Tokushima Katsu, (literally, Tokushima cutlet) a kind of fish cake with a spicy outside, very disappointing to find it was made with curry and therefore inevitable. It seemed to be readily available at the fish market and in stores but is a local Tokushima snack.
Awa Uzushio beers are a local from Tokushima. Far superior in quality to anything you will find from mainstream Japan, this microbrew has even won awards in Germany. They use local water from the Yoshinogawa and make a few styles of beer. In the red can, you find an American style red, more like a softly bitter amber with a full body. In the blue, there is an easy to drink koelsch to et your thirst. Both of these beers are consistent in quality with an American microbrew or mainstream German or Czech brands, but not above their premium lines. There may be better brands in the world, but in Japan, this is as good as it gets.
Sudachi is a small green citrus fruit found only in Tokushima. They make a variety of drinks from it, though it isn't served intact to eat because it tends to be too tart, kind of like a very zesty lime or a toned down lemon. A variety of alcoholic beverages are made from sudachi which are common and cheap in Tokushima, though not as readily available in the rest of Japan, where they can also be quite expensive. I don't think they are normally available outside of Japan.
Super Sudachi Chu has a fruity, modestly sweet finish edge to it. The label proclaims it a vodka based drink, but I consider it a variation of standard Japanese sochu. Regardless of how it is classified, the brew won Brussels’ Mondiale Qualite awards in 2006. This drink is 50 proof, Russian for ‘water’ but in keeping with the typical strength of a sochu drink.
My preference, sudachi shu, is by comparison a very light, clear beverage, not quite as strong as wine, with a flavor usually paired with grilled fish. This drink is both light and easy to drink, especially for women, whose tastes can be much softer than those of men.
The Onsen is a Japanese tradition which is an absolute must for a visitor who wants to get a glimpse of day to day Japanese life. The Onsen (public baths) facilities vary a lot from place to place, but they have similar customs across the board, plus they remain very popular with the Japanese. It isn't uncommon for them to visit the baths several times per week to talk, socialize and mingle. No experience in Japan can quite compare to a visit to the Onsen.
The public baths are similar to what we used to have in the west, only as more and more people have added running water to their homes in Japan, instead of going out of business, they went upscale. Instead of paying five cents and getting a towel, you pay Y1000 ($10) and get a towel, a toothbrush, perfume/cologne and unlimited access to spa quality facilities kept
The baths all have pools of several different kinds of hot water, as well as hot tubs, saunas, and bathroom style sinks. Some are indoor and some are outdoor, and in winter, the outdoor ones are simply one of the most stimulating things I have everexperienced. In addition to these facilities, each baths has its own special features. The best one I tried was a set of three nozzles set four meters above the ground that were shaped so as to gravity drop a firehose thick rope of clear hot water. Putting your clavicle under one was like getting the best shiatsu massage that ever existed.
The public baths require full nudity but are segregated by sex. Non-Japanese are somewhat rare, especially in the rural areas, and you can expect to be stared at if you go. Small children of the opposite sex may accompany either parent. Tattoos need to be covered. Conversation is quiet. Most baths have adjacent facilities to purchase food and drink at reasonable prices. Elaborate baths offer pajama style clothing and more extensive facilities such as green tea baths and places to watch television. Most if not all also offer open floor massages during set times and for set prices.
This festival occurs in August and goes for several days. Most local companies get in on the act and have their own teams.
It's great fun with stalls selling food and alcohol, and you can join in the dancing yourself, if you wish.
Toka Ebisu is a celebration which is intended to bring prosperity to those engaged in business and is sort of associated with Osaka since that is the chief merchant city. Like so many other customs in Japan, "luck" is the dominant theme and Toka Ebisu is supposed to bring "luck" for entrpreneurs. In addition to praying at the shrine, you purchase the branches of a tree like those shown in the picture (don't know which type) and bring it to your home. You keep it for one year and then return it to the shrine the following year. The festival takes its name from Ebisu, God of Wealth and one of the seven major gods of good fortune.
Red bean is a traditional Japanese sweet that isn't quite as sweet as most western desserts. It has a mild, smoothe flavor that somehow strikes me as being very Japanese. I usually saw this eaten as a snack rather than as a full fledged dessert course, but it could very well be both. Red beans usually come in some form of baked good. Shown here it is served in cake, called Agi-Manju, but it is also very common to serve it in a heavy bread, called An-Pan. Pan is the word for bread in Japanese, directly incorporated into their language from Portuguese, who introduced bread to Japan.
No one believes Japan is the land of milk and honey despite how it tries to portray itself. Tragedies can and do occur in Japan, leaving the Japanese to deal with them as their religions and customs dictate. A shrine such as this is one of the ways in which a grieving parent will commemorate their child.
Japan is known as a buddhist country, but beneath the Buddhism lies an older, and I would argue deeper religion called Shinto. There is no central God in Shintoism, only many small ones, ranging from places to families to ancient emperors and military figures, to river spirits and most importantly, one's ancestors. It is, to me, no coincidence that the Japanese have a very strong belief in ghosts. The Shinto religion lays the groundwork for exactly such a belief.
By building a shrine such as the one you see here, the Japanese do more than just remember their lost child. They literally worship his or her spirit, and continue to provide for him or her by bringing small offerings of rice and other foods much as they would have done had the child lived. I don't know all the ins and outs of this custom. Do they bring candy? They offer sake for adults, but for the spirit of a child?
Of all the sights and customs of Japan, I found this to be one of the most foreign, almost alien customs of all, yet it is oddly touching if not a bit eerie. Sometimes when you look at a shrine and it appears to be a thousand years old, yet you see fresh rice and mochi inside, a chill goes up your spine, but something also touches your heart.
These are called different things but are basically the same. Health Clubs are the more modern version and make house calls. The long and short of these, (and I didn't visit one myself and even if I had a lot won't cater to foreigners because of the fear of AIDS) is that you go to a sopran and in exchange for money you are given some drinksand snacks, along with a girl who gives you a body wash or sponge bath, followed by a full massage. the experience ends with fellatio.
Now I made a tie betwen the Sopran and prostitution, quite logically in my mind, but it doesn't seem the Japanese do, possibly because there is no vaginal sex involved and possibly because this is a custom dating back a thousand years or more. Liek a lot of things involving Japan, I'm not sure, but I can say that this is a more or less open and accepted facet of Japanese life. Japanese men are not ashamed to frequent a Sopran in the slightest and it seems to carry absolutely no social taboo or stigma. The prices don't even seem that steep, which to me indicates that there are probably quite a few of them.
The picture above, taken from the street, is of a Health Club, which, as I said before, makes house (or hotel) calls. The place also seemed to lack the kind of raunchy smell and feel of western sex shops, displaying once again, a very different mentality evenif I doubt you will ever see a Sopran on a Japanese girl's resume.
To the Japanese of Tokushima Prefecture, the raccoon is a somewhat supernatural or mystical animal. Their local legends tell of raccoons transforming into people and causing mischief, telling lies in order to split lovers, tempting husbands or wives by appearing as beautiful women or handsome men, stealing sake and food etc.
Raccoons are generally represented like the fellow I'm standing beside. Quite frequently, they are shown revelling with sake bottles or in other happy, mischievous poses. For some reason, they also wear straw hats. Generally speaking, as you travel around Japan, if you see the raccoon represented, it means there is some kind of fun or pleasure to be had in the establishment displaying it, not always with a naughty twist.
OK all you beef lovers, listen up!!
Japan may be known for its fish, but it also turns out some very very high quality beef. One way in whioch they serve this is to bring it out raw, on platters, and let you cook it on a grill in ther center of the table. Its a great experience, with beef so tender you'll think it is Kobe beef bit it's not. You drink beer and kick back while the women cook the food and put it in your bowl, then eat it with this kind of sauce, piping hot, with just a hint of char. I could eat this all night.
Wherever you see this kind of gate, you are at a shrine. Some are small, some are large, some are tucked away in neighborhoods and some are UN World Heritage sites.
I don't and didn't pray in any of the shrines I visited, but they are more open to outsiders than a Christian church would be. To pray, you simply throw some coins in the box, then ring the gong with the rope to get the Buddha's attention, place the palms of your hands together, touch your nose to your thumbs and bow three times, just like in the movies. Once you are praying, they aren't a bit concerned who you pray to, and I did see gaijin doing this. I myself would have had a hard time bowing down before a Buddha, but let your conscience be your guide.
Frequently, outside of the shrines there are water fountains with cups. Rinse them off before you drink, the water is supposed to be lucky. Incense is often available for a small charge, and in major shrines there are souvenier shops which also sell good luck charms These are NOT to be photographed for reasons I don't know.
This seemed to be a not uncommon sight in various well trafficked parts of Japan such as shopping districts, tourist attractions and transportation nexii. I'm not at all certain of the social or cultural implications of monks begging is, but they stand silently as statues with their faces covered and bowl outstretched. If you give them something you can expect a silent, respectful bow instead of a thank you. The monks don't have the same feel as say the unemployed or homeless begging do. There is an air of almost pious nobility to them, so whenever I passed one, I would donate a little something.
I thought this was kind of cool, skewered fish grilled over coals. These are fresh water fish from the Iya River valley of a kind called amego, (ah-meh-go) which I was told can only survive in waters that are absolutely pollution free. They were tasty and so light and delicate that they can be eaten meat, skin, bones and all. I skipped the head.
It seemed like all through rural Japan we would run into just the coolest food, sweet potatoes roasted in a parking lot, buckwheat cookies, just all sorts of stuff. These particular fish were being grilled under the awning of a convenience store.
One holiday food enjoyed by the Japanese is mochi, a dense, sweet rice treat which they also decorate as you can see in my photo. I've heard it mentioned that you should be careful giving mochi to the elderly as it is possible for them to choke on it, and some number of deaths are recorded each year. As you go through shopping areas and people's homes, you may see larger pieces of mochi decorated with oranges and other items as well as large pieces of art designed to look like them.
New Year's is also the Japanese gift-giving season, but adults are generally excluded. In their generous but quiet way, they pass small gifts of money to children (usually younger than 18) in small colored envelopes, no big shiny presents with bright ribbons and big cards. They also present the gift in the most humble of terms, apologizing that it isn't more. (OK I didn't know and dropped them in laps, "There ya go Shoko, party hardy!") The children for their part express profound thanks, receiving the gifts respectfully with both hands (the same way I was supposed to present them), bowing and accepting with gratitude.
Both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are feast days for the Japanese, and they serve up huge portions of sushi, sashimi, cooked fish and meat, scallops, shrimp, pickled vegetables and fish cakes.... The list goes on and is no doubt tailored from family to family.
Obviously a full and insightful description of Japanese New Year's customs are not only beyond the scope of my knowledge, but they are beyond the scope of a simple VT tip as well. I just hope that in or out of Japan, this tip might explain some of what you might see or encounter.