Many of us dream of eating authentic sushi in Japan. But do you know the proper decorum for ordering? How about paying the bill? And what’s the difference between nigiri and narezushi, anyway?
The folks over at Swissotel Nakai Osaka have kindly shared with us a set of stylishly designed infographics designed to teach sushi newcomers everything they need to know about ordering, eating, and paying for Japan’s most well-known dish while in its homeland. Eating at a sushi restaurant isn’t nearly as complex as it may seem at first, but there are a number of dos and donts to be aware of, so it’s a good idea to study up before ducking beneath that noren curtain and stepping into a restaurant.
But before we order our first few morsels, let’s learn a little about the skills a sushi chef—or itamae—possesses and why they deserve our respect when we take a seat in front of them.
Okay, so we know that the person behind the counter is not to be trifled with, but what to order when they ask what you’d like? The itamae will often recommend cuts of fish, or very often take the entire decision-making process out of your hands by serving up an omakase (lit. “leave it to you”) course, but you’ll still want to know what you’re dealing with. These are the main types of sushi you’ll encounter in Japan:
So, you know what you’ll be eating, but you don’t want to unknowingly commit some sushi faux pas before you’ve so much as taken a seat. Here a few tips for entering and taking a seat at a sushi restaurant:
Especially in pricier establishments, diners should also be aware that wearing strong-smelling perfume or cologne is a big no-no. People in Japan usually wear much less perfume than in the west anyway, but sushi is all about delicate flavours and balance—no one wants to have their unagi upset by the dude who doused himself in Nightswept, so think twice about going for sushi if you gave yourself a generous spritz before leaving the hotel.
Now for the fun part! Your sushi is right in front of you and you’re mouth is watering at the mere sight of it. But before you grab your chopsticks, take a moment to think about what you’re eating—if it’s sashimi chopsticks are of course required, but for most sushi it’s actually considered perfectly normal—and in some cases expected—to at with one’s fingers. Oh, and go easy on that soy sauce…
If you’re walking into a branch of KFC, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re there to eat fried chicken. You could even argue that the whole process of ordering is partially redundant, since the question isn’t whether you want some of the Colonel’s deep-fried bird, but simply how much.
And if your answer to that query is “All of it,” then head on over to Osaka, where the first all-you-can-eat Kentucky Fried Chicken buffetis about to open.
Actually, KFC and Osaka go way back. Not only is the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, said to be cursed following some of its rowdy fans tossing a statue of Colonel Sanders into a river 30 years ago (which was also the last time the Tigers won the Japan Series), in 1970 Osaka hosted the Japan World Exposition. Inside the event’s United States pavilion was a Kentucky Fried Chicken trial restaurant, the very first to operate in Japan.
45 years later, the Expo City entertainment complex is set to open in the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park, and from November 19 one of its tenants will be a buffet-style KFC restaurant.
For 90 minutes, diners will be able to enjoy all the Colonel’s original recipe chicken they can eat, along with roughly 60 other menu items. In addition to standards such as fresh-baked biscuits and cole slaw, the restaurant will also serve rotisserie chicken, soup, salad, and macaroni and cheese made according to a recipe from Colonel Sanders himself. For dessert, there will be a selection of fruit, cake, and other sweets.
KFC is also promising an atmosphere of Southern hospitality, which in addition to piles of fried chicken means a woody interior and Colonel Sander’s actual suit on display, since the late chicken mogul’s iconic duds are now in Japan.
Adult prices range from 1,880 to 2,480 yen (US$16-$21), with weekday afternoons being the lowest-price dining time and weekend evenings the highest. Children between the ages of 4 and 12 eat for reduced prices, and those under 4 dine for free.
Kentucky Fried Chicken Lalaport Expo City /ケンタッキーフライドチキン ららぽーとEXPOCITY店
Address: Osaka-fu, Suitashi-shi, Senribanpaku Kouen 2-1
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Japan is widely-acknowledged to be one of the world’s safest countries. In the Economist’s ‘Safe Cities Index 2015’, two Japanese cities are ranked in the top three, with Tokyo topping the list, and Osaka coming in third place. So, with this in mind, it’s strange to think that Japan is also home to one of the world’s largest and most notorious organized criminal networks – the yakuza.
This iconic underworld of criminals has been made famous in films like Fireworks, Youth of the Beast and Battles Without Honor and Humility, depicting the yakuza as an intimidating bunch famed for their violent behavior. But beyond the simplistic “suits and shades” stereotype of the Japanese mobster, the inner workings of the yakuza are secretive, complex, and as steeped in traditional Japanese values as any other part of the country’s culture.
If you’ve always longed to understand the a little more about the cryptic and labyrinthine honor codes or delicate power balances that underpin this infamous crime syndicate, here’s your chance…
The word ‘yakuza’ has its roots in a Japanese card game: a blackjack variant called oicho-kabu. In the game, a three-card-hand’s value is determined by adding each card together, and then using the smaller number from the resulting two-digit figure to indicate a score. For example, when added together, a hand of 8+9+3 = 20. The smaller number in 20 is 0, which means it scores no points. In fact, this is the game’s worst possible hand.
This losing hand of 8-9-3 is referred to ya-ku-za (ya, or yattsu, means ‘eight’; ku means ‘nine’, and za, or san, means ‘three’). The word yakuzaliterally means ‘good for nothing’. And this explains much of Japan’s attitude to the group.
The word yakuza links back to of the origins of the network, which can be traced back to two Japanese social classifications – gamblers and merchants. During the Edo period in the 17th century, both of these groups were regarded as the dregs of society. Merchants were known as tekiya – peddlers of stolen goods, often with shady reputations. Gamblers were called bakuto, and were known for playing illegal dice and card games.
Both bakuto and tekiya were groups of outcasts, living outside the norms of Japanese society. But this slowly changed. The merchants started to form organised groups that were formally recognized by the Edo government. The gamblers banded together in gambling houses. This eventually led to loan sharking, which required the bakuto to employ their own security personnel.
These embryonic gangs of semi-legitimate criminals and delinquents were regarded by Japanese society with a mixture of fear and contempt. Nevertheless, they attracted new members and gained new influence, and went on to form alliances throughout Japan, eventually being referred to under the collective name: yakuza. These roots can still be seen in today’s yakuza, with some ceremonies still containing elements from the criminal network’s humble trade and gambling origins.
MEMBERSHIP AND STRUCTURE
In the 1960s, police estimates put yakuza membership at around 184,000 – an all-time high. Recent figures suggest the current total number of yakuza members is somewhat lower, at 53,500 (the smallest number on record). This shrinking but still significant yakuza population is divided into 20-or-so large conglomerate groups, which in turn contain hundreds of gangs. The largest conglomerate is the Yamaguchi-gumi family, whose membership is put at around 27,500. This makes it the single largest criminal organisation in the world.
Yakuza groups are organised using a hierarchical structure that works much like a family. Each recruit is referred to as a kobun (child), and has a father, known as oyabun. This parent-child relationship operates throughout every level of the yakuza, from top-level conglomerate bosses (known as kumicho), all the way down to new recruits.
To strengthen these familial bonds, the parent-child relationship is honored and strengthened in a ceremony known as sakazuki. The words akazuki can refer simply to ceremonial cups, but it can also describe a ritual in which loyalty and allegiance are pledged through the symbolic sharing of sake.
Typically, the “parent” will pour the “child” a modest measure of sake, followed by a larger measure for himself. The two will then sip from each other’s cups, in a highly elaborate ceremony that’s often followed by a booze-fuelled feast.
When a kobun receives sake from an oyabun, they have officially passed their initiation into their yakuza family. At this point they’re ranked in a similar way to older or younger brothers. They’re also required to cut ties to their real family and swear allegiance to their local boss.
Within the strict hierarchical structure of the yakuza, there are certain rituals that are designed to ensure every member knows exactly where they stand. The most well-known of these is called yubitsume, or “finger-shortening.” This gruesome atonement ceremony is required of a yakuza member when saying “sorry” simply doesn’t cut it.
First, the wrongdoer places a piece of white cloth on a table. Then, once they have tourniqueted their little finger with a piece of string, they place their hand on the cloth. Next, taking a razor-sharp knife, they sever their little finger above the top knuckle, and wrap up the resulting piece in the white cloth like a gift. Finally, they present the gory parcel to their oyabun. At this point, when the oyabun accepts the finger, they are also deemed to have accepted the kobun’s apology.
Yakuza members are wise to learn from their mistakes: subsequent wrongdoing means that they have to amputate the next knuckle of their little finger. And so on, and so on, as long as they are seen to be transgressing the group’s strict code of conduct. It’s not uncommon to see more mature yakuza members missing significant portions of both sets of digits.
The yubitsume ritual is said to have its origins in the time when yakuzamembers carried swords. Without the top part of the little finger, it’s much harder to grip the sword handle firmly. This meant that the member missing the finger would be increasingly dependent on their senior members for protection, drawing them closer to the gang.
Today’s yakuza members are less likely to carry swords. But considering golf is a wildly popular pastime in Japan, a missing little finger can still cause a serious disadvantage…
One of the most iconic images associated with the yakuza is their intricate, full-body tattoo designs, which are an integral part of the group’s history and culture. These designs can sometimes be seen peeking out from beneath shirt-sleeves or collars: tattoos are considered taboo in Japan, so they’re typically worn in such a way that they can be concealed.
The traditional yakuza “body suit” often has an unmarked strip that runs up the centre of the stomach and chest – this means a traditional open kimono can be worn without openly displaying a tattooed torso. It also gives the body a place to sweat – which is important in preventing liver failure.
This culture of body art is more than just decorative: thanks to Japan’s traditional tattooing technique, irezumi, it’s a very clear way for members to demonstrate their ability to withstand excruciating pain for long periods. Irezumi tattoos are hand-poked – which means that ink is jabbed by hand into the skin using needle-tipped wooden tools. This process is time-consuming, uses toxic ink and is extremely painful – 80% of those aiming for the full “body suit” are unable to stick out the whole process. The technique may be excruciating, but it yields incredible results. The colours are vivid, and it’s possible to achieve subtle gradations in tone that are impossible with an electric tattoo gun.
Those who do go the distance find that creating the full body suit is a lifetime journey, and one that requires them to form an intimate bond with their tattoo artist. These master artisans will often spend time getting to know their client before deciding on a theme for the tattoo design. Popular subject material includes koi carp, which symbolize courage and power, and cherry blossoms, which symbolize the fleeting nature of life (in other words, the yakuza way of saying, “life fast, die young”).
Yakuza members often meet in onsen (Japanese bath houses). These places are highly traditional, and require visitors to be naked – which means they cannot carry concealed weapons. While everyone is unclothed, unarmed, and equally vulnerable, tattoos serve as an effective way of intimidating other yakuza. A full body suit is a very clear demonstration of extreme physical toughness. For non-yakuza visitors to the bath house, the arrival of a bunch of tattooed heavies generally serves as a clear announcement that it’s time to hit the road.
Different yakuza groups involve themselves in different forms of business, to varying levels of moral questionability. Not all of them are entirely unscrupulous: for instance, Japan’s largest yakuza syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, forbids its members to engage in drug trafficking (yet this doesn’t stop them from earning an estimated $6bn a year!).
In general, however, the yakuza are known for engaging in fairly shady activities. These can range from the sex-trade industry, gun smuggling, illegal gambling, blackmail, extortion, protection racketeering and even politics. The yakuza even has an interesting way of playing the stock market – gangs will buy stocks in businesses, and then send members to board meetings. Once there, they use personal information to intimidate other board members, who are pressured to make payoffs in order to save their reputations.
Where blackmail or extortion are concerned, yakuza techniques are carefully crafted to uphold the Japanese values of politeness and honour. Instead of simply demanding cash, yakuza members will ask corporate leaders to give to fake charities, or attend fake benefits or golf tournaments, all requiring donations at ludicrously inflated prices.
It’s easy to imagine the criminal underworld as a place continually fraught with paranoia at its discovery by the police. But, in Japan, the mafia hides in plain sight – often with its own offices, business cards and corporate websites. It’s not illegal to belong to a yakuza gang. In fact, senior members even register themselves with the police, and some have their own pensions!
These semi-legitimate organisations even take part in activities that are actively beneficial to the community. After the 1995 Kobeearthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate provided disaster relief to the stricken communities — including a helicopter that they just happened to have lying around! — and the group was praised for responding much faster than the Japanese government. After the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, the same group opened their offices to refugees, and sent trucks to affected areas to deliver tons of food, blankets and supplies.
Although they are widely hated by the Japanese public, yakuza gangs are a surprisingly effective method of keeping troublemakers off the streets. Their hierarchical structure requires potentially out-of-control youngsters to adhere to a strict code of behavioural conduct (or risk losing their fingers), which is a counter-intuitive but efficient way of insulating the Japanese public against random acts of violence.
In fact, it could be said that without the ‘balancing’ force of the yakuza, Japan would be a much more dangerous place. And this leads to the rather bizarre conclusion that the country is, in fact, not a safe place in spite of the yakuza, but rather, in some part at least, because of it.
While Japan is famous for its animation, food, pop-culture, it’s also infamous for its extremely high suicide rates. Many Japanese students and salarymen succumb to the pressures of school and work by taking their own lives. There is little knowledge about what factors increase the risk of suicide, but recent research has found that people, namely adolescents, born between January 1 and April 1, are 30 percent more likely to commit suicide.
April 1 may be a day of jokes and pranks for some, but in Japan, the beginning of April means a new fiscal year and the start of a new school year. Since school always starts on the first Monday of April, federal law states that students will enter first grade if, and only if, they are six years old by April 1 of that year. Born on April 2? You wait until the next year to start school.
A research team in Osaka, headed by Associate Professor Tetsuya Matsubayashi, in collaboration with an American team from Syracuse University, hypothesized that the students born between January 1 and April 1, the youngest in the cohort, are at a higher risk of suicide.
They base their hypothesis on the idea that this group is developmentally behind their peers, who can be nearly a year older. While it doesn’t seem like much, in childhood, a year can make a big difference in mental, physical and emotional abilities. Because of this, kids born in that young group are more likely to fall behind their older, more developed, peers in both academics and sports. This disadvantage, the researchers argue, is enough to significantly increase pressure and stress in school for some students, which could eventually push them to suicide.
▼ Developmental disparities are still, if not more, apparent in high school.
The teams used information from people born between 1974 and 1985 and looked at those who committed suicide between the ages of 15-25, then separated their findings based on birthdate. They found that there were 30 percent more suicides of students born in the last week of March (March 26-April 1), the youngest kids, compared to students born in the first week of April (April 2-8), the oldest kids.
There have been some other studies, though not so many, comparing April-born and March-born people, including one which found that March-born people earned four percent less income than their older counterparts.
Upon announcing their results, Matsubayashi emphasized his belief that Japan needs to drop this current way of determining when students start school and return to the old way, a way that many other countries are starting to adopt again: kids should start school when they are developmentally ready. In “the old days” of Japan, that meant being in good health and knowing right from left. While those standards of readiness may have to be tweaked, the proposal, in general, makes sense. We’ll be on the look-out for any developments on this front, but a change like this will take some time, if ever implemented.
Japan is captured in spellbinding fashion by photographer Takashi Yasui in this photo series. Training his lens on well-known sights such as the Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizudera shrines, Arashiyama bamboo forest, and Gion geisha district of Kyoto, the founder of the RECO photography collective portrays them in new light and a heightened artistic sensitivity to the country’s undeniable mystique.
My name is Takashi Yasui, I’m 35 years old, and live in Osaka, Japan. Basically, I take photos in Kyoto so I call myself a “Kyoto Photographer.” About five years ago, when my niece was born, I started taking family portraits; that’s how I got into photography.
About 4 years ago I installed “Instagram”on my iPhone and began to follow photographers from all over the world. This had a big impact on me: I met a lo of Instagrammers in Japan, leaned about photography, how to shoot, how to edit, how to find a location, composition, perspective, and things like that. Recently, I met few talented photographers from the US, Canada, and France, and was exposed to their take on shooting. It really helped me to grow as a photographer. Now, photography is a more of a pleasure, it is a passion for me.
I’m shooting with Fujifilm X-T10, X-M1 with XF14mmF2.8 R, XF35mmF1.4 R. Editing with Lightroom, using VSCOfilm presets.
Osaka is known throughout Japan for being a foodie’s paradise. The area has such a focus on food and dining and has given birth to so many well-known dishes that there’s even a famous saying: Kyo no kidaore, Osaka no kuidaore, meaning “Dress up till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka”.
This October, the city will be showing us just how much their food culture means to them, with a giant floating sushi traincarrying plates of gigantic sushi up and down the river, and we’re taking a sneak peek at video and photos of the trial run!
“Rolling Sushii” is one of a number of works that will be on display as part of the Osaka Canvas Project, where artists and performers transform the vibrant city with outdoor performances and interactive installations.
In the Edo era, which lasted from the 17th to 19th century, Osaka was referred to as Tenka no Daidokoro, “The Nation’s Kitchen”, as it was the main centre for rice trading. In 1958, the world’s first conveyor belt sushi restaurant appeared here, so it’s only fitting that the world’s first giant floating sushi train should debut in the area.
The unusual sushi train can be found at the Tombori Riverwalk on Saturday, October 3 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.–11 p.m., Sunday, October 4 from 9:00 a.m.- 10:30 a.m., and Saturday, October 17 from 9 a.m.–10:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.–11 p.m.
While the huge plates of sushi look impressive on land, once they’re in the water, they really get everyone’s attention.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that you should always wash your hands after going to the bathroom. If there’re two things we know, though, the second is that you’ll never get anywhere in life being fixated on the past. So while 2014 was a pretty good year for us, we’re already looking to the year ahead, which is already promising seven cool happenings for Japan in 2015.
1. Opening of the new Shinkansen line
Japan may have a reasonably priced overnight bus network and well-maintained highways, but there’s no denying that the quickest and most convenient way to get around the country is the Shinkansen. Currently, you can travel by bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano, but the new Hokuriku Line will allow travelers to extend their Shinkansen trips from Nagano all the way to coastal Kanazawa. So starting March 14, you’ll be able to zip on over to the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture in record time to enjoy its historic Kenrokuen Garden, delicious seafood, and, provided you’ve still got some yen left over, golden handicrafts.
2. First flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet
If tertiary travel is too tedious for your rarified tastes, there’s also the maiden voyage of the MRJ coming up in 2015. Jointly developed by Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Fuji Heavy Industries (parent company of automaker Subaru), the MRJ is scheduled to take to the air for the first time this spring. Airlines won’t be receiving their own until 2017, but nonetheless, the upcoming test flight is a major step towards Japan’s first domestically produced airliner since the financial failure of Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing’s YS-11, which was discontinued over four decades ago.
3. Osaka’s Dotonbori Canal becomes a pool
If you’ve spent much time looking at photos of Japanese cityscapes, odds are you’ve seen Dotonbori, Osaka’s neon-lit entertainment district that straddles the Dotonbori Canal. After years of revelers diving into the water after victories by the local Hanshin Tigers baseball team, someone decided they may as well make part of the canal into an outdoor pool, which is just what’s scheduled to happen to a one-kilometer (0.62-mile) section of it for four weeks in August of 2015.
4. The next, and possibly final, Evangelion movie
Creator Hideaki Anno has never been particularly decisive about putting a period on his masterwork, as evidenced by how Eva’s cash-strapped TV finale has already been followed by a half-dozen movies. Signs point to a late 2015 release for the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion theatrical feature, though, which has been billed as the culmination of 20 years’ worth of groundbreaking animation (those of you who can’t wait until the end of the year can whet your appetite with a teaser-style Eva short film right here).
5. So long, SIM locks!
Like topknots and the feudal system, SIM locks are set to become a thing of the past in Japan starting this May.
6. The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II
2015 is also a good time to stop and take a moment to appreciate that Japan can get excited about developments in consumer electronics because it’s a country at peace, as it has been for the last 70 years.
7. Prince William visiting Japan
Another thing that wouldn’t have been happening during open war between the U.K. and Japan, Prince William is scheduled to visit the country as part of a trip through Asia in late February.