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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What are some Japanese names of Western origin of which local Japanese people commonly are not aware of?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-19 10:25
Makiko Itoh
There really are no such names.

There are some names, especially female ones, which sound like Western names, as the other answers have listed already, or the example given, Erika*. But people are usually very well aware of that when give such a name to their kids. They do it for various reasons - it looks fancy or is fashionable (the usual reason), or they are Christians and want a name that works as a Christian name, or they are a bicultural family and want a name that works in Japanese and another language, and so on. But they are not inherently Western names, just soundalikes, and there's no ignorance involved in most cases. The Western sounding names are usually given appropriate ateji (kanji characters that are used because then can be read a certain way). In one sense, naming a child in Japan is an exercise in choosing nice ateji.

*Erika when written in Japanese is not always assigned the kanji 恵梨香. Some other examples (but you can use a lot more)


Or it can just be written in katakana エリカ or hiragana えりか too.

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My Japan Times schedule changed as of this month, so I forgot to post this - but...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Thu, 2014-01-16 20:12
My Japan Times schedule changed as of this month, so I forgot to post this - but this is this month's column - about Japanese winter citrus fruits. Includes a recipe for yuzu marmalade*!

(*not the same thing as yuzu-cha btw, despite what the comment there says)

Juiced for a citrus winter
One of my favorite winter pastimes growing up was to snuggle under the futon covering a kotatsu (heated table), doing my homework or watching TV, as I methodically worked my ...

OK, this is just (imho) weird. A few years ago there was this fad for giving the...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Wed, 2014-01-15 11:54
OK, this is just (imho) weird. A few years ago there was this fad for giving the parents of the bride (sometimes of the groom too) a 'wedding bear' that represented their daughter. It was supposed to make them remember when the daughter was a little girl and get them all teary and nostalgic. (There's also a custom, at least in some regions of Japan, of presenting the parents of the bride (and sometimes the groom) with a bouquet of flowers at the wedding/reception.)

This wedding bear fad isn't around much anymore apparently...but now there is this thing called a taijuu-mai, or 'weight rice'. It's a bag of rice that weighs what the bride (and the groom too, if needed) weighed when they were babies. This bag o'rice is presented to the parents. This particular place will wrap the bag o'rice up like a newborn baby...and stick a photo of the bride / groom when she/he was a baby on it. If I were the parents of the newlyweds this would kind of FREAK ME OUT.

Although of course, a bag of rice is always appreciated... but, you are ripping open your baby to get the rice out!??!

What do you think? ^_^;


A new recipe for a change! ^_^ It's for chicken karaage, with a twist: no soy sa...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Tue, 2014-01-14 20:02
A new recipe for a change! ^_^ It's for chicken karaage, with a twist: no soy sauce in the marinade, which means it is gluten free and soy free, for people who are allergic to either. BUT, it's still really tasty!

Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: Wheat, gluten and soy-free | Just Hungry

Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: Wheat, gluten and soy-free

recently on just hungry - Tue, 2014-01-14 19:05

This is a gluten and soy-free version of a classic recipe, that's just as tasty as the original.

read more

I'm trying to eat fermented foods, to try to get some good flora growing in my d...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Tue, 2014-01-14 10:24
I'm trying to eat fermented foods, to try to get some good flora growing in my digestive system (I'm fairly sure the radiation is zapping some of it...because my plumbing is quite wacky; it happened the 1st time around too...) I eat yogurt and miso and things, but do not like sauerkraut much. >.< Trying to source some kimchi in Provence is not that easy. ^_^;

I just completed the 1st full week of external radiation therapy. I cannot deny...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Fri, 2014-01-10 21:57
I just completed the 1st full week of external radiation therapy. I cannot deny it's been rough. It's really affected my appetite...which is kind of a big deal for someone who writes about food. ;_; It'll be over in a few weeks though... thank you for sticking with me ^_^;

Do you celebrate Epiphany where you live? In France (and in Switzerland too) the...

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Tue, 2014-01-07 20:21
Do you celebrate Epiphany where you live? In France (and in Switzerland too) they do. This is the fève that was in this year's Epiphany pie. A fève is a small favor that is included in the pie; the person who gets it is "king for a day" and gets a paper crown to wear. In Switzerland the fèves are usually just plastic, but in France they still use ceramic ones, and they are very collectible.

Pondering...what&#039;s the difference between a bun and a roll?

Facebook JustBento-JustHungry - Sun, 2014-01-05 18:48
Pondering...what's the difference between a bun and a roll?

How do I get the best experience when eating at a sushi restaurant?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-05 01:19
Makiko Itoh
The first thing is to select a sushi-ya (sushi restaurant) that is popular and has good rotation. It should be impeccably clean, even clinical. The chefs should look neat and tidy and their movements should be very economical.

The best seat at a sushi restaurant is at the counter. A table is where you sit if you want to have a good talk with your dining partner, or you have small kids in tow or something. (Older kids do fine at the counter though; you should see my 12 year old niece order with authority.) Otherwise if you are there to eat, you sit at the counter. Many sushi-ya in Japan do not even have tables - or they may have just a handful. Watching the itamae (the chef) prepare your food is an integral part of the experience.

By the way, I sometimes hear that 'if a sushi place has a refrigerated case at the counter they're not high class' or something, but that's not necessarily true, and is certainly not true outside of Japan, where usually customers simply aren't familiar enough with the fish selection to ask for things by name. In Japan a lot of small sushi-ya don't have refrigerated cases though. On the other hand you may even see a fish tank somewhere around. Not the kind with colorful decorative tropical fish (that's a Chinese thing, not Japanese - see Questions That Contain Assumptions: Why do sushi restaurants always seem to have a tank of fish?) but ones with little live shrimp or sea cucumbers in them.

Anyway, so once you sit at the counter, if it's a new to you place, try asking for the hikarimono first. Hikarimono refers to fish with shiny, silvery skin - mackerel, Pacific saury, sardines, etc. The "blue" oily fish. These are hard to get right unless you know what you are doing. If they taste great, then chances are it's a good sushi-ya. Also if it's a non-authentic sushi-ya they won't even have any hikarimono.

Another thing that can tell you about the sushi-ya is the tamagoyaki (a slightly sweet omelette). A good sushi-ya makes a great omelette. (See Sushi: What distinguishes good tamago (tamagoyaki)?)

The shari, or sushi rice, is all-important of course. It should be slightly moist and slightly sticky and just the right balance of salty-sweet-vinegary. Whether or not you like the shari of a particular place really influences whether a sushi-ya is a good match for you.

Of course you could just go the easy way and ask for omakase, which means "leave the selection up to the chef". Be brave and tell him that you are willing to try anything. He'll select what's really good that day. You can always add on your favorites later. (However, some sushi-ya, such as the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame, are omakase only; you don't choose, the chef does.)

Yet another easy way is to go with a helpful Japanese or serious-sushi-aficionado friend.

One thing I'd recommend: try eating all the sushi with your hand (with the exception of sticky or messy sushi (e.g. eel - unagi or anago)). It's perfectly legit and acceptable to do so - it's the way sushi was originally eaten, since Edo-mae sushi, the type of sushi you know as "the" sushi, was originally street food served from stalls to the workers at the fish marked in Edo/Tokyo. You won't have to worry about dropping things if you are not good with chopsticks. Just pick up a piece, turn it over to the neta (topping) side, and dip lightly in soy sauce - if it's provided that is. If the sushi is already sauced or salted, you don't dip. Wipe your fingers on the oshibori (the moistened towel you should be given to wipe your hands) - better sushi-ya will give you a little separate towelette thingie to wipe your fingers on. Sashimi and other things are eaten with chopsticks though!

Also, you only use wasabi in the soy sauce for sashimi. If your initial sushi comes without wasabi because the chef assumes you can't stand it, tell him you like wasabi. (Assuming you do.)

Finally, if you have a language issue with communicating to the chef, just use body language and emphatic expressions. Thumbs up/thumbs down work great.

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Was the Meiji restoration really a revolution?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-05 00:45
Makiko Itoh
I agree with James that it depends on your definition of revolution. It certainly was not a war even - there were a few skirmishes, but because the last Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu, stepped down voluntarily rather than prolong the conflict. (The biggest military conflict of the period, the Boshin War, actually came after the transition of power.) it was not an uprising of the non-ruling classes, nor was it a fight for independence from another nation; it was a fight of ideology amongst the ruling classes. And the Boshin War was kind of like a brief civil war I guess.

The changes it brought about were certainly revolutionary and sweeping - at least for people in urban areas. Life changed a lot more slowly in rural areas. (see: History of Japan: How did Edo popular culture (particularly urban culture) change after the Meiji Restoration? )

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How can I tell the gender of a Japanese name?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-05 00:24
Makiko Itoh
Unless you know kanji, the safest thing to do is to not assume. Ask.

I'm Japanese myself, and I have to ask sometimes too. There are some  rules, e.g. many girl names end with -ko or -mi, only male names tend to have 4 syllables or more, etc.... but these days, parents seem to name their kids any which way they want.

If you know kanji, you can guess that some more feminine characters may be used for a girl (e.g. the names of flowers) and so on. But it's never a sure thing.

Manga is one of the prime culprits in messing up name genders. For example, the name Tohru Honda, used for the main character in the manga Fruits Basket. Tohru is usually a male name, but Tohru in the manga is very much a girl.

So it's safer to ask, or at least look it up.

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What kind of period would you advice a first-timer to travel around Japan to get a good image of the country?

Maki's Quora answers - Sun, 2014-01-05 00:06
Makiko Itoh
Don't go in the summer, especially if you are from northern Europe (your profile says Amsterdam). You'll hate the hot, humid weather. Also, June is rainy season, so it rains every day...not torrential rains, more like a steady drizzle, but it makes everything very moist and humid. The ideal time is spring, second choice is fall (and fall means mid October onwards; September is still pretty hot in Tokyo and to the south). The very ideal time is late March to mid April to catch the cherry blossom season.

As to where to go...I think I have answered many, many questions along this line so you could try looking through the Visiting and Travel in Japan topic. If you have 3 weeks, I'd spend a few days in Tokyo, a few days in Kyoto (with side trips to Nara and Osaka), and the rest of the time at a few key spots that strike your fancy. You could also stay in Osaka if you prefer a more big-city feel than Kyoto, although most first-time visitors much prefer Kyoto because it's much better preserved (didn't get bombed out).

Try to get an onsen (hot springs) visit in, at least one. My favorite area would be the Izu peninsula, or maybe Ishikawa prefecture on the Japan Sea side, for the combination of delicious seafood and great onsen, but everyone has their preferences.

With 6 weeks, what I might do is to do the few days each in Tokyo and Kyoto, and then get a 21 day JR Pass, and blitz your way north to south.

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What is the significance of the term "gaman" in Japanese culture?

Maki's Quora answers - Sat, 2014-01-04 18:07
Makiko Itoh
我慢 (gaman) is a word that comes from Buddhism. It originally had a different meaning from the current one. The old meaning was to emphasize the self, to put yourself above others. It's one of the 7 'man' or selfish (self-inflicted) obstacles to enlightenment.

The current meaning is to endure something that is unbearable with patience and dignity. It's helld as a great virtue to be able to gaman. Being able to 'gaman' is held as a very admirable quality in general.

It's used quite casually though, like "I can't gaman (hold it in)! I have to pee!"  "I just have to get that new purse! I can't gaman (stand it)!" "I want to buy a new pair of shoes, but I'm a bit short on cash this month, so I'll be patient and wait (gaman)."

I have a related answer where I mention gaman in a medical context, and how it can backfire. Makiko Itoh's answer to Life: How much should a person push through pain and discomfort?

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some of my flickr photos