An Update: Yes, I’m still alive

Hi folks.

I’m still here, but I’m focusing my blogging efforts on my music career now.  If you’ve missed me, this is where to find me.

Also, I’ve released an album of original music under the name 星空.  (Because what good is knowing the kanji if you don’t use them?)  Here it is in its entirety:

See you ’round the internet!

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Experiments with Matcha

English: Matcha Tea or green tea powder

Matcha Tea or green tea powder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone interested in Japan has probably, at some point, come across matcha, the green tea powder that seems to get used in sweets quite often.

In case you haven’t, it is very green and VERY caffeinated…actually, on second thought, maybe it isn’t that strong, but I am certainly affected by it more than coffee.  Even if it’s in sweets, it gives me a serious buzz.  The last time I was in London I went to Japan Centre and had a piece of mochi that was covered in it…next thing I knew I was sitting on the Bakerloo Line, tripping out.

So I bought some.  After all, it is technically legal.

Yesterday morning I tried to make a latte out of it.  I used about half a teaspoon of matcha (I didn’t want to go too crazy to begin with!) and mixed it with some almond milk I had heated in the microwave.  (We have an espresso steamer wand but I couldn’t really be bothered with it first thing in the morning.)

What I ended up with was sort of  a pale pea-soup colour.  It tasted all right, but it needed sugar – the sugar in the almond milk wasn’t enough.  And I probably should have used more powder (the stuff’s expensive, but oh well).  Also the almond milk separated a bit in the microwave, so by the end there were quite a few green chunks at the bottom of the cup that I stirred up and downed in one.  Appetising, I know.

I plan to do more with my tiny expensive jar of the stuff.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

Pocky and Mikado are the Same Thing

I tried Pocky for the first time a few months ago. I pretty much had to – those flavour-coated biscuit fingers certainly do get a lot of hype. I’ve even seen Japanese people on TV eating them. So I bought some at HyperJapan (milk chocolate and salt, sort of like a chocolate-covered pretzel).

Mikado (United Kingdom)

Then I found a geeky card shop in Taunton that sells it.  That time I got strawberry.  I gave some to a friend to try.  He said – “This is like Mikado but better.”

Well, then I was at a sleepover (never too old for them, you know) and we got some Mikado from Sainsbury’s.  Guess what?  It’s the same thing, made by the same company (Glico).

That sort of explains that weird advert with the Japanese chick on the photocopier. Sort of.

Anyway, I can’t tell a difference, and it’s cheaper at Sainsbury’s, just with fewer flavours.

Treatise over.

Lost, Found, and Lost Again: Japan Centre, London

Unlike a lot of people, I like London.  I liked it enough to live there for two years, just not enough to not leave.  I still enjoy going back to visit, but there is a slight problem – I tend to get lost there.

It’s so simple – how could anyone get lost?

Not physically lost.  No person who can read English has been lost in central London since a few years before the Olympics, when they put signs with detailed maps on every street corner and made the signs on the Underground stations much more noticeable.  (This is based on…nothing.  But it’s super obvious, I mean, come on.)

Instead I mean mentally, emotionally lost.  During my time in London I may not have experienced the full range of human emotions, but I think I hit most of the negative ones – frustration, excitement, despair, wonder, melancholy, satisfaction, I’m-being-overly-dramatic, but it was a very intense time.  So when I go back, every bit of everything I see looks exactly like London and I’m off down the shadier back alleys of memory (Brick) lane.  I used to enjoy being reminded of it all again but now I find it supremely exhausting.  A broken-off piece of my soul will be forever wandering the streets of London in the dark.

I was last there on Tuesday, for one day, for work (moving up in the world, apparently). I tacked a few hours onto the end of my trip, but not just to wander and dream and feel things and get confused.  Oh no, I’m getting past that now, as I have things to do.  This time, I was on a mission to Japan Centre.

Japan Centre is a supermarket, cafe, and bookstore on Lower Regent St.  I’d ordered Japanese groceries for delivery from there before (for when Tesco sushi just won’t do) but hadn’t yet been able to visit the shop.  It was smaller than I’d expected, but unlike every other Asian store I’ve ever been to, absolutely everything was Japanese (not just a token few blocks of silken tofu).  I really wish I’d had more of an appetite/more money/more ability to carry things because it all looked so interesting.  I ended up spending most of my time in the bookstore at the back.  I came out with a Weekly Shonen Jump I can make neither head nor tail of and some free newspapers in Japanese.  (Gotta start somewhere.)

So then I went to JP Books, which was next door and downstairs.  And the “found” feeling I had from being on a support-my-study-of-Japanese mission started to fade.  JP Books is in an all-Japanese department store (you can even pay in yen).  Everyone there was Japanese.  I had to remind myself that I was allowed in, it was okay to go in – I speak English and in London that’s really enough.  Being in the bookstore brought home the fact that although I’ve been immersing myself in Japanese and studying kanji for several months now, “You know nothing, Jon Snow“.  I let the disorientation happen for a bit and then I left.

Is there a moral to this story?  I have a long way to go in the pursuit of Japanese.  But it beats drifting aimlessly around London for a few years.

Japanese Podcasts Outside Japan

Some of you are going to be like, yeah, Japanese podcasts, that’s old news – we’ve been on top of that for years, where’ve you been?

But probably, some others of you are like, あれ? What are these Japanese podcasts you speak of?  Is it really possible/legal to get real Japanese audio/video for free even though I live in America/Britain/Lithuania/[insert your country here]?

Folks, sit back whilst I lay down some knowledge.

In 2008, Tofugu ran this article about how to get Japanese podcasts on iTunes, even if you’re not in Japan.  Well, in 2012, several iterations of iTunes later, it still works.  The basic principle is still the same – it just looks a little different.  Here’s what you do:

Step 0: Get iTunes.  Since these days you cannot ride the London Underground during rush hour without seeing at least 157 pairs of white headphones, odds are you use this already.  (For the 5 of you who don’t, download it here.)

Step 1: In iTunes, click on “iTunes Store” on the left-hand side of the iTunes window.

Step 2: At the very bottom of the main window (scroll aaaaall the way down), you’ll see this:

Click the round flag in the lower right-hand corner.  (Obviously, your flag may vary.)  This allows you to change the country of your iTunes store.

Step 3: In the next screen, scroll down to find Japan and click it.  (In case you weren’t paying attention in geography, it’s under “Asia Pacific”.)

Step 4: Now iTunes thinks you are in Japan.  If your OS is in English, however, the menus will all stay in English so it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate.

Step 5: Click “Podcasts“.  Unlike the music and videos, podcasts are free and therefore do not require a Japanese credit card or Japanese iTunes gift card.

And there you have it!  There’s quite a lot of stuff there, and the titles are in Japanese, so it can be a bit overwhelming.  Next time I’ll talk about my favourites (oh, and I do have favourites!)