Serving Suggestion? 

Although we've been here about a year and a half, Japanese packaged foods continue to surprise us. Last night, we made a bowl of ramen that we'd received at a community event a few weeks ago (community events in Japan always involve giveaways of household items). The picture on the package showed some garnishes like scallions, dried bamboo, and a thin slice of cow tongue. Tongue isn't a common ramen accompaniment. We assumed that it represented a serving suggestion and thought the inclusion of tongue kind of odd. The picture made sense, however, when we opened the package and found noodles, soup base, sauce, and a small package of dried garnishes that included . . . a thin slice of cow tongue.
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Going Dark 

Just a quick note to let our readers know we won't be updating much for the next week or so; we should be back in full swing by mid-December, though!
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Studying the Karaoke Way 

That Japanese people love karaoke is a stereotype, but it's a well-grounded one. Allowing that there are some who dislike karaoke, the vast majority of our friends enjoy it. Any group of people out having a good time is likely to end up in a karaoke bar or "box" (where you can rent a room for a private party with your friends).

It's hard not to get into the spirit when you're with a bunch of people unironically having fun singing shmoopy love ballads, TV show theme songs, and classic American or British rock songs. At first we chose songs from the (rather limited) selection available in English, but as we've been exposed to more and more Japanese music, we've branched out to sing our favorite Japanese songs, too.

It takes a lot of practice, but it's great fun. As an added bonus, it's not unusual to find examples of grammar we've recently studied. Of course, we learn new vocabulary, too, and get lots of reinforcement for the vocabulary of drama: tears, rain, new love, broken hearts, and fiery passion. Natural exposure is really important for gaining fluency, so karaoke is great for improving our language skills.

That's why we spent the afternoon studying The Blue Hearts, The Cro-magnons, Shonen Knife, Color Bottle, Thelma Aoyama, Kyu Sakamoto, and others.
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Sun-drying persimmons are a common sight around Japan in the fall.

People hang the persimmons from a pole for a couple of weeks, until they shrivel and darken. They then store the dried persimmons, called hoshigaki, for snacking on during the winter.
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Fair Warning 

If you ever need to buy soy sauce at the conbini, be sure to read the label first:

I love how emphatic the beverage is about not being soy sauce.
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Kiritanpo Nabe 

Winter has already arrived in Kitakami, which means it's time to start making nabe. Nabe is the Japanese word for cooking pot; the term is also applied to various one-pot dishes like soups, stews, or sukiyaki. One of our favorite nabe comes from Akita Prefecture: kiritanpo nabe.

Kiritanpo is made by mashing cooked rice into a paste, then shaping the paste around a stick and grilling it. Because they get soft rather quickly, they're added to the nabe toward the end of cooking.

Chicken thigh, shirataki (noodles made of devil's tongue jelly), maitake mushrooms, carrots, and seri (Japanese parsley) rounded out the nabe. It was the perfect dish for a frigid, rainy night. กก

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All in the Details 

When you get damaged or misdirected mail in America, it usually arrives with some sort of brief explanation. Often, the explanation is an impersonal form with one of multiple preprinted reasons checked off (or the ever-popular "Other," with a terse, often illegible explanation). It might also say "We apologize for any inconvenience," or something like that. It's all very cold and official.

Not so in Japan:

This came on a piece of mail we'd been expecting to arrive from America last month. It says, essentially: "This mail was sent from America to Jamaica, then arrived in Japan on November 13. The honorable customer's important mail was delivered late, and for that, we offer our deepest apologies."

Interestingly, it seems that mail from America bound for Japan gets sent to Jamaica often enough to warrant preprinted labels with spaces to write in the date.
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Autumn Crow 

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Doctor Doctor 

Unlike last year, I haven't been getting sick on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, I have gotten sick enough to require my first visit to a doctor in Japan. As one does, I went to the doctor that came recommended by a student. This doctor had the added benefit of having the most entertaining office sign in Kitakami:

Unless you're presenting with a dire emergency, the medical intake process in Japan is very DIY. The nurse handed me a digital thermometer along with the patient information sheet so that I could take and record my temperature. Once that was done, she pointed me to the self-service automatic blood pressure cuff. Much like the photo booth at the drivers' license center, the machine exhorted me to relax before pressing the button to activate it.

Communicating with the doctor was not as hard as I feared it would be, save for a misunderstanding about why needles were going to be involved. After doing a blood test and determining that I did not have pneumonia, the doctor sent me off with a prescription and a directive to fill it at the pharmacy across the street. Which I did, and encountered one of the more curious things about Japanese medicine: powdered medicine. I also got a couple of different kinds of medication in addition to the powder (although not as many as the six pills plus powder Matthew got for his recent illness). They weren't difficult to take and they worked, but given the side effects (anyone who's ever taken corticosteroids would understand), I think I might just skip the doctor in the future.
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Autumn in Miniature 

Fall colors aren't just on the big trees in the mountains — they're also on the bonsai that some people keep outside their homes.

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