Making Faces in Japanese Places

Japan, when it comes to “weird,” you manage to outdo yourself on an daily basis.  In fact, your superiority in that category only meets its match with your prime export of “cute,” but today’s blog post will focus more on the former.

Okayama - Toshiyori Sushi Dinner  & Kokugo Dictionary(4)A book?!  Well, it’s a Japanese dictionary - the Sanseido Kokugo Jiten- revised every few years and noted for including the most contemporary words and phrases.  Someone in Okayama gave it to me as a gift.  It really came in handy for those long trans-Pacific flights…

A brief backgrounder– the Japanese language uses three styles of writing, two alphabetshiragana and katakana- and kanji, characters either borrowed from or influenced by China.  Hiragana and katakana are both derived from kanji.

When I finally decided to open the book (I should really quiz security staff at Japanese airports with it) , the first page I randomly turned to had already started to mock me:

Okayama - Toshiyori Sushi Dinner & Kokugo Dictionary(5)

馬鹿にするな! (baka ni suru na) Don’t make fun of me!

This image is known as へのへのもへじ, or henohenomoheji.  Schoolchildren throughout Japan use this as a mnemonic device when they are starting to learn hiragana.  It is one of many hiragana faces to aid in the study of that alphabet.

That’s the definition suitable for all audiences.

In fact, henohenomoheji also appears on scarecrows throughout rural Japan as well as on paper ghosts hung upside-down by kids in order to postpone rain for another day.  In other words, if you’re a young student on a farm, this is a Catch-22.

Is your language as bizarre as Japanese?

Everything’s Bigger in… East Asia?

If you’ve had the chance to flip through my previous posts, you may already know that East Asia has cornered the market on many of the world’s superlatives– among numerous other (read: weird) possibilities, escalators, advertising and flight delays all come to mind.  Texas, quit your slacking.

Airport Signs

Bangkok - BKK (Suvharnhabumi Airport Tollway)
This is the tollway leading to Suvarnhabumi Airport in Bangkok.  Last I checked, once you’ve made it to this stage of the road, the next exit is the airport.  So…what’s the point?


Jakarta, CGK- Detailed Banister

Singapore’s airport has gardens, a pool and a movie theatre, Hong Kong’s has a trail and Jakarta’s elaborately detailed banisters.  If anyone knows what story/legend this particular banister is based on, please let us know!

Bookstore Signs

Narita - Giant Bookstore Sign
Japan, a country known for efficiently cramming things – and people – into small spaces compensates for its lack of…land area with giant signs and advertisements.  Want to bowl?  Seek out huge bowling pins on roofs.  Need to buy a lighter in the shape of a gun, kidney beans and tweezers?  Look for unfinished roller coasters.  Can’t decide on which book you next want to read?  Don’t get any, and instead, take a picture of the exterior of the bookstore itself.  This one was taken in Narita, not far from the AEON mall.


Tokyo, Kameido - Giant Naan

Another vote for Japan: not only is the average naan that size, but they are generally quite good too.  Just don’t eat it on the street over there, for you might face the wrath of a lowered eyelid.

Care to add anything to the list?

The 2015 Chinese New Year: The Year of the Escalator

Hong Kong- New Year's Escalator Dragon

I was wandering around the Times Square mall in Hong Kong at the time of the Chinese New Year in 2007 when it struck me that I wasn’t in New York anymore (on second though, it might be better to say that I wasn’t on Canal St. anymore)- a dragon dance was taking place on the ground floor, but then momentarily stopped while on the escalator.  It continued again as soon as the head of the dragon reached the first floor.  I thought it was amusing, and you know what, if that procession started making its rounds on escalators across Manhattan, what’s the harm in that?

I’m told that the Lunar New Year, aka Spring Festival starts tomorrow.  If you want to get bonus points, try permitting people to have a prosperous new year by saying 恭喜发财(gōng​xǐ​fā​cái)…just as long as you also don’t suggest a vacation to Thailand.

Happy New Year and 新年快乐 (xīn​nián​kuài​lè)!

Be Better, Buy Butter

Manado - Butter

I couldn’t figure out why pillows would be in the refrigerated section of a supermarket in Manado, Indonesia.  What are they trying to sell me, a local placebo for lower back pain?

As you probably guessed though, that’s not an incredibly uninviting bed either.  In fact, it’s a container filled with butterWho knew that Southeast Asia had such an affinity for the stuff

Yeah, I’m not against it either.  Dunk lobster and popcorn in it, spread it on croissants and ramen and ponder over whether or not yellow is its natural color.

On the topic of aesthetics, color additives are added to many foods to make them more appealing to consumers.  Cheddar cheese for example is frequently colored with annatto, from the achiote tree.  But what Gobstoppers contain is beyond me.  What I’d like to know is, does the packaging for the above bricks of butter turn you off from buying them more than if they were wrapped in something more translucent/more bashful?  Or, are you of the “it’s the same food no matter how it’s wrapped” ilk?

Take Your Imagination Out for a Spin in Jakarta

Jakarta - Steady Safe Bus

You’re too funny, Jakarta bus.  That’s probably why, for a long time, I have adopted Frankie Smith’s method of commuting.

I have nothing against public transit – in fact, testing out local methods of transportation is a must when I travel somewhere – but I might as well walk when possible.

For sure, where safety is less of a priority than comfort – for example, on these buses in Indonesia’s capital, you can smoke on-board even though there may be a gap in the floor between you and the next seat – exercise is much appreciated.


Dinner? Dessert? Maybe. Japanese? Definitely. Sour Plum and Shiso Candy

Edgewater, NJ, Mitsuwa Marketplace - Umeboshi Shiso Candy
Direct from Japan – the perpetual world capital of weird –  comes 男梅, Plum Man.

Who is that?

The real question is, what is that?  Before even touching upon what the candy above tastes like and why there are so many different topics written all over the packaging – the one in the upper right hints at receiving a Japanese kitchenware gift – Plum Man is the mascot introduced by the Nobel company located close to the lower-left part of the bag.  What does it do?  It’s a Junichiro-of-all-trades, I guess.

As for the taste, umeboshi – yes, that same umeboshi in the BuildingMyBento header – with a hint of shiso.  That is to say, pickled plum and… shiso?  Shiso, also known as perilla, is an herb that not only has antiseptic properties, but is also used to add a light red hue to umeboshi.  Imagine a sweetened version of that pair, combined with MSG, and you get a flavor that may be an acquired taste to those who tend towards this instead of this.  Possibly.

It’s a candy that I could get used to, except that at the time I was eating it I was also enjoying one of the few remaining reasons to visit the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, New Jersey, Boloniya bread.  Perhaps there’s a more convenient place to buy a bag of either food in New York City, but that bread is grossly addictive.  How are the two related?  They’re not, but I had to mention the bread, because I usually finish it too quickly before taking a photo for the blog.

How does this sour plum candy sound to you?

Japanese Signs: I Could Read Them, if I Could Read Them

During my first visit to Japan in the summer of 2000, I lived with a host family in Kanazawa for one month.  Even though I was just in my early teens at the time, wanderlust had already become a favorite pastime.  (That probably explains why after having already separated from the group five times, the group leader of the homestay program became upset with me…)

In any event, one of those exploratory jaunts (auspiciously) led me into a building which housed a Brazilian sauna, replete with Polaroids of Brazilian and Japanese women wearing bikinis.  At the time, I didn’t know any Japanese – thus, I couldn’t read any signs, but from that point on, I could only imagine the possibilities… moreover, knowing Japan as I do now that’s likely the only establishment still in business in that building.

Fast-forward a few years to when I was able to read some of the language.  Great right?  Time to take lots of blurry photos of neon, check out the weird nightlife and hire someone with 20/20 vision–

Tokyo - Giant Vertical Neon Sign

Osaka - Giant Vertical Sign

I’d really like to see what’s going on up there, but gosh I just can’t read it to save myself.  On top of that, the club/store may not even let foreigners in anyway.

On second thought, I could always take up another hobby.