Pink buds spotted

Cherry blossoms will be blooming soon…



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:

Photo By Seattleite7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

We also visited Koko-en (好古園), a beautiful garden next to the castle.  Highly recommended!

Places I’ve visited – intro

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit some interesting places in Japan so far, and I plan to start blogging about them one-by-one.

In the meantime, I felt that my blog should have a list of places I’ve been, more generally. So here it is. (I realize that it’s pretty much just for my own interest’s sake!)

Looking towards Antarctica from Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Countries in which I’ve lived


States visited

  • Western Australia
  • Northern Territory
  • South Australia
  • Queensland
  • Victoria

*Airport transit only in Sydney, New South Wales


Provinces visited

  • British Columbia
  • Alberta
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • New Brunswick
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Nova Scotia

*Airport transit only in Winnipeg, Manitoba


Prefectures visited

  • Kumamoto
  • Hiroshima
  • Okayama
  • Hyogo
  • Kyoto
  • Aichi
  • Mie
  • Nagano
  • Shizuoka
  • Kanagawa
  • Tokyo
  • Chiba

*I’ve passed through several others on the train, but that doesn’t count!

United States

States visited

  • Hawaii
  • Washington
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico
  • South Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • New Jersey (technically – Ellis Island)
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine

*Airport transit only in Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia

Other countries I’ve visited

  • Guatemala
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • Qatar (only a few hours, but I left the airport!)
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Singapore

*Airport transit only in Helsinki, Finland and Hong Kong, China

Countries I want to visit the most

I want to visit pretty much everywhere, but here are my top picks at the moment:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Botswana
  • Chile
  • France
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Malaysia
  • Russia
  • Senegal
  • Tahiti
  • Thailand


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.

Nabe simmering

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.


Happy New Year! 2018, year of the dog

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.

New Year’s food

See also last year’s post for more New Year’s food info.

And, we went to mochi-making. Very tasty, as per usual!


KFC and cake

Christmas in Japan means Santa Claus and Christmas tree-themed everything, Christmas music blasting everywhere from November, and on the day itself, KFC and “Christmas cake.” It’s mostly a romantic holiday for couples, a fun time for kids, and a massive shopping season for everyone, leading up to New Year’s, which is the main holiday of the season (and the year).

As the Gaijinpot blog puts it:

“It’s a question that many Westerners ask every year around this time, when the iconic red, white and green marketing campaigns go up across the nation: How did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a fast food joint?” Essentially, it’s due to an extremely successful marketing campaign in the 70s. Read the blog post for more details.

KFC is indeed enormously popular for Christmas lunches and dinners, and it’s necessary to order your fried chicken well in advance.

A sampling of KFC ads:

We skip the KFC craziness, but we do tend to partake in “Christmas cake.” According to this NPR article, Christmas cake became a tradition in post-war times, where American-style cake came to be associated with a decadent American Christmas.

Japanese Christmas cake is typically white sponge cake with white icing and decorated with strawberries and the like, plus various Santa and winter-themed decorations. But there are many different variations, including our raspberry mouse shown below. See also last year’s chocolate.

Christmas cakes aren’t just sold in bakeries, but also supermarkets, department stores, and even convenience stores. But in most cases, pre-ordering is absolutely essential!

Most Japanese I’ve spoken with assume that fried chicken and cake is typical Christmas fare in America and other Western countries and are surprised when I tell them, well, it’s not!


Takoyaki is a much-beloved Japanese food, particularly enjoyed at summer festivals and most famous in Osaka. It consists of a piece of octopus surrounded by a pancakey batter that’s formed into a ball shape while grilled. Hubby came across (and bought) a make-your-own kit for enjoying the joys of takoyaki at home.

The kit came with all the necessary tools: a bucket for mixing and pouring the batter, a whisk, a turner, a tool for spreading oil in the pan, and most importantly, the takoyaki pan that’s designed for grilling perfectly formed balls.

Oil spreading tool and turner

The batter consists of flour, eggs, water, and soy sauce and/or dashi.

Mixing the batter

Oil is spreading into each of the holes in the pan, and then a piece of octopus is placed in each. The batter is poured in, and then green onions added. Usually pickled ginger is also added here, but we didn’t have any.

Pouring the batter

The exciting part comes when it’s time to turn the takoyaki and form the batter into balls while it’s being grilled.

Turning the takoyaki

Takoyaki is typically dressed with takoyaki sauce (similar, or the same?, as okonomi sauce), mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and powdered nori.

Ready to eat
With salad!

Takoyaki professionals have amazing turning technique. Mesmerizing!

Hood coat exclusive

Since I’m aiming to become a translator someday, I’m interested in cases of translation gone wrong.

The other day, I went to a market / mall with indoor shops and outdoor eating spaces. I staked out a table while a friend went to buy food and spotted the following sign on our table:

My eye went to the English bit, and needless to say, I was confused. However, my friend and I both had coats with hoods, so I figured we were ok.

Later, upon consulting the Japanese, I realized the source of the confusion: フードコート. Japanese doesn’t have the sound “hoo”, or rather the single sound “foo” as in Fuji is somewhere between how “foo” and “hoo” are pronounced in English. For any linguists out there, the relevant phoneme in Japanese ɸɯ, and English fu and hu don’t exist.

Also, when English words are represented in Japanese, American/Irish/etc. hard “r”s are often omitted. So car is written in a way that makes is pronounced kah, party is pah-ty, etc.

So, it turns out that both hood coat and food court can be transliterated as フードコート (f/hoodo cohto). Ah ha. So the seats were reserved for people eating food purchased at the shops’ food court. No outside food allowed.

I’m still a bit confused by the “prohibited on board” wording, but my guess is that the phrase was copied from some other setting where food or something else is prohibited on some mode of transportation. Regardless, it gave us a little giggle.

Alas, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the Chinese and Korean translations.