January 31, 2009

Behold the King of the Ring

Delicious Okonomiyaki

I recently tried making okonomiyaki and it was as the title of this post says, delicious. I was quite easy to make too with ingredients that are readily available in supermarkets anywhere. The above picture is the result.

January 25, 2009

Pringles in Japan

Its mofoing Pringles time. Now I wasn't really a Pringles fan in America and I can't say that I am in Japan, but I have actually bought them of my own volition here and that has to do solely with the crazy and delicious flavors they come up with. Around Christmas, I snapped these photos at the local supermarket. If Pringles would put these flavors out in America, they might actually save some face and stop losing to Doritos and Tostitos.

First up we have Onion Cheese Gratin, which is looking mighty fine in its pink can. When I first saw it, I was excited because I thought it was lasagna, but on reading the label found out it was not to be :(.

Next, Honey Roasted Chicken. Made to coincide with the Japanese tradition of, you guessed it, buying honey roasted chicken or KFC for Christmas. Some traditions are better left unexplained and not understood. I do give a round of applause to the chicken industry and KFC marketing departments though.

Lastly, Bacon Sour Cream (I guess the potato part is implied). Seemingly the tamest of the three, but still something that I haven't seem from Pringles in the USA.

What are the flavors in your neck of the woods? If you can top this, by all means try. I'm sure when spring comes Pringles Japan will.

January 23, 2009

Video Recap of Winter Vacation & Pictures

This video goes in tandem with the previous post. I talk for about 8 minutes about winter vacation, New Year, and some general observations about Japan and 国内旅行. It ends with a 2 minute slide show composed of my top photos shot during the break, mostly miyajima and Itsukushima Jinja, set to music. Enjoy

January 19, 2009

Miyajima Vacation

After rescheduling my holiday plans at the last minute, I ended up in Miyajima (宮島) for the first-half of the break; visiting Itsukushima Jinja (厳島神社), Iwakuni (岩国), and the Museum of Modern Art in Hiroshima (広島市現代美術館).

The Museum and Itsukushima Jinja were outstanding, and I ate my fill of Hiroshimayaki 広島焼き, yakigaki 焼きがき, and momijimanju もみじ饅頭 while in the area. All were excellent.

For lodging, I had the good fortune of staying at Backpackers Miyajima, which is located right across from the actual island of Miyajima. It was started up by a young Japanese guy who had spent 2 years teaching Japanese in Michigan, USA. He came back to Japan, grew tired of his job, and decided to start up a hostel. It just opened in November of 2008 so everything was new and clean :) In addition, most of the staff are local Hiroshima University students. In my four night stay, I drank with the staff, had some great conversations, and really made some great connections. One of the staff members had done a home stay in Arkansas, USA where my mom's side of the family is from, so we had a lot to talk about.

Perhaps the best park of the stay was the Saturday night takoyaki (たこ焼き) party, where everyone comes together and helps make takoyaki while drinking and talking in the main common area. I met some memorable people from Japan, Venezuela, England, and Finland over drinks. While the hostel is about 25 min outside of downtown Hiroshima, it is definately worth a night or 2 stay. For those of you like me who have already been to Hiroshima and seen the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum etc. this might be a better option, especially if you want to hike Misen Mountain (弥山) and spend more time on Miyajima.

The takoyaki party actually led me to acquire my own takoyaki maker (たこ焼き器) and boy was it worth it. I'm planning my own little takoyaki party soon. Happy New Year and do your best to make your goals for the new year come true.

January 10, 2009

In the End, the Civilian Loses. The War Between Israel and Hamas

Photo from Amir Farshad Ebrahimi's photostream on Flickr

What do we gain by war besides terror, citizen deaths, and collateral damage? I have been following the Israeli war against Hamas. I call it the war between "Israel and Hamas", but increasingly it looks like a war by Israeli on the people of Gaza with aid workers as occasional targets. Certainly that statement is quite strong and not quite fair, but when one state enters a another states' territory to take out a non-state actor--what option do you give the civilian population living there?

As of this writing, 834 Palestinians (roughly half of them civilians and a third of the total children) have died and 13 Israelis, 11 of them soldiers. This dramatic difference is no doubt strongly linked to the differences in force used (rockets and rifles vs tanks, air strikes, and all the trappings that come with a modern army) in addition to the fact that the war is taking place in Gaza. I think we need to consider the issue of proportionality here and whether Israel is justified in using the amount of force it has used up to this point.

If you have been following the war at all, I am sure that you have heard the mention of white phosphorus over and over again. While not technically against international law, it has been traditionally used in wide-open spaces to mask the movements of tanks and large groupings of troops. Its use in Gaza is controversial because of the areas population density. Being a dumb and indiscriminate weapon, it is impossible to use it with confidence in avoiding excessive civilian and collateral damage. White phosphorous, which burns at extremely high temperatures, does not extinguish on contact with the skin. It keeps burning. Despite international outcry Israel continues to use what many might call a terror weapon.

For the last two days, Israel has agreed to a 3 hour ceasefire allowing aid to get in and citizens the chance to buy food and other essentials, but certainly 3 hours is not enough time to distribute international aid to those in need. Aid appears to be getting in, but without proper time for distribution it can have little beneficial affect.

While many things are appalling in this war (and any war), I can not ignore the fact that Israelis deserve the opportunity to live in their own land without fear of rocket attacks by Hamas. However, I continue to have faith in diplomatic options, the alternative, which we are seeing now, is simply not a humanitarian option.

In war the civilian always loses, because even when the threat of imminent death and the armies have done, they are left with the aftermath, which might be less appalling at first, but no less deadly in the end.

Quotes from recent news sources:

But the most important strategic decision the Israelis have made so far, according to senior military officers and analysts, is to approach their incursion as a war, not a police operation. Civilians are warned by leaflets, loudspeakers and telephone calls to evacuate battle areas. But troops are instructed to protect themselves first and civilians second.

Israeli infantry units are going in “heavy.” If they draw fire, they return it with heavy firepower. If they are told to reach an objective, they first call in artillery or airpower and use tank fire. Then they move, but only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible.

As the commander of the army’s elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: “We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.”

--New York Times, "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery"