Monthly Archives: December 2010

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

As we draw to the close of yet another year, the world waits with baited breath for the carnage that the human race is about to lay before its feet. I am of course talking about the mountains of extra sick and excrement that it will have to absorb as a result of us brazenly drinking enough alcohol to kill 7 bears, and eating so much cheese that the cows are paid overtime.

Bizarrely in Japan, the world will be preparing for a Boxing Day absorption of Kentucky Fried Chicken by-products. Indeed, KFC is so popular over here on Christmas Day that you actually have to pre-order your Bucket o’ Sweaty Chicken from your local franchisee well before the event; “it is VERY busy,” I am told by my JTE (Japanese Teacher of English) when I query the subject. Quite when it became acceptable to eat chicken from a bucket is a matter for another day (I can only assume someone spelt “basket” wrong in the 80’s and it stuck), but to make an entire nation desire KFC at any time, let alone Christmas Day, is an incredible achievement worthy of international recognition. Well here it is, KFC Japan; said recognition right here, going out to about 3 people in the UK, 1 in the States and maybe 1 or 2 in Australasia as well!

I know what you’re thinking, sitting there all smug on your sofas with your MacBooks; “those crazy Japanese!” you say with your fist held aloft, “that would never happen to us!”

Well I don’t know about you, but Christmas hasn’t begun for me until I hear those magical words emanating from the television set:

Watch out, look around,

’cause something’s coming, coming to town!

Recognise them? Yes, they’re the lyrics to the Coca-Cola advert; the very same company that popularised the modern-day image of Father Christmas (although they didn’t create it, contrary to popular belief). This year they’ve brought out some cute little bottles that look like the baubles you hang on the tree, and which you could use as such with a little modification I’m sure. Now, I like Coca-Cola as much as anyone, but those things make me want to hijack a lorry, steal them all and take a bath in it.

Christmas for me also wouldn’t be the same without Quality Street; while I wouldn’t touch Nestle chocolates at any other point in the entire year, suddenly at Christmas I’m stuffing them into my mouth from an industrial-sized tin like a squirrel collecting acorns for the winter. I have a good system too; I eat everything except the Strawberry Creams simply because the rest of my family hates them and then, when everything else is gone, I have a pile of my 3rd favourite sweets waiting for me at the bottom (my favourite is Fudge, closely followed by the Caramel Barrels in case you were dying to know).

When it took on Christmas from us Westerners, poor old Japan, with its debilitating lack of ovens, was totally unable to replicate the roast dinners to which we have become accustomed and so, seeing a gaping hole in the market, KFC launched a huge marketing campaign in the 70s to associate itself with Christmas in the same way that Coca-Cola has done so successfully back home; of course it helps that the Colonel bears more than a passing resemblance to the big man himself. The result is what seems like a rather strange/amusing modern tradition to an outsider, but which actually seems much less strange when you’ve been living in the country for over 4 months.

What is the first food that comes to mind when you think of Japan? Sushi? Noodles? Perhaps it would surprise you to know that many of Japan’s favourite foods revolve around dunking whatever they can find into a big vat of hot oil; Katsu Don (rice with a deep-fried pork cutlet and a couple of fried eggs); Takuyaki (deep-fried, battered octopus balls); Katsu Curry (deep-fried pork cutlet with curry and rice); Croquettes (deep-fried mashed potato); Tempura (battered, deep-fried vegetables/prawns); Chips (deep-fried… well you know). They love a good deep-fry sesh!

Now please don’t think I’m trying to paint a picture of a nation with bad diets and terrible food because, honestly, fat Japanese people are extremely hard to come by. If you’re lucky enough to have a Japanese mum then you’re laughing because you get a bento box full of rice, fish and all sorts of healthy goodies every day, but if you’re a Western peasant like me then it is all too easy to pick up a croquette potato or Katsu Curry (most days at the canteen in fact) to fill you up for little cost. Sushi is wonderful if you don’t mind being hungry again in an hour but this deep-fried stuff, it really does the business. As does ramen but that’s a whooooole other post. Oh ramen, how I love your noodley soupey goodness.

With a nation so in love with the joys of fried food it seems only natural that they turn to the Colonel for their Christmas chicken fix when roasting is simply not an option. I’m afraid though, that this is one Japanese tradition into which I shall not be taking part…

Bring on the Yorkshire Puddings, baby!

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Light Men and Lorries

I’m sitting in my kitchen right now, as I often do, after a delightful day off work. I woke up at 8:30, milled around for a while, had a cup of coffee in the sun on my balcony and listened to some new music while the birds sang in the background. Actually, perhaps “sang” is a little far-fetched. Back in England birds sing; they chirp and whistle and tweet and natter to one another in a delightful chorus that is actually rather pleasant. No, here birds don’t so much sing as screech, like the Devil’s nails on a blackboard made of hate and despair. I didn’t notice them in the summer this year; not because they weren’t there necessarily, but because their screams were undoubtedly drowned out by the sound of Cicadas, which in turn sound like a 10ft grasshopper about 2mm from your ear, all day, every day. More joy cannot be had in a non-air-conditioned flat where it is necessary to leave all the windows open day and night for fear of internal combustion.

Apart from the deathly screams of birds, I also sit here listening to the sound of workmen outside. I’ve been meaning to write about Japanese workmen for quite some time now as they seem to provide me with a never-ending source of amusement. Right when you think you’ve got them all figured out; right when everything bizarre that they do begins to seem normal, they go and do something else equally weird and equally funny.

The first people you will notice when you come across a set of workmen in Japan are what I like to call The Light Men. They are men whose job is solely to hold a little flashing light-sabre and wave it around for no discernible purpose whatsoever. You might be walking along a pavement, and alongside there might be some roadworks. There will be a little fence with flashing lights on it, all the way along the side of the pavement to stop people from falling into a hole in the road. Sensible enough. There is nowhere to go but along the pavement, but, just to make sure, there will be a Light Man there to safely guide the way and as he sees you coming he will begin emphatically waving his light parallel to the pavement, just to make sure that you don’t walk right through the flashing fence and kill yourself. It is their duty to be the friendly face of the workforce; they will say good morning, good day and good evening to you without missing a beat, and always with a smile, no matter the weather. The Light Men give me cheer in the morning.

Before I discovered a slightly quicker route to work, I would ride past a building site every morning. There would always be a Light Man there to make sure none of the cars/bikes/motorcycles lost sight of the road thank goodness, except for one morning; this particular morning I was a little earlier than usual. I turned the corner to find no Light Man and, just before I lost the road and ploughed into a nearby lamp-post, I spotted the next thing that would prove to be another source of workmen-based amusement. As I peered over the fence I saw the entire workforce, lined up in rows in front of what I can only presume to be the site manager, doing star jumps, twirling around and waving their arms in circles along to a man on a tape going “hup! hup! nen! hup! nen!” We’d been told at one of the orientations that they did this in junior high schools to begin the day, but to find a bunch of grown men on a building site doing it was too much. A smirk arose on my face at once and, just at that same moment, one of them stared at me with a look that said I had both interrupted and soiled a holy practice with one blow. Guilt flushed through my body and I rode on quickly before they could come and ask me what the hell I thought was so funny. This is a daily morning ritual for them, and is undoubtedly what makes the difference between being a good Light Man, and being the best Light Man. Who was I to mock them?

Finally, and this one I only noticed very recently, is the Reversing Lorry Man. Now I must confess that I have only heard, not seen this important addition to the roadside workforce, but his is an equally important role; maybe even more important that that of the Light Men. You see in Japan, like in many countries these days, lorries are fitted with little devices that go “beep! beep! beep!” when they reverse. Nothing remarkable about that, but Reversing Lorry Man knows that this is simply not enough for the general population. For all they know that beep could be the mating call of a Tamagotchi, or a teenager playing Final Fantasy VII at high volume nearby, or one of those Devil Birds with a sore throat. When Reversing Lorry Man hears that beep, he knows what it is. There is no question. Either by instinct or through intensive training, he pre-empts the beep and begins to yell at the top of his voice: “AHHHHHHHH! AHHHHHHHH! AHHHHHHHH! AHHHHHHHH!” One can only imagine the number of deaths that may have arisen if this man was not a part of the workforce and so it is, with my final bloggy breath, that I salute the Light Men and the Reversing Lorry Men in every workforce around the country for keeping us safe from our stupid selves. Bravo!