Archive for the ‘random’ Category

Q: What is Para-Para?

A: It is a style of dancing which is very popular amongst young people in Japan.



I went to my first para-para club the other day and it was interesting to see such a cult part of Japanese culture live and kicking. If I compare it to line-dancing, then it I’m sure it would give you completely the wrong idea about what it is – there are no badly dressed, cowboy hat wearing middle-aged folk here, this is where the young and the stylish come to show off their arm-waving skills in strict routines set to euro-beat/trance/techno music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of geeks here too. Para-para is not something you can just rock up to a club and “do”; you have to study hard and learn the moves. As a result there are a large proportion of “otaku” who study daily (probably) to perfect routines, and once they know them they go to a para-para club to show what they can do. Normally “Gyaru” (the really girly girls with tonnes of makeup, short skirts and perfectly curled hair) and “otaku” (geeks with no dress-sense, bowl haircuts and a curry based diet) never mix together under any circumstances, but this is perhaps the main exception to that rule!

My friend Mina took me. She is actually an instructor back in Texas, and its because of this style of dancing that she came to like Japan in the first place! She knows a good 300 or so routines, no mean feat if you ask me. Although the moves all look kind of similar, and there is a lot of repetition, naturally every song is different.

At the club itself, everyone dances in lines and the most experienced dance on the stage to remind everyone of the moves. Occasionally the DJ pulls out a record from the early 90’s which nobody knows and at that moment, there is usually one geek who will know it, and that is their moment to shine!

After a while the music really got to me though so I don’t think I will be trying to pick it up anytime soon, but then again its always fun to try things out so who knows! Let me know what you think of the two videos!

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Japan has a wonderful variety of food, some of which is strange, some of which is horrendous. Some things which I used to think were really different or interesting have become so normal (green tea ice cream, miso soup, seaweed, raw eggs, pickled cucumber and radish etc) but there are still things which I find a bit bizarre.

However strange something sounds, I will always try it once to see what its like, and so I thought I would share a few of my experiences with you.

Whale – Amazing. If whales want to stop being endangered then they should stop being so delicious! I had it served raw, very thinly sliced with garlic, soy sauce and ginger. It has the appearance of very fine quality steak, very lean and not fatty at all. It also tastes similar to steak, but even softer. It didn’t have a fishy flavour at all. I wish whales weren’t endangered, this is definitely the most un-eco-friendly food I have ever eaten, but I am glad to have had the chance to try it.

Fugu (Highly poisonous Pufferfish) – One of my students took my out for a very posh meal and this came as part of a set course feast, so I didn’t even know what it was until after I ate most of it! It looks like any other kind of white fish, has virtually no distinguishing taste, and is in fact rather bland. I am sure people only eat it for the death factor, and as I didn’t know what it was, this was non-existant! Nice to be able to say I’ve tried it, but I won’t be wasting money on it anytime soon (due to the fact that it is so poisonous, the chefs have to pass very rigurous tests before they are allowed to prepare it and so it is top-end price range). Incidently, almost all deaths caused by fugu are due to housewives trying to save a bit of money and prepare it at home, although the jury is out on whether this can be considered accidental or not!

Sea Urchin – I was expecting this to be good since it is such a prized delicacy in Japan (at up to $450/kg its up there with caviar and the like) and maybe its something you get used to, but I’m not a big fan. It has the strangest flavour. Very strong taste of the sea, very salty, and with a rather nasty after taste. I didnt like it the first time I had it at an average quality sushi shop, but I tried it again at a posh restaurant and it was slightly better, so perhaps it depends on the quality.

Octopus – fairly standard by Japanese standards but very nice all the same. Bit of a chewy/rubbery quality to it like squid, but as long as its fresh, it always has a slight tenderness too.

Sea cucumber – not bad, bit chewy. It came raw but pickled which has the effect of dehydrating it and giving it the texture of raw Octopus. Having encountered a sea cucumber or two in Australia while diving I was rather interested to see what it tasted like.

Sea Cucumber’s Bowels – Tried eating the bowels raw after seeing the head chef so boldly down a piece,  however this was  honestly the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten/seen/smelt. Bearing in mind that Sea Cucumbers are bottom feeders and scavenge whatever they can find, plus sift through sediment, you can get some idea of the flavour. Essentially it smells and tastes really strongly of the sea, whilst being incredibly salty. The sensation of eating it is comparable to drowning in the sea with the pungent sting of seawater all up in your nose followed by the abrasive scratching of crushed seashells and sand. However, instead of dying, you will have an unforgettable aftertaste that will have you retching. Avoid at all costs.

Tuna/Bonito’s Bowels – Not as bad as the above (kind of chewy like beef intestines very very salty and very very fishy) but not particularly enjoyable by any means.

Raw Jellyfish – a really tasty treat. This one has become a favourite in my bento lunchbox and I will miss it when I go home. Slightly strange chewy texture, it seems to be served in a sesame seed sauce wherever I eat it. I was half expecting to have a numb tongue after eating it but thankfully it doesn’t come with such a kick!

Abalone – Kind of chewy, pretty yummy. Its a bit like a cross between squid and moules!

Pigs trotter -not something I would probably ever order again, but not half as bad as it sounds. Essentially it was just fat, served on the bone in some kind of sweet and salty soup.  I’m not a big fan of fatty textures which was the main reason I wouldn’t order it again, but it had obviously been simmered in the soup for hours and had absorbed all the flavour which made it nice.

Face of a Pig – Again, this isn’t something I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, but I did enjoy eating it. It was the skin of the pig’s face sliced up, and although it is cooked for a long time it remains ever so slightly chewy.

Pigs Ears with kim-chi -pretty much the same as pigs face, thinly sliced pieces served in a kimchi sauce. Delicious.

Raw Chicken- thought this would be horrendous, but I have eaten this twice now with no foul consequences. Apparently salmonella isn’t a big problem in Japan, and when you eat chicken sashimi its with meat that has been slaughtered that morning (or so I am told). It is poached for 20 seconds and then sliced thinly. Served with soy sauce, ginger paste and finely sliced spring onions. Its the same texture as raw fish but obviously the taste is different! I would recommend trying it if you are in Japan, but can’t imagine eating it anywhere else! It is surprisingly nice.

Fermented soy beans (納豆) – not pleasant. Very standard in Japan, but I have no idea why. Everyone raves about its health benefits but that’s not enough to persuade me that I should eat it it. It is brown, sticky, gooey,and  stringy like melted mozzarella cheese. It looks AWFUL, it smells AWFUL, it tastes AWFUL, but the worst part is that it leaves a disgusting aftertaste in your mouth which leaves you wondering why you let it violate your body out of choice.

Chickens heart, beef tripe, liver, and other various innards – not bad. I know you can get these at home, but they don’t really form part of my everyday diet, so it was good to try them. I like the way things are cooked here, very simply with subtle ingredients, so you really taste the meat. Japanese/korean barbecue or Yakitori is the most common and best way to eat innards. If you go to a Yakitori restaurant with a Japanese friend, get them to order a bunch of random ones and try them without knowing what they are – such a fun game!

The only random thing left I really want to try whilst in Japan is horse meat sashimi which I will get around to as soon as I have some money!

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Amongst all the flower arranging (Ikebana), Japanese Foreign Policy studying, Business Japanese skills developing, Sumie (chinese Black ink) painting, Japanese Language learning and extra-curricular-socialising, I am currently occupying my time organising the party to end all parties!

Over the last 2 months my best friend George and I have gathered 7 different sponsors (two hair salons, a restaurant, a magazine, a concert venue, , organised the music, made tickets, negotiated the socks off the owner of the venue to get a really good deal, bought the champagne, and run around inviting all our friends to come to what should be an absolute spectacular! Its going to be for about 100 of our friends, lots of yummy food, all you can drink, fabulous music, amazing prizes (like a meal for two at a rather classy restaurant, hair straighteners, concert tickets etc etc) for the best dressed girl/guy, best hairdo and best dancer, and we even got a Japanese drag queen to come and make an appearance! We also managed to get ¥5000 haircut vouchers for everyone who comes, plus, a really well known magazine for our prefecture called SpyGirl is going to come and take photographs of the event and feature us on a whole page in glorious technicolour! So I am very very excited!

This is the first time that I have ever organised such a big event, and I’m definitely learning a lot… Its even more exciting doing it in a foreign country – something I never imagined I would be able to achieve! Hopefully it’ll be alright on the night…! One week left to go and so much to organise!

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As a Japanologist (hah!) I get asked a lot of questions by friends and family about Japanese life and culture, ranging from relatively simple topics to the obscure. However the question I get asked more often than anything else is “Why do Japanese people always make the V-sign in photographs?”. One cousin even enquired as to whether it is some kind of Churchill-envy. Today I will put this great mystery to rest for those of you who have always wondered.

Most people think that it has something to do with being a symbol of peace/victory, but in actual fact it is a rather old fashioned dating device. Over 100 years ago it was used as a secret signal to members of the opposite sex who could be considered partners for marriage. Since a face-to-face conversation with a stranger in the street would be far too forward, a simple flash of the signal would show interest in that person and allow for arrangements to be made for private discussions, inevitably leading to marriage. Since then, with the invention of the camera and demise of arranged marriages single people use it as a pose in photographs to indicate their single status. Whilst this might seem embarrassing, it means singletons can more successfully pick and choose prospective partners from looking at friends’ photographs. If you see a cute guy/girl making the sign in your friends’ photograph then arrangements can be made for a not-quite-so-blind blind-date. So, be careful about making the V-sign when having your photograph taken in Japan!

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