Rock Soup

Have you heard the fable about rock soup? Essentially a bunch of people have little to eat, so one person says he going to make soup from a rock and he then proceeds to place a rock in a boiling pot of water. He asks if anyone else has any ingredients and everyone chips in something, an onion here, a carrot there, some potatoes, etc, until eventually a delicious stew is made. Well this is kind of what this blog is going to be like. I have had a variety of experiences over the past month (I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy with basketball and midterms) and most of them are pretty random. So I’m going to start with me and just throw in a bunch of different stories and hope that each experience will add a new piece to your understanding of Japan.

The first experience that I had that I thought was super cool was going to see a J-League (Japan League) soccer game! Someone from my dorm bought a group of tickets and asked if anyone wanted to go. A friend of mine is super into soccer and I played while going up so I told her about it and the two of us ended up going. We had few expectations for the event because neither of us knew any J-League teams, even the teams we were going to watch, and we had never been to a professional soccer game in Japan before. We went in ready to just see what happened, and ended up having a BLAST! The game was held at Saitama Stadium which is slightly north of Tokyo, about an hour from our school by train, plus a 20 minute walk from the station. As the train went along more and more soccer fans crowded on the train all dressed in red. That was one of the funny things, both of the teams, the Kashima Antlers and the Urawa Reds, had red as the main color so it was difficult to tell which fans were for which team.

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The fans themselves were amazing. The cheering sections for both the home team (Urawa) and the away team (Kashima) were filled with fans in red ponchos (it was slightly raining the entire night though luckily the non-cheering specific sections were covered so we didn’t have to worry.) Many of the fans were also carrying these giant flags that they would wave throughout the game. And not only the flags, one side had this huge banner they rolled out over the top of the fans in an organized fashion. Both sides were cheering practically the entire game and not just yelling but super organized cheers with hand clapping and stomping. There were even drums on each side to pound out the beat and keep everyone in time. Not only did this sound awesome but it really got your heart beating in excitement and added an entirely new dimension to the game.

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One of the biggest differences between this game and any sports games one goes to in America is the fact that you could bring inside whatever food and drink you wanted. Some people brought packed lunches to eat during the game, others brought snacks and drinks from convenience stores, one person even had McDonalds! There were various food stands scattered outside the stadium but they didn’t seem to have a business relationship with the stadium, they were just taking advantage of the crowds the games bring in. Inside they did have concessions, but it was limited to popcorn (normal and caramel) for food and drinks were coca cola, beer, chu-hai (a Japanese alcohol), coffee (it’s everywhere) or this one sports drink. (There were some other foods labeled as ‘sold out’ but I don’t know if they simply ran out or if there was none to begin with for this game.) My friend and I didn’t know this (that we could bring in food/drink), so we went out to eat before the game to a delicious Indian Curry restaurant, but that’s for later.

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Anyways, this game was the 20th anniversary game for Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers and they’ve been equally matched in the past, one team never dominating over the course of the history (we looked it up). There was an entrance ceremony and then the game began. And we seriously got super sucked into the excitement going on all around us, anytime there was a goal attempt we were holding our breathes along with the hard core fans. I’ve never really watched professional soccer ever, but there’s one thing I learned fast, soccer players are drama queens, majorly. After the first few people fell to ground, ‘rolled around in pain’ until the ref blew his whistle, then stood up and ran around perfectly fine I got used to it, but it was super strange for me. I’m used to basketball in which the referee doesn’t blow the whistle unless your team has possession of the ball, so if you roll on the ground ‘crying’ your team has to play down 4 on 5, plus if the referee takes a time out for the injury you have to leave the game, if only for a little while. Neither of these facts are true for soccer, something I was introduced to that evening. There was ONE serious injury that night when someone had to be carried off in a stretcher, but I’d say that was maybe 1 out of the 20 times someone ‘collapsed from pain’. I felt sorry for the stretcher bearers because every time a player wouldn’t get up they had to stand and get ready in case the person was seriously injured, though most of the time it was just a farce, but they were standing up and down the entire game. Ah soccer.

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My friend and I cheered for the home team since we had no prior allegiances and THE HOME TEAM WON!! No goals were scored in the first half, and then Kashima scored a goal in the first bit of the second half followed by three goals by the Urawa Reds. We were jumping up and down, cheering our voices hoarse and high-fiving fellow fans around us. All in all it was an awesome experience. And in case you were wondering, yes, guys in Japan also take their shirts off while cheering.

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Mentioned above, before the game we went to this Indian curry restaurant called Mamba that is sooo delicious. Indian curry is spicier than Japanese curry, not just in the typical spiciness (like jalapeño hot-type spicy) but in the mix of spices that produce unique flavors. The meal comes with all you can eat rice (Indian style) or na’an bread, both of which are super delicious. As I said before it was lightly raining all day and the Indian curry was the perfect meal to offset the melancholy weather.

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Speaking of food, we discovered this little “international” alley way a couple blocks from our school. We call it international because there were all kinds of little sweet looking shops. The Indian restaurant from above is also located along this alley (though the entrance is technically on the opposite side of the building. One of the awesome things within the alley is an authentic Mexican restaurant, as in not commercialized American Mexican food like taco bell and taco johns (not that there’s anything wrong with these fast food places, I love my potato ole’s and volcano tacos too).  Interestingly there aren’t any of these types of fast food places that I’ve found in Japan. While there are a kazillion McDonalds, along with Burger Kings, KFCs, and Subway’s  I haven’t seen a ‘taco’ fast food place. Back to this little alley way, there was this super delicious Mexican style restaurant that had a quirky fun atmosphere as well. I got a burrito with Mexican rice (as we call it in America) and they also had enchiladas and fajitas. Super yummy.

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Speaking of American food, I had Domino’s pizza! It’s always an interesting experience trying American restaurants in Japan because sometimes the taste is the same and sometimes there’s a large difference. Domino’s was one of those pleasant surprises where the taste was familiar and delicious. Pizza is rather expensive in Japan, a simple medium cheese pizza costs about $15 while a “meat-lovers” medium costs around $25. However the Domino’s near our dorm has this special where if you get carry-out it’s buy one get one free. Yup, but one pizza get an entire pizza of equal or lesser value completely free of charge, so this makes the costs roughly even. On top of the typical pizzas you would find in America there are also a variety of “interesting” choices, many involving sea food like shrimp or crab. The pizza I got was themed off of Korean beef called bulgolgi with barbeque sauce, onions and green/red peppers. It was so mouthwateringly delicious. If you’re interested, here is the link for the online Japan Domino’s, don’t worry, it’s the English version. Here you can peruse the various choices NOT available in America and be jealous.

http://www.dominos.jp/eng/?xm=3759&xr=2&waad=xfUkGRW8

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Another ‘event’ that I went to within the past month was a themed café! Many times typical cafés will sort of team up with a popular anime and for a limited time theme the entire café after that anime. And when I say the entire café, I mean the entire café. Drinks are labeled after characters, food seen in the anime will be featured on the menus, the decorations and chairs are all from the anime and at the place we went the waitresses and waiters were cosplaying as characters from the anime! (I was too nervous to ask if I could take a picture with them, though that would have been super cool). I had just finished the anime a couple days before so I was super psyched to go to this café which was …duh duh daaaah, Stein’s Gate themed!! I may have gone slightly crazy at all of the theme aspects of this café cause it was so awesomely amazingly crazy unbelievably COOL!!!!!

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One of the famous foods from the anime is a “gel banana.” For those of you who haven’t seen the anime, the characters are attempting to make a time machine and they use bananas for testing, all of which come out as green gel in the shape of a banana. At the café they had a dessert theme after this gel banana which was a frozen banana with this green sweet crème over it making it look like the gel banana from the anime!! It was delicious too.

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Another famous food from the anime is a “rice omelet” (essentially an omelet with fried rice inside) with 世界がヤバイ(the world is in danger) written on it with ketchup (in Japan eating ketchup on your omelet is as common as having ketchup with French fries in America). This was what I ordered and I even got to write the above with ketchup…honestly I was so happy. I went with friends who were fans of the anime as well so it was fun to ooh and aah over the Stein’s Gate everything.

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The Stein’s Gate café was located in Akihabara, the electronic and ‘geek/nerd’ mecha of Tokyo. I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, it’s a super cool place and the stores and cafés there are often times unique and themed. We went to Akihabara on a Sunday, which is a special day in that they close off certain streets to cars and people can just mass and walk through the like eight-laned street. Normally the sidewalks are super crowded, not that the sidewalks are small, they’re probably 6-8 feet wide, but the sheer amount of people who flock to Akihabara can make navigating the sidewalks a challenge so having the entire street to parade down was pretty awesome.

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Another delicious stand found often in Japan is a crepe stand. This is one in Akihabara, but you can find them probably most anywhere, at least all of the places I’ve gone. The options are crazy, like you can get a banana chocolate crepe, or a banana chocolate cream crepe, or a banana chocolate cream ice crepe, or a banana chocolate crunch cream ice crepe, then repeat that with strawberries, add in a few cheesecake options, it’s crazy. Some places also have “meal” crepes like a sandwich, but with a crepe instead of bread or a pizza crepe. I’ve also heard about a Baskin Robin’s that sells crepes as well, this is on my list of places to go.

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Speaking of places to go I know I’ve mention cat and dog cafés before, but a friend of mine recently went to and OWL café! How cool does that sound? He said they were baby owls and such around the café and they would come and land on your arm. Another friend of mine loves owls so the two of us will probably go there sometime in the near future.

A place that was on my list for a while but I only got to it a few weeks ago, was Yamaya, a liquor and imports store. I had gone in search of coconut milk (which I was able to find) but more importantly I found a treasure trove of awesomeness. There are legit tortilla chips and salsa from Mexico, the coconut milk (if I remember right) is from Cuba, there is almost half an aisle with pastas and sauces and spices from all over the world. My favorite product is American Jolly Time Blast O Butter Popcorn. Yamaya is a chain store as well so there are locations all over Tokyo (and most likely other cities as well).

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Continuing the food theme here, I went to my first Japanese “fast food” food court. There are a ton of “food court” like floors in buildings in Japan, but many times they’re just individual restaurants placed in a line or a circle each with their own individual seating. This was the first time I’d been to a food court in Japan with group seating, typical American Mall style food court. Of course most of the restaurants were Japanese style foods (not that I’m complaining, I LOVE Japanese food) but there was also a Subway and a Mister Donuts. And just like in America, during lunch time it’s super hard to find seats.

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Another big event that has happened to me involves the basketball team and something called the 上南戦jounansen, which is essentially a weekend where the sports teams of my school, 上智大学 jouchidaigaku and 南山大学 nanzandaigaku which is located in Nagoya. I had a good laugh over the fact that if I had gone to Nagoya (another option available through UW Madison) I would’ve been playing for the opposite team. There were a lot of events leading up to the game and during the weekend, but I’m going to leave that for my next blog.

I had midterms the past two weeks, but you probably don’t really want to hear about me taking tests, though I did have a minor incident with a spider during one of my tests which may seem insignificant, but I have arachnophobia so it was awful. Something that may be more relevant is the fact that giant cockroaches exist in Japan. I came across a giant cockroach in one of the older school buildings. When I say giant cockroach, I mean giant, like it was probably about 2 inches. Fortunately the cockroach left me alone and I left it alone so no problems there, I just had a bit of a shock seeing an insect THAT big.

Moving on to weather, we have entered the rainy season here in Tokyo. Interesting fact the kanji for the rainy season, 梅雨 tsuyu consists of the kanji for plum and the kanji for rain. Anyways, the rainy season generally falls during the month of June and from what I’ve heard it can rain for up to a week at a time before there are some sunny days, followed by more rain. Though it isn’t necessarily pouring rain all the time, sometimes it’s only misting or sprinkling, nevertheless an umbrella is a must.

Going in a totally random direction, while I was waiting at the train station the other day, a train pulled up to the other platform and it had “stickers” on it that were of fireworks and summer things, it made me really happy to see.

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I also saw this ad on one of the trains and just had to take a picture. According to a friend of mine it’s an ad for a Darth Vader and Princess Leia picture book, a sequel wherein the original sold over 10,000 copies. It looks super adorable!

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I think that’s it for now. I hope your rock soup turned into a wonderful, though probably still fuzzy, impression of Japan.

Thank you for reading (^.^)b