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Breakfast of Champions

January 24, 2011
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If you want to live past 50, better lay down your spoon and flush the cereal down the drain. Throw out all the Pop-tarts while you are at it. Japan boasts an average life expectancy of 82.6 years, and it all starts out with breakfast.

Modern Japanese breakfast has become somewhat similar to Western cultures, consisting of boiled or fried eggs and toast. These days even cereals are becoming quite popular. But the traditional breakfast that has been giving Japanese society the strength to endure the never-ending “Salary-man” workdays or the harsh farming and fishing lifestyles is quite different from what you may be used to.

Traditional Japanese breakfast always consists of rice as it is the staple food of the country. Alongside the rice or on top of it you will find various seafood and fermented foods. One very popular and healthy rice topping is “Natto” that I described in one of my earlier posts. These are fermented soybeans, first seasoned with mustard and soy sauce before placing the slimy and smelly clump on the steamed rice. Absolutely disgusting, and will put your adventurousness to the test – until you get used to it. I personally love it. Other seafood items on Japanese breakfast menus include dried horse mackerel, known as “Aji” or broiled salted salmon fish.

“Tamago Gohan” is another Japanese breakfast favorite, and can be easily and quickly whipped up. Take a bowl of steamed sticky white round rice, break a raw egg into it, add some soy sauce, and mix everything up. Consume with strips of “Nori” – Japanese dried seaweed – or specifically “Ajitsuke-nori” for extra flavored seaweed. If that sounds a little too much, perhaps the “Tamagoyaki,” a Japanese version of a rolled omelet, will be more to your liking.

Some prefer to take “Okayu,” a type of congee or thick rice soup, as part of their breakfast. This Japanese dish is very nutritious and easy to digest. Okayu is often served with toppings such as onions, fish eggs, and “Umeboshi” – a pickled plum. “Miso” stock can also be used to flavor the Okayu, though Miso soup is often a component of Japanese breakfasts anyway. The soup includes hooped green onion, tofu, “Wakame” seaweed and numerous herbs.

“Can I at least have my cup of Joe,” you ask? Hey, something has to get you going in the morning, right?

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Snowed in? Carve Yourself Out.

January 6, 2011
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A snowy white wonderland may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japan travel (perhaps except the snowy peak of Mt. Fuji). The less-visited northern island of Hokkaido, however, proudly hosts the annual Sapporo Snow Festival of Japan. The festival takes place in the city of Sapporo on the first week of February every year. The event is one of the largest snow festivals and is famous around the world for its ice sculpture competition. Every year, thousands of artists visit Sapporo to flaunt their skills in an attempt to win valuable prizes. Top notch artists participate in the event, so you can expect to see some of the most elaborate artworks made entirely of snow and ice. The artistic snow sculptures are so large and complex that many of them are constructed with the assistance of the military.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is among the largest winter events in Japan. There are several foreign teams that come to Japan to participate as well. The Japanese therefore considered it a great way to improve international relations. Around two million people come to enjoy distinctive ice sculptures and artworks made from ice and snow. Every year, the event has a new theme or several subjects. Usually the the theme is based upon a famous building or person who sparked sensation in the previous year.

These events take place in several regions within Sapporo. Satoland (or Satorando in Japanese pronunciation) is the first region of Sapporo where the festival is held. It was first added in 2006 to the list. Satoland is the only site which is not located in the central part of the city. Besides admiring the ice sculptures there, you can also enjoy a ride in a hot air balloon. Odori Koen is another area where you can take part in the magical happenings of the Sapporo Snow Festival. It is practically a huge playground in the central part of the city. Susukino is the nightlife area of Sapporo and also hosts the festival. It’s recommended to go visit Susukino on the first day of the festival to witness the sculptures being carved with power tools such as chainsaws.


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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" - www.allyoucanjapan.com

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