No More Mikan Roulette

After years in Japan, I decided it’s time to stop playing mikan (aka satsuma orange) roulette and figure out how to get a sweet,  tasty orange.

According to this homepage (link is in Japanese only), there’s more to a delicious mikan than just sweetness. It’s the balance between citric acid and sweetness.

Apparently, you want an orange with a sweetness factor of around 10 and a citrus acid level of 1.2. So how can you tell which oranges are going to have the right balance of sweetness and citrus?

Size: The big ones always cost more so they must taste better, right? Well, actually the small ones are sweeter, so go for the “M” or “S” size.

Shape: There are some varieties of mikans that are meant to be round, but in general, flattish ones are better. It’s also good to look at the bottom because is should be slightly indented. Among the fast-ripening varieties the ones that should be more roundish are called wasei unshuu (Japanese: 早生温州) and the ones that should be flat are called gokuwasei unshuu (Japanese: 極早生温州).

Color: You can sometimes find greenish mikans early in the season that are sweet, but in general, the darker the orange, the sweeter it is. Apparently, mikans early in the season sometimes have orange coloring added (link is in Japanese only), so they are going to be sour. Most places stop adding coloring to mikans that are produced after the beginning of November, but there are some that do it throughout the season, so coloring isn’t the best way to choose an orange.
They say you can tell that a mikan has been colored by looking at the stem. If the stem is really yellowish near the fruit and brown at the top, it’s probably had coloring added.

Hardness: Juicy mikans are not necessarily sweet, so choosing one with a loose skin or that is very soft doesn’t mean you’re going to get a sweet one. Usually the juicy ones are less flavorful. Touch the skin, and it should be a bit soft, but with resilience. Ones with hard skin are usually not ripe yet.

Stem: Surprisingly, all the homepages I checked emphasized that examining the stem is an most important step in ensuring you’re going to get a tasty orange. Thin stems are better because they come from thin branches, which apparently makes them sweeter. Also, check the stem’s color. Mikans’ stems turn from green to yellow as they ripen, so a yellowish stem means the orange will be more flavorful. Darker stems mean less taste.


Happy Pineapple Day!

On August 7 this month, I found a huge bunch of about 15 bananas for only 120 yen at my local supermarket. Looking around, I noticed a sign saying that Aug. 8 was “Banana no hi” (Banana Day). This is a kind of Japanese wordplay involving numbers where the numbers’ sounds are used to make words. For example, my old homestay families phone number was 931-8782, which they remembered as “kusai iyana yatsu.” It meant “a stinking jerk.” The numbers it is made of are: 9=ku, 3=sa (san), 1=i (ichi), 8=ya (hachi), 7=na (nana), 8=(i)ya (hachi), 2=tsu (two).

Here is a list of some of the other dates on the Japanese calendar. You can often save money if you go to a store looking for an associated product. For example, on August 29 this month, you might want to go out for yakiniku (Korean barbecue) because many shops are likely to have special discounts on this day.

Jan 3
Hitomi no Hi (Pupil Day)
1=hito, 3=mi
Celebrating glasses, contact lenses, and eye care in general

Jan 9
Kaze no Hi (Cold Day)
Commemorating the death of a famous sumo wrestler named Tanikaze in 1795, who died of an infection.

Jan 13
Tabako no Hi (Tobacco Day)
Celebrating the introduction of Peace cigarettes in 1946

Jan 15
Adaruto no Hi (Adult Day)
Celebrating the performance of Japan’s first strip show in 1947.

Jan 27
Kyuukon no Hi (Marriage Proposal Day)
Celebrating the first matrimonial advertisement in a newspaper in 1833.

Feb. 9
Fugu no Hi (Puffer Fish Day)
2=fu, 9=gu

Feb. 12
Burajya- no Hi (Brassiere Day)
Celebrating the day in 1913 that the brassiere was patented in America.

Mar. 8
Mitsubachi no Hi (Honey Day, lit. bee hive day)
3=mitsu 8=bachi

Mar. 9
Zakkoku no Hi (Grains and Cereals Day)
3=sa 9=koku

Mar. 13
Sandoicchi no Hi (Sandwich Day)
1=ichi 3=san (the ichi is “sandwiched” between the threes)

Mar. 20
Wain Day (Wine Day)
Both “20” and “wine” are pronounced the same in French

Apr. 3
Ingen Mame no Hi (Kidney Bean Day)
Ingen sounds like the name of a monk ( who died on April 3) in 1673.

Apr. 29 – Youniku no Hi (Mutton Day)
4=you, 2=ni, 9=ku

May 8 – Gouya no Hi (Bitter Melon Day)
5=go, 8=ya

May 30
Gomi Zero no Hi (No Garbage Day)
5=5, 3=mi

June 16
Wagashi no Hi (Japanese Confectioneries Day)
Celebrating an offering of Wagashi that was believed to have stopped a plague in the Heian period.

July 4
Nashi no Hi (Pear Day)
7=na, 4=shi

July 8
Nanpa no Hi (Picking Up Women Day)
7=nana (nan), 8=ha (pa)

July 10
Natto no Hi (Fermented Soy Bean Day)
7=na 10=tou

July 21
Onani- no Hi (Masturbation Day)
0=o, 7=na, 2=ni, 1=i

July 22
Nattsu no Hi (Nuts Day)
7=na 2=tsu (There are two “tsu’s” in nattsu.)

July 23
Tenpura no Hi (Tenpura Day)
Hottest time of the year after end of the rainy season, so tempura is eaten to prevent heat exhaustion

July 27
Because a watermelon’s pattern is like a braided rope, which is pronounced “tsuna” (2=tsu, 7=na).

Aug 3
Hachimitsu no Hi (Honey Day)
8=hachi, 3=mitsu

Aug 6
Hamu no Hi (Ham Day)
8=ha, 6=mu

Aug 7
Banana no Hi (Banana Day)
8=(ba, 7=na

Aug 17
Painappuru no Hi (Pineapple Day)
8=pa 1=i 7=na

Aug 19
Haiku no Hi (Haiku Day)
8=ha, 1=i

Aug 29
Yakiniku no Hi (Korean Barbecue Day)
8=ya, 2=ni, 9=ku

Aug 31
Yasai no Hi (Vegetable Day)
8=ya, 3=sa, i=i

Oct 8
Tofu no Hi (Tofu Day)
10=to, 8=fu

Oct 9
Dogu no Hi (Tool Day)
10=do, 9=gu

Nov 3
Mikan no Hi (Mandarin Orange Day)
Because ii mikan (good mandarin orange) sounds like ii mikka (1=i, 1=i, 3=mikka)

Nov 10
Toire no Hi (Toilet Day)
Comes from ii toire (1=i, 1=i, 10=to)

Nov 14
Pachinko Day
Celebrating the establishment of the Zenkoku Yuugi Kyoudo Kumiai Rengokai (National Games Cooperative Association) in 1979, as well as the opening of the first pachinko parlor in 1930 on that date.

Dec 21
Enkyori Renai no Hi (Long Distance Love Day)
Because in 1221, the one’s are separated and the twos are in the middle together.

There’s more information about these days on the following homepages:

Kawadoko – Riverside Dining to Beat the Heat

Kyoto, surrounded on three sides by mountains, is known for its cold winters and hot summers. In the days before air conditioners, people devoted a lot of time and energy to beating the summer heat, and one of the things they came up with is the elegant custom of kawadoko, riverside dining.
If you walk along the Kamo-gawa River in central Kyoto, you will see a lot of restaurants with platforms built out over the side of the river where patrons go to get cool and enjoy food or drinks. Another famous place is Kibune, a tiny village north of Kyoto. There’s a long, winding river through a ravine with a lot of old, high-class Japanese inns and kawadoko restaurants.
I went there a couple of years ago, and the kawadoko restaurants were a little pricey for me, but it was a really nice place for walking and taking photos.
There are some excellent descriptions on these blogs and websites:

Gaijin Report: (general overview)
Kyoto Travel Plans: (restaurant list)
Secret Japan: (general guide to Kibune and nearby Kurama Onsen)
Kibune official site: (Japanese only)
Google Maps:,135.767498&sspn=0.048872,0.069437&ie=UTF8&ll=35.113485,135.763378&spn=0.024433,0.034719&t=h&z=15

Getting there:
From Kyoto’s Sanjo Station, take the Keihan Honsen Tokkyuu (Limited Express) bound for Demachiyanagi Station. Change to the Eizan Dentetsu Honsen (Eizan Railway Main Line) bound for Anba. Get off at Kibune Guchi Station. It takes about 36 minutes from Sanjo Station, and the fare is 620 yen. From there, you can walk about 1.3 km or take the bus. The bus schedule is here. It’s in Japanese, but the two columns on the left are for weekdays and the two on the right are Sat., Sun., hol. (departure from Kibune Guchi on the left and return on the right) . The buses only run on weekends from around Dec. 8 until Shunbun no Hi (First day of Spring, around Mar. 20). The fare is 160 yen.

Here’s a Google Earth view of the area (click to enlarge):

Kibune map

Chocolate Natto

chocolate natto

Mito’s meibutsu (famous local product) is natto, a goo made from rotten soy beans. It is, as they say, an acquired taste. I once ate it every day for three weeks, testing out my theory that a person can get used to any food. I gave up  because I just couldn’t get it down without gagging. This souvenir stand is trying to make it more palatable by adding chocolate to it.

By the way, I’m moving tomorrow, so there probably won’t be any posts until next weekend.

What is a “Jesus Body?”


There are already a lot of blogs and websites devoted to Engrish, and I think there are enough of them already, so I don’t want to make this kind of post a regular thing, but I’m more than a little curious about what a “Jesus body” might be. The product is a diet supplement and its spokesperson is Kaori Manabe, a television personality and gravure idol. Here’s what a “Jesus body” looks like:


These are my theories about what a “Jesus body” might be:

1. An emaciated body like Jesus after his 40 day and night “diet” in the wilderness?
2. A body that makes you say “Sweet Jesus!” when you see it?
3. Something about stigmata?
4. A reference to the Eucharist. Maybe the diet pills are in a wafer form, representing the “body of Jesus”?
5. A perfect body.

Got an idea or explanation? Leave it in the comments, please.

Kyoto Foodie


This is the first food blog that I’ve ever spent more than five seconds reading. I guess I got taken to McDonald’s one too many times when I was a kid, leaving me sadly incapable of enjoying a 10,000 yen kaiseki dinner any more than a bowl of ramen. Despite my lack of interest in food, though, I find it quite entertaining.

I started reading Kyoto Foodie a couple of weeks ago, though, after finding it while searching for information for a book on Japanese manners that I’m translating at work.  I came on this interesting post about namagashi, beautifully decorated rice cake and sweet bean paste sweets that are often served during the tea ceremony, and have been finding it surprisingly interesting.

Anyway, the blog is full of interesting food stories and great photos of Japanese food, and also has lots of good suggestions for restaurants and foods that you won’t find in your guidebook. Check it out at:

Edible Dragon Sculpture


Every four years, Osaka is home to the International Festival Utage (Shokurankai in Japanese). It sounded pretty interesting – foods from around the world, cake making contests, and tons of free samples. Unfortunately, it was so crowded that you had to line up for about an hour to get anything to eat, and sometimes there were so many people it was hard to move. It’s also really expensive – 2000 yen per person. The only interesting thing in the whole exhibition was the edible sculptures. I think this one is made of sugar.  The exhibition is being held again this year in April, but I can’t say as I really recommend it:

Japanese Delivery Bike


You can’t walk down a Tokyo backstreet without seeing one of these delivery bikes parked outside of a building. They’re for “demae” (delivery) orders of foods containing liquids. The contraption on the back keeps the food horizontal while the bike weaves in and out of traffic.

Salt and Tobacco Museum


I was in Shibuya the other day, and happened to walk past the Tobacco and Salt Museum. I haven’t been there for years, and they were holding an interesting looking exhibition of paintings from the Edo Period, so I decided to check it out.
The paintings were gorgeous, and although it’s maybe too small to make a special trip for, if you happen to be in Shibuya before November 30, it’s only 300 yen and quite enjoyable.
You can also see some of the pictures here. The site is in Japanese, but even if you can’t read, just click on the text immediately beneath the flash presentation:


The tobacco and salt museum is about Japan’s two of Japan’s most important commodities. This diorama shows a tobacco shop from the Edo Period.


Japan doesn’t have natural salt deposits, so they had to get all their salt from the sea.


A model ship made of salt.


Old tobacco ads.

The tobacco museum’s website and contact information are here:

Sushi lunch boxes


Sushi lunch boxes.