Edo-mae sushi

So at my friend’s request, I managed to reserve a dinner at Harutaka 春宝. Booking at Jiro’s was tough, as they take reservations at the beginning of the month before your reservation, which for November started around Sunday and a holiday when they’re closed. Anyway, before 5 days went by, the entire month of December was booked. So I decided to check out some alternatives, and was able to get a reservation the day we wanted. The chef at Harutaka had worked for years with Jiro, so while we may not have eaten with Jiro, we came at a close 2 degrees of separation. And it was still pretty amazing.P1090197


















At around $220 per head, which included omakase nigiri and sake, I thought it was a great deal. We had about 15 courses of fish and were so full by the end, which was the trademark-pressed tamagoyaki cake. We were served two types of uni, one from Hokkaido and another from Aomori, salmon roe that was soft and didn’t pop, which my friends appreciated (am I the only one that enjoys popping fish eggs?). From what I understood, the way they flavor the salmon roe is with a sort of vinegar made from a soy sauce mixed with cooking wine concoction that’s left out for a long time.  Apparently, soy sauce is what hardens the salmon roe skin and makes it pop. We also got 3 levels of tuna, maguro, chuu-toro, and oo-toro, 2 kinds of shellfish, hamaguri and something I’ve forgotten, hirame, sumi-ika, two pieces of prawn (because it was so big!), buri (adult yellowtail), saba, anago, and others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.


The best part of the experience is talking to the chefs. Jiro’s student seems like a hardened guy, but is actually pretty easy-going, and his assistant is this teddy bear-like guy who was really comfortable around non-Japanese speakers. Once I had some sake in my system, I started to open up, asking them where our sake came from, where the fish came from, and translated my friend’s questions and their answers. We learned that the name for baby yellowtail, “hamachi”, actually comes from Kansai, and is used to describe farmed yellowtail in the West. In Kanto, they actually call it “inada”.

I think it’s a great experience for Japan visitors to do Edo-mae sushi and experience what great fish tastes like. However, as tourists, I think it’s also important to understand that regular folks don’t go to edo-mae sushi on the regular. Paying maybe 5000 yen at the most for omakase maybe once a month sounds reasonable, but at 20,000 to 30,000 yen per head, it must be a very special occasion.

Viet refugees in Japan

Out of curiosity’s sake, I decided to check out articles on Vietnamese refugees in Japan and see what their experiences were like…

Vietnamese in Japan Wiki page

Vietnamese Migration to Japan (with numbers from other countries, such as the Philippines)

Wave of Vietnamese Refugees Straining Japan (1989 NYT article or direct landings of boat people)

Prospects better for refugees in Japan, but still need support (2012 Asahi News article)

推薦 Recommendations

It’s the recommendations round in the university admissions schedule in Japan. Students are recommended to their top choice schools, and are given an interview. Usually, these students are the stand-outs: great grades, sportspersons who placed top 10 in the country, science fair participants, etc. They get a better chance at getting in than the general admissions students because they get to show their personality. I know several of them from my 応用英語 Practical English class, so they were pretty anxious last week to hear their results.

They were so excited to get in, and I was really proud of them! The one that I was most proud of was the student who was working to get into Tsukuba University. I imagined Tsukuba is a tough school to get into, being one of the top for science, and known for its robotics program. He was so wound up when we were going over his practice test answers that I was really worried about what would happen if he didn’t get in.

Unfortunately, the one who interviewed for Akita University didn’t pass her interview… I was so sad for her because all her friends got in. But she’s marching on, and will take the general admissions exam with the rest of the applicants. Hopefully it all works out for her!

Working with individual students

Throughout my time so far as an ALT, I’ve had the opportunity to work withs several kids one-on-one. During my first year, it was usually for interviews with the Eiken, an alternative to the TOEIC (for international business) and TOEFL (for academics) English proficiency exams. It’s  accepted at many US academic institutions, and a good benchmark exam for students who want to measure their English levels.

High school students who didn’t come from the school’s junior high usually take levels Pre-2 or 2 levels, whereas the ones who did come from the junior high, as well as had extra English classes as children will either take TOEIC/TOEFL or the highest level of Eiken.

So back to the Eiken interviews. I found it surprising how they usually book time to practice with me only a few days before their actual interview. I thought it would have been a progressive practice regimen, but the test actually is done in two parts at two different times. If they pass the first written part, then they are asked to come in for the speaking part, otherwise, they don’t continue. So the students don’t book time unless they are sure they passed the written part.

I’m happy to say that all the students who met with me passed their test, and it’s great when they take the time to tell me, even though I barely helped. I think at the very least, meeting with me and getting my comments gave them a boost of confidence.

And then there was the girl who came almost everyday towards the end of her 3rd year. She was going to go on a short homestay at UCLA, and wanted to practice speaking English as much as she could before shipping out. She was outstandingly tall, had a terrible haircut, but always smiling, and wanted to study mechanical engineering at Tohoku University. We talked about part-time jobs, and she wanted to be costumed character because she wanted to bring smiles to people. At first, I thought she was kind of a dunce because she was often slow to express her ideas, or when she couldn’t answer, just make a puckered smile and nod or shake her head or something. It was only when I heard her talking among her friends when I realized that this girl is smart.

This year, I got some new assignments. One student is applying to Tsukuba University, known for its robotics program, and part of the test is to read a journal article about math in English, and then interpret some lines into Japanese or translate a Japanese line into English to go with the rest of the article. I was really excited to study math again for some reason, but really had to work hard because some of the practice problems were about probability and statistics, topics that I would get Cs on. Luckily, a math teacher was coupled with me to confirm the student’s math interpretations, and the student himself was actually very good at English already that he was interpreting for both the teacher and I. I re-learned the Euclidean algorithm, understood the strategy for the game of googol, or the marriage problem, and found that I still struggled with understanding how probability works beyond the simplest form.

I worked with a student applying to Akita University, surprisingly a highly ranked international school in Japan, where all the classes are conducted in English. I had no idea until I came here, but students who are recommended to universities by their teachers are allowed an interview to supplement their test scores, so they get a more well-rounded opportunity to get accepted into that university. This student has the practical goal of becoming an international flight attendant, so our interview practice included having to talk about why she wanted to be one. Her English is really great, and I feel like she could probably do better than a flight attendant, but I honestly don’t know much about her academic inclinations, and she can figure that out on her own once she starts college. I did make sure to get her to think critically, and asked how being a flight attendant would help globalization. Her answer was what you would expect from a high school student, so she’s definitely on the right track!

Now I’m working with a student who’s practicing her essay writing speed because she only has an hour and a half to read passages, answer reading comprehension questions, as well as writing a short passage, and she’s currently taking an hour to write a short passage, so…Her passages are very concise, flows easily, and easy to read, and she already knows the strategies for skimming to answer comprehension questions. It just takes time to do. How do you even start to improve on that! Even I have problems with Japanese reading comprehension…!

Actually, I fell asleep on my AP English exam in high school. At least I didn’t get a 1…

Bonnie Pink concert

I did it! I went to a Bonnie Pink concert! I’d been dreaming about it for years!

I first heard Bonnie Pink’s “It’s Gonna Rain” from a Rurouni Kenshin soundtrack (I still haven’t finished the entire series). Bonnie Pink has a pretty mid-range voice, in comparison to other J-pop singers, but the melodies and atmosphere of her sound are pretty Western. I guess the best I can describe it is mildly cute, but very mature. I think her English lyrics are even better than Utada Hikaru’s, even though Utada grew up in New York, and Bonnie Pink only spent a short time in her life there.

The concert was at Rensa in Sendai, a small theatre on the top floor of the Asahi building, above some a drug store and a DIY store. For 500 yen, you can buy a drink ticket, and I got a cup of California boxed red wine to help me get over my newbie foreign aloofness. Before coming to the venue, I had checked out a map of the place, and it reminded me of the Independent in SF. Standing room floor space, a bar on the side… This’ll be great!

Little did I know, there were some things I needed to learn about Japanese concerts. When I actually checked my ticket, I found some numbers that indicated a seat number. The floor space had actually been filled with temporary chairs, and I was seated towards the back.


Each seat had a bunch of flyers, and a survey. Okay, put those away… sip the wine, check out the audience. Everyone was in their late 20s to 50s. There were quite a few straight couples, but also small groups and pairs of fans, both male and female, as well as singles, such as myself. But there was no opportunity to mingle, all the chairs got in the way.

Bonnie Pink finally came on, and luckily, everyone is around my height or shorter in Japan, so I had a clear view of her face. Rensa also has TV screens on both sides with cameras set on the whole stage, so you can see the performers dance or whatnot. She had a stuffed apple on her head, wore a white flowy blouse shirt, and red balloon pants. The band started out with a couple new songs to open, and after that they took a break, and then she started talking to the audience.


She was mild-mannered, as most people in their 40s are, but totally affable and friendly like a kid, and would chat with her bandmates. The keyboardist had donned a Musubi Maru mask, Sendai’s mascot, and she asked where he got it, and he replied he had made it on his off time. That’s fanservice! At one point, she, the guitarist, and bassist, did a synchronized dance to a song, doing 180 turns with their instruments, and she joked how well they did on their first time dancing like that on stage, and that they should do it again.

When the concert ended, the audience clapped and clapped and clapped and clapped for an encore. Seriously, it took a really long time for them to come out again, and I wasn’t even sure if they would. When they finally did, the huddled up for another troupe-like dance. Again, very adorable, but also made me wonder, “Is that all you’re going to give us!?” Luckily, they played a few more songs, all of which I knew, sang along and moved in time to.

So a few things of note, joining fan clubs in Japan are a must. They get access to seats at the very front, and I totally wanted to be in the same space as they were because they seemed like they were having the best time. They would call her name, and scream out things that any fan would, they wore fan t-shirts, swayed and danced amongst friends. Totally different vibe from the “general seating” where I was at, even though it was not a large venue. Bonnie Pink broke out a wheel with names of songs from her repertoire, and chose a couple fans to come up and shoot suction arrows as she spun the wheel. I wasn’t close enough to get picked, but how fun would that have been to get up there and tell her, “OMG, I’ve been wanting to meet you for 15 years!!!!”

Another reason why looking different would have been an advantage.

Bonnie Pink uses quite a bit of English, and there was a point in one of her songs where she says, “Call my name!” I screamed “Bonnie Pink!” every time she said that, and felt like I was the only one. I imagine that in bigger cities with more English speakers, perhaps, like Tokyo or Nagoya, people would have been more responsive, but who knows. It could also just be typical Japanese reservation.

Fuck that, I’m not wasting my cheap wine effects.

Overall, I had a great time, enjoying the show, and observing the differences in concerts in Japan and America. I had hoped to get up close and personal and get an autograph or something, but I forget how popular Bonnie is in Japan, so like any band in America, you’re not going to get to meet them unless you stick around.

I definitely would have enjoyed it more in good company, and now that I think about it, I could have stuck around the venue until I was forced out…

Woulda, coulda, shoulda!


Character vs. Cuteness

As a young teenager, I was often complimented for looking cute, dể thương, but I hated it. It was for girly girls, and I was not girly. I had horridly thick wavy hair, I felt I had broad shoulders, and I had fat thighs and calves, and my face was big and square. I felt that I looked terrible in all the clothes that were chosen for me, and I didn’t pick out my clothes because there weren’t a lot of options available to me that I liked. I was taught to close my legs, cover my mouth when I yawned, and always have a chipper attitude. I failed all these lessons, and it was because I wasn’t comfortable with the gender roles I was expected to inhabit.  I knew that there was no way I could fit the ideal image of a Vietnamese girl and command a level of respect. I didn’t feel attractive, even when a friend had asked to go out with me. Everyone seemed to be comfortable on one side or another, but I felt I was just riding the fence, sexless, and default.

It took me a really long time to find a style I was comfortable with, something that made me feel empowered and that I could do anything,  and once I was able to do that, I became less angry and more sensitive to others.

I’ve started to notice that when my hair gets long, I get really restless, and self-conscious. I feel like I’m not cleaned up and respectable, so when I do get the haircut, I’m back to normal. Some people would question my decision to cut my hair when it starts to get long again. I usually say that cutting off the weight of my hair relieves stress. But really, I feel my best when I can look boyish again.

Asian old people who know me really love my groove, and they always remark that I look cool or cute. Nowadays I readily accept their compliments because I *do* feel cool and cute. Sometimes I’m even excited about it, and reply with a bit of sass. But sometimes I do wonder if they’re trying to encourage me that there’s still hope for me in finding a guy.

I preferred being told that I had character, có duyên.