Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kit Kat Kingdom

Japan is a country of extremes. In a place where your age determines your rank in a company, not, say your work ethic or fabulous ideas, change is very, VERY hard to come by (you can read more about that matter at our friend's blog here). On the other hand, there have been a few seemingly good ideas infiltrated from beyond or within which Japan has grabbed on and seriously ran with. First it was cars, then electronics, then video-games.

And now it's Kit Kat bars.

Yes, that's right. Kit Kat bars RULE here, baby! The name itself closely resembles the Japanese phrase, "kitto katsu," which students use to wish each other luck on those ever-so-important-and-life-altering exams, and which, therefore, have contributed to the candy's popularity as items of good luck.

But no ordinary chocolate flavor would do in Japan...that would be silly and boring. For the Americans who thought that the introduction of "White Chocolate" Kit Kat bars was innovative, you ain't seen nothin'! Currently, Japan has introduced over EIGHTY flavors of Kit Kats, many of them regional specialties or limited editions. Flavors have ranged from blueberry, apple, and Hokkaido Yubari melon, to roasted buttered corn, green tea, and sweet potato!

This phenomenon can only mean one thing: a new obsession for me! Since my KFC Colonel Sanders statues have been taking a bit of a hiatus from their costumed Colonel Sanders of the Month, I now give you my personal lowdown on monthly (possibly weekly) Japanese Kit Kat flavors, beginning with that ever-popular Japanese dessert, Mochi and Azuki (sweet bean):

The Mochi and Azuki is actually quite good and tastes like the real deal...not too sweet with a light-rice cake aftertaste!

Surprisingly, one of the worst flavors I've had so far was the most "normal" flavored one: Strawberry. With one bite, I was instantly transported back to childhood illnesses and that thick, pink "medicine" that was an obligatory part of every doctor trip:

And the best so far was the most unexpected: Limited Edition Valentine's Lemon! It tasted like a delicious lemon cream pie, and the box folded out into a writable message for your Valentine!

I'm currently on the hunt for the fabled Exotic Kit Kats, with such flavors as Brandy and Orange, and Wine. Follow up post to come...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adult Spice

Our friend and New Zeland JET, Telford, came for a visit this weekend, bringing with him a curious new treat...Night Club Pringles!

Yes, yes I know what you're thinking:  "Sweat, mascara, and weak cocktails all captured in the flavor of a chip!?  Surely the Japanese are the masters of the universe at artificial flavoring!"  The simple Japanese at the bottom of the can advertises the chips as being flavored with "Adult Spice!"

Adult Spice?  Habenero?  Jamaican jerk?   Vulcan's Fire Salt?

No, ladies and gentlemen, apparently in Japan, Adult Spice is another word for black pepper (stated prominently on the front as well).  Yes, that's right, these are just regular Pringles with a little black pepper sprinkled on them.   I'm sure that this is merely the precursor to Love Hotel Pringles and Hostess Bar Pringles which, of course, would give other Adult Spices such as salt and cinnamon equal play on the combini (convenience store) shelves.  Scandalous!

In other news, it's getting harder and harder to dig ourselves out of our house:

The snow has been relentless all weekend, and that means, more and more Japanese gals are donning high, spikey-heeled boots and short skirts.  Yes, even in the winter I often feel overdressed here.

We did make an amazing discovery the other day on our snow-trodding way to a hidden micro-brewery, and I especially enjoy how Jacob's fabulous photography skills have me mysteriously vaporizing into the steam:

Last, but not least...incase anyone thinks that we're in desperate need for some visual reminders of home, let me assure you, we're not:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Otaru Yuki Akari-no Michi...

...In other words, the Snow Light Gleaming Festival held in Otaru, which we dragged our Australian couchsurfer to last weekend. During the festival, which piggybacks on Sapporo's Snow Festival, thousands upon thousands of candles and lanterns are placed throughout the streets of historic Otaru, and its famous canal is decorated with a few hundred floating bulbs of light. All of the lit snow sculptures are built by the community, rather than professionals, and all of the candles are homemade.

In a sense, the Snow Light Gleaming Festival is more impressive than Sapporo's in terms of romantic softness and peaceful beauty merely because of the simplistic grassroots effort of it all.

Definitely my kind of festival fare: the always-tasty crab that Hokkaido prides itself on:

An oasis in the snow for many, the Sapporo Ice Bar! This is one of the reasons we were looking forward to winter here in Hokkaido...supposedly, there are quite a few of these things around the surrounding areas:

What you don't realize, however, is that the novelty of an ice bar has no power against the city of Otaru's apparent early bedtime. The bar (along with the rest of the town) closed at 9:00pm on a Friday night, with last drinks being served at 8:30!

The beauty of these candle-holders made entirely out of ice is really splendid. They're so simple, but they're one of the most stunning things ever (especially when there are hundreds of them lit up within the snow):

The other great thing about this festival were the interactive igloos! One of them that we went in had a table of sake and a guestbook...brilliant!

And, the trip wasn't complete without some awesome hot soup curry...

...followed by a little "dessert" of beers and cured ham (fresh off the leg) at the Medieval-Europe/1940s-German-beer-hall-decorated Otaru Brewery:

My photos don't really tell the true story of our journey to Otaru. In a strange twist of meteorological events, it was actually raining on us for most of our time there! Because of this, many of the candles and lanterns were extinguished and the festival, I was told, just wasn't as bright and, well, gleaming as usual (thereby placing the Otaru Snow Gleaming Festival back on next year's "To Go To" list...).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kimono and Tea

It's been such a whirlwind of festivals and guests and parties the past couple of weeks that when Steph and I were invited over to our friend, Rie's, family's house last week for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, I more than jumped at the chance for something a little more relaxed and, well, traditional.

Besides that, it was the perfect excuse to try on my kimono and obi (wide kimono belt) that I bought at a second-hand shop a few months ago.  The kimono itself seemed to be a bit of an outcast in that it was significantly more plain then the rest of its vividly printed counterparts...I think that's what drew me to it, along with the ¥800 (about $9.50) price tag!  Considering that these things start in the hundreds and go into the thousands of dollars, it was an excellent purchase.  The obi cost a little more, about $40, but it's funky and different and adds some pizzaz to the ensemble.

Rie's mother is an expert kimono dresser and master tea ceremony artist, making the experience that more exciting.  Unfortunately, I was missing the nagajuban, or under-garment section of the kimono, so the top part looks a little bare.  Back to the second-hand store for me I suppose!  In the words of Rie's mother, though, I had perfected the "sexy gaijin kimono" look without it:

Through wanting to be discreet, I opted not to bring my camera, but instead packed along my little point-in-shoot...did the job of recording the story, but man did I regret it later!

Seriously, how COOL is my obi!?

Rie's kimono is the one her mother wore back in the 1940s when she had her coming of age (which is 20 in Japan):

When Rie's family built their house back in 1994, her mother insisted on and designed a traditional tatami room in the house specifically for holding tea ceremonies and playing the koto (Japanese harp).  It is an incredibly peaceful part of the house and so nice to see how important tradition and heritage are to them:

The essence of the Japanese tea ceremony is harmony.  Everything has its place, function, and meaning, and it can take years (which usually begins through a high school club) to perfect the tea ceremony in its entirety.  There is a certain way to prepare the tea and snacks, to serve, to consume, to clean the utensils, to admire the ceramics and wall hangings, to enter, to exit...the tea ceremony is not for the weak of routine!

You didn't think I'd gone "all-out Japanese" did you?

Besides letting Steph and I take pictures and ask questions concerning every aspect of the tea ceremony, these lovely ladies also showed me the proper way of folding and storing the kimono!  It was really special and just gives me such an appreciation for the art and form of these certain Japanese traditions.