Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Gurakoro: Japan McDonald's Winter Treat

For a limited time in winter, only at Japanese McDonald's



So I've written about seasonal treats found uniquely at Japanese McDonald's.

This winter, I want to talk about what is possibly my most favorite seasonal treat; the "Guratan Korokke Baagaa," (グラタン・コロッケ・バーガー) or translated back into non-Japanese, "Gratin Croquet Burger"

Or, "GuraKoro" (グラコロ) for short.

So what is it?

It's so uniquely Japanese, yet it's a conglomeration of a Japanese take on many things.

Let's take apart its name. So first, before anything, you need to understand what the Japanese call a "gratin."

For any Americans out there, you've probably heard of "potatoes au gratin," which is a dish consisting of potatoes baked in cream, topped with bread crumbs and cheese so that they form a crust when baked in an oven. According to the interwebs, it's a cooking technique that originated in France.



In Japan, a "gratin" is a similar dish cooked with macaroni and some sort of meat instead. The typical Japanese "gratin" or "guratan" (グラタン, taken from its original French pronunciation "[ɡʁatɛ̃]", it sounds rather like"gratong" for those who couldn't care to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet [IPA] just to read this word), has macaroni and shrimp in it.



It is usually served in a special "guratan" dish that tends to be oval in shape.

Guratan in and of itself is delicious.

The first time I ate it was as an exchange student back in 2001.

My host mother made it for me one day after hearing me go on and on about how I missed a nice bowl of macaroni and cheese.

After tasting this, though, it became my go-to comfort food in Japan, as it's rather hard to find macaroni and cheese in a box like you normally would in the United States.

So now that you know what a "guratan" is, let's take a look at a "korokke."

A "korokke" (コロッケ, from the French word "croquette") is basically any variety of breaded, fried foods. It tends to be a patty filled with potato, though they may also have meat or vegetables in them.



The "Guratan Korokke Baagaa" then, is a sandwich consisting of a breaded, fried patty with a creamy macaroni hand shrimp filling on two fluffy buns.


It's basically macaroni and cheese on a bun, which is why I love it.

They're only available a limited time during early winter, and you could miss it if you put it off, so I always make sure to grab one as soon as I see it come out.

Your normal variations of this burger are with or without cheese, and I tend to get it with cheese for an extra-cheesy treat.

In recent years, McDonald's Japan has released a different variation of this burger, along with our normal varieties for those who prefer the classics of course.

In the past I've tasted a real good one topped with Italian (or at least what the Japanese call "Italian") tomato sauce.

This year, they've decided to put "beef stew" on it, so I thought I'd give it a try.



I must say, it was rather good.

I wonder how they'll decide to serve it next year...

Related Posts:

Early Autumn Treat: McDonald’s Japan’s Otsukimi Burger

McDonald’s Japan Seasonal Treat – Otsukimi Pai

Love the Grand Mac

TSUKIMI: A Japanese Autumn Tradition


Friday, November 6, 2020

Traditional Japanese Patterns in Demon Slayer


An old Japanese tradition in a modern manga and anime



Touched off by my last post, I've decided to make this post about the traditional Japanese print designs found in the anime "Kimetsu no Yaiba."

In Japan, the anime Kimetsu no Yaiba (鬼滅の刃, きめつのやいば, AKA "Demon Slayer") is all the rage at the moment. Children and adults wear Japanese print designs on their masks to show their fandom to the world.



But did you know that the prints used in this anime are actually inspired by traditional Japanese prints?

I think that is the beauty of Kimetsu no Yaiba; it's a cool way to introduce traditional Japanese culture to the masses. In a world where Japanese youth and even older generations alike, are losing touch with their Japanese traditions, getting lost in school exam study and being too tired after nights of zangyo. (残業, ざんぎょう, late work)

We've already talked about Nezuko's pink design in my last post, so I'm going to segway right into our next Japanese print design; the black and green checkered pattern belonging to the protagonist Tanjiro.



A two-colored checkered pattern is known a "Ichimatsu" in Japanese. While it's black and green for Tanjiro's clothes, this pattern comes in a variety of other color combinations. It is common woven pattern since ancient times, but it became known as Ichimatsu in the 18th century, when the kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu popularized it by using it on costumes. Readers might be interested to know that this design was used in the logos for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.



Next up is Zenitsu's clothes' pattern.



Zenitsu's clothes' pattern is a variation of a traditional Japanese print design known as "uroko," or "fish scales."

The real design looks like this:



It features symmetrical triangles in two colors, and is said to resemble the scales of snakes or fish. It is said that samurai would wear clothing with the uroko pattern as a talisman to protect themselves from harm.

Next up is the design used on Sabito's clothing.



Sabito's design is a unique variation of the hexagonal "kikko" pattern. I've actually already talked about this pattern in a previous post. (See my post about Kikkoman.)



"Kikko" (亀甲, きっこう, lit. turtle shell) is a design modeled after the hexagonal shapes found on turtle shells.



Traditionally, it is believed that a turtle lives to be 10,000 years, so this is a lucky design representing longevity.

Sabito's design is a variation of the kikko pattern called "Bishamon Kikko."



It is called so because it's often found on the clothes of a deity known as "Bishamonten" (one of the Seven Lucky Gods, by the way).



See the pattern?

Well, that about does it for this post. If you come to Japan, you'll notice people of all ages wearing masks with these patterns on them.

But there are way, way more traditional Japanese print designs than mentioned here. I hope to make a future post featuring some of my favorite.

Relevant Posts:

Kikkoman – What Does It Mean?

A Wonder of Osaka: The JR Tozai Line

Friday, October 30, 2020

October Post: Halloween in Japan 2020

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So like, I've been living in Japan for about 14 years now, and I've got to say, experiencing Halloween, or basically any western holiday is Japan is kinda weird.

I mean, they're western holidays; they're not supposed to be here.

And in a sense, they kinda aren't.

In my experience, it feels very few to no Japanese actually understand the holidays they celebrate; it's just an occasion to sell holiday-themed chocolates and merchandise.

So even though, yes, holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day and Halloween are observed in Japan, most of the time they're rather hollow and meaningless; just a decoration people put up and down.

To be fair, for most people in the US, it's kinda the same, but in Japan, it's even more so.

What you experience in Japan is kind of an empty shell of what the holiday is supposed to be like, with a Japanese take.

Take Halloween for example.

In America, we kinda build up to the holiday, with Halloween culminating on the 31st of October.

Pumpkins are carved, scary ghost stories are told, and, at least I feel, the meaning of what Halloween was supposed to be about is discussed.

We discuss the origins of Halloween coming from All Hallows Even, first celebrated in what is now the United Kingdom.

We talk about Samhain and the reason people dress up as skeletons, spirits and haunts.

In Japan, though, it just seems like a good occasion to sell Halloween-themed candies and snacks and engage in a huge cos-play block party.

Halloweenies gathering in the streets


In my opinion, it's kinda creepy, because there is this kind of subculture in Japan of people who like to dress up as anime characters and other such things as role-play lolitas and furry animals, and, rather than a one-time celebration to dress up as something you like, this is more like a good occasion to do out on the streets what is usually something you do at say, a maid cafe or secluded cos-play party.

That's what Halloween in Japan feels like to me; one giant cos-play party divorced of what Halloween was supposed to be.

Cultural differences, of course, necessarily command that the holiday be altered.

It's just strange in Japan for children to dress up and go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy.

Instead, what tends to happen, at least for the children, is parents at school get together and plan a controlled event where the kids dress up, get together, play games, eat snacks and receive pre-made bags of candy. The whole thing takes place in one large facility, no knocking on doors or anything.

As a father of three tots, I've actually been to events where some parents play the role of monsters children have to go to to trick-or-treat to simulate the door-to-door atmosphere one would normally encounter in the US.


A couple years back, our family dressed up as Super Mario characters.
It was at a local event just for families with children.


Halloween for the adults can get a bit out of control, with large parties happening on public streets and/or on the train, and the police having to come in and try to enforce laws.

In the past, where I live, foreigners had this kind of "tradition" to sort of, take over the local JR Loop Line to have what was known as the "Osaka Loop Halloween Party," annoying the locals.

I've seen footage of Tokyo Police having to reign in some of the participants which got a little crazy.

I haven't seen anything get too bad this year, though, perhaps due to corona virus restrictions.

This year, due to corona virus, events for children were often low-key; a limited list of participants and shorter party times just to be on the safe-side.

I can't tell you what the adults did, as I kinda just stay away from that scene; I'm a father now, and I need to be with my kids.

I noticed that this year, there were a lot of children dressed up as characters from the anime series "Kimetsu no Yaiba" (鬼滅の刃, lit. Blade of Demon's Bane, or "Demon Slayer" as it's known in the West.)

I'm not an anime geek in the slightest. OK, there are some anime I liked in the past, but I've never really followed anything. I really like Studio Ghibli, and in the past, back in like the late 90s, I liked Dragon Ball and Ranma 1/2, but that's basically it. So the only reason I know about Kimetsu is because all three of my boys watch the series on TV.

I'm not sure how any parent could let their kids watch this anime series at all.

My own children gushed on and on about Tanjiro and Nezuko and I never really bothered to check the show out.

That is until I noticed that the children at the schools where I teach couldn't stop talking about it.

So a few weeks back, I finally sit down to watch the show, and I'm horrified to see blood gushing, arms, legs, hands, feet and heads flying, horrific demons gnashing their teeth and ripping limbs off.

But I guess if my Japanese wife is OK with it, and the parents of hundreds of thousands of children are OK with watching this, then I guess it's OK?


I don't think it's OK, but whatever... I'm one of those sucker parents who don't want their kids to be the only ones not in the know of things... Oh well...

So anyway, where was I.

Oh yes, every school I went to that had Halloween dress up events for the kiddies, out on the streets, you can see kids dressed up as Tanjiro and Nezuko.

The green and black squares and pink Japanese print designs, not to mention the green bamboo muzzles, were unmistakable.


Tanjiro and Nezuko from the Demon Slayer series

Don't get me wrong, the anime is amazing, the story is heart-wrenching, the characters are all very strong, but for children this anime is not.

One of the things I like about this anime is how it attempts to preserve Japanese culture, tradition and folklore.


Nezuko's Kimono Design


Take Nezuko's kimono design, for example; people might be interested to know that actually, this pattern dates back centuries. It's known as "Asa no ha," (麻の葉, lit. hemp leaves), and it is supposed to represent hemp leaves. Hemp is associated with having a strong vitality since it grows vigorously without the need for a lot of care, so this pattern was often used on babies’ and children’s kimonos with the hope that they would grow up big and strong.

This may not sound like much, but this is a sort of gateway to Japanese traditional cloth prints, and now this design will forever be in this generation's mind. You see this design, you think "Nezuko." Genius! (I've already discussed another design called "Kikko" in a past post. And there are other designs in a different post regarding the JR Tozai Line)

In world where Japanese traditional culture is fading, I think what Japan needs are different ways to instill traditionally Japanese things in the youth, and what better way to do it than by bloody, gory manga where the hero slices demon's heads, arms and legs off!

I'm being facetious.

Obviously I think there was a better way to appeal to the Japanese youth regarding traditional Japanese culture, but I guess as they say, there's more than one way to skin a tanuki.

The anime is excellent, with a wonderful soundtrack, unforgettable characters and captivating stories.

That's all I have to say about Halloween in Japan this year.

Relevant Posts:

Kikkoman – What Does It Mean?

A Wonder of Osaka: The JR Tozai Line

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Early Autumn Treat: McDonald's Japan's Otsukimi Burger

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It's moon viewing season in Japan! That time when the Japanese take time to appreciate the harvest moon.

I've already written about Otsukimi and Otsukimi-related things in the past. Check out my list of links to past blog posts at the end of this post below.

Life's been rather busy for me as of late. I've got a job that keeps me rather late, my kids are growing up and I'm attending their events, I've got little time to blog. But as you can see, this blog is still on my mind; have you noticed the new layout? This blog is now on its own server now! Yay me for moving my blog from blogger to its own WordPress site, even though I don't know a single thing about what I'm doing!

I'm a bit disappointed that I've got nothing much to talk about, so this time around, I'm going to share some pictures of an Otsukimi burger I enjoyed at McDonald's recently.

This burger is only served during September and October when the Japanese take time to appreciate the moon. It features a burger patty with cheese, topped with a fried egg. For whatever reason, an egg evokes the moon. Maybe it's the yellow yolk? I'm not sure.

I always enjoy this burger and look forward to it this time of year. Look for it if you're ever in Japan September/October.

At any rate, enjoy! :-)




Sunday, August 23, 2020

Lemony Goodness 2020 Continues

In my last post, I wrote a delicious lemon snack I found this year.

For those of you who don't regularly follow my blog, I'm very fond of lemon-flavored snacks, drinks etc., and every year during the summer months, different confectionery companies release lemon-flavored snacks. I look forward to finding these snacks, so sometimes I post them here.

At any rate, I recently found a couple more snacks I really liked at Family Mart (a Japanese convenience store), and I just had to share them here.

Here they are!

First on the bill is this lovely old-fashioned-style donut.

As you can see, it's merely an old-fashioned donut with a lemon-flavored glaze. There are even yellow stripes to hint that this snack cake has lemony in it.

I must say, it was a rather pleasant experience that did not disappoint. It was like eating an old-fashioned donut with an extra zing of lemon in the glaze.

Here's a close-up so you can see the texture and layer of glaze.

Next on the bill is this excellent lemon cheesecake bar.

The snack cake comes in this plastic container so as to keep things from crushing the cake within.


This snack cake features a nice crust with lemon-flavored cheesecake filling, topped by lemon-flavored crumbs.

 This was another snack I rather liked. Unlike the donut above, the taste of this snack cake lingered a little bit more, whereas the donut above had an initial zing to it that dissipated quickly.

All in all I really liked my finds.

Related Posts:
Lemony Goodness in July 2020

Japanese Summer Lemony Goodness 2018

This Year's Summer Lemony Goodness

Early Summer: The Season for Lemony Goodness

Friday, July 31, 2020

Lemony Goodness in July 2020

This year has been pretty rough.

I've got to say, though, I'm grateful I still have a job, even in spite of corona virus.

Even though life keeps me busy, I still manage to find time to hunt around for lemony goodness in summer.

This year, I managed to find this excellent lemon cheesecake tart at Family Mart. (I'm a poet and I don't even know it! Hah hah!)

As you can see, there is a heavy layer of glaze on top.

This layer of glaze was amazing, and it gave me that lemony zing I so adore.

I liked it so much I've already bought this tasty treat three times this year.

Anyway, recently I'm so busy I rarely find time to write anymore.

I hope to find the time to write more detailed blog posts in the future.

Related Posts:
Japanese Summer Lemony Goodness 2018

This Year's Summer Lemony Goodness

Early Summer: The Season for Lemony Goodness


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Kikkoman - What Does It Mean?

I’ve got a lot I want to blog about, but recently I haven’t had time to sit down and write a blog post as detailed as I’d like. For now, here’s a post about Japanese trivia.

If you enjoy going to Chinese and Japanese restaurants, or just enjoy cooking Asian food at home, I’m quite sure you’ve come across the soy sauce brand Kikkoman.

This blog post is about what the name of this brand and their logo means.

First off, let’s analyze the logo.

It’s composed of two concentric hexagon outlines, the outer hexagon being extremely thick in width, and the inner one being extremely thin.

At the center is a stylized character for the Chinese character for “10,000” or “myriad”, . It is in fact, the older, traditional form for the character .

In the Chinese number system, and consequently the Japanese number system, larger numbers are counted differently. Instead of  breaking up large numbers in terms of how many thousands (1,000) they have, they're broken down in terms of how many ten thousands (10,000) they have.

That is to say, that in the Chinese number system, there exists a singular unit of ten thousands, called a "
wàn" in Mandarin Chinese, or "man" in Japanese.

What to Westerners looks like "ten thousand," (10,000), in countries where the Chinese number system is used, this is seen as one unit, in older English called a "myriad." (1,0000)

The next unit up is called an "oku," (億) which is a unit of one hundred million. Where commas are placed after every three places in the Western number system, commas are placed every four spaces.

So in Western numbers, one hundred million looks like 100,000,000, it looks like 1,0000,0000.

The original meaning of the word "myriad" in English was an archaic unit of 10,000, but today it means a large, innumerable number.

As in English, the character
can also share the meaning of the word "myriad" of a countless number, in which case it is read よろず (yorozu).

So what is this logo’s meaning? Why were these elements chosen?

It all begins to make sense once we realize that traditionally, the Japanese referred to the hexagon as “turtle/tortoise shell,” 亀甲 (きっこう, kikkou) because of the patterns found on turtle shells.

When looking at a turtle shell, it’s easy to see.

The turtle is an auspicious symbol in Asian culture, because it is thought to live a long life, 10,000 years in particular.

Starting to get the picture?

In short, the literal meaning of "kikkoman" is "myriad in a hexagon," and the logo itself is the image of a stylized character for "myriad" enclosed in a hexagon.

The double meaning that can be found here is that "kikkou," or 亀甲 when written in Chinese characters, actually means "turtle shell."

So the word "kikkoman," and its visual representation are auspicious symbols of longevity and good luck.

It's a name that reflects the founders' hopes of the company lasting 10,000 (a myriad) years. (Basically forever.)

In Japanese art, one can often see the turtle paired with a crane. It is said the crane lives 1,000 years, and the turtle 10,000. Together, they are auspicious symbols of longevity.

I’m quite sure you’ve heard of the Japanese expression “banzai.” (万歳, ばんざい) It literally means “10,000 years.” (In some compounds, 万/萬 is read “ban”.)

By the way, any Megaman lovers on here remember the turtle boss from Megaman 7?

Check out the turtle decorations in the stage leading up to it.

Notice the hexagon?

Related Post: 
Oshogatsu: Japanese New Year