Japanese purikura (stands for print club, I think) machines have gotten crazy sophisticated. Not only do they take photos with a variety of backgrounds, you can also choose what you want your skin color to be and what background music to play while the photos are being taken (to get you in the mood, I suppose). The problem for purikura amateurs like me is that there's a time limit on all these choices each machine offers. Before I can even read through all the choices, the question has timed out and the machine has decided for me. You might not think it, but purikura machines can be stressful.

After the photos are taken, you exit the booth and go to another part of the purikura machine to doodle on the photos. You can change eye color, add accessories, create borders/backgrounds, and write any messages you want.

The end result:

What do you think?!



It's been a while since I've eaten okonomiyaki, one of my favorite Japanese foods. "Okonomi" means as you like or to your taste, and "yaki" means to grill. You can cook any ingredients you like with your okonomiyaki, which, if I have to compare it to a food back home, is like a savory pancake.

Tables at okonomiyaki restaurants comes with big iron plate used for cooking. Some restaurants let the customers do the mixing and cooking, while others prepare it for you in the kitchen and bring it out to keep warm on the iron plate.
Shoka mixing her bowl of ingredients.Spread the batter on to the grilling plate.Flipping the okonomiyaki over - the hardest part!
Wait for it to cook.
Once it's ready, top with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and it's ready!The ones above are made by the students. The one below is made by restaurant staff.
Let's eat!With the restaurant's mascot.



I couldn't sleep last night.

I attended a wake last night. It was for the father of one of my students. He was 58 years old.

Two images kept haunting me through the night. One was of his gaunt face (I really shouldn't have looked). There was no sign left of the man in the picture the family had chosen to display. It was eerily similar to my grandma's, after her struggle with cancer.

Another was of my student's mom. She kept bowing, bowing at everyone who came to pay their respect. She kept bowing, bowing deeply, at a 90 degree angle, with tears streaming down her face. She kept bowing, bowing as she thanked us for coming. Bowing at her time of grief.

I couldn't sleep.



Natto - how does one describe this "food"? Simply put, it's fermented soybeans. It smells like puke and looks even worse. For those of you who've never lived in Japan, this might be a very foreign concept. Despite a very unpleasant first encounter with natto, I've since built up a tolerance to it and can even now say that I like it.

It comes in packets of 3 or 4, and there are a plethora of choices at any local supermarket. To eat, simply open a package (in styrofoam, no less) and stir the beans with a pair of chopsticks until it resembles snot. That's all. Just remember to hold your breath while stirring.
Some brands of natto come with special sauce or mustard packets that you can add. The most common way of eating natto is on a steaming bowl of white rice. Some of my students (especially the natto freaks) have come up with more creative ways of eating it. My favorite is putting it over a slice of toast with melted cheese. The saltiness of the cheese goes well with the natto. Anyone want a bite?


Flight of the Conchords

Have you heard of Flight of the Conchords? It's the name of both a comedy duo and a TV show. The 2 guys, Bret and Jemaine, introduce themselves as "Formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acappella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo". They're my latest discovery and I LOVE their sense of humor. They're brilliant.

If you don't have cable, you can check out clips of their live performances and TV show on youtube. My favorites are: "business time", "if you're into it", "the most beautiful girl in the room".

I just went on their page at HBO and found out they're touring the States in April/May!! Wish I could go...


When I first moved to Japan, I was amused by how every Japanese person would render the peace sign when it's picture time. I felt superior, secretly thinking that they were lame for doing it. What I didn't know at the time is that the peace sign is CONTAGIOUS. I have now been infected with the bug, and can no longer smile at a camera without those 2 fingers automatically extending themselves towards the lens. (ok, ok, I admit. Maybe the "now" doesn't describe my affliction accurately) It's quite sad, actually, but don't blame me.

Blame the damned peace sign virus.

Special thanks to Jaime for giving me the inspiration for this post...and for the title!


ABC cooking studio

On our very first trip to Amu Plaza (a big mall in the city center), Mary (fellow dorm teacher) and I discovered a wonderful cooking school on the 4th floor. The smells wafting from the school was so delicious and inviting that we couldn't help but be led by our noses. We were greeted by a very friendly and enthusiastic staff member who gave us a tour and sold us on the idea of a free trial lesson. Out of the 2 items available (I think the other one was some sort of bread?), we chose to make a cheesecake. The lesson was a lot of fun.

Our positive experience led us to sign up as members. The school offers 3 different courses - cooking, bread, and desserts. You can select from any combinations of the above. You sign up for lessons via computer, and can take as many or as few lessons as your schedule allows each month. Mary and I decided to do just the cooking course. We filled out all the paperwork and were ready to embark on the journey to becoming professional chefs!

Well.....not quite.

It turns out that the lessons are conducted at a teacher-student ratio of about 1:4, with five students as the maximum number. During the cooking process, each student is given a different job - one person chops while another stirs and another measures. You get the picture. Of course the teacher tries to be fair at giving each person a chance to practice every process once, but in reality it doesn't always work out perfectly. This may be fine and all in getting the meals prepared efficiently, but it doesn't help me learn how to cook something from beginning to end.

Never mind the non-learning aspect - the end of every lesson resulted in a very appetizing 3~4 course meal that we eat with our fellow classmates. ;-) I now see my lessons at ABC as a trip to a restaurant where I pay to prepare the meal with other cooks. It's an enjoyable experience, and maybe through osmosis I've picked up some useful cooking skills along the way. I have 3 lessons left in the package I signed up for...but I'm not sure I'm ready to graduate yet.

"my" creations

Next week I'll be making a Korean meal. Can't wait!