Blog Posts

Must Try Kansai Foods

Have you ever wondered where in Japan is the best place for a foodie? If you’re going to Japan to eat, first you should know that there’s no easy answer to that. Every region in Japan is famous for at least one kind of food (like edamame in Gifu). But if I had to pick a good hotspot, I would say Kansai is up there.

 

Kansai is a fairly well-known region in Japan, including large cities like Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. It’s famous for its kind of wild dialect (なんでやねん!) and pretty unique dishes. Having lived in Kansai for some time, I’m totally biased. But it’s a super fun place with a ton of people, so it follows that you can get some really good food.

 

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of Kansai cuisine, but rather some that I would highly recommend if you’re going to be in the area.

 

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

If I’m going to talk about Kansai food, I’m going to tell you about my absolute favorite food in the world. Okonomiyaki is a Kansai staple, and literally everyone there has their own way to prepare it. If you can read any kanji, you can look at that Japanese and see that the ingredients for okonomiyaki are basically “anything you like.”

 

Basic okonomiyaki is actually pretty easy. You make some pancake mix, but put a ton of chopped cabbage in it. More than you think you should. So much cabbage. You also add other ingredients that suit your fancy (anything from carrots to cheese to seafood), and you cook it. It’s topped with a specific okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes.

 

The general okonomiyaki consensus is to serve it with thinly sliced pork belly on one side, but you can always make a seafood okonomiyaki if you prefer that.

 

If you get this in Hiroshima, they layer up all the ingredients instead of mixing them, which I’ve heard is very good. So give that a go if you’re in Hiroshima.

 

Okonomiyaki is very difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t understand it. I try calling it a “cabbage pancake,” which is a pretty literal interpretation of the dish. I’ve also heard it called “Japanese pizza” due to the fact that you can really make it with whatever ingredients you want. It may sound a little weird, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

 

The most fun part about okonomiyaki is that they sometimes let you make it. Restaurants that sell okonomiyaki often have grills built into the table. The chef will give you the mix, and then you get to cook it yourself. This is a really unique experience that kind of makes you feel like a chef at one of those teppanyaki places. Getting so involved in cooking a dish can make the experience so much more fun and interesting.

 

Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

Moving onto another staple of Kansai cuisine brings us to takoyaki. No, this has nothing to do with the popular “Mexican” tacos Americans love and adore. The tako (蛸) in this dish is the Japanese word, meaning “octopus.”

 

If you just shied away, you should come back. Takoyaki is one of the nicest introductions to eating octopus a person can find. Takoyaki has become so popular in Japan, it’s seen as a staple matsuri food. Seriously, how many anime have you seen where the characters eat takoyaki at a festival? It’s more than one.

 

Takoyaki is basically a savory pancake puff with a tiny piece of octopus in the middle. They are round and adorable and best eaten when they are the temperature of molten lava. Just like okonomiyaki, they are topped with the unique takoyaki sauce (which is different from okonomiyaki sauce, even though it looks the same), mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes. When you buy them as street food, you often get a little skewer to eat them with, as they are bite-sized balls of fire and deliciousness.

 

As you might expect, there are also variations with this dish. My favorite version of takoyaki is called Akashiyaki, which is served with a broth on the side to dip each one in. It is, as you might be able to assume from the name, popular in Akashi, which is between Kobe and Himeji and is a super famous town because of literature like the Tale of Genji. This variation is a fun thing to try if you’re looking for something a bit less typical to eat that is still unique to Kansai.

Mochi (もち)

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. Mochi isn’t exclusive to Kansai. But hear me out on this.

 

When I was in Kyoto, the absolute greatest thing I ate there was the mochi. Kyoto, being the tourist trap it is, has a lot of food available that is supposed to be very Japanese, and mochi is no exception. But they usually make it a little different so it is unique to Kyoto.

 

The mochi I saw everywhere in Kyoto was thin, cut into squares, and wrapped around bean paste. The texture was a lot different from normal mochi, which can get pretty sticky and almost gummy. So give this one a try if you happen to visit Kyoto.

Green Tea (抹茶)

And of course, you can’t talk about Kyoto without talking about green tea. The green tea in Kyoto is said to be the best in the world, and it certainly won’t be difficult for you to find it. Basically, every restaurant there advertises its tea, whether in normal tea form, mochi, ice cream, or anything else you can possibly imagine being green tea flavored.

 

Because it’s Kyoto, you can even hit up some fun and historical tea houses and enjoy some picturesque gardens as you sip your tea.

 

So if you’re going to be hanging around Kansai and you don’t know what to eat, hopefully, this gave you some ideas. If you aren’t going to Japan, but want to see what Kansai food is like, look up an okonomiyaki recipe. It’s actually pretty easy to make. And make sure to learn some Kansai-ben while you’re at it! It’s めっちゃおもろい!

 

If you’d like to learn more about traveling in Japan, check out our article “Travel Guide to Lodging in Japan.” And, to help you with your language skills, make sure you check out our daily podcast.

Comic

Week Ten

010: Kyoto Bound

The last group of verbs are somewhat of a pain. Like every language, there are the exception verbs. For the most part, Japanese is very good at obeying its own rules. However, there are a few verbs that break the rules entirely. There there main exception verbs. 

Let’s go over the three big ones and then we will provide you a list of common LIAR verbs.  

 

Suru – To Do する 

Kuru – To Come くる 

Iku – To Go いく

 

The three verbs above very common and extremely important to remember. Particularly する. Suru is interesting because it can go behind a noun, and make it into a verb. That’s right, you can just stick する after a word like (study) and it becomes: To Study.

 

やくそく (promise) + する = To Promise

ちゅうもん (an order) + する = To Order

ほんやく(translation) + する = To Translate

かくにん(confirmation) + する = To Confirm

けんきゅう(research) + する = To Research

 けっこん(marriage) + する = To Get Married

うんてん (drive) + する = To Drive

 

Japanese is Magic! I think this is freaking awesome. 

 

Outside of these three there major exception verbs する, くる, and いく, there are verbs that are LIAR verbs that you kinda have to learn though trial and error. Examples of this include:  

Kiru – to cut

Shiru – to know 

Iru – to need

Hairu – to enter

Kaeru – to return

Hashiru – to run

Kagiru – to limit

Keru – to kick

Shaberu – to talk

Teru – to shine

etc. 

 

This list is not comprehensive, rather, it is meant to give you an idea of common verbs that initially look like Ichidan verbs but are actually Godan verbs. If you run into an verb that looks like an Ichidan and are questioning which one it is, you can double check by looking it up on http://www.jisho.org or on the app like Imiwa or Shirabe. 

 

 

来週(らいしゅう) – Next Week 

の – Connective Particle

木曜日(もくようび) – Thursday

に – Directional Particle

お休み(おやすみ) – Break/Vacation

頂けない(いただく+ない) – Recieve (Humble)

でしょうか – 

 

妻(つま) – Wife (My Wife) 

の – Connective Particle

調子(ちょうし) – Condition

が – Subject Particle

悪くて(わるくて) – Worse

少し(すこし)Slightly

する – To Verb

こと – Intangible Thing 

ある – To Exist

んです – Predicate + Explanation Particle 

 やあ – Yeah

もちろん – Of Course

 

 

来週(らいしゅう) – Next Week

木曜日(もくようび) – Thursday

発 – Depart (Suffix)*

の – Connective Particle

京都(きょうと) – Kyoto

行き(ゆき) – Bound*

新幹線(しんかんせん) – Bullet Train 

切符(きっぷ) – Ticket

を – Object Marker

ください – Please

* Suffixes mostly used for trains.

Also, yes Yuki and Iki are the same kanji. We will talk about that another day. One Step at a time. 

 

 ありがとう – Thank You

道(みち) – Street/Road

は – Topic Particle

覚えてる(おぼえる+Bて) – To Remember

もちろん – Of Course

神社(じんじゃ) – Shrine

の – Connective Particle

方(ほう) – Direction

に – Direction Particle

行って(いく+Bて) – To Go

森(もり) – Forest

中(なか) – In the Middle

へ – Directional Particle (General Direction)

曲がる(まがる) – To Turn

んだ – 

よ – !

ね – Isn’t it

Comic

Week Nine

009: What To Do?

The other kind of verbs are two fold. The first of the two are called Godan or Yodan Verbs. Both mean verbs that end in anything outside of ERU and IRU; Ichidan verbs. That’s right every other verb that doesn’t end in either ERU or IRU is a Godan verb. 

Examples of Godan Verbs:

Kau – かう – To Buy

Uru – うる – To Sell

Yobu – よぶ – To Call

Kaku – かく – To Write

Manabu – まなぶ – To Learn

 

Try to pick out the Godan verbs from the list below.

 

The other type of verbs are the the most hated group. Exception verbs. Exception verbs themselves fall into two categories. 

Group One:

Suru – する – To Verb

Kuru – くる – To Come

Iku – いく – To Go

 

These three verbs are tricky and you unfortunately have to learn their unique conjugation table via wrote memorization. Luckily though, these are the only verbs that you really have to do that with. For once you can distinguish Ichidans from Godans conjugation is quite simple, but we will go into that another week. Or you can check out the 30 Day Challenge.

 

Group Two:

Liar Verbs: Etc. 

Kiru – きる – To Cut

Shiru – しる – To Know

 

Group Two exception verbs are super annoying. They are verbs that look like Ichidan verbs but are conjugated like Godan verbs. There are not many of these verbs but they do pop up every so often.

 

 

  1. いく – To Go
  2. はなす – To Speak
  3. みる – To See
  4. える – To Get
  5. ある – To Exist
  6. なく – To Cry
  7. とぶ – to Jump/Fly
  8. たべる – To Eat
  9. ねる – To Sleep
  10. もつ – To Hold

 

 

どうしまようか – What should we do?

 

 

あの人(ひと)- That Person

に – Directional Particle

話(はなし)- Talk 

行く(いく)- To Go

べき – Should

だろう- Predicate

か – Question Particle

 どうかしら – I don’t know

 

 

お母さん(おかあさん)- Mom

その – That

お守り(おまもり)- Charm

どこ – Where

で – Location of action

手に入れた(てにいれる PAST)- Get

の – Informal Question Particle

後(あと)- After

に – Direction Particle

して (する)To Verb

 

 

シクシク – Crying Onomatopoeia 

Bolded Words are Godan Verbs. 

 

いく – To Go

はなす – To Speak

みる – To See

える – To Get

ある – To Exist

なく – To Cry

とぶ – to Jump/Fly

たべる – To Eat

ねる – To Sleep

もつ – To Hold

Blog Posts

Take a Bow

Why do Japanese people bow so much?

This is an interesting point of Japanese culture that can sometimes be a bit difficult for foreigners to understand. But knowing when and how to bow can really help you improve your interactions with native Japanese speakers. You may think of bowing as strictly cultural, but the truth is, you need to know bowing etiquette to properly speak Japanese. Bowing is so integrated into the Japanese language, there’s even a way to sign a bow when you are using Japanese sign language. Let’s start with how to bow, then we’ll get to different situations where bowing is necessary.

 

How to Bow

The main part of bowing is how far you are supposed to bow. Sometimes we may think that you should always give deep bows from the waist. That’s actually pretty formal. If you want to give a casual bow, sometimes just a head nod is enough. If someone holds the door for you or your friend says hi to you, you don’t need to go full bow. You’ll get so used to bowing like this, you may start doing it while people are talking to you or even on the phone. This is by far, the most common way to bow. When you get into more formal situations, such as business meetings or meeting people you should probably show respect to, it’s better to give a deeper bow. This doesn’t mean 90 degrees (we’ll get to that). This is just a normal, hands at your side, bending forward a bit to show respect sort of bow. This kind of seems like the most stereotypical way of bowing in Japan, at least from a foreigner’s perspective.

When you get into a bow any deeper than those two, it usually means you either really respect someone, or you have done something very wrong. A bow at 90 degrees is generally reserved for a very formal apology. Anything more than that (like a kowtow) is definitely excessive. Don’t do that. Now let’s talk about some basic bowing situations. This is probably the easiest one to remember. When you greet someone, you should bow. Typically when you say hello to people you know, the typical nod-style bow is plenty. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, and they are a higher social rank than you, the more formal bow is totally fine.

 

Business Bowing

You will generally provide the person you are greeting with a business card. It’s important to bow as you present it. This might be the situation a lot of foreigners think of when they think of bowing. While the depth of a bow given with an apology does directly correlate to the action being apologized for, chances are you won’t need to bow a full 90 degrees. The only time I’ve seen Japanese people bow like this is during very formal (usually televised) apologies from the head of a company who has done something very bad. Generally, if you bow during an apology you can determine how low to bow by understanding how what you did affect the other person. Reading the air is an important part of the entire Japanese language, and that includes bowing

 

Bowing is also a good way to show gratitude

If you know a Japanese person, chances are they don’t really show a lot of physical affection. When an American receives a present, a hug can definitely happen. But if you try to hug your native Japanese friend, they may feel very awkward. Japanese culture tends not to express love in the same ways as many other countries. A bow is a nice way to acknowledge that you appreciate what has been done. Again, the depth of the bow is significant. When someone holds a door for you, the normal nod is plenty. But if someone has really gone out of their way to do something for you, a more formal bow is a great way to show your gratitude (again, you don’t need to do that 90-degree bow or kowtow. Please don’t kowtow).

 

Why does it matter?

We may not think much of bowing. Or we may think it’s just a novel little bit of Japanese culture. But if you know anything about Japanese culture, you’ll know the importance of showing respect to the people around you. There’s a lot of little things Japanese people do to show respect, even simple things like being quiet on the train to not disturb other passengers.

Respect is built into the very language. Bowing is a way to outwardly show respect to whoever you are talking to. It’s also a major way you can show your native Japanese friends that you understand their culture and help them be comfortable around you. Bowing shows humility, and the Japanese language is big on humility. So make sure you loosen up and get those bows in as you talk to people. Before you know it, you’ll be nodding your head no matter who talks to you.

Comic

Week Eight

008: Sitting Down

Today we learn a something epic and huge. That is verbs. Verbs are the most important part of the Japanese sentence alongside the predicate. That is because everything in the Japanese sentence is organized around whatever is at the and of the sentence. Which in Japanese is the predicate or a verb. Verb in Japanese can be kind tricky. So in order to appropriately understand them and not get unnecessarily confused, we will first discuss the three different types of verbs before we talk about conjugation and all the other things that verbs do.

 

In Japanese there are three types of verbs. Ichidan, Godan (also called Yodan) and exception verbs. Unlike many other languages, Japanese does not have many exception verbs, which makes things really nice. It’s important to understand that the three unique verb types now so we can learn how to conjugate them later. 

 

While some grammarians and old-time teachers will often over complicate this the easiest way to differentiate the two types is to spell the verbs out in romanized letters (IE; ABC.) All Ichidan verbs are verbs that end in “ERU” or “IRU” it is that simple. All other verbs are Godan verbs. Period. 

 

Look at the verbs below and identify which are Ichidan verbs and Which are Godan verbs. The answers will be listed under the last frame of the comic. 

 

  1. suwaru すわる
  2. naru なる
  3. wakaru わかる
  4. taberu たべる
  5. neru ねる
  6. okiru おきる
  7. hanasu はなす
  8. morau もらう
  9. ageru あげる
  10. ganbaru がんばる 

 

 

 

 

 

リビング – Living Room

に – Directional Particle

来て(くる=きて) – To Come 

座り(すわる=すわり) – To Sit

なさい – Command Suffix

 

 お母さん(おかあさん) – Mom

具合(ぐあい) – Condition

が – Subject Marker

益々(ますます) – Steadily

悪く(わるく) – Badly

なっている – Becoming

 

何(なに) – What

原因(げんいん) – Origin

なのか – Whatever it is

よく – Very

分からない(わかる+B1ない) – Don’t Understand

んだ – Indicates Explanation

だから – Which is why/Hence

お前たち(おまえたち) – You (plural)

には – You too

もっと – More

母さん(かあさん) – Mom

の – Connective Particle

手伝い(てつだい) – Help/Assistance

を – Object Marker

して(する) – To Verb

もらえないといけない – Must Give

 家事(かじ) – Chores

の – Connective Particle

手伝い(てつだい) – Help/Assistance

や – And (Non limiting)

母さん(かあさん) – Mom

と – Quotative Particle

よく – Very

話す(はなす) – To Speak

こと – Intangible object

も – Redundant Particle

含めて(ふくめる=ふくめて) – To Include

ね – Isn’t it

 心配する(しんぱいする) – To Worry

なくていい (ない+BTE=なくて+いい ) – To not it ok.

わ – ! (feminine)

よ – !

あんた達(あなたたち) – You (Plural)

お母さん(おかあさん) – Mom

は – Topic Marker

大丈夫 – OK

だから – Hence/Which is Why

 

早く(はやく) – Fast

よくなる – Get Better

ために – In order To

頑張る(がんばる)  – To one’s best

もちろん – of course

私(わたし) – I

何でも(なんでも) – Whatever

手伝う(てつだう) – Help/Assistance

お母さん(おかあさん) – Mom

僕(ぼく) – I

も  – Redundant Particle

何でも(なんでも)  – Whatever

手伝う(てつだう)- Help/Assistance

suwaru すわる – To Sit (Godan) 

naru なる – To Become (Godan)

wakaru わかる – To Understand (Godan)

taberu たべる – To Eat (Ichidan)

neru ねる – To Sleep (Ichidan)

okiru おきる – To Awake (Ichidan)

hanasu はなす – To Speak (Godan)

morau もらう – To receive (Godan)

ageru あげる – To Give (Ichidan)

ganbaru がんばる – To do one’s best (Godan)