Katsuyo Kobayashi, famous cookbook author and TV cooking show host. You may know...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Wed, 2014-01-29 15:09
Katsuyo Kobayashi, famous cookbook author and TV cooking show host. You may know her best for her Iron Chef appearance. She was one of my biggest culinary influences.

Katsuyo Kobayashi, 1937-2014 | Just Hungry

Katsuyo Kobayashi, 1937-2014

recently on just hungry - Wed, 2014-01-29 14:12

Yesterday, it was revealed that cookbook author and TV chef, presenter and teacher Katsuyo Kobayashi (小林カツ代) had died on January 23, 2014. She was 76 years old. She was one of the biggest culinary influences in my life.

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15,000 Likes! Thank you!!! ^_^ ^_^

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Mon, 2014-01-27 19:06
15,000 Likes! Thank you!!! ^_^ ^_^

Hello Kitty ume flavored nori seaweed snack can. #day26 #dailypic

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Sun, 2014-01-26 13:53
Hello Kitty ume flavored nori seaweed snack can. #day26 #dailypic

Let me get a bit graphic....^_^; One of the side effects of radiation therapy,...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Sun, 2014-01-26 07:04
Let me get a bit graphic....^_^;

One of the side effects of radiation therapy, at least for me, has been managing my digestive system. It usually makes me really, really badly constipated. But if I try to fix that with laxatives, even the herbal tea time, things go haywire in the other direction. So I try to manage it with fiber, yogurt, natto, pickled things, shio-koji, miso (i.e. fermented foods).

Of all of those...the best by far for me has been natto (fermented soy beans). Fermentation and fiber!

Yesterday I asked for an assortment of cakes rather than one big one for my birt...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Sat, 2014-01-25 15:41
Yesterday I asked for an assortment of cakes rather than one big one for my birthday...^_^ #day25 #dailypic

For people in Europe who don't have ready access to Indian/South Asian spices an...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Fri, 2014-01-24 17:52
For people in Europe who don't have ready access to Indian/South Asian spices and such: this is a great company. Fast delivery, great prices. Cheaper than any mailorder place I've found in France. The spices are very fresh. We had lots of Indian groceries in Zürich,but none at all here in this place is a godsend. (Not affiliated or anything.)

Indian Groceries from Spices of India
Buy authentic Indian Food, Indian Spices and Indian Cooking Ingredients online from Spices of India - the UK's premier Indian Grocery shop for Indian Food.

Catching up on a couple of things including two new Japan Times articles, plus a...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Fri, 2014-01-24 17:04
Catching up on a couple of things including two new Japan Times articles, plus a no-recipe recipe for yuzu 'tea'.

Washoku, Japanese citrus and yuzu-cha (yuzu 'tea') | Just Hungry

Washoku, Japanese citrus and yuzu-cha (yuzu 'tea')

recently on just hungry - Fri, 2014-01-24 16:45

Catching up on various things, plus a not-really-a-recipe for yuzu tea or yuzu-cha.

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Random question: When you hear "English bread", what comes to your mind?

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Thu, 2014-01-23 21:48
Random question: When you hear "English bread", what comes to your mind?

Natto furikake ^_^

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Thu, 2014-01-23 21:31
Natto furikake ^_^

Do homes in Japan include Western decor styles, and if so, which styles are favored?

Maki's Quora answers - Wed, 2014-01-22 22:12
Makiko Itoh
Most new build or modern Japanese homes only have one or two traditional Japanese rooms with tatami mats, etc. Some have none at all. Western style home decor has been around since the late 19th century, so its not really that exotic. But until the 1960s or so, only rich people had western-style rooms as a general rule.

The western style of decor that is currently the most on-trend is  Scandinavian/Danish-Modern; lots of light, wooden flooring, white or light walls, etc. Besides IKEA, there are several many nice furniture stores in Tokyo selling Danish Modern type furniture, both new and vintage. Mujirushi Ryohin (Muj)''s design story is a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetics. Muji also sells prefabricated houses - you can see how they look here: 無印良品の家|長期優良住宅対応の注文住宅-木造のデザイン住宅を提案します (Most new-build houses in Japan are prefabricated)

Heavy 18th-19th century style European decor (mainly French, some English influences) is also used, although mostly in public areas, or on TV to depict rich people's homes. In the '80s-'90s American Country style was very popular, and there are still many fans of that style.

The most trendy decor style right now may be "Wafuu Modern" (和風モダン) or "Wa Modern" (和モダン); modern-western type design with traditional Japanese design elements. This style uses lots of wood (dark as well as light), lots of natural light, and Japanese style elements like shoji screens, low seating that's on or close to the floor, and so on. It's not traditional Japanese, but has a Japanese aesthetic. It is also a bit retro.

Most people don't really get into serious 'decor' of course; quite a few homes in Japan are just cluttered. (Small living space, lots of consumer goods). But people seem to yearn for a minimialist lifestyle. The most popular home decor type books seem to focus a lot on the clean, decluttered look.

See question on Quora

Why do some Japanese homes have wallpaper instead of painted walls?

Maki's Quora answers - Wed, 2014-01-22 22:11
Makiko Itoh
Not all  modern Japanese homes have wallpaper. Plenty have painted walls too, especially nowadays since DIY is getting ever more popular. Here's a random pic from a random Japanese site where theyl are painting the walls of an apartment.

Vinyl wallpaper was very popular for decades. It was thought to be easier to keep clean than painted walls. Rental units still tend to have fugly vinyl wallpaper for that reason.

Traditional Japanese homes had walls that were clad in white plaster or a cheaper sandy plaster-like mix (this type of wall is called a 'sand wall'. These walls were unpainted, with pigments or other inclusions (like mica, or ground up seashells) incorporated into the plaster mix. This allowed the walls to breathe.

 In addition, rooms had whole walls of sliding screens, either shoji screens with paper to let in light from the outside, or fusuma screens covered with a canvas like fabric that was usually decorated with paintings. I guess you could theorize that fabric on fusuma led to an acceptance of fabric-like wallpaper, but I haven't realy seen any evidence to that effect.

This is a very fancy example from a temple, but even modest houses have the same kind of thing. See the wooden frame, white walls, and the painted fusuma screen (and the shoji screens facing the hallway, which surrounds the rooms.)

Quite a few people still like having fusuma, since they make room layouts more flexible, although others consider them old fashioned and uncool. Here are some more modern examples of fusuma.

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What are your guilty reading pleasures?

Maki's Quora answers - Wed, 2014-01-22 21:16
Makiko Itoh
There is always some guilty feeling attached to reading manga for me, regardless of the content, since when you are growing up in Japan parents usually tell you to 'stop reading manga and study' etc.

And in an entirely different area, I re-read Judith Krantz novels once a year or so. She wrote some fabulously trashy novels in the late '70s to early '90s with all kinds of juicy details which were actually very well researched. (She wrote one called Mistral's Daughter, about an artist who settled in Provence. I didn't know anything about Provence when I first read it, but when I do now it's obvious she really did her homework.)

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The crackers are really shrimpy and delicious (not deep fried, but kind of dried...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Wed, 2014-01-22 20:50
The crackers are really shrimpy and delicious (not deep fried, but kind of dried and grilled). More about Daruma:

How did mayonnaise become so popular in Japan?

Maki's Quora answers - Wed, 2014-01-22 09:17
Makiko Itoh
I wrote the first article that Robert linked to actually for The Japan Times, but since the link is broken, here it is - See also: Mayonnaise in Japan and bigger Japanese people

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What is the secret to making really tasty annin tofu/almond jelly?

Maki's Quora answers - Wed, 2014-01-22 01:13
Makiko Itoh
  • Annin dofu is usually made with 杏仁霜 (read as anninsou in Japanese...I think it's xing ren shuang in Mandarin...) which contains bitter almonds and/or apricot kernels. I do not like that very strong almond flavor myself, so I use almond milk (just blitz blanched almonds with cow's milk in a food processor, and strain) with added almond essence. But, if you do like that very strong almond flavor, you need to get 杏仁霜.
  • Use gelatin, not kanten/agar-agar. Gelatin give a much nicer  wobbly-smooth mouth feel. Leaf gelatin or gelatin sheets may work better  than powdered gelatin (rather like panna cotta is nicer made with leaf gelatin).
  • Use some condensed milk in the jelly in addition to milk (or almond milk as mentioned above) and heavy cream, to make it very creamy and unctuous. (I like using the word unctuous.) 
  • Make a simple syrup for the sauce. Or, you could use the syrup the canned fruit comes in instead (or a combination).
  • Only serve canned fruit with it. Don't get fancy with fresh fruit. You need that soft texture. The only exception may be fresh litchi/lichee fruit, but even there canned litchis are fine. Canned tangerine segments to me are a must. I also like canned peaches. You can of course go the traditional, simple route and just use wolfberries.
  • Chill it very well before eating.

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What cultural differences can explain that Korean switched to a phonetic script but Japanese did not?

Maki's Quora answers - Tue, 2014-01-21 13:10
Makiko Itoh
I don't know the reasons why Korea switched largely to a phonetic writing system. I'll just concentrate on what I do know, the Japanese story.

As most people know, kanji was imported from China, and was the first formal written language system in Japan. As with most languages and cultures, initially writing was only for the elite; most people did not know how to read and write until later times.

Kana, the phonetic representation of Japanese, developed at a later date, mainly during the Heian period - 9th through 12th centuries. However, Japan did not switch to this new phonetic system entirely at the time. Much of the credit for developing kana is given to literary women of the period. For a long time the "excessive" use of kana was considered to be a feminine thing, and somewhat looked down upon by scholarly males. The use of kanji had a 'high brow' image. Knowing lots of kanji was considered a sign of high intellect and scholarship - intellectual snobbery of a sort you could say.

That kind of thinking has largely disappeared, but there are still some vestiges of it. Being able to use the right kanji at the right time, and to be able to read lots of kanji characters properly, is still one aspect of being considered 'smart'. It's kind of akin to some people in English speaking areas thinking someone is smarter if they have a big vocabulary with lots of fancy words, and know how to spell them and so on.

Another factor, which is probably much more important and relevant now, is that the use of kanji, hiragana or katakana sets changes the mood and visual look of the language. Japanese is a very visual language, even before you apply things like calligraphy and fonts to it. Even plain old text in a so-so font set can look different depending on the character sets used. Many writers have used one or the other on purpose for those reasons. This may seem meaningless to anyone who does not care about language, but to those who do, they mean a lot.

I touched on this here: Makiko Itoh's answer to Japanese (language): In Japanese, can the amount of hiragana used vary in texts? The poem by Kenji Miyazawa there (Ame ni mo makezu) that I included an image of for instance is written mostly in katakana. Miyazawa (one of the most important Japanese writers in the early 20th century) did not do this by accident; he did it on purpose, to make a statement, to affect how readers read it and how they felt while reading it.

I don't know at what stage of learning Japanese as an adult that these differences start to resonate, but when they do, then you can be confident that you are on your way to truly understanding Japanese. And if you don''s your loss.

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Illustration with a big pound cake. ^_^;

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Mon, 2014-01-20 20:57
Illustration with a big pound cake. ^_^;

I recently read that Japan is the least depressed country, probably due to economic wealth, but is there any psychological secret way of thinking that the Japanese know that the United States doesn't?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-19 10:30
Makiko Itoh
I am an actual Japanese person here to correct your wrong assumptions. Any modern society is going to have its share of people who suffer from depression and other psychological issues. Japan is a modern society. The colloquial term used for psychological problems is 心の病 (kokoro no yamai), illness of the heart or soul.

People in Japan nowadays suffer from depression quite a lot. As in other East Asian countries, there used to be a stigma attached to  seeking help for depression or mental illness in general. That stigma  has largely disappeared in the last couple of decades, but it does still linger. (But there used to be a stigma against seeking treatment for psychological issues in the U.S. too; see: Thomas Eagleton.) Anti-depressant drugs, therapy, etc. are becoming increasingly more common and accepted - and importantly, covered by health insurance.

Your assumptions about suicide in Japan are archaic, and simply not applicable to current day Japan. Suicides are mostly committed by people in various states of depression, or feeling worthless, hopeless, etc. Human beings are human beings.. (see: Why is the suicide rate high in Japan? )

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some of my flickr photos