I came across an article that reports Japan’s gun-crime stats for 2017. According to the 警察庁 (National Police Agency), there were 3 people killed and 5 people injured in gun-related crimes in Japan in 2017. Yes, that’s for the entire year. Note that the figures exclude suicides and accidents.
Japan’s population is 127 million people.
The article also compares statistics from the US in the same year: 15,612 gun-related deaths, or 42 people per day. In Japan, meanwhile, 44 people were killed by guns over the past 8 years.
In October, I visited the island of Kyushu for the first time on a family trip. Specifically, we went to Kumamoto City in Kumamoto prefecture. I’ll write about the city another time, but here, I like to write about our day trip to Mount Aso.
Mount Aso is a volcano with 5 peaks and is famous for, according to a tourist website, its “ancient caldera [which] ranks among the world’s largest, with a diameter of up to 25 kilometers and a circumference of over 100 kilometers.” At the Aso volcano museum, I learned that a caldera is land that gets pushed down like a sinkhole when a volcano erupts, forming a sort of bowl shape in the landscape, with the volcano in the middle.
As you might recall, Kumamoto suffered multiple large earthquakes in April 2016. The recovery is ongoing, and several of the train and bus lines are still disrupted. To get to the mountains, we took a bus ride of 90ish minutes from Kumamoto City to Aso City station, and from there, a special mountain bus for another 30 minutes to the Mount Aso visitor centre and museum. The ropeway line that allows you to see the main active volcano crater was closed after an eruption in October 2016. It reopened in March 2018 (well after our trip), but of course it is occasionally closed for safety reasons depending on volcanic activity.
Although we couldn’t see the smoke-spewing crater up-close, we had a fantastic hike up one of the peaks. Rather than the type of switchback trails that I’m more used to, we climbed stairs pretty much straight up the side of the peak. From the top, we had an excellent view of the caldera, the other peaks, and the active crater.
Overall, it’s a very beautiful area, and much less-visited (that is to say, not overrun with tourists) than the main hotpots of Tokyo and Kyoto. Kumamoto City is a two-hour flight or six-hour (comfy!) Shinkansen ride from the Tokyo area, and is absolutely worth a visit. The area is still suffering from the earthquakes and resultant loss of income, so visitors are most welcome.
A month ago, I posted that the cherry blossoms were just about to bloom. They opened fast, were brilliant for about a week, and then were gone in the blink of an eye (or a shower of pink petals). Here are some photos from this year.
In early March last year, we visited Himeji Castle. Himeji is in Hyogo Prefecture, roughly 500 km / 300 miles west of Tokyo.
The castle is one of the very best in Japan and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site (one of Japan’s first). The current structure was completed in 1609, although it was a fortified stronghold from the 1300s. It has managed to survive earthquakes and bombings, with a restoration to the facade completed in 2015. The amazing white colour really sparkles in the sun, so I’m glad we got to see it post-restoration!
We were there before cherry blossom season, alas. Although it would be wonderful to see the castle surrounded by pink blossoms, it also becomes a crowded madhouse, so perhaps a more relaxed visit is better.
Even without being there at peak time, the queue to climb to the top of the keep was substantial. I didn’t take many pictures inside as we had to keep pace with the lines continuously trudging up the six stories. Despite the crowds, it was very cool to see the dark wood, weapons racks, and strategic windows for archery and dropping boiling oil / water on attackers.
The castle is alive with numerous legends from samurai feudal days, not to mention more recent historical dramas filmed there. There’s tons to read about the castle’s history on the interwebz, but this article in the Telegraph gives a nice short introduction, plus there’s a timeline on the castle’s website, and also wikipedia, of course.
Here’s what it would’ve looked like if we visited a few weeks later:
Chilly weather in Japan means nabe (pronounced nah-bay)—that is, hot pot dinners. (Nabe or 鍋 just means ‘pot’ generically.)
Like most people, we have a little gas stove, like a camping stove, that sits right on the table for nabe meals. As the pot (donabe or 土鍋) simmers away, everyone serves themselves as they wish. Nabe evokes warmth and togetherness—plus it’s a very easy meal to prepare.
There are no particular rules for nabe, but we usually include: big green onions; mizuna; hakusai (aka napa aka Chinese cabbage); maitake, enoki, and sometimes other mushrooms; and tofu.
Other typical ingredients include shiitake mushrooms, white fish or oysters, meatballs (pork or chicken), fried tofu, ganmodoki (tofu balls with vegetables), etc. One famous kind of nabe is chanko nabe, the primary meal of sumo wrestlers. It includes chicken, veggies, and various tofu products. And of course, they eat tons of rice alongside.
One typical way to finish off a nabe meal is to use the remaining stock for 雑炊 (zosui). You re-heat the stock that remains in the pot and stir in beaten eggs and rice or noodles to make a sort of porridge.
You can also buy very handy packages of stock for nabe at the grocery store, in all types of flavours: sesame + soy milk, various kinds of dashi, kimchi, tomato, soy sauce, etc.
I customarily blog about New Year’s food, although I’m a little tardy this year.
We had, of course, toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve to bridge the old year and the new. We went with a simple (and sticky) mix of okra, grated nagaimo (a sticky yam/potato), nori seaweed, nameko mushrooms, and green onions.
On January 1st, we had osechi, lots of lucky food in the traditional box format. This year’s selection had Japanese, Chinese, and ‘Western’ style items.