“Where are you from?”: A simple question with a complex answer


Being a foreigner living in Japan means that you will find yourself answering a lot of questions. One of the most common questions is “where are you from”. It’s a super simple question that is often asked by other foreigners who are curious as to what corner of the planet the person they are conversing with is from and by Japanese people who want to break the ice. (After all it is one of the first 10 phrases foreign language students learn to say.)

Providing an answer to this question isn’t much of a challenging task. Spit out the name of a place, the other person usually says something like “oh really” and you’re on your way to whatever topic it is that follows. There really aren’t any wrong answers. . . . . . . or are there?

The unfortunate truth of my past experience is that there are in fact wrong answers. The odds that you will say something that someone else won’t necessarily agree with or understand are about 50/50. In fact there is even a small percentage of people that you will flat out piss off because you consider yourself “from” a place that they do not think is acceptable. This can put a person in a very difficult position. Do you answer with the place that you consider yourself from or the place that is socially acceptable to the person asking the question?

Over the years this very question has troubled me. Ok so I’m not having sleepless nights or anything but to say that I haven’t entered a social situation and cringed at the thought of being asked “where are you from” wouldn’t be entirely true either. The reason is quite simple. . . I answer with “Ginowan” and people (particularly foreigners) have a problem with that. How much of a problem you ask? Enough of a problem where people will drill me with questions like “no I mean where is home” or “where is your family” to which I continue to respond Ginowan. My choice of Ginowan as the place that I am from is not because I am some type of smart ass who has anything to prove (anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that) but because for what is coming up on a decade I have made Okinawa, Ginowan being where I have lived for a good chunk of that time, my home. My car is in Ginowan, my home is in Ginowan, my family is in Ginowan. . . . my entire life is in Ginowan. 

Of course the socially acceptable answer to this question is Boston although I anticipate that it doesn’t really matter where you answer as long as it is somewhere within the United States. Then why not just answer with Boston? Isn’t it easier just to fold under the peer pressure rather than making waves? Nope. It’s not me and it’s not home. I mean how can a person even call themselves a proper Bostonian if you can’t navigate your way to a lobster roll or give directions to the best blue plate special in town? The less comedic and more depressing response is that many of the things I remember as being “back home” are now gone. People have moved, local favorites demolished and the nice neighborhoods have edged their way closer and closer to becoming the slums. The reality is after 10 years where you were from becomes more of a memory than anything.

As much as places have changed I too am not the same person that I was, nor am I the type of person that can be represented by saying that I am from Boston. The reality, despite what anyone else will tell you, is that when you start to come in on that 10 year mark almost everything about you changes. The food you eat, crave and make will change. The clothes you wear, how you get around and how you sleep will all change. In other more easy to understand terms if you’re living in Japan as long as I have you start to become more “Japanese” in the way that you live and operate on a daily basis. This is where ‘reverse culture shock’ comes from. People find themselves going back to a place where they grew up, like Boston for example, and realizing that everyone is really loud and there is too much food being served on the plate. . . and what the hell is a cronut?

At the end of the day it’s really the person answering the question who determines what the most appropriate answer is. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask. . . . that’s my philosophy. So what if the answer is Mars, Ginowan, Atlantis or Georgia? Just smile, nod, maybe throw in a “oh that’s nice”. Why not try asking questions that don’t criticize the answer like “how long have you lived here” or “what brought you here”. If you’re not happy with the answer simple move on.

“Is that Kobe Beef?”: What you need to know before ordering!


Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ) is one of the many things that foreigners coming to Okinawa have on their “things to try” list. The chance to eat meat from a cow that has received a lifetime of massages , classical music and being fed beer is the very definition of luxury. Knowing this foreigners enthusiastically pull out their wallets and pay healthy sums of money for the “Kobe beef” on steakhouse menus around the island. However, most would be surprised to find out that the beef they can’t wait to tell their friends about is not Kobe beef at all.

The first and most important thing to understand is what exactly it means for a slab of meat to be called Kobe beef. As disappointing as this is going to be for those who take great pleasure in how weird and whacky Japan is massages, beer and classical music have nothing to do with Kobe beef. Although cows will undoubtably be rubbed down occasionally the notion that some day spa in the fields of unknown Japan exists is a myth created by someone who was clearly overzealous and probably a little drunk. In reality being Kobe beef means that the meat has come from a purebred Tajima steer that was born, raised and butchered in Hyogo Prefecture. The beef must also meet certain guidelines having a meat quality of 4 to 5 and beef marbling standard (BMS) of 6 to 12.

Seeing as how Kobe beef is such a high quality, and very scarce, product there is strict control over it’s distribution. Each and every carcass that meets the grade for both meat quality and beef marbling standard is given a ten-digit identification number (個体識別番号) which can be checked online confirming that you are getting the quality you are paying for. Retailers and restaurants serving actual Kobe beef are also certified and should be willing to provide you with the identification number of the beef that you are being served. If they are not willing to provide you with a ten-digit identification number there’s a good chance it’s not Kobe beef. 

In fact if you’re in Okinawa and are looking for actual Kobe beef you’re out of luck. The reason is because according to the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association’s list of certified sellers none of the retailers or restaurants in Okinawa Prefecture are certified. In other, more straight forward, words no it’s not Kobe beef that you enjoy at that teppenyaki place down the road.

The question now is what are steakhouses in Okinawa serving if not actual Kobe beef. Are they even serving high quality beef from Tajima steer at all? More importantly are you overpaying because of false advertising?

 

 

 

Lotteria: A burger joint that will leave you craving a good burger


Chances are you’re not familiar with the fast food burger joint Lotteria. This is likely because there are only two locations on Okinawa. The fast food burger joint first opened it’s doors in September 1972 offering patrons in the Tokyo area typical fast food offerings including burgers, fried potatoes, chicken wings and chicken fingers.

Lotteria: Exterior Sign - Okinawa, Japan

Nowadays Lotteria can be found all over East Asia including locations in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and of course Okinawa.

Being that there are only two locations on island Lotteria isn’t one of the places I find myself near when the lunch bell rings so when we happened upon it today I figured we would give it a whirl.

The signage for Lotteria as well as the building housing this particular location look very much like one might have looked in the 70’s. Even the door handles have what I can only imagine is a long forgotten mascot of a happy goat or similar animal. The interior of the restaurant also echoes the 1970’s with colors, tables and chairs which feel very out of place in today’s modern world.

A unique feature of this Lotteria location is that there is no menu posted behind the counter. As an alternative Lotteria offers only a menu, similar to what you will see at other counter service restaurants here in Japan, at the register. Unless you are already familiar with the
menu this slows service considerably. On the menu is an assortment of burgers, including their famous shrimp burger who they are credited for inventing, and chicken options. Unfortunately for us a good amount of the burgers and sandwiches they offer were “out of stock” on this particular day. This left us with the option of ordering a double cheeseburger, hamburger or bacon cheeseburger. We decided to go with a double cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, some fries, soda and a milk shake.

Once our order was made and put on the tray we both found ourselves a bit surprised at what it was we had just paid ¥1800 for. The burgers were very small and the question “where’s the beef” came to mind. Being optimistic, after all this is a relatively popular burger joint in other parts of of East Asia so it must be good, we figured sinking our teeth into the burger would reveal a flavor that would blow our minds. Sadly this was not the case. The burgers at Lotteria are very similar to the burgers served in the inner city high school I attended. It’s hard to describe but there is an overall lack of flavor, lack of beef and lack of quality which was upsetting given the price. In fact there are better hamburgers and cheeseburgers at FamilyMart for ¥100. The fries were ok. . . . at least they seemed that way against the backdrop of a subpar burger.

Lotteria: Bacon Cheeseburger and Fries Set - Okinawa, Japan

Finally there was the milkshake. The milkshake was probably the best part of the meal, although that’s not really saying a lot. It had a simple milk and vanilla ice cream mix at the bottom topped with chocolate cornflakes, whipped cream and fluffy pastries on top. Although this was the most tasty item that we ordered it was relatively small offering about 2 or 3 sips of “milkshake” and a few bites of the toppings.

Lotteria: Milkshake - Okinawa, Japan

Although the food was not very good and the prices were way too high for the quality what really put the nail in the coffin for Lotteria as far as we were concerned is the upkeep of the restaurant. This Lotteria not only echoed the 70’s it also seemed as though some things had not been changed since the 70’s either. The bathrooms were a particularly good example of this with the toilet seat disintegrating and flaking away similar to what you might
see in an abandoned building. The booths and seating areas had a visible grime that had clearly been developed over the years. Metal joints and brackets were corroding and beginning to rust as well. This is relatively disappointing because it falls so far below the standard of what you would see here in Japan.

Lotteria: Interior Seating - Okinawa, japan

What I cannot seem to wrap my head around is why this Lotteria location is in such poor shape. It’s not as though the restaurant was empty. In fact it was packed with patrons and with it’s popularity through the country and all of East Asia how can it be that there are not enough funds to make this only freestanding Lotteria location in Okinawa up to par with the rest of the locations around the island and the country?

To find these Lotteria locations please check the link HERE.

 

 

Okinawa Soba: A Beautifully Simple Dish


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Okinawa soba, or suba as it is called in Okinawa’s native language, is a well known dish produced in Okinawa Prefecture. Okinawa soba is made of a few simple ingredients including kamaboko (a type of fish cake), scallions, stewed pork belly, noodles and is garnished with beni shoga (pickled ginger). Although the dish is called soba the noodles in Okinawa soba are actually different from the noodles known as soba throughout other parts of Japan. They are not made of buckwheat and more closely resemble udon.

Although you can enjoy Okinawa soba at a variety of restaurants around Okinawa you can also make it at home with relatively no fuss and for a fraction of the cost. Here’s a simple guide to what you need and how to make Okinawa soba for you and your family to enjoy!

The very first thing you’re going to need to do is go to your local grocery store and pick up all of the ingredients for your Okinawa soba. I got everything that you are going to see today at Ginowan San A Convention City IMG_7256not far from the Ginowan Convention Center. As listed above you’re going to need noodles, broth, pork belly, fish cake and scallions. I choose not to put pickled ginger on mine because I am not a fan of it but if that little red stuff is up your alley go wild!

Once you have gathered all of your ingredients it’s time to start pulling the entire meal together. We do this by starting with the broth or 沖縄そばだし. This particular variety of broth or 沖縄そばだし came with about 4 packets inside and required about 300cc of water per packet.

(Each brand of 沖縄そばだし will have different directions. Simply check the back of the package for the number of cc’s/ml’s are required of water, 水, and you should be good to go.)

Once the 沖縄そばだし has been put in a pot it’s time to start thinking about the next ingredients. I prefer to add the stewed pork belly next. You have a great deal of options when it comes to the pork that you IMG_7258choose to include in your Okinawa soba. You can go the route of purchasing pork belly and stewing it yourself (sorry folks we’re not covering how to do that in this post), you can go the route of purchasing some nice high quality pork belly that has already been cooked and is ready to go or you can go with the low cost yet still delicious option. This is a package of precooked san-mai niku or 三枚肉 (literally translated to 3 layer meat). It’s a great alternative if you’re looking to make a small batch of Okinawa soba. 

I like to add the pork or 三枚肉 to the broth while it is warming up. It allows some of the delicious flavors stored in the meat to dissolve and make the broth even more tasty. It also helps warm the meat so so that it can be enjoyed when the rest of the dish is pulled together.

Finally it’s is time to add the noodles to the dish. Although you can purchase dry noodles and cook them I decided to go the route of precooked noodles. This is an easy way to make noodle dishes without having to IMG_7257worry about whether or not you’ve properly cooked the noodles. They can also be prepared very quickly and therefore cut down on the time it takes to make the dish.

After adding the noodles to the pot bring everything to a boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Finally when you feel as though everything has become the temperature of your liking it’s time to start plating your dish. First include the noodles followed by the pork and broth. This is also the time when you would garnish your dish with finely chopped scallions, the fresher the better, and also kamaboko or fish cake.

You’ll notice that I saved kamaboko for the very end. Kamaboko is a type of fish cake made from various white fish that has been pureed and combined with a variety of additives. It has a distinct fishy taste and is not for everyone. It can easily be left out of Okinawa soba for those who are not that adventurous but for those who are you can easily find it in your oden and processed fish section. It looks a little something like this:

From start to finish cooking this meal for myself and my husband cost a total of ¥500 and took me approximately 10 minutes from the moment I decided to cook to the second I sat down to eat. With a beautiful meal so simple to cook and inexpensive there’s no excuse not to give it a try!

 

 

Pasta-sicle. . . . . Because that sounds delicious!?


 

 

Here’s the thing. . . . . . I think I’m a relatively adventurous person. There are very few things that I won’t take a nibble of, take a picture of myself eating, write about and then post on the internet. After all I am a YouTuber and a blogger. It’s what I do. But Japan being what it is there are always times when you find something and think to yourself “should I put myself through the misery of actually trying this just for a couple hundred views”? In most cases my answer is “hell yeah” but today I decided to simply pass.

 

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I present to you the Pasta-sicle. This tasty treat was greater by the Garigari-kun line of popsicles which are popular here in Japan. They are known for having delicious flavors like ramune (a type of Japanese soda) and last year’s corn chowder flavor. This year, however, they kicked things up a notch with the exciting and intriguing flavor of Napolitan. For those who might be unfamiliar Napolitan is a popular pasta dish here in Japan. Consisting of ketchup, onions and green peppers it’s far from “authentic” but somehow works. . . . . at least in pasta form. Whether all those flavors would be particularly delicious all wrapped up into a popsicle is a completely different story.

As if that doesn’t sound appetizing enough this stomach turning concoction also includes a special treat! Inside are bits of tomato gelatin. Oh yeah.

Sadly for the viewers and readers out there who would have loved to find out what this tastes like at my expense I decided to give the new cookies and cream Coolish a try and leave this pasta-sicle in the freezer. Maybe next time? Until then I encourage you to get out there and give this a try. Don’t forget to let us know what you thought in the comments below.

Okinawa: What You Need To Know


Okinawa is a beautiful place to visit and live. However, there are some things that you definitely need to know if you are thinking of visiting and/or moving here. In this blog post we’re going to cover some of those topics that you need to know about and shine some light on this tiny little island in the middle of the ocean.

1. Okinawa is not a war zone 

The island of Okinawa was once the sight of the horrendous Battle of Okinawa during WWII. Many lives were lost and parts of the island were changed forever. Although today remains from WWII are still being recovered and US Military aircraft fly training missions in the skies the island is far from a war zone or combat area. In fact Okinawa is quite literally a resort island where millions of people each year visit the crystal clear beaches and immerse themselves in the unique culture.

2. Foreigners are welcome in Okinawa 

Being home to over 30 military bases and opening it’s doors to millions of tourists each year it is no wonder that Okinawa is a foreigner friendly place. In most cases shop keeps, business owners and restaurants do anything they can to accommodate foreigners. Even in all of my years here and all the off the beaten path places I have been there was never a time that I have been denied access to a place or treated particularly poorly because I was a foreigner.

3. Okinawa is Japan. . . . . . but it’s not

The history books and official documents tell us that Okinawa Prefecture, including Okinawa Honto is part of Japan. Trouble is when you tell someone planning to visit Okinawa that it’s “Japan” they can sometimes get the wrong impression of the island. Okinawa and Japan have some similarities. For the most part Japanese is the most commonly used language (although it is not Okinawa’s native language and some words are not the same such as “welcome” which we say by using the word “mensore” but other parts of Japan say “yokusou”), elements of everyday life are the same like the type of appliances we have in our homes and the styles of our home and some of the foods that are eaten. However pretty much everything else here in Okinawa is unique and in many ways different from other parts of Japan. We do not have trains or use mass public transportation other than busses which do not run on time and a monorail with very limited access. We do not have the same fashions or even pop culture trends. There is also a very different mentality down here in Okinawa and the way of doing things is very laid back.

4. There’s more than raw fish and rice on the menu

When I first told my family and friends that I was moving to Japan there was a lot of confusion and a lot of questions of one which was how will I survive on raw fish and rice. Although it seems like a sheltered comment there are actually a lot of people who are concerned about just this. The good news is that here in Okinawa, like most other places in Japan, there are more things on the menu than raw fish and rice. In fact it’s not uncommon to find pizza, tacos and even pasta pretty much anywhere you go in Okinawa. Even when you’re off the beaten path and not near restaurants convenience stores sell things like Cup Noodle and sandwiches.

5. Okinawa’s not so hot but very humid 

One of the first things that people say when you ask them to describe Okinawa is that it is HOT! Okinawa really isn’t that hot though. On the average year temperatures don’t get much higher than the 90’s which is, although unbearable for some, not actually that bad. The problem with Okinawa’s summers, however, is the humidity. When summer is in full swing Okinawa’s humidity will end up in the 90-100% range making it not only hard to stay cool but for some like myself hard to breathe. Although some feel as though this is unmanageable there are some things that can be done to make the summer months livable. . . . . . but we’ll talk more about that later.

What are some things that you think it’s important to know about Okinawa? Put them in the comments below and we will include them in our video of the same title!

Bistro De Mattaka


Finding a good restaurant for a date night can sometimes be a challenge in the south central part of
Okinawa. Between the large chain restaurants which are hustling and bustling with tourists and the smaller family friendly restaurants which don’t necessarily scream “romance” it can sometimes feel a bit hopeless. Luckily we stumbled upon a brand new restaurant (opened in March 2014) that is the perfect setting for a quiet romantic night.

Bistro De Mattaka: Exterior - Okinawa, Japan

The restaurant is called Bistro De Mattaka and is located on Route 58 in Ginowan. The small and easy to miss restaurant not only offers a fantastic atmosphere but also offers incredibly delicious cuisine at a surprisingly affordable price.

One of the first things that you will notice about Bistro De Mattaka is the elegant and simple decor. Creamy walls with dark wood floors and bar accented with bright white chairs give the space a warm and yet chic feel. Along one side of the building are windows adorned with postcards depicting beautiful images of France all the while French music is being played lightly in the background pulling the theme together.

Bistro De Mattaka: Bar Seating - Okinawa, Japan

Despite the French theme of Bistro De Mattaka the cuisine was not so focused. There were pasta dishes, various types of meat offered and even some favorites commonly found here in Okinawa. Although the cuisine was not what we had originally anticipated it was quite a pleasant surprise to see so much variety on the menu. Aside from food Bistro De Mattaka also offers a wide array of drinks (including alcoholic beverages) and has an impressive wine list.

Once you’ve taken the time and consideration to read through the menu, which features both Japanese and English, it’s time for the staff to take your order. As you might expect from any other restaurant in Okinawa the staff of Bistro Be Mattaka are inviting, charming and kind. They were even so kind to have the chef talk to us directly about the “chef’s choice” fish dish that we intended to order.

Bistro De Mattaka: Rear Seating - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Chef's Fish Of The Day - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Cheese Plate - Okinawa, Japan

Bistro De Mattaka: Lobster Dish - Okinawa, Japan

As good as the food looks at Bistro De Mattaka it tastes even better! Each and every bite was bursting with a delicious combination of flavors and spices all the while playing off the taste of the main ingredient not masking it. The flavors were also unique to anything that I have ever had in Okinawa before having no Japanese spin on any of the dishes that we tried. This was very refreshing.

Bistro De Mattaka is one of those places that I could continue on and on about. Between the feel which echoed sitting in a French roadside cafe and the food which leaves you wanting more the best way to experience this place is by enjoying lunch or dinner there yourself!

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: 

Bistro De Mattaka is not a family friendly restaurant. This is one of those places you should book a babysitter for. Also please consider that Bistro De Mattaka takes Yen cash only at this time.