apologies to Nara, nowhere in Japan can match Kyoto’s reverent connection to its history. The city served as the seat of imperial power for centuries, most gloriously during the Heian period of the 9th to 12th centuries.

Walking along the city’s streets can sometimes feel like taking a trip into the past, and if that’s where you’re going, you’ll want a period-accurate map, like the interactive one developed by Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University.

Called the Heiankyo Overlay Map, the clever navigational tool (which can be found here) works with Google map’s data for the city.

A guide to New Year traditions in Japan

Japan Today (by Ran Matsugi):

While New Year’s Eve is a time for parties and fireworks in many countries, in Japan, it is usually a somber time when people return to their hometowns to enjoy a few days together with their extended families – not unlike Christmas in the West.

However, the lack of parties does not mean Japan is a boring place during the New Year holiday period. This time of year is rich in tradition and culture, and if you have never experienced New Year in Japan, you’re missing something.

Here is a guide to some New Year traditions and what they mean.

Omisoka (大晦日)

Why is New Year’s Eve called “omisoka” in Japanese? In the old calendar, the last day of each month used to be called “misoka”. “Miso” can mean 30 in Japanese, and “ka” means day. Although not every month has just 30 days, the tradition of calling the last day of the month “misoka” remained, and the last day of the year became “omisoka” (great last day of the month). After the new calendar was adopted, all the other “misokas” became less popular, but “omisoka” remained.

Osoji (大掃除)

This refers to the end-of-year cleaning which takes place in offices and homes. It is believed that by cleaning your house, you can purify your residence and welcome the “Toshigami-sama” (god of the coming New Year).

Kadomatsu (門松)

As soon as Christmas Day is over, the Christmas trees and decorations come down and New Year decorations go up. “Kadomatsu” are made of three cut bamboo sticks and pine tree branches and are put up in the entrances of buildings or houses. The bamboo shoots, which represent heaven, earth and humanity, are believed to attract the gods. The gods dwell in the pine until Jan 7, after which time the decorations are taken to a shrine to be burnt, releasing the spirits back to their realm.

Toshikoshi Soba (年越し蕎麦)

People eat soba at around midnight to ward off evil spirits before the New Year comes. Some also wish for a long life, or long-lasting connection with families by eating soba. Rakuten research reports that 67.5% of people surveyed are planning to eat “toshikoshi soba” this year.

Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘)

“Joya no Kane” or purification bells are important at New Year Buddhist ceremonies in which the priest rings the bell 108 times. According to Buddhist beliefs, the number 108 corresponds to the number of evil desires that we suffer from. It is believed that by listening to or ringing the bell 108 times, you can get rid yourself of those evil desires. Many temples allow people to participate in ringing the bell.

Ganjitsu (元日) and Gantan (元旦)

Why are there two words meaning New Year’s Day? “Gantan” generally refers to the morning or sunrise on Jan 1, while “Ganjitsu” refers to the first “day” of the New Year.

Nengajo (年賀状)

On New Year’s Day, you’ll see legions of Japan Post employees whizzing along on scooters delivering New Year greeting cards. Though the custom has lost some of its popularity in recent years – young people tend to avoid sending the cards, while others design their own cards and send them by email – “nengajo” are still important for businesses and the older generation for expressing appreciation and best wishes for the New Year. “Nengajo,” many of which are hand-written, also have lottery numbers on them.

Hatsumode (初詣)

The most popular activity on New Year’s Day is “hatsumode” or first visit to the shrine. The bigger shrines like Meiji in Tokyo, Kawasaki Taishi in Kawasaki and Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto are packed with hundreds of thousands of people from early morning throughout New Year’s Day. Many people go to smaller shrines in their neighborhoods. If you go, you’ll see burning incense sticks. The smoke itself is called “zuko,” and shrine visitors wave it over their heads to purify spirits and their bodies for the New Year.

Hamaya (破魔矢)

You’ll often see people leaving shrines, holding wooden arrows. These are given to shrine visitors to put somewhere in their homes to ward off evil spirits. The point of the arrow isn’t sharp; it’s just a decoration.

Osechi ryori (おせち料理)

This refers to special New Year delicacies traditionally made before New Year’s Day, and meant to last for seven days without refrigeration. The original reason for needing it to last for seven days is because there is a seven-day period of non-cooking to appease the fire god, Kohji. He would get upset and cause a natural hazard if you made fire so early in the year. In later years, this non-cooking period has changed to give housewives a rest during the New Year holidays since they worked so hard until New Year’s Eve. The food often comes in an elaborate bento box.

Kagami-mochi (鏡餅)

This decoration consists of two round rice cakes and a mandarin (mikan) on top. Traditionally, the cakes were adorned with a different citrus fruit known as “daidai,” which were considered auspicious as the meaning of the word can be translated to “generation after generation”, representing the family’s wish for a long and prosperous bloodline. The rice cakes are supposed to be an homage to the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. With its round, mirror-like shape, “kagami-mochi” symbolizes the renewal of light and energy at the start of a new year.

Otoshidama (お年玉)

On New Year’s Day, children aged 22 and under receive monetary gifts from their parents and grandparents in specially decorated envelopes called “Pochi Bukuro” (Pochi bag). According to the Allabout questionnaire, the popular amounts of “otoshidama” are 1,000 yen for children younger than 6, 3,000 to 5,000 yen for children aged 6 to 17, and 10,000 yen for 18 to 20+ students.

Fukubukuro (福袋)

Many department stores and other retailers now open on New Year’s Day, giving children a chance to spend their “otoshidama” as well as tempting other shoppers with these lucky bags. Some people hit store after store and emerge with an armful of “fukubukuro.” The bags contain various items with a total value of twice the price of the bag.

Tokujin Yoshioka’s Kou-an Glass Tea House reinterprets the traditional Japanese tea ceremony

Skills of the fastest mochi-pounding pros in all of Japan leave us dumbfounded

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RocketNews 24:

The making of mochi, traditional Japanese rice cakes, is a traditional activity for many Japanese families around the time of the New Year’s holiday. The term for this important ritual in Japanese is mochitsuki (餅つき), which quite simply means “mochi pounding.”

While there are dozens of mochi specialty shops scattered throughout Japan, one particular shop specializing in yomogimochi (mochi mixed with mugwort, giving it a distinctive green color) in Nara Prefecture boasts much more than delicious sweets–its second claim to fame is that it employs the fastest mochitsuki champions in all of the country!

The mochitsuki professionals at Nara’s Nakatanidou (中谷堂) shop make a great team. They’ve got the art of mochitsuki down to a tee, and it’s obvious that in the process they’ve also cultivated a mutual trust over the years. I mean, why else would they be so willing to stick their hands in the direct path of a mallet crashing down at full force?

The following video of the mochi masters at work is so impressive that it’s even garnered thousands of views outside of Japan. Remember, what you’re about to see is not sped-up or altered in any way–it’s the actual speed that the video was recorded at:

 

 

10 distinctly Japanese comfort foods

RocketNews 24:

Comfort food” is traditional cooking that tends to have a nostalgic or sentimental connection, often one related to family or childhood: the grilled cheese sandwiches your mother used to make; the thought of your grandmother’s bread pudding makes your mouth water; the way the whole house would be filled with the intoxicating aroma of roasted turkey or ham at Christmas? Because of such memories, these foods comfort us, especially when we’re longing for home or feeling especially vulnerable.

Not surprisingly, the sentimental Japanese have their own comfort foods. While you might think they’d be waxing over the octopus tentacles of home, very few of the dishes we’re about to talk about have much to do with seafood. Many Japanese comfort foods have a rice connection and may even center around the unique relationship between mothers or wives and their role in family food preparation. And in Japan, make no mistake about it–her kitchen rules!

Here are 10 distinctly Japanese comfort foods:

1. Miso soup and rice (味噌汁とご飯)

miso soup

Miso soup and its companion bowl of rice are sometimes described as a “marriage.” This is the food Japanese miss most when they leave home to live on their own for the first time or if they travel abroad and tire of “Western breakfast.”

Miso soup is hardly ever served without its faithful rice. For centuries this edible couple has been considered the main part of a classic, healthy Japanese breakfast. “Mom’s miso soup” is, quite simply, to die for. And each Mom adds her own touch to the recipe, so the subtle flavors vary according to household. So powerful is this aromatic duo that the mere thought of smelling miso upon waking up in the morning can leave a study-abroad student salivating as he or she is transported temporarily back to the mother ship.

Other than the miso base, other ingredients in the soup may include dashi broth, tofu, chopped green onion, wakame seaweed and a plethora of others. See some miso soup anime ads that bring out the true miso spirit.

Try making it! Learn how to make miso soup in the Rocket Kitchen. No miso? No problem–miso can be made at home too!

 

2. Onigiri (おにぎり)

onigiri

While women’s hands are said to be too warm to become sushi chefs, those ostensibly hot hands surely come in handy when it comes to making rice balls. This favorite snack, made from either fresh steamed rice or leftover rice from the night before, is standard fare for bento lunches and picnics. All good outdoor gatherings feature the highly portable and nutritious triangular-shaped sticky rice ball, which is geometrically formed by squeezing it just so in the palms of the hands. Each ball is filled with one of a number of ingredients from sweet salmon to sour plums, and the triangle of rice is girthed with a seaweed belt so moist, it doesn’t actually stick to your lips like the papery convenience-store kind.

According to Japanese aesthetics, any food tastes better with proper scenery, so you’ll find rice balls at every “Hanami” cherry blossom party.

 

3. Tempura (天ぷら)

Tempura

This favorite food of foreigners is also a favorite of the Japanese (even though tempura is thought to have originally come from Portugal). Surely, worldwide, everyone loves tempura! And mama’s home made has gotta be the best. But I can’t help think that the nostalgia surrounding this food (the taste of which doesn’t vary that much from kitchen to kitchen) has to do with the method of preparation: the wife dutifully stays in the kitchen throughout the meal, only emerging occasionally when the next batch of piping hot veggies are ready to be served to her expectant family. And of course a Japanese wife is happy, perhaps even ecstatic, to do this, in order to fulfill the expectations of the perfect mother who, at least in the old days, was said to “make and serves food with all her heart” (kokorokomete ryoriotsukurimasu).

Tip! Be sure to have fun with your tempura–make it colossal!

 

4. Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

okonomiyaki

A close runner up as an all-time favorite by foreigners and Japanese alike is oknomiyaki (literally “grilled as you like it”). What could be more fun than playing with your food? Mix up the cabbage with a combination of okonomiyaki flour and milk, add a raw egg, then ingredients such as mochi, cheese, fish, pork, or corn (anything really–as you like it!). Leave it on the grill to cook then top it with sweet okonomiyaki sauce!

Whether Hiroshima style or Osaka style, oknonomiyaki satisfies even the most unsophisticated pallets. It’s what I serve to my parents who don’t like Japanese food (surely the only two people left in the world). This pancake-like food is certainly interactive and gets everyone communing at the table.

Not only that, but such comfort foods pull at the heartstrings of boys when they become myopic, nostalgic adults missing their mommies. In Japan, the relationship between mothers and sons is supposed to be extra special (sorry girls!).

Watch it! A video of one man’s gourmet food trip through Japan, including oknomiyaki.

 

5. Tamago Kake Gohan (卵かけ御飯)

TKG

This simple dish is so fast, so simple, and so good! Just a raw egg, a little soy sauce (if you like) and some cooked white rice will give you a meal on the go. One of our RocketNews24 writers who grew up eating TKG, says it’s her go-to comfort food. Just pour the raw egg yolk over the rice and mix it together: ta-da! Isn’t that convenient?! Who said you couldn’t cook Japanese food?

Make it! Try Rocket Kitchen’s Ultimate TKG

6. Nabe (鍋)

nabe

Nabe is one of those foods in the “cooked in large earthenware pot” family. It is stewed in a vessel that sits in the middle of the table. Meat and vegetables are added throughout the entire dinner session, with each person around the dinner table reaching into the pot with their chopsticks to pick out their own vegetables or meats (or perhaps dished out by mom) as the ingredients slowly cook. This dish is only shared with family or good friends who you’re absolutely sure don’t have any contagious diseases. The constant dipping of your chopsticks into the broth to dig out mighty morsels means that you’ll be sharing your germs. On the other hand, you can console yourself that the boiling broth may kill most of the cooties someone might unknowingly be passing on. Nabe, a winter food, is usually associated with close friends and family, the equivalent of sitting around a bonfire with a guitar and singing songs together. Being invited to a nabe party is a definitive indication you’ve been accepted into the inner circle. Try yosenabe–or “fling it all in” nabe!

Make it cute! Tips on how to make your nabe look as kawaii as possible!

 

7. Okayu (おかゆ)

okayu

When Japanese feel a cold coming on, they reach for okayu–a warm, easily digestible watery mush made from rice. It’s also the food of choice if you’re missing your teeth. Even Kiki, the heroine of the anime film Kiki’s Delivery Service, can be seen eating okayu in a scene when she is sick. So next time you’re feeling a bit under the weather, do what Kiki does and try some rice porridge!

Make it! Ghibli-inspired rice porridge

8. Udon (うどん)

udon

While both ramen and udon noodles are loved by the Japanese, I’m going to stick to Udon here because, well, it’s Japanese (whereas ramen in technically Chinese) and udon is the Wall Street Journal of noodles–it’s way more sophisticated than ramen. Ramen’s reputation is that of an easy, greasy food eaten when you’re in need of something filling and moreish but not especially good for you–often after a night out drinking. But while ramen satisfies, udon nurtures. The warmth of steam emanating from a large bowl of udon, and enveloping your face in the wintertime is enough to warm you to your toes. It’s no wonder that in Kagawa Prefecture, the udon capital of Japan, and where they are known to eat udon while in the bath, that they’re using the long unleavened egg dough to generate power. How cool is that?!

9. Curry Rice (カレーライス)

katsu curry

Curry rice doesn’t sound like it’s Japanese, and surely its origins aren’t (Japanese curry comes from India by way of the British navy, would you believe), but the way the Japanese have modified their knock-off version is distinctly their own. It’s sweet, gooey and heaped over sticky rice! And it’s usually not spicy at all. Kids and adults alike love this cheap, easy-to-prepare food, usually made from boxed curry you buy at the store. And anything can be added to it including meat and veggies. For me, I prefer the real thing, but the fact is that Japanese kids grow up eating and loving the Japanese version. Curry rice is served in school lunches, at ski resorts, on the beach, and at restaurants everywhere. It’s ubiquitous, which means it’s a fallback food anywhere, anytime. Except abroad, where you’ll rarely, if ever, find it.

Tip! Twelve meals to make using leftover curry

10. Ochazuke (お茶漬け)

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We saved ochazuke for last because this dish is consumed at the very end of a meal. Ochazuke is most likely only encountered by foreigners who dine with Japanese, so may not be well-known to mere tourists. But most foreigners’ first encounter is similar: You’re at the end of a meal, feeling like a total pig because you’ve eaten so much amazing food. You’re sitting back in your chair, hands folded over the swollen stomach, thinking you couldn’t eat another bite of anything even if it were apple pie, when suddenly, someone at the table pipes up, “Let’s have ochazuke!” They tackle the waiter who dutifully takes away one thing from the table: the leftover rice. This is taken back to the kitchen, where the chef mixes it with green tea (and perhaps some other things). The rice concoction is brought back out to the table and presented as the last course, like a sort of savoury dessert. It’s warm, it’s delicious, and you somehow find a little extra room in your distended stomach for it before completely passing out.

Tip! Just combine green tea and rice.