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Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

November 19, 2015

Today in my Japanese class we focused on telling the time. It was a lot of numbers and some very thoughtful expressions as we went around the room and asked each person, “Anata no kuni wa ima nanji desuka?(What time is it now in your country?).” The gentleman from Canada tried to get specific and let us know what time it was in Toronto, but I kept my answer short and just answered without giving a specific city or time zone (not that I would know how to say “time zone” in Japanese).

As we learned the different minutes and then the words for a.m. and p.m. the group sort of collectively stumbled upon a tongue twister. Gozen is a.m. and gogo is p.m.. The number five is go. One of the example times was 5:55 .pm. Which gives us:

gogo goji gojyuugofun gojyuugobyou

The last part is 55 seconds. The lesson today wasn’t supposed to cover the word for seconds, but we asked about it so we could make it even harder to say. Try saying it five times fast.

Some new takeaways for me were the word for noon, shougo, and adding the phrases asano, hiruno, or yoruno (in the morning, during the day, at night) to a time. Yoruno kuji would be 9 o’clock at night and another way to say noon is hiruno jyuuniji.

Aji Furai

November 13, 2015

IMG_0506As promised I am going to recreate all of the recipes from my class at Yuka’s Japanese Cooking. Shortly after the class I made the same meal again, but I am going to make each dish again and write it up with pictures.

Except I might not make the Fried Horse Mackerel again in the near future. For a few reasons; it seems to be seasonal, it was a little expensive, and deep frying really messes up the kitchen. Fear not – I took good pictures of the fish when I cooked it last week.

There isn’t any secret recipe to having this dish be delicious. You dredge the fish fillets through flour, egg and Panko bread crumbs, maybe add some salt and pepper, and deep fry the fillets until they are golden brown.

These simple ingredients create something delicious, but I think the fresh fish probably takes it up a notch and I never would have tried this if Yuka hadn’t shown us how to fillet the mackerel. She gave us cut by cut directions and during the class my fillets were pretty pathetic, but after cutting up the four fish I bought I think I finally got the hang of it.

I was a little worried about the cook time for the fish because the directions are things like “until brown” and “heat all the way through,” but because I only had to focus on the fish (everything else was already prepared) it was easy to see when they were done. I pulled them out of the frying pan when they were golden on both sides. When we cooked the fish for the class there were still several small bones in the fish and my fillets where the same. After the frying I couldn’t even tell they were in there and they are a great source of calcium. Michael pulled a couple of tiny bones from his portion, but I think he was looking for a reason not to enjoy it – fish is not his favorite. It seems a little wasteful, but the middle part of the fish just gets tossed in this recipe. I suppose I could have made fish stock, but that only occurs to me in retrospect. Yuka-san told us that she will sometimes fry the middle part and then just nibble around the bones as a snack.

Hmm…Now that I am looking at the pictures of the finished product maybe I will have to make this again soon.

What and Who

November 12, 2015

This has been a very busy week. Kira is in Kyoto with her students, my friends Chris and Carrie are visiting, I have a lot of work at my job to get done, and it is the first week with two Japanese lessons.

Today in class we added a lot of new vocabulary including one word that I think I have “learned” about 5 times. For some reason I can never remember the word for bag – kaban. Hopefully by typing it here it will stick. The phrase that I really learned today wasn’t really in the curriculum. The first lesson of the day was learning the word for what – nan. The sensei would pick up an item and ask us, “kore wa nan desu ka?” (what is this?) She then had people come up and do the same thing. Each time she would point at a person and say “Kitte kudasai.” She never translated this for us, but by the end of the class everyone knew it meant, “Please come here.” In addition to these two phrases we learned the words for about 30 nouns as each new item got picked up, including a kaban.

After we finished with What? we moved on to Who?

To practice the question “Who?” the sensei would hold up a picture of someone and ask “Dare?”. I list for you now the five people that she showed us assuming they would be instantly recognizable to our very international group.

  • Barack Obama
  • Albert Einstein
  • Will Smith
  • Steve Jobs
  • Vladimir Putin

She also taught us the example in the textbook, to ask us who is on the ¥1000 note. None of us knew, but she wrote it up on the board and explained that he was the famous doctor, Hideyo Noguchi.

Which worked well to transition us to a lesson on counting money. I have the numbers down fairly well, but I still stumbled when reading aloud things like 587 or 13849 because I have to think of each part separately. One interesting thing about this lesson was that we started giving each other random numbers and it was at this point the sessei told us that 4 yen is yoen and not yonen, because the latter just doesn’t sound right.

How Old?

November 10, 2015

Sometime last year Microsoft created a website called to showcase its machine learning tools. the premise is that you upload a picture of your self and the programming behind the site can analyze it and guess your age. It is freakishly accurate while still offering some hilariously wrong answers because it doesn’t care when it is wrong or by how much. After today’s Japanese lesson I can now answer the same question as, but in Japanese.

If you have studied Japanese a bit then you might be aware that there are different counters for everything. Days of the month have their own counters, small animals, flat objects, round objects, and these are all different from the numbers used just for counting. There are some patterns and the kanji for the numbers remains constant, but I don’t think I will ever remember all of them. Today I learned the numbers used for “years old.” They are pretty straight forward with only a few exceptions from the counting number. The suffix for years old is ~sai. Here are the words for 1-10 to tell someone how old you are.

  1. issai
  2. nisai
  3. sansai
  4. yonsai
  5. gosai
  6. rokusai
  7. nanasai
  8. hassai
  9. kyuusai
  10. jussai

They work like the counting numbers in that to get 13 you just say the number for 10 and then 3 (jyuu sansai) or for 28 it is two then 10 and then 8 (ni jyuu hassai).

There is one more exception that I will be able to remember because it applies to my oldest daughter. The word used for 20 years old is hatachi. Twenty is the age of adulthood in Japan so it gets a special word.

The Demise of the Rusty Trombone

November 9, 2015

This week we have our first non-family visitors from the United States. My good friends Chris and Carrie decided to spend some airline miles and visit one of Chris’s favorite cities, Tokyo. I’ve known Chris for a long time and he is no stranger to this blog. We’ve enjoyed several good meals together over the years and I was looking forward to showing him some of the things I have found and some of the things I want to try while he and Carrie are here.

Chris is also very familiar with my great butter chicken quest and in fact he is responsible for the Butter Chicken Battle. His trip to Moti’s, on my recommendation, in 2009 kicked off my search for recreating their signature dish. Which made our joint trip to Moti this past Saturday, six years after his first trip, a momentous occasion. Chris and I both ordered the butter chicken and would do so again tomorrow.

Our original plan after Moti’s was to meet Will and Chika at our new place, the Rusty Trombone. We’ve met there three times since arriving in August and we were making a conscious effort to make it our place. The Rusty Trombone is a wine bar that plays jazz music in Omotesando. Or at least it was. When we arrived last night the one room bar had been gutted and we could see workmen remodeling everything through the open door.

Distraught by losing one of our few landmarks we rallied by going to the neighborhood pizza joint. The pizzas looked interesting, but we were still full of butter chicken so we just had some drinks and conversation. The pizza place was nice enough, but it didn’t quite have enough character so we left in search of something more interesting. We walked over to a British pub down the street, went in and then back out again after seeing the crowds of rugby fans. Just downstairs from the pub was an izakaya (japanese tavern) named Toan that specializes in fresh tofu.


We had definitely found something more interesting. We dithered a bit on what drinks to order but we all quickly agreed to try the tofu. It came in two large cakes and we could spoon some into out bowl and then add various flavors. I tried each one expect the very fishy smelling topping. I think Chris was the only one brave enough to give that one a taste. The tofu was interesting and probably the healthiest bar food I have ever eaten, but even with all the different toppings it was a little bland. To wash it down I kept things simple and ordered a beer, but Will won the drink lottery with his sake order. They brought the bottle over and poured it into a large cup that had a spout draining into a smaller cup from him to drink from. the waiter poured exactly enough that it filled the smaller cup to the brim as he was filling the larger cup. We were all impressed.




Cooking with Yuka

November 9, 2015

In the first few weeks after arriving in Japan I was looking for ways to get the kids out of the house. School hadn’t started yet and both Kira and I had to work. I was working at home so I may have had ulterior motives, but I did some research for activities in Setagaya-ku. They rejected all of my suggestions, but one of the items that caught my eye was a listing on TripAdvisor for “Yuka’s Japanese Cooking“. At the time we were struggling to migrate our menu away from the American meals we used to cook back in Minnesota and trying to find more ways to cook locally. We’ve gotten better in the last couple of months, but it is still something we are working on. I knew back in August that I wanted to take the class and I convinced my friend Chika to go with me. We signed up for a class in October because it was the first one available. Being in Japan and not have a lot of experience with cooking fish (other than pan searing and grilling) I elected to cook a meal with fish.

I’m going to let you know up front that the experience was pretty great. We started with a tour of a grocery store not too far from our apartment and Yuka answered questions on everything from what type of miso she recommended to why Mickey Mouse was pictured on the soy sauce. About halfway through the tour the store’s butcher introduced himself to our group and asked where everyone was from. He explained to Yuka that he liked to travel and visit butcher shops around the world. It sounded like a delicious, if slightly odd, hobby.

After the tour, Yuka purchased all the groceries including five whole Horse Mackerel (aji) that she informed us we would be filleting and frying. We then took a quick taxi ride (included in the cost of the class) back to her apartment and most importantly her kitchen. Joining Chika and me in the class was a couple of travelers who lived in Switzerland (I think), but he was originally from Great Britain and she was from Boliva and only spoke French and Spanish. Yet another example of the international city we are living in.

The menu for our class was as follows:

  • Fried Horse Mackerel (Aji furai)
  • Green Beans with Sesame Sauce (inban no goma-ae)
  • Miso Soup with homemade Dashi (soup stock)
  • Japanese Omelet (tomagoyaki)
  • and for dessert we made Mochi

This entire menu was made in less than two hours including the time Yuka spent on instruction, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the meal after we cooked it. I’m not going to go too far into the cooking in this post because I plan to blog about each recipe, but I’ll tell you a little more about the class and about filleting the fish.

I was very impressed with how efficient everything was and how Yuka got each of us to try each piece of the preparation.  We did not each cook our own omelet, but we all took turns rolling the eggs in the pan. I think everyone did some small part when making the miso soup and we took turns grinding the sesame seeds for the sauce used on the green beans.

But, we each had to fillet our own Horse Mackerel. Yuka showed us how an expert fillets a fish and then walked each of us through the same task on our own fish.IMG_0467 Some of us did better than others. Despite Yuka’s expert tutelage my fish fillets ended up more the size of fish sticks. but we still had enough for everyone to enjoy the meal you see below. When we put out the food we were given specific instructions on what dish went in which place on the tray. You can see my setting being built in the pictures. When we were done all of the settings looked identical. It turned the meal into almost a ritual.

In addition to showing us how to set a proper table Yuka gave us tips throughout the course. I’ve never taken a cooking class before and was pleased to get a lot of useful tips and tricks from just one lesson. It was clear she has made this dishes many times and admitted that she has learned some new techniques just from teaching others how to cook. And because this class was on “everday” Japanese cooking some of the advice was geared toward this. We made the Miso soup ahead of time and then reheated shortly before serving the meal. We ate some of the omelet warm so we could see the taste difference, but the rest we waited and ate with our meal. Same with the green beans. Staging things one at a time and not having to juggle getting everything off the stove at once was great and it will make it easy for me to add these dishes to our “everyday” meals.

It was a great class and if our budget allows i hope to learn some more dishes from Yuka while we are in Japan.

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One last thing. One the way out I noticed that there were Lego minifig magnets on the door. Yuka did not have any children old enough to play with Lego’s so I asked who they belonged to. She told me they were her husband’s and then asked if we were familiar with the movie, Back to the Future. We all said yes and she then told us that her husband had designed a Lego set for the Delorean from Back to the Future. He is a hobbyist that submitted a design on the Lego Ideas site. The way it works is that if enough people “like” your design it gets sent to Lego for approval (I think it is 2000, but he has 10,000 likes on the page so that might have been the number). The kit was for sale by Lego in 2013, but I think it might be sold out. Yuka’s husband’s name is on the box for the kit and she told us that a percentage of all sales were donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.


The Monoglot

November 6, 2015

I have been studying Japanese on my own off and one for the last several months with mixed results. I have increased my vocabulary quote a bit and I am able to read a couple hundred kanji characters, but I have very far to go. This past week I started attending a Japanese class for residents of Setagaya-ku and I am already seeing the benefits of having a place to practice the things I have been learning and to learn new things with a group of other beginners. Part of the frustration of learning a language (for me at least) is the fear of saying the wrong thing or saying something incorrectly. Also I have a horrible ear for Japanese so if I try and talk to anyone they usually have to repeat themselves a few times. It’s just not fun. In the classroom we are all on the same level…sort of.

There are about fifteen people in my nihongo class and I am the only American. Which means I am probably the only person in the room who only speaks one language – there is a Canadian who may or may not speak French. The class is taught in English, and other than my friend from the Great White North, English is not the first language of anyone else in the room. In our small classroom we have the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, Holland, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, and Djibouti all represented. That last one was a lot of fun to try to say in Japanese.

If you have ever taken a Japanese class before then you probably understand why I know where everyone is from. The first lesson involves everyone introducing themselves – their name, where they are from, and what they do for a living. Our very energetic sensei even had us come up to the world map in front of the class and point out our where we came from, feigning ignorance to the location of even the most obvious of countries. She even made us find Nihon (Japan) on the map for her.

And during even this simple introductory class I learned a couple of things. The first thing I learned is a new word for “teacher”. Thanks to Hollywood, I think most people  know the word sensei, but that is used mostly when talking about or addressing another person. When you tell people what your profession is the word for teacher is kyoushi. There were probably a few other new words during the two hours, but that is the one that stuck with me.

The other thing I learned in this first class is that all of my previous studying has sunk in – at least a little. The sensei was teaching us a response phrase to give a negative answer to a question and the phrase she taught us was ja arimasen. As an example:

Question: Kanadajin desu ka (Are you Canadian?)

Answer: iie, Kanadajin ja arimasen. (No, I am not Canadian.)

She went around the room asking questions and after thirteen other people answered with iie, <something> ja arimasen she got to me. She asked me if I was a Canadian and I responded without thinking, “iie, Kanadajin dewa arimasen.”

Dewa arimasen is the more polite form of ja arimasen and I said it flawlessly, but she hadn’t taught us that yet. I immediately corrected myself, but she said it was OK because they mean the same thing and wrote it on the board for everyone.

The person next to me responded to their question with ja nai instead of ja arimasen which also means the same thing, but is a little less polite. I’m pretty sure the student next to me answered without thinking, as I had, and just knew the phrase ja nai from living here, but her answer was not written on the board. The sensei gave a funny face and told us we shouldn’t learn it that way. “It’s not so good.”



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