Japanese New Year

Along with Obon and Golden Week, New Year is one of the three most important Japanese holiday periods in the year. The way it is celebrated in family life is in some ways similar to how Christmas is spent in the West. The house is decked out with New Year decorations such as the kadomatsu. New Year postcards (called Nengajyo) are sent. Saké is drunk. Specially prepared boxed food (called Osechi) is eaten. Prayers are said at the local shrine for good fortune for the year ahead. Children are given presents in the form of cash from parents and relatives.

As is typical for most Japanese families, we spent the period from 1st to 4th of January visiting relatives on both Nicewife’s mum’s and dad’s side of the family. This mostly involved talking a lot and eating heaps of delicious food! One new year speciality is a pounded rice-cake called  Mochi which we made at home from rice we harvested in November. Mochi is responsible for a number of deaths each year as old people in particular can easily choke on the glutenous rice ball. We’ll find out this year’s mochi death toll in a few weeks’ time. Nicewife’s dad reckons they must be taking surveys and making calculations right now!

There are many traditions associated with New Year in Japan, but the actual date of New Year apparently isn’t one of them. Up until 1873 Japan celebrated New Year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Given the cultural and religious significance of New Year in Japan, switching to the Gregorian calendar must have been quite an upheaval.

Grandma Cooking Mochi Rice in an Outside Steamer (Well, she's not really doing the cooking - just keeping warm!)

 

 

 

Breakfast for the Price of an (expensive) Coffee

The traditional coffee houses on the outskirts of Nagoya engage in a business promotion that, as far as I am aware, is pretty unique to this area. The deal is basically thus: Order a regular cup of coffee before 11am and you will receive a free mini-breakfast. Not to be confused with the actual morning, this deal is called “morning”.

Given that a regular cup of filter coffee  (Italian-style coffee hasn’t really caught on here in a major way) at a coffee house in Japan costs around 350 to 400 yen ($4.70 to $5.30), this deal is not as cheap as it may first seem. But given the alternative of paying 350 to 400 yen at 11.05am for just a cup of filter coffee, it represents comparatively good value for money.

During our gap year I am working as a web developer on a freelance basis. Given that I can work from anywhere that there is a chair and a table (and even some places where there isn’t) I’ve been spending a few hours each day working from a coffee house. This gives me the ideal opportunity to do a “morning” review on this blog. Nicewife’s dad is pretty connected, so I will get financial viability info from him. Today I will look at a little coffee shop called “Hanamizuki”.

Hanamizuki

This coffee house is owned by Nicewife’s school friend and her mum.

Access: 10 mins walk.

Price: 350 yen (We bought a book of 11 tickets, which reduces the price to a very reasonable 290 yen per cup.)

Morning: Hard-boiled egg, a third of a piece of thick toast, small packet of rice crackers.

Viability: Barely breaking even. Undertaken as a hobby.

Atmosphere: Smokey, friendly (except if you’re not local).

Hanamizuki Morning
"Morning" at Hanamizuki
At 10.00am the very old local people arrived one by one on these wheeled walking frames. Here they are parked outside the front of the shop. (The frames that is, not the suddently-invisible old people.)

Does Japan Overpackage?

Did you know that the Japan Packaging Institute’s official goal is,  “Challenging the future of packaging by means of originality and ingenuity“? I didn’t either. Yesterday we had takeout pizza for lunch. The shop asked us if we wanted to pay extra for the benefit of receiving the pizza in a pizza box. We politely refused, and this was the result:

Takeout pizza in millions of little boxes.
Takeout pizza in millions of little boxes.

In highly related matters, here is a picture of my ninety-five year old grandmother-in-law eating pizza. Awww!

95 year old having pizza