Muza-chan over at Gate to Japan hosted February’s Japan Blog Matsuri! The theme is “Top 10 Lists,” whether that means foods, places to visit, people to meet, etc. etc. etc. Sadly I didn’t submit my list on time, but why not share it anyway?
Now, Japan is a normal place to those who already live here, but to the rest of us outsiders there are some things that are down-right off-putting. Like getting naked, or eating things raw, buying condoms from vending machines… but those strange things really are the best parts of Japan! So here’s 10 things you should do, no matter how weird they sound, because they’ll become some of your favorite things!
1) Give jellyfish a chance!
Jellyfish Salad from Life Loves the Curious.
Something I learned from Japan: even the strangest and most dangerous-looking sea creatures can be delicious. Ok, I haven’t given fugu (blowfish) a try yet, but jellyfish definitely fits into this category. Is jellyfish jelly-like? Surprisingly not. It’s actually…. crunchy? Chewy? Both? If you’ve eaten konnyaku, it’s kind of like that, except with a little more bite. They don’t have much flavor though, being 95% water with no interesting innards or bones to give them flavor. You can eat their skin, bell, or tentacles. The other ingredients give them their flavor. I like them best as pickles or in steamed jellyfish salad with spicy dressing, cucumber and steamed chicken. MeltingWok has a nice little post about Chinese-style jellyfish salad and preparing jellyfish over here. Life Loves the Curious does a more step-by-step Japanese version too. And did you know you could grill it Indian Satay style? Of turn it into a caramel? Luckily you can eat the immense jellyfish that are currently attacking the Japanese coastline….
2) Getting Naked with Strangers.
Outdoor rotenburo bath at an onsen!
America was once land of the Puritans, and it sure lingers on in some ways, like prudery about nakedness in groups. Ahh, once I was part of that group of people who go “DEAR GOD TAKE OFF MY CLOTHES IN FRONT OF STRANGERS??!?!!” but my ways have been changed by that miracle called the onsen. Onsen, or natural hot springs, are one of the greatest natural blessings of Japan – I guess you need something to balance the earthquakes and volcanoes! Shuck your clothes, wash at the scrubbing stands in the main area of the bath, and then relax outside in the hot water. Back in the day baths were not segregated, but these days most baths are, so you don’t have to worry about getting ogled by old men, although gaijin guys will get eyeballed by people in the bath (or so I’ve heard). Well, that’s one reason you get a modesty towel XDD Check out OnsenJapan for some more info on onsen etiquette and famous onsen in Japan, or head to North Carolina, where there’s a Japanese style bath you can try without the plane fare!
3) Eating it raw!
Egg on rice - the prefect Japanese breakfast, by PcFan.net on Flickr.
Yes, yes, sushi comes into this, but also raw egg, raw horse, raw whale, etc etc etc. And as gross as it sounds, give it a try. At least once. Some people have this amazing fear of their food and most don’t feel comfortable eating anything that isn’t cooked to a Health Department approved temperature, but there’s no need to be afraid. Japanese chefs are very careful about fresh ingredients and most things are cut up right before you eat them. Eggs for dipping your sukiyaki or topping your mornings rice with will not kill you. Get over your fears and enjoy the slurpy slimy-ness of raw food!
4) Buy just about anything… from a vending machine.
5) Strangely flavored sweets.
Soy sauce ice cream! Some companies even make a soy sauce syrup to put on top of vanilla, just like hot fudge.
Kits Kats in roasted soy bean flavor? Soy sauce or wasabi flavored ice cream? Cherry blossom scented rice cakes? Salt, beer, or edamame flavored gelato? Sweet red bean flavored caramels? If it’s an odd flavor (at least to the Western palate), you’ll find it in Japan. Surprisingly, the majority are quite delicious. Salt gelato is something I’ll miss back in the States.
6) Bean paste.
Made from beans? Yup. Mealy and melty like beans? Yup. Savory like beans? Nope. Anko, bean paste, is made from sweet azuki beans that are cooked until they fall apart and make a thick paste. It’s stuffed in bread to make the ever-popular anpan, rolled around balls of mochi to make ohagi, eaten like a soup, put on top of ice cream, and even used in some beauty products! Weird? Yes. Takes some getting used to? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
7) Walk and bike everywhere. I walk or ride my bike to work almost everyday, in all types of weather. It’s good exercise and produces a very small carbon footprint. The world is very different when experienced while on foot, in the first-person: the sun on your head,wind & rain in your face. You get a real feel for the land and its people. For the visitor, walking and biking gets you “off the beaten track” and allows you to experience this beautiful country in ways not accessible to the motor-borne traveler. Give it a try…you’ll have good company and plenty of it.
8) Giving Japanese a try. Japanese is spoken in Japan and virtually no where else. A few basic words: Konnichiwa (kon-nee-chee-WAH): Hello. Dōmo arigatō (doh-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh): Thank you. Sumimasen (soo-mee-mah-sen): Excuse me.
9) Love hotels. I’ve heard stories… Enough said.
10) Getting Lost… and Un-lost. In Japan you’ll get lost. It’s virtually assured. It’s not just that you can’t read the street signs…oftentimes they’re just not there. I once asked a Japanese friend about the lack of street signs and was told they like it that way: it assures privacy. If invited to his house you’ll be given detailed travel directions. But don’t worry if you get lost, the Japanese get lost also. Being lost can be an adventure and a portal to unexpected discoveries. So relax and enjoy the adventure. And don’t worry, the polite Japanese are always willing to assist.