Japanese and American food: big differences

Starbucks in Japan

Here’s a picture of a meal I enjoyed with my family at a local Starbuck’s in Japan. I ordered my usual: iced soy latte and a cinnamon roll. I can get the same thing in Seattle or anywhere in the US, but there big differences in the quality/taste.

In the US, soy milk often has sugar or vanilla flavor added to it. A lot. So, when you drink soy milk in the US, it’s thick, syrupy and kind of nasty. The soy milk in Japan has only a little flavor, so it doesn’t overpower the coffee, and doesn’t feel heavy.

Likewise, the pastry was awesome. The cinnamon flavor was light and not over-powering, and wasn’t sickly sweet. It was also somewhat smaller than American-sized cinnamon-rolls which are HUGE. It was a light snack, not a meal, but it didn’t make me feel heavy after eating it.

Why can’t American be more like this???!!! Why do we put up with poor-quality food, and ridiculously over-sized portions? Why do we allow the American food industry feed us with more sugar, and cheap food?

(end rant) More at https://exorientelux.pl/japonia/

Posted in Japan , Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

My (mis)adventures in Ajikan Meditation

Recently, I was invited by reader and fellow blogger “ Johnl ” to attend a class on the Shingon meditation technique called ajikan (阿字観). This is a meditation technique in Shingon Buddhism that seems pretty similar to other, more familiar, forms of Buddhist meditation but has a visual aspect too.

I’ve never taken a Buddhist meditation class in my life 1 so I was very excited to attend but there was one small catch: the class is entirely in Japanese.

The class was held at Tokyo Koyasan Betsuin which is a medium-sized and very lovely temple near Shinagawa station in Japan. We got there at 9:30 and I sat with the new people for orientation. The priest was a very nice person, made lots of jokes and was very gentle in his teaching style. His Japanese was difficult to follow though (lots of difficult words), but I was able to get the gist of what he said.

Anyhow after orientation we were led to the temple’s inner-sanctum ( naijin 内陣) and given a basic cushion to sit on. Also we were each given a pinch of powdered incense to put on ourselves. We sat around the perimeter of the shrine. The teacher the explained to us the basics of sitting, hand gestures, and how to bow before the cushion.

Once all this was done we sat in a typical meditation position on our cushions. The cushions were fold in half to elevate and better support our back.

To be honest, I was extremely nervous the whole time. Before coming to the class, I thought, “I’m familiar with Japanese and Buddhism so I should be OK.” But when I realized that I was the only foreigner among 100 students and the instruction was fast-paced, I suddenly became very self-conscious and worried about doing something stupid in front of the others. I got a lot of curious looks too, so it wasn’t helping.

The meditation itself was better. My posture was wrong somehow so my left leg hurt the became completely numb. I was pretty distracted and had trouble following the teacher’s instruction so I didn’t really concentrate very well. However it was really quiet and peaceful, plus there was thunder outside which made a very interesting effect.

I think we meditated for about 30 minutes. It was longer than I was used to, so my body hurt but I was kind of sad when it was done. It was a very nice experience even as a beginner like myself.

Following this, we stretched our legs, bowed to the cushion again, put things away and went to a different room where we had tea and crackers. The priest gave a tall on various subjects: the state of Buddhism in Japan, Buddhism reaching new Western cultures, and how people are related to each other. The lecture was pretty advanced so it was difficult to follow but it was a nice experience too.

So by noon we were done and on our way.

I realized from the experience that I was in over my head. Both my Japanese skills and meditation skills were poor, so I consider myself lucky that I didn’t make a big mistake. ;-) Buddhist resources are much better in Japanese, or any Asian language, so if you’re serious about Asian Buddhism, you will definitely benefit from language study too in my opinion.

On the other hand, I’m very glad I took the risk. Shingon Buddhist meditation is something I’ve heard about and wanted to learn first-hand (and not through dubious websites), and I have accomplished that. Such experiences are rare in places like Seattle, so I felt it was now or never. Plus it was still a very positive experience despite my nervousness and such, and I can take that experience home with me.

In the end, I felt the nervousness and number were worth it. :-)

Thanks John!

Posted in Buddhism , Japan , Shingon , Travel | 2 Comments

KPop Saturdays: Big Bang’s “Monster”

Usually I try to avoid posting KPop songs that are reviewed by Eat Your Kimchi, because they do a much better job at it anyway. 1 But, I just really like this song. I was reminded of it, because one of my friends wanted me to buy it in Japan at Shin-Okubo in Tokyo.

At first, I didn’t really like the video all that much, but as the little subtitles and special effects started to sink, I really liked it more and more. The chorus of course is totally awesome. Also, I thought the small action scenes (1:42 and 3:38) were pretty cool. The only song/video in 2012 in my opinion that can top the special effects here is WonderGirls’ “ Like Money “.

The costumes are interesting too. GD looks like a demon/devil, Daesung as a wolfman (or some kind of beast), Seungri’s cat-like eyes, and T.O.P. as a vampire-like figure to me. Each one kind of reflects their personalities I think. Again, pretty clever.

Big Bang as a group has been out for a little while, and yet they continue to mature and grow, and utilize their talent to their fullest. Small wonder they’re among the strongest and most well-known KPop groups in the industry. :)

P.S. The “making of” video is kind of interesting too.

1 Also, I tend to agree with their reviews anyway, so I don’t have anything useful to add. ;) Even when I disagree, it’s usually nothing noteworthy.

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Lunar Legacies Live On

John W. Young on the Moon

In honor of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who recently passed away, I wanted to post this article which I found on the BBC a few months ago (I’ve been saving it).

There is no atmosphere at all on the Moon, so there’s no wind or anything that would knock it over, but the Moon’s surface gets the full blast of energy from the Sun. There’s nothing to protect it.

Plus, rocks from space still hit the Moon regularly, so something could hit the site and knock the flag over. Thankfully though, it’s still up and intact.

The flag in question is from the Apollo 16 mission, not the Apollo 11 mission, but Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and all the astronauts before them helped pave the way for that little flag on the Moon, which is still there even today.

Rest in peace, sir! :)

Posted in Astronomy , Science | Leave a comment

If Only The Korean War Could Be Solved Like This

Recently, Keith over at Seoulistic did a nice write-up about how South Koreans deal with the constant threats and rhetoric from North Korea. In short, it’s no big deal (unlike American news reports), and is regularly ignored.

Anyhow, at the bottom of his post was a hilarious video that is a parody of the infamous Joint Security Area , or gongdong gyeongbi guyeok (공동경비구역), in the Korean DMZ:

For reference, here’s a video from 2011 of the real JSA:

The point is, it would be nice if we solved problems with more dancing, less killing. :)

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This is Tokyo.

Hi all,

Last week, I met fellow blogger and photographer, “ Cocomino ” for lunch (my wife and daughter came too). We had a great time, and Cocomino kindly took us over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Office or tochō (都庁) for short. We got a great view from the observation deck of all of Tokyo. Here’s some of the better photos:

First, here’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Office itself:

Tokyo Metropolitan Building

Quite large. The observation deck is on the 45th floor and is very popular. From here you can see all around Tokyo:

Tall Buildings in downtown Tokyo

These are major office buildings, but I can’t remember their names. Here’s a view of west Tokyo, including Tokyo Tower (orange and white) and the Sky Tree (the tower in the distance to the right):

West Tokyo

And here’s Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi:

Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi

Here’s east Tokyo by the way:

East Tokyo

Considering that the city is 300+ years old, it’s amazing how large it’s grown, even with war and earthquakes. It really blows the mind.

When we came down, we happen to see an ice-carving contest to promote Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics:

Tokyo Olympics Ice Carving

The ice carvers worked for an hour to carve these blocks and made some amazing stuff. It was hard to photograph from a distance though, so I don’t have any good photos. Also, it was sooooooo hot and muggy, we left as soon as the carving was done. :P

Anyhow, pretty amazing view. Thanks Cocomino!

Posted in Japan , Photography , Travel | Tagged | 7 Comments

KPop Saturdays: 2NE1′s “Hate You”

Since I am in Japan, which is arguably the King of Animation, I was reminded of this song, which happens to be one of my favorite:

This video is entirely animated by Korean artist Mari Kim and is one of 2NE1′s more controversial songs. People either love it or they don’t. I happen to like it a lot because the animation is great, 1 and really brings out the personalities of each member. Plus, the song has a raw, emotional feel to it that makes it stand out from other KPop songs. I am kind of fascinated by how human experiences are expressed through music and this song is obviously about a painful breakup and the resulting bitterness.

1 I like how their personalities really come out in the animation too.

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