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A window into my semester-long self-meditation, exploration of Japanese cuisine, rollicking in Kansai, and doing nanimo at Kansai Gaidai.

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Jul 01
Post Japan: When I was in Nara, my favorite Japanese city, the horned monk mascot of the city, called Sento-kun, was broadly advertised. But apparently, without my realizing it, there was a rival mascot, Manto-kun, which shop sellers were putting their weight behind and pushing—largely because Sento-kun just wasn’t cute enough! Which mascot shall win!?
Source:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2074689/Manto-kun-the-blob-takes-on-Sento-kun-the-Buddha-boy-in-Nara-mascot-battle.html

Post Japan: When I was in Nara, my favorite Japanese city, the horned monk mascot of the city, called Sento-kun, was broadly advertised. But apparently, without my realizing it, there was a rival mascot, Manto-kun, which shop sellers were putting their weight behind and pushing—largely because Sento-kun just wasn’t cute enough! Which mascot shall win!?

Source:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2074689/Manto-kun-the-blob-takes-on-Sento-kun-the-Buddha-boy-in-Nara-mascot-battle.html

Jun 14

Post-Japan Nostalgia: Boy’s bathroom

I just remembered how when I was in Japan I would go to the closest bathroom to brush my teeth before bed—and the first couple times a guy walked in and we exchanged arrested looks, before I continued brushing, the guy did his nightly routine, and I went back to my room. Bahaha! Oh, and to be clear, “bathroom” is the room with sinks and showers (no one took showers at that time of night). Toire are separate in Japan. (I highly appreciate this separation. Really…why do they need to be together? One is pleasant, the other is not!)

Apr 11

Buttermilk Pannacotta w/ Strawberries

Adapted recipe:

1 quart heavy cream

1 pint buttermilk

1c sugar

8 sht gelatin or 2 packets knox powder (slightly less for a more creamy texture)

2 tsp vanilla ext

2 containers of chopped strawberries

4 tbsp sugar

black pepper

Be very careful not to overcook the cream, and make sure the gelatin will dissolve easily.

Let the cream cool before adding the buttermilk, lest it curdle. 

Jan 03

Update to the Yukata Buying Guide

So here I am wearing my yukata around to house, one of the very few times that I have. The reason? It’s too cold in San Francisco! Only expect to break out this beauty and use it as a robe when it’s summer (and not summer in San Francisco, summer in LA). The cotton is very thin and hardly insulates. And it’s just way too inelegant to wear a sweater underneath. You feel foolish. (I just tried it.)

I’m bringing my yukata with me to college next semester. There I may be able to host a tea party and wear it, or wear it for my boyfriend when my campus apartment overheats at night. Considering the fuss of wearing a yukata perfectly (its a process you have to practice to remember), it’s only really worth it if someone sees you. (Right now, no one’s home, and I’ve tied it terribly and I’m sitting in front of a space heater. It’s kind of pointless.)

Additionally, if you plan to wear it while being intimate with someone, keep in mind that though it’s beautiful, even the 100% cotton ones aren’t very soft. I wouldn’t recommend getting anything less than 100% cotton, because it’s way too irritating when it touches your skin, despite the tanktop you’d likely wear underneath most of the time. If you have super sensitive skin, you might want to opt for a kimono (traditionally silk). Certainly, if I wore a silk kimono, it would be that much more sensual for my boyfriend. However the only affordable kimonos I could find were generally not attractively patterned, or were stained badly. Or, they were the fake touristy sort, made of satin if I had to guess, and looking almost Chinese in their gaudy golds and metallic reds. (I bet you they WERE made in China!) For an example, see what Red wears in Pineapple Express, below. Classy?

Pineapple Express - Red in kimono

Keep in mind that different patterns mean different things and are worn by different people. One of the most beautiful patterns is that of the kuro-tomesode. Black, with a pattern below the waist and originating at the hemline, I would have loved to wear one, except for 1) cost and 2) they are worn only by married women at the most formal occasions, usually the weddings of their sons or daughters.

Kuro tomesode

At the same time, kimonos with longer sleeves, called furisode, tend to be worn by unmarried women at the most formal functions. This can, interestingly enough, be seen mirrored in the kimono of geisha: geisha in training, called maiko, are known for wearing fancier kimonos than their older counterparts, which have longer sleeves and longer tails on their obi ties.

But getting back to buying the kimono. Also consider another accessory to match your kimono, which most guides don’t mention: an umbrella. My purple umbrella from Japan happens to match my kimono nicely, although if I had bought the purple obi instead of the fancy ivory one, it would’ve matched better. Consider the fact that sometimes a plain obi may look best, as well:

Red obi and umbrella

Additionally, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place with a relatively large Japanese population, like San Francisco, you may be lucky enough to find one at home. I had assumed that any kimono at home would be way too expensive, but I was wrong. I visited Nihonmachi (Japantown) in San Francisco and browsed the few kimono outlets, finding the perfect one for just slightly more than I paid for my yukata ($50 instead of $40), and made of silk, being a kimono. It was beautiful, even more so than my yukata. That was months ago, but if I had any money right now I’d probably go back and buy it. I’m doubting they have too much turnover there, but at the same time it’s been so long it’s probably gone. Sigh.

If you want traditional wear that can keep you warm (but not look very good) there are traditional coats that are worn at home, especially by men I believe. They’re very loose and quilted. I forget the exact name of the type I’m thinking of (the only names I can find on the net are happi and michiyuki but I believe those are thin), but they can be found in department stores in Japan.

May 29

Yukata Buying Guide (Kyoto)

Today I shelled 8820en or $91.13 for a yukata and accessories—the largest investment I’ve made in Japan. It’s the ultimate souvenir.

According to Kumi T, these are the things you need when you buy a woman’s yukata:

Yukata
Koshihimo (2) (soft ties)
Obi (Hanhaba Obi or Pre-tied Obi)
Geta (Sandals for Yukata)

(Please note this entire blog refers only to women’s kimono or yukata.)

The Main Differences Between Yukata and Kimono

Yukata are more simple and less costly than kimono, so it’s the way to go for first timers (AKA gaijin). Furthermore, since they’re normally made out of cotton and some polyester or linen blends, they are much more hardy and practical, in my opinion. Yukata can be worn casually both in public (with an obi) and at home as a bath robe (where there is no need for a second koshi himo or obi, because it does not matter if your robe parts on top).

Kimono are paired with zori rather than geta sandles and the tabe socks to go with them. Kimono also require an obijime (braided cord), eri (collar), and obi-age (died silk scarf which peaks over the obi and is slightly erotic along with the view of the back of the neck, much like cleavage in the west). And that’s just the basics. You can also buy hair accessories, obi accessories, kinchaku purses, etc. (Although technically the yukata goes with a kinchaku (drawstring bamboo basket purse) too.)

Using the Accessories

The koshihimo (literally “hip tie) are simple cotton ties. One is used to secure the yukata or kimono at the hips, so that the hem will fall to a perfect ankle length. Another (“munahimo” chest tie) is used beneath the breasts to secure the perfect V neckline. Then the obi is tied above this.

The more extravagant way to wear the yukata uses three koshi himo, two hand towels, and two datejime (thick belt, often velcro, or a sash), belt, and obi-ita (piece of plastic or cardboard for stiffing the obi). First you wear your underclothes, making sure nothing shows at the back or front of the neck. Second, you secure a folded handtowel to your stomach and another to your back with one koshi himo. Then the datejime or some thick belt you have on hand can go over that. This is all to create a straight figure by the time the obi is secured. Then put on the yukata the same way as above, utilizing the remaining two koshihimo, and add another datejime and the obi ita on top of the munahimo before tying the obi.

Obi

There are two types of obi generally available:

Standard obi - Needs to be folded in half, generally worn with kimono. Can come as “tsuke obi,” or pretied obi. The bows of tsuke obi are huge, however, and I’d rather take the time to tie my own, less conspicuous taiko musube (drum knot).
Hanhata obi - Half width obi, worn with yukata or everyday kimono

There are also longer, thicker, and fancier obi available for brides and maiko (geisha in training) which are tied so that the long ends of the sash trail down the back. Geisha wear the more subdued drum knot that is popular among mature women. The bunko knot, similar to a tilted bow that looks like a butterfly, is the most popular amongst young women.

The hanhata obi that come in bright summer colors for the yukata can be as cheap as ¥1000 ($10), but I shunned these for a year-round obi compatible with both yukata and kimono. I had a terrible time choosing between the cheap purple summer obi and the ivory and golden sakura and arrow patterned obi that I ended up buying (it’s also supposedly reversible, but the back is nothing but black and grey). It was like midnight theme versus moonlight theme, and I chose the more elegant obi at the urging of the friendly obaachan who owned the store where I bought them. As a tourist, I have no need for more than one obi, but Japanese people often buy three obi for one kimono, for a variety of looks.

Optional Obijime

I also bought a cheap obijime for ¥1260 because I figured it’d make the outfit look more like a kimono to the untrained American eye. I asked the obaachan whether it was okay to wear it with yukata, and she pointed to the mannequin in answer and said it’s okay as an accessory, although it’s supposed to be worn with kimono. The flat braided cords are for summer, and the round braided cords are for wear all year round. I went with the all-year round option again.

Yukata Shopping

You’ll notice that the majority of Yukata in Kyoto are for sale around ¥2000 ($20) and made of a 75% Cotton 25% Polyester blend—which isn’t very nice against the skin, but is also cooler than 100% cotton and so perhaps slightly better on super hot days. These yukata are almost always found wrapped in plastic, folded in half both ways, and hung on hangers. However, yukata similarly packaged may range up to and into the ¥20000s as well (around $200 something). These higher range yukata may occasionally be of 100% cotton. I think the main reason they cost more is better designs and perhaps the brand name (Japan is possibly the most brand-obsessed nation in the world). In this domain of modern, packaged yukata, colors tend to be bright, gaudy summer colors and may feature non-traditional designs such as roses, gems, lace, or polka dots.

Mixed in with modern yukata shops but more likely in separate antique kimono shops, are used and more traditional yukata, almost always made of 100% cotton. I was dead set on 100% cotton, because if I’m to wear this as a bath robe I want it to be comfortable. (Furthermore, I want it to be sexy in such a setting. Hence the midnight blue and moonlight white pattern I settled on.) Technically you are supposed to wear a kimono shift or at least a tank top and undies underneath the yukata, especially if you sweat. (Some kimono and yukata are hard to care for. Luckily, the shop attendant said mine is machine washable!) But if you have sensitive skin like me, the rest of you uncovered by the tank top would complain with less than 100% cotton.

Antique/used yukata usually have more traditional designs as well; although you’ll occasionally see non-traditional designs. Mine is a deep blue with dotted and geometrical flowers and leaves like brush strokes. The subdued colors and geometrical shapes are a sure sign of traditional design. (Yes, I’m like an obaachan. I like traditional, understated beauty.) When I bought my yukata, I asked the shop attendant what season the pattern represented, since I knew that, with kimonos, spring was represented by sakura blossoms and butterflies, summer by water, autumn by maple leaves, and winter by bamboo, pine trees, and plum blossoms. She said simply, “Summer,” because yukata are known as summer casual wear (although in reality they may be worn year round, especially at festivals, or those occasional yukata days at work!). She deliberated next and seemed not to know what exactly the pattern meant. But perhaps she was right and it does represent summer, since the design does look a little bit watery (the leaves could represent waves, and the background is blue, after all). Or perhaps seasonal patterns only apply to kimono and not yukata, which all qualify for summer.

Prices

Some of the more expensive antique yukata that I saw cost around ¥30000—and I’m not sure whether they were used or not. Yet at the same time, used yukata could be as cheap as the modern ¥2000 ones. In some cases, this might be because the kimono has a stain. The Japanese are honest, and usually the cost reflects the value. My yukata has a tiny dot (probably soy sauce, ahem) that I really don’t care about since I may drop some food on it at some later point too, but which probably lowered its price to the ¥3990 I paid for it. On the other hand, Japanese people are legendary for throwing away perfectly good items just because they are a few years old. This habit was particularly pronounced during the throw away culture of the 1980s, before the ’80s bubble burst. My econ professor was in Japan at that time, and he went trash surfing like other gaijin to stock his apartment with really nice furniture. (Damn!!)

I paid ¥2940 (incl tax) for my obi, almost as much as I did for the yukata (¥3990). Obi can be very fancy, and so expect to possibly pay more for the obi than you did for your kimono! My koshihimo cost ¥315 each, and the unnecessary obijime was ¥1260 (incl tax). Altogether that was ¥8820. I chose not to buy geta, which costs at least ¥2000, simply because it’s a little bit too much for America (where I will probably wear it for costume parties, around the house (with only the koshihimo and underclothes), and maybe at special functions I’ve yet to think of). And besides, geta are always too narrow for my feet. The obaachan said that it’s okay for the outer edge of my foot to hang over the side, but I consider it unsightly.

In comparison, it’s possible to pay ¥5000 for the whole yukata/obi/geta/koshihimo set at Uniqlo and various modern yukata retailers. But as I said, these yukata often aren’t made of the best material. And if I was going to bother to shop for a yukata, I wanted to buy one I would actually wear.

As for the upper spectrum of kimono and yukata, I walked into one fancy antique kimono store where the kimono were displayed on special frames reminiscent of a museum just to look around. These kimono didn’t look too different from the ones in the second hand stores I had been visiting. A little plainer, but surely of a much higher quality. The kimono in the window cost ¥110000 or so I believe ($1100). I didn’t bother to check the rest of the prices.

Yukata Size

Note that when you shop for yukata or kimono, don’t be put off by how long they seem.

Yukata come in S, M, & L, although they may not be labeled as such. Try to go with the smallest category into which you fit, although S & M overlap, like so:

Petite (S) 4’9” ~ 5’3” / 145 - 160

Regular (M) 5’ ~ 5’6” / 155 - 165 cm

Tall (L) 5’5” ~ 5’9” / 165 - 180

I’m 5’3.5” and I fit into an M, not an S. The S was just slightly too short to offer a satisfactory fold at the waist.

You’ll find the heights/sizes listed by cm range, usually. At one store I visited, M=56, L=58. I’m not sure what the numbers referred to there, although there’s a chance it could have referred to feet and inches.

Where to Shop in Kyoto

Try the handicrafts center near Sanjo (it has something like 7 floors), and the two arcades on the Ponto-cho side of Kamugawa between Sanjo and Shijo. There’s another store in Gion-Shijo, on the other side of the river, in a back alley but with helpful little obaachan, one of which speaks some English and is probably responsible for their very helpful website.

Ichiroya Japan sells kimonos in the Ichiroya fleamarket and also has an online English outlet. Ichiroya is also responsible for a very comprehensive DVD on how to wear yukata and kimono, the preview of which you can see online.

Sources and Further Information

http://ezinearticles.com/?Yukata-Buying-Tips—-Things-You-Want-to-Know-Before-Buying-a-Yukata&id=2355949 Yukata Buying Guide
http://www.marquise.de/en/ethno/japan/buy.shtml Yukata/Kimono buying guide
http://global.aikimonokan.com/know/index.html (This site led me to the obaachan shop where I bought my obi and obijime)
http://kimono-daisuki.blogspot.com/2009/05/bunko-musubi-with-nagoya-obi.html (Tying obi)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCZtGi21ysM&feature=channel Guide to how to dress in a yukata (Preview of DVD you can purchase. Quite useful!)
http://www.risingsunimports.com/articles/howtotieobi/ How to tie a kimono obi

5/28/09

May 25

Uniqlo (ユニクロ)

I bought this shirt from Uniqlo today. It’s the first time I’ve bought anything from Uniqlo, actually. Previously, I wasn’t interested in their clothes because I thought they were too plain, though they came in a variety of interesting colors (one feature that sets it apart from Gap, the American brand to which they are often compared). But I found that they actually had some designer clothes, and I had to buy some Uniqlo clothing before I left—just because it’s such an iconic brand.

Not that you’re going to see the brand on their clothes. That’s what sets their clothes apart. No brands, just affordable casual clothes that you can pair with anything else in your wardrobe. Uniqlo thinks that by doing so you may express your own individuality rather than advertise designer labels. Hence the name “Uniqlo,” which is a mash-up of “unique” and “clothes.”

Uniqlo manages to make its clothing affordable by outsourcing clothing production to China. Being an island country, Japan has traditionally depended on its own manufacturing services. Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retail, was one of the first Japanese retailers to outsource to China—a smart business move that has rocketed Uniqlo toward success. It now has stores in major cities around the world, including one in Soho, New York City.

This is the closest Uniqlo to the seminar houses, fyi. It’s located on Highway 1, a good area to get to know. http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=ユニクロ、枚方市、大阪&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

Just made deviled quail eggs with wasabi and shichimi seven spice. Turned out great, to my surprise.

May 24
May 22
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