Traditional Japanese cuisine uses staple foods available in the region. For thousands of years, Japanese food has had strong influences from Korea and China. It was only in the last few hundred years that foreign trade and religion made an impact on traditional Japanese fare and developed it to what we now know it to be.
Sampling the various local dishes gives us a wonderful way to experience the unique tastes and culture of Japan. Here are some of Japan’s traditional foods to try:
Sashimi – consists of extremely fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces. The main ingredient is usually served with a garnish such as shredded daikon, white raddish, or shiso leaves (a herb from the mint family). Sashimi is served with a dipping sauce (soy sauce and wasabi paste).
Sashimi. | Jessica and Lon Binder
Sushi – usually consists of cooked rice mixed with vinegar and sweet sake, raw or cooked seafood, seaweed, and vegetables. The ingredients and presentation vary but sushi always contains rice. Raw fish or other types of meat that is sliced and served without rice is called sashimi. Sushi is often served with a daikon garnish, wasabi, soy sauce, and shredded ginger.
Kaiseki Ryori – a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner. The modern form of kaiseki is considered more traditional Japanese haute cuisine. The basic structure of kaiseki cuisine includes “One Soup and Three Dishes” (1 soup dish, 1 main dish, 2 side dishes) referred to as a setto, “set”).
Tonkatsu – breaded, deep fried pork cutlet often served with shredded cabbage. It is usually eaten with a thick sauce that tastes similar to Worcestershire sauce. Mustard (karashi) and a slice of lemon can also be used as sauce. Tonkatsu can also be served with grated daikon instead of tonkatsu sauce.
Tonkatsu set. | zezebono from Tonkatsu Wako Restaurant in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Shabu-shabu – a Japanese version of a hot pot is a delightful assortment of meats and vegetables. Meats may include beef, crab, duck, fish balls, or lobster. Vegetables may include Chinese cabbage (hakusai), nori (seaweed), chrysanthemum leaves, welsh onions, green onions, garlic, mizuna, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bean noodles, or lotus root.
Shabu-shabu. | imissdaisydog
Udon – the thickest of Japanese noodles. White in color and made from wheat, they can be served either hot or chilled with dipping sauces, in broth, or in an array of other hot dishes. Udon is usually topped with various ingredients like mixed tempura fritters (kakiage), deep fried tofu pockets (aburaage), tempura, or prawn.
Udon. | Toshiyuki IMAI
Ikebukuro (池袋) is one of Tokyo’s exciting centers conveniently located at the northwestern corner of the Yamanote loop line that connects Tokyo’s major city centers. Ikebukuro Station is an important commuter hub that intersects three other subways and multiple urban and suburban train lines, making it the second busiest railway station (surpassed only by Shinjuku Station).
The Ikebukuro dormitory for KCP students is just 30 minutes from the school. It isn’t just a convenient commuters hub, but a thriving entertainment and commercial district as well. Ikebukuro offers a number of things to see and do. There are entertainment, shopping, and dining options to suit anyone’s fancy. Ikebukuro is also a treasure trove of Japanese culture and history. The city was known as “Sugamo” during the Taishō and Shōwa periods when foreign laborers and artists chose to live there because it was not as expensive as other places in Tokyo.
Check out our photos of KCP’s Summer Short-term 2016 students as they are welcomed in their Ikebukuro dorm. A wonderful start to their Japan experience!
For more photos of the event, visit KCP Flickr.
Jessica Dales, one of our Fall term 2011 students, gave us an insider’s view through her photos and descriptions.
The roots of monetary currency began before the 8th century in Japan and took the form of arrowheads, gold powder, and rice grains. Japanese coinage was inspired by the Chinese Tang coinage, Kaigentsūhō (Kai Yuan Tong Bao in Chinese). The first Japanese formal currency system was Kōchōsen (“Imperial currency”). The Wadōkaichin, or Wadō-kaihō, is the oldest official Japanese coinage minted as early as 708 CE on the orders of Empress Gemmei.
Bank of Japan.
Japan’s financial system is similar to those of other industrialized nations. The Bank of Japan is a tool that implements the monetary policy. The Bank of Japan (Nippon Ginkō), or Nichigin, is the country’s central bank with headquarters in Chūō, Tokyo. The institution was founded after the Meiji Restoration. During the previous eras, all of Japan’s feudal fiefs issued their own money (hansatsu).
The New Currency Act of Meiji4 (1871) established the yen as the new decimal currency replacing all the others. The fiefs became prefectures and their mints became private chartered banks which were initially allowed to print money. For some time, both the central government and the “national” banks issued Japanese currencies. This ended when the Bank of Japan was founded in Meiji 15 (October 10, 1882), under the Bank of Japan Act 1882 (June 27, 1882), after a Belgian model. The institution was granted a monopoly on controlling the supply of money in 1884.
The headquarters of the Bank of Japan in Tokyo was the site of the former gold mint or the Kinza. It is close to the famous Ginza district whose name means “silver mint.” The Bank of Japan building was built in the style of Neo-baroque architecture popular in the 19th century and was designed by Tatsuno Kingo (October 13, 1854 – 25 March 1919), in 1896. Tatsuno is also known for conceptualizing the Marunouchi building of Tokyo Station (1914). The architectural style of the Bank of Japan displays aspects of the Baroque features of the 17 and 18th centuries.
Japan is a pioneer intechnological advancement especially in robotics, computer, and video games, as well as in the field of communications. Recently, KCP’s Summer-short term students visited TEPIA (Association for Technological Excellence Promoting Innovative Advances) Museum where they had loads of fun while learning more about the exhibits.
TEPIA Science Museum is conveniently located in Tokyo’s Aoyama district. It is known for its studies in advanced technological research in machinery, information technology, biotechnology, discovery of new material, energy, and the like. TEPIA distinguishes itself on sharing information on state-of-the-art technologies to help find ways to solve global issues such as environmental concerns and creating new industries. TEPIA houses a gallery that exhibits wondrous technological advancements.
The TEPIA building was built in 1989 and designed by architect Fumihiko Maki, who makes creative use of new materials and fuses Eastern and Western cultures. The building is famous for its high level of construction technology. Fumihiko Maki, a renowned Japanese architect, was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1993 as “a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which have produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”
TEPIA building. | Yuichi Sakuraba
The original design of the TEPIA building is hailed as an architectural wonder. It is a modernist structure with a semi-circular glass block wall accented by delicate surfaces such as metallic and perforated screens that add to the high technological effect representative of its purpose. TEPIA Science Museum is a wonderful way to experience the how far Japan has come in the scientific community and what it has contributed to the world.
Check out photos of the excursion!
For more photos of the excursion, visit our album at KCP Flickr.
Since World War II, Japanese women have been awarded rights equal to men. Many Japanese women are remembered throughout history for their contributions in different fields such as the arts, science, politics, and social awareness. Here are some of the Japanese women who have helped shape history:
Akiko Yosano (7 December 1878 – 29 May 1942) – Akiko Yosano’s real name at birth was Shō Hō. She was a poet, author, pacifist, social reformer, and pioneering feminist active in the late Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa periods. She was one of the most renowned and controversial post-classical female poets of Japan. Her work set an image for herself and a stage for female voices in modern Japan.
Sadako Ogata (Born: 16 September 1927) – an academic, author administrator, diplomat, and professor emeritus at Sophia University in Japan, Sadako Ogata is widely acclaimed for the posts she held as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Chairman of the UNICEF Executive Board, and President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). She is beloved by the Japanese people for her compassion for the less privileged and admired for her dedication to human rights.
Sadako Ogata. | World Economic Forum
Hibari Misora (29 May 1937 – 24 June 1989) – a singer, actress, and cultural icon, Hibari Misora was awarded the Medal of Honor for her contributions to music and improving the welfare of the Japanese people. She was also the first woman to receive the People’s Honour Award (one of the commendations bestowed by the Prime Minister of Japan) for giving the people of Japan hope and encouragement after World War II through her music.
Chiaki Mukai (Born: 6 May 1952) – a board-certified vascular surgeon and a JAXA astronaut, Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman in space and the first Japanese citizen to have two space flights. She spent a total of 23 days in space. Her first shuttle mission was aboard the “Columbia” in 1994; the second was on the “Discovery” in 1988.
Masako Katsura (1913–1995) – known as “First Lady of Billiards,” Masako Katsura was a carom or straight rails billiard player who competed in the 1950s. She was among the best in the male-dominated world of professional billiards. Under the tutelage of Japanese champion Kinrey Matsuyama, she became Japan’s only female professional player of billiards. She won second place in Japan’s three-cushion billiards championships, a popular form of carom billiards, three times. On exhibition games, she ran 10,000 points in a game of straight rail.
Japanese sculpture epitomizes the long history and culture of Japan. Many modern day artists make use of natural objects of stone, wood, bamboo, and even paper to express their art. Early Japanese sculptures started from clay figures. The craft was influenced by the Silk Road culture in the 5th century and by Chinese sculpture. Western influence on Japanese sculpture came about during the Meiji era.
Most Japanese sculptures were derived from idol worship in animalistic rites of Shinto deity or Buddhism. Sculpture in all the arts is usually centered on Buddhism. Traditional materials included metal such as bronze, but wood—brightly painted, lacquered or gilded—was more commonly used. Some notable Japanese sculptors include:
Tori Busshi – a sculptor during the 6th and early 7th century, from the Kuratsukuri (鞍作, “saddle-maker”) clan. His full title was Shiba no Kuratsukuri-be no Obito Tori Busshi (meaning “the maker of Buddhist images”). He was the favorite sculptor of Soga no Umako (a member of the powerful Soga clan) and Prince Shōtoku (a semi-legendary regent and a politician of the Asuka period). Many of the Asakusa period sculptures in gilt bronze are credited to Tori Busshi and his workshop. His works are characterized by solid geometric figures in front-oriented, characteristic poses.
Asuka dera daibutsu by Tori Busshi. | Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons
Jōchō Busshi (died in 1057 CE) – a sculptor of the Heian period. He popularized the yosegi technique of sculpting a single figure using many pieces of wood. Jōchō is also credited for redefining the canon (a rule of proportions to produce a harmoniously formed figure) to create Buddhist images. His influence spread all across Japan and defined the style of Japanese sculpting for the next 150 years. Jōchō is considered to be one of the most innovative Japanese artists and “the first of a new kind of master sculptor.”
Amida Nyorai by Jōchō Busshi.
Hidari Jingorō – a famous sculptor and carpenter of the early Edo period (1596-1644). He is believed to have created many famous deity sculptures all around Japan; many legends circulat about him, including the question of his actual existence. Jingorō was an apprentice for the chief Architect Hokyo Yoheiji Yusa of the Imperial Court in Kyoto. After losing his right hand, he taught himself to use his left hand hand and became known as Hidari Jingorou (Hidari means “left”). Among his more famous works is the nemuri-neko (“sleeping cat”) carving located above the Kuguri-mon Gate by the sacred mountain shrines and temples of Nikkō, Japan.
Nemuri-neko carving by Hidari Jingorō.
Summer in Japan is full of excitement: it is a season of fireworks and festivals all around the country. Almost every night, firework displays color the evening skies. Around Tokyo, there are also several summer purification rites to participate in. Summer in Japan can also bring on the heat. Here are some delicious Japanese summer desserts to enjoy and cool off.
Uirō – a traditional Japanese streamed cake made from rice flour and sugar. It is similar to mocha in texture. Popular flavors include strawberry, matcha (green tea), chestnut, and yuzu (a citrus indigenous to East Asia).
Uirō. | 小太刀
Kuzumochi – these are mocha cakes made from kuzuko (a starch powder made from the root of the kudzu plant). The refreshing dessert is usually served cold, topped with a sugar syrup known as kuromitsu or “black honey.”
Kuzumochi. | 663highland
Anmitsu – it’s made from small cubes of agar jelly made from red algae. The jelly is usually made with fruit juice. Anmitsu is served with sweet azuki bean paste, boiled peas, and a variety of seasonal fruits.
Kakigōri – a Japanese type of shaved ice dessert, kakigōri differs from a snow cone because it is flavored with syrup and condensed milk. The ice in kakigōri is fluffier and smoother, much like newly-fallen snow, and is best enjoyed eaten with a spoon rather than directly from the paper cone.
Kakigōri. | ma_shimaro
Chirin-chirin – this ice cream is similar to sorbet: light and refreshing, perfect for summer. Its name is an imitative word named after the sound of the brass bell ice cream vendors use to attract customers. Chirin-chirin comes in various flavors, but vanilla is the most popular. What makes it so special is its rose petal shape.
Mochi ice cream – this delectable dessert is about the size and shape of a golf ball. It has a mochi outer layer and an ice cream inner layer. Flavors vary from vanilla to matcha (ground green tea.)
Mochi ice cream. | wEnDy
All these desserts are a refreshing break from the summer heat and can be enjoyed not just during hot days, but all year round!
Kanzaki is a thriving, modern city in Saga Prefecture, Japan. The city was established only recently on January 1, 2007, from the merger of the towns of Kanzaki, Chiyoda, and the village of Sefuri. Yoshinogari (吉野ヶ里 遺跡), or Yoshinogari Iseki, is a complex in Yayoi archeological site in Kanzaki and Yoshinogari. The site dates back to the 3rd century BCE all the way to the 3rd century CE.
Yoshinogari site fence and entrance. | ken
The Yoshinogari archaeological site plays a significant role in Japanese and world prehistory because of the important nature of the settlement, its massive size, and the ancient artifacts found in the area. The whole archaeological site consists of a settlement, a multiple ditch-and-palisade enclosed precinct, and a cemetery. Ancient artifacts have been unearthed such as bronze mirrors from China, Japanese-style bronze mirrors, coins, bronze daggers, bells, halberds, iron tools, prehistoric human remains, wooden tools, and many other precious archaeological vestiges.
Yoshinogari archaeological site. | Dick Thomas Johnson
Yoshinogari lies on a hilly area of about 40 hectares. It has been continually excavated by several agencies since 1986 and is a major tourist destination. Aside from archaeological artifacts, there are also more than 2,000 tombs found in the site that contain pot coffins, storehouses with elevated floorings, and remains of pit dwellings. The relics found in the site match the description of Yamatai-koku governed by Queen Himiko in the Chinese history book entitled “Gishi-wajin-den” of the 3rd century. This signifies that the origin of Japan lies in northern Kyushu. Articles and models of the site can be seen at the Yoshinogari Exhibition Hall.
Yoshinogari has wondrous artifacts that tell us about the long and proud history of Japan and its people. Its significance in Japanese history made it a “Special National Historic Site” in 1991, and a National Park was created there in 1992. It is just one of the many places to see when visiting Japan.
Although the Tōhoku region of Japan suffered devastating damages along its east coast with March, 2011’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, it is slowly getting back on its feet.
The Tōhoku region (東北地方 Tōhoku-chihō), or “Northeast Region,” consists of six prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, and Yamagata. Tōhoku region is a quaint, hilly, and mountainous area full of picturesque scenery. The Ōu Mountains are the longest range in Japan, stretching about 500 km south from the Natsudomari Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture to the Nasu volcanoes (a group of complex volcanoes whose talles peak, Sanbonyari, is 6,289 ft. high.) Mount Nasu is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountins of Japan.
Ōu Mountains. | 佐藤智史
Tōhoku was historically known as the Michinoku region in 654 with an ancient settlement existing between the seventh and ninth centuries. The last stronghold of the indigenous Emishi on Honshu was the site of many historic battles. Traditionally, Tōhoku was a granary because it supplied 20 percent of Japan’s rice crops. In recent decades, Tōhoku has developed other industries in iron, cement, steel, pulp, and petroleum refining.
August is a much anticipated month in the region with the “Three Great Summer Festivals of Tohoku” to look forward to. These are:
Sendai Tanabata Matsuri – Tanabata, or “Evening of the seventh,” is also known as the Star Festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year depending on either the solar or lunar calendar and the area in Japan. It commemorates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi who, according to legend, were lovers separated by the Milky Way and were allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
Tanabata Festival in Edo print by Utawaga Hiroshige
Nebuta Matsuri – this festival is held every year from August 2 to August 7. “Nebuta” refers to a prominent warrior-figure–his float is paraded through the streets and accompanied by dancers wearing costumes while chanting “Rasserā.” The festival is held in Aomori City and attracts numerous visitors with its grand showcase of extravagant floats and lanterns that can measure as big as 10 meters.
Float decor at Nebuta Matsuri. | Laura Tomàs Avellana
Akita Kanto Matsuri – celebrated every August 3-6 in Akita City, the festival commemorates hopes for a good harvest. Over 200 bamboo poles, about 5 to 12 meters long, are attached with 24 or 46 lanterns and topped with gohei (wooden wands).
Tōhoku, in spite of its industrialization and having gone through a natural calamity, has still maintained its tranquil and majestic beauty and has three great summer festivals that make it a place always worth visiting when in Japan.
Festival lanterns. | Chris Lewis
Lacquerware is made by coating and recoating materials like bamboo and wood with the sap of the lacquer tree, a tall deciduous tree in the cashew family. Lacquer is the material of a traditional Japanese craft that is centuries old. Lacquer is known to have as much protective strength as paint, and when made properly is resistant to alkali, acid, and friction. It is lightweight and durable, and lacquering is a favorite technique for coating most Japanese everyday things.
Japanese lacquered spoons, 20th century. | WolfgangMichel
Japanese lacquerware has been a form of decorative and fine art in Japan for centuries. Lacquer has been used in prints, paintings, and a wide variety of objects, from religious statues to everyday bento boxes. It has been an iconic symbol of Japanese arts and creativity.
Lacquerware is referred to in Japan by a number of terms. Shikki (漆器), lacquer ware in Japanese, is the most literal. Other terms are nurimono (塗物) which means “coated things,” and urushi-nuri (漆塗), meaning “lacquer coating.” The sap of the lacquer tree is poisonous to the touch until it dries, and the creation of lacquerware is practiced only by well trained and dedicated artisans.
Lacquered scabbard, sword stand, and tabletop cabinet. | Dennis Amith
Lacquer can be traced as far back as 7,000 BCE during the Jōmon period. Evidence of this was discovered at the Kakinoshima “B” Excavation Site in Minamikayabe Town (北海道の南茅部町の垣ノ島B遺跡) in Hokkaido. Many Japanese traditional arts and crafts as well as industrial arts produced throughout history were influenced by the Chinese. Local stylistic influences were slowly adapted through the centuries. During the Edo period (1603-1868) lacquer trees were widely cultivated for the development of the technique in lacquerware making. By the 18th century, colored lacquers came into mainstream use.
Lacquered pitcher. | Sean Pathasema
Today, production of lacquerware is prolific all around Japan, but Echizen lacquerware, with its long history, stands out particularly. As the story goes, during the sixth century, a lacquerware crown decorated with gold and silver that belonged to a prince of the Yamato Dynasty (today’s Nara Prefecture) was broken. It is said the aids of the prince sought far and wide for a craftsman skilled enough to repair the crown. Finally such a craftsman was found in the area known today as Sabae City’s Kawada in Fukui Prefecture. The mountains of Kawada even at the time had lacquer trees growing naturally in the area and lacquer was already being produced. Kawada today still has hundreds of lacquerware craftsmen and is known as the home of lacquerware.