Monday, March 14, 2011

Culture Challenge: Japan

In light of the devastation that has hit Japan and its people recently, this week's Culture Challenge is Japan. Please take a few minutes to get a look into some highlights of daily life in Japan before this big earthquake hit.

I visited Japan in 2005 on a study abroad stint with University of Virginia's Semester at Sea Program. It was the last stop on a sixty-five day voyage that covered nine Southeast Asian countries.

Japan was my favorite stop. One of my closest college friends had grown up in Japan with his American missionary parents. He considered himself a product of the Japanese culture first, American second, so I had a big respect for the culture coming into the trip.

While there I had the chance to live with a wonderful young Japanese family for a weekend to get some first-hand insight into their daily life. The following culture challenge will send you around the World Wide Web visit Japan for a day. (I should add a disclaimer here that the cultures featured in the Culture Challenge are so rich and diverse that one cannot sum up a culture in one little blog. I've hit a few highlights out of many neat things about the place, and I hope I do not over-generalize or stereotype in any way.)

Begin your Japanese Journey by reading your steps and clicking on any of the linked words for more information:

1. You step off the plane in Japan and grab a taxi-cab. The heat is blistering, so the cab driver stops buys you a cold, refreshing bottle of...cow piss? Did he really say that?  It's Calpis, but the pronunciation has surprised many travelers. This tangy non-carbonated soft-drink is surprisingly addictive. Find out what strange ingredient makes Calpis so great.

2. After finishing off your bottle of Calpis, you make your way to the train station. You found a cheap plane ticket into the booming city of Tokyo, but the place you really want to see is Kyoto. You hop on the world's fastest form of transportation aside from flight. It's the cleanest, sleekest train you've ever been on, and it feels like something from the future. Here you were thinking Japanese people would all be wearing Kimono robes and wearing funny shoes. You realize the streets of the city are filled with fashion forward men and women.

3. When you arrive in Kyoto, an old friend of someone in your family picks you up. After all, the six degrees of separation means everyone has connections of some sort in Japan. You notice the GPS in his car is about 10 years ahead of the brand new GPS you have in your car at home.

4. Once you get to his family's house, they cook you a dish called Okonimiyaki. It is sometimes called Japanese pizza, sometimes a pancake, but it is honestly more like an omelette. Okonomi means "as you like it."  So it literally is a flat pancake/pizza shaped meal with anything you want thrown into the recipe. Throw caution to the wind and dig into this dish that looks nothing like the ramen noodles or sushi you expected. This is a real Japanese home-cooking. Enjoy!

5. You sleep that night on your tatami mat laid out for guests. Tomorrow you have a full-day of sightseeing planned. Here are few pictures you snap on your 24 hour trip to Japan.

We will revisit Japan soon at the Curious Kind to feature Japan's wealth of art forms from their famous block prints to the beautiful Geisha. Hopefully with just a glimpse of the beautiful Japanese culture, you've been able to bring Japan a little closer to home. There are MANY fundraisers and relief efforts going on right now to help out the victims of the recent earthquake in Japan. Please take a minute to find a way to support those victims this week.

Culture Challenge Book Choices:
YA Choice: Shizuko's Daughter
Children's Choice: Grandpa's Town

(For another really neat look at what Japanese scientists are coming out with next, check out this site. This umbrella especially caught my eye.)

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