Okonomiyaki お好み焼き

The first time I came to Japan, my tutor asked me and my classmates if we had ever tried Okonomiyaki. “Okonomi-what-now?” we answered in barely comprahensible Japanese, and we were promptly taken to an Okonomiyaki restaurant. After getting a simple explanation about what it was, and ordered, we waited for a little while, and in came the bowl of batter. Our tutor poured it over the cooking plate in the middle of the table, and skillfully fried it up. Then he cut it into easy-to-handle pieces, and we were told to put Okonomi-sauce, mayonnaise, and shaved dry fish on top. The heat from the Okonomiyaki made the dried fish dance on top, and it all looked like it was alive. I then bit into this creation, and what I tasted was the start of a long love with Japanese food, other than Sushi.

Okonomiyaki is a sort of savory pancake, with a variety of ingredients in the batter. (Different from the French Crepe, or other “foody” pancakes, that are wrapped around an ingredient.) Usually one would find cabbage, pieces of meat, or seafood, and spring onion, etc. Basically, you can put whatever you want in it, as the name tells you: Okonomi (お好み), meaning “what you like”, and Yaki (焼き), meaning “grilled, baked, cooked, fried”.

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Halfmade shrimp and cheese Okonomiyaki
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This dish is usually associated with Osaka and the Kansai area, and with Hiroshima. However, one can find restaurants and chains all through Japan that sells Okonomiyaki. Next time you feel a little hungry when out in town, whether you have tried it before or not, why not try to find a nice Okonomiyaki place, and dive a little deeper into the Japanese cuisine?

OBS! Okonomiyaki in Japanese is easily confused with Sukiyaki. Heres why:
好 has two readings, 好む (konomu “to like”) and 好く (suku “to like”). Both are verbs, and when used in other words they usually take the form of 好み (konomi) and 好き(suki).
焼く (yaku “to bake, grill, cook, fry”) undergoes a similar transformation when used in other words: 焼き (yaki), and in this form it is a common word in Japanese cuisine, in everything from sukiyaki, to yakisoba, teppanyaki, etc…
We therefore have two words with different readings, meaning about the same thing. To separate them, we put an お in front of one of them. This お is just a little decorative politeness prefix, and has no real meaning in itself. Hence we have:
お好み焼き (okonomiyaki)
and
好き焼き (sukiyaki)

Bushido – The Soul of Japan

Starting from today, we will be introducing the books that we are available in our mini-library. We recently bought a number of Japan-related books and we hope that we can slowly add more to our collection. If you have any books that you would like to recommend to us (related to Japan of course!), please let us know through g-mail, twitter or facebook!

Today we will be introducing the book:

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“Bushido – The Soul of Japan”

by Inazo Nitobe

If you have watched “The Last Samurai” or any other movie related to samurais and samurai culture, you probably have heard the characters mention at some point, the idea of bushido.

Bushido which implies “the way” of the samurai life is similar to the term “chivalry,” in that they both refer to a warrior’s moral code of conduct.  However, the Japanese bushido is slightly more complicated and particular.

The seven virtues of bushido, according to Inazo Nitobe are:

  • Justice – 「儀」 (ぎ・gi)
  • Courage – 「勇」 (ゆう・yu)
  • Benevolence – 「仁」 (じん・jin)
  • Politeness – 「礼」(れい・rei)
  • Sincerity- 「誠」 (まこと・makoto)
  • Honor- 「名誉」 (めいよ・meiyo)
  • Loyalty – 「忠義」 (ちゅうぎ・chugi)

In this book, Nitobe first thoroughly examines each of these virtues. He then goes on to explain how these virtues are strongly rooted in Japanese society and provides his insight on the future of bushido.

It is interesting to note that Inazo Nitobe, who was an educator and civil servant to the Meiji government, wrote this book in English in 1900. Like Tenshin Okakura, who wrote “The Book of Tea” first in English as well, he hoped that he could be some kind of bridge between Japan and the West. Since Japan at this time was rapidly Westernizing and constantly trying to promote itself as a modernized nation like the West, books such as “Bushido” and “The Book of Tea” were read with great fascination as it exposed the more traditional and delicate side of Japanese culture.

Students of COSMOS may borrow this book and any of the other books in our collection🙂

A Geek In Japan – Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony

Another book from our mini- library that you have to check out!

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Author: Hector Garcia
ISBN 978-4-8053-1129-5
Tuttle Publishing

Chapter 1 – The Origins of Japanese Culture
Chapter 2 – The Traditional Arts & Disciplines
Chapter 3 – The Unique Japanese Character
Chapter 4 – Curiosities & Symbols
Chapter 5 – The Japanese at Work
Chapter 6 – Japanese Society & Daily Life
Chapter 7 – Japan Today
Chapter 8 – The World of Manga & Anime
Chapter 9 – Modern Japanese Music
Chapter 10 – Movies & Television
Chapter 11 – Visiting Tokyo
Chapter 12 – Traveling Around Japan

This book, A Geek In Japan, reinvents the culture guide for the Internet age. Packed with articles and photographs, it ranges from the touchstones of traditional culture like bushido, geishas, Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism to chapters on traditional arts and disciplines like ukiyo-e, ikebana, Zen meditation, martial arts, and the tea ceremony. There are also cultural code words and values; society and daily life; business and technology; the arts; and symbols and practices that are peculiarly Japanese. A quarter of the chapters are devoted to pop cultural genres, with attention to the stars, idols, and urban subcultures – otakus, gals, lolitas, visual kei, and cosplay – associated with them. For visitors to the country, the author includes a mini-guide to his favorite neighborhoods in Tokyo as well as tips on other places of outstanding interest.

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About us, Cosmos japanese language school!

COSMOS is a Japanese language school located in Hanzomon, Tokyo.

The founder of COSMOS established this school recently as a second job in hope to support foreigners living in Japan, especially those who intend to stay here for a longer period of time.

Because we are a start-up company and it has only been several months since we opened this school, we must admit our school is not very big. We are located in a room in an apartment, just a minute away from Hanzomon station. However, we take great pride in being able to provide our students quality Japanese language classes in a comfortable and “at-home” environment.

For those who are new to Japan or for beginner Japanese language learners, you are pretty much in charge of what you want to learn and what you want to focus on in class. If you speak basic Japanese but aren’t so confident in reading and writing, we will prepare exercises for you that will help you improve those skills. If you on the other hand, have studied Japanese through textbooks but cannot form sentences quickly when trying to speak Japanese, we provide more conversation-based classes, using various topics and settings.

For those who have studied Japanese for years and are hoping to either brush a certain skill or learn advanced Japanese, we have classes that focus on analyzing newspaper articles or writing essays. If you have a specific curriculum that you would like to follow, that is also possible. Just consult with us first so that we can provide a great class for you.

Plus regarding homework, that is completely up to the student if she/he wants it or not. We are very flexible when it comes to our student’s needs as well as their schedule so if that’s the kind of school you are looking for, please drop by sometime and take a class!

If you would like to register for a free trial, please contact us at the following address:

cosmos.jls@gmail.com

Kaidan-怪談

The rainy season has come. After the season, the climate quickly turns to the summer. I don’t know the horror storytelling in the summer time is unique in Japan or not, but I want to introduce you to Japanese traditional horror story “Kaidan”.

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Before telling the horror story, I’m going to explain the relationship between the summer season and horror stories in historical context. You might guess the reason is in the high temperature in summer or Obon ceremony, but actually, it continues to the traditional theater culture from Edo era. The theater is so called “Natsu-kyogen(夏狂言)”. In Edo period, there was no air conditioner, and it causes the decline of a number of the audience who come to the theater. For that reason, actors had to go tour to the countryside, and it held in summer, so the play had called “Natsu-Kyogen(夏狂言)”. It was the best way to get the audience for them because the theater is not common in the country side. Therefore, the played contents didn’t have many variations in stories to cut off the cost to open the temporal theater on tour. The most popular contents in “Natsu-Kyogen” was the horror stories. As I mentioned above, Japanese people prefer to the summer season to talk horror stories than other seasons.

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There are several famous horror stories, which all Japanese people might know. If you want to know such a stories, please come to our school, our teacher Mrs.Kobayashi will talk to you. (Of course, she is the good Japanese teacher, but also good story teller.)

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Hanafuda―花札

Even you are not game lover, you might know the company “Nintendo.” However, how many people know the first products of this company? It’s “Hanafuda(花札)”, Japanese origin playing cards. Today, I will introduce the world of Hanafuda.

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The history of Hanafuda starts in 16th century, the playing card which originally from Europe had carried by missionaries. This cards game eventually became popular mainly in gambling. However, it was banned in 17th century, because the government had a fear of changing religion and completely closed off contact with the Western Christian world in 1633. This is a so-called “Sakoku(鎖国)” in Japanese.

Although the cards were banned, there are highly demand on using this cards for gambling. This structure prompted people to alter the playing cards to Japanese version, and subsequently, it became the card “Hanafuda”.As mentioned above, this cards was the first products for Nintendo. This company was also reflect this trend of the times.

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Let’s get back on track. Hanafuda had developed by regions or communities and it became to have too many rules to grasp the all of it, because this card game was mainly enjoyed in gambling with limited members. This is because, there are many Yakuza movies which gangs playing Hanafuda as gamble. In addition to this factor, the government banned gambling, so it made playing environment more closed. The gamble which include using Hanafuda, is still banned. However, Hanafuda is still popular card game because of its beauty. You should remember some complex rules to enjoy this card game, however the picture of cards will encourage you to remember the rule of Hanafuda、because it is so beautiful.

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Best spots in Kumamoto②

On 14th in April, a huge earthquake occurred Kumamoto pref. in Kyushu.  Now people in Japan are going to try hard to get quick recovery from earthquake damage.

So, today we would like to share some best spots  in Kumamoto! After recovering from the serious damage, let’s visit Kumamoto to cheer up!

【Kumamoto Castle】

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The most famous place is Kumamoto castle. It was built in Edo-era, and recognized as the Important Cultural Property in 1933. If you need, you can also enjoy seeing around with English-guided.

【Shiraito Waterfall】

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Shiraito Waterfall is famous as a healing power spot in Kyushu. It’s 20 meters high and change its mood depends on the seasons. Especially, coloring leaves in Fall is unbelievably beautiful.

【Kyusendo Cave】

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It’s a 2nd longest cave in Japan from 300 million years. Twenty thousand bats are living here and keep the environment inside.

 

Let’s cheer up Kumamoto, Kyushu!