Wednesday, September 13, 2023

90-Day Geisha Book Review

90-Day Geisha

90-Day Geisha

by Chelsea Haywood

Pegasus Books LLC (2009)

ISBN: 978-1-60598-071-3
Paperback, 309 hardback

90-Day Geisha Book Review.

After being an international model and becoming bored with that, what is a 19-year-old girl to do?

How about move to Tokyo on a 90-day tourist visa and get a job in a hostess bar? Bring your newly-wedded husband along and start taking notes so that you can write a book about your experiences. Oh, and call yourself a geisha instead of a bar hostess to give yourself some allusion of charm, grace or class.

The goal of the book is to describe what life is like being a Tokyo geisha, er, hostess, ie what hostesses do, what kind of girl/woman signs up for it, and what kind of man visits these bars.

Much of the book is spent talking about the author's customers, and let's just say that none of them come off looking very good, despite being, if she is to be believed, among Japan's very upper crust. She dubiously claims her clients were billionaires. At the time the book was written, Japan had only thirty some billionaires. Haywood seems to want to make the reader think she is tempted to dump her husband and run away with a coke head customer, but this appears, even on the surface, to be highly contrived.

The author can be forgiven for some of her ignorances of Japan as she supposedly lived in the country for only three months (the length of her visa), but annoyances pop up a bit too often for readers who know Japan well. She translates gaijin as "foreign devil" when the word means merely "outside person." The area Shin Okubo is repeatedly called Shin Okobo. There are a few others missteps, too.

Three or four times, Haywood tries hard to impress the reader with overly flowery language, and it seems likely that these sections were ghost written. She thinks of herself as an intellectual giant, but most readers probably won't buy it. Her husband is also held up for his great brainpower. At one point she says of him, "He is the E to my mc2."

So, what was husband Einstein's job? Well, he was walking the streets of Roppongi trying to get girls to sign up to be hostesses and strippers. I am not sure what academic qualifications are needed for that rigorous profession.

While this review has tended towards the negative, some readers, especially those with only a basic knowledge of Japan and hostess bars, might find the book interesting, informative and insightful. Throw in a little salaciousness and some will be clicking on the "buy now" button. The book does get numerous inexplicably positive reviews on some web sites.

At 309 pages, 90-Day Geisha becomes a bit repetitive. If the author just took out the lines reading, "Chelsea, you are the most intelligent and beautiful woman I've ever met," and sentences approximating that, perhaps the book would only be about 250 pages. Haywood tries to partially camouflage her pretentiousness and arrogance, but her ego won't let her try very hard.

In short, the book has its merits, but long-time Japanophiles will likely want to give it a miss.

Final note: In an interview with a Canadian weekly news magazine in December, 2009, not long after the book was published, Haywood says that she and her husband were in the process of getting divorced. What a shocker.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

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More Japan Book Reviews

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Thursday, August 03, 2023

Saihoji Temple Kyoto Application

Saihoji (Kokedera) Temple 西芳寺

Saihoji Temple - or, as it is more commonly known: Kokedera (苔寺 "moss temple") - was founded in the fourteenth century and is located on a spacious 2 hectares (4.5 acres) in Matsuo, south west Kyoto, 800 meters (half a mile) south west of Matsuno-o Shrine (Matsuo Taisha).

Moss at Kokedera in western Kyoto, Japan.
Moss at Kokedera in western Kyoto, Japan

Saihoji History

Saihoji was founded in the early to mid eighth century by the Buddhist priest Gyoki (668-749), who is considered the father of mapping and civil engineering in Japan. Subsequent famous head priests of Saihoji include Kukai (AKA Kobo-Daishi) (774-835), another "Renaissance man" of Japanese history known mainly as the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, and Honen (1133-1212), the founder of the Pure Land (Jodo-shu) school of Buddhism.

After falling into ruin as a result of civil disturbances and wars, Saihoji was rebuilt, and its gardens redesigned, in 1339 by Muso Soseki (AKA Muso Kokushi) (1275-1351), who was a Zen priest, poet, calligrapher and garden designer.

Saihoji became a World Heritage Site in 1994, along with 16 other Kyoto temples.

Moss at Kokedera (Saihoji) in western Kyoto.
The moss garden is at its best during the Japanese rainy season in June and July but is beautiful at any time of year

Saihoji Gardens

The garden is split level, with the upper level featuring a kare-sansui traditional dry landscape garden, and the lower level a pond shaped like the kanji for "heart" with a strolling path around it, and designed to give the impression that the pond has a geographical connection with the hills in the background.

This innovative design influenced later generations of garden designers and most famously the garden and temple building were used as models for the building of Ginkakuji Temple.

Ironically, the moss, which is now the temple's biggest draw, is the result of the temple and its gardens having been left to go into disrepair at least a century ago. There are an estimated 120 species of moss at Saihoji covering much of the grounds. Fall is a special time to visit, when the temple's trees color the grounds, but the moss is at its greenest in early summer - May and June.

The famous Kyoto-born artist and epicure, Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959) is buried at Saihoji.

A carpet of moss at Kokedera (Saihoji Temple) in western Kyoto.
The temple is one of the most popular with foreign visitors in Kyoto

Visiting Saihoji - Making A Reservation

A reservation is required to visit Saihoji. Write the temple (see address below) with your name, address in Japan (that of a hotel will do), occupation, age (you must be at least 18), number of people in your group, and the date you wish to visit, plus an alternate date.

Include a self-addressed stamped postcard (ofuku hagaki; 往復はがき) available from the post office or a convenience store, or, if sending from overseas, a postcard with an international reply coupon. The ofuku hagaki is a set of two postcards one of which will be used by Saihoji to reply.

This must be done as early as possible: 2 months or several weeks at least, not days, ahead. Do not show up late for your appointed time. Note: If you would rather consign the application process, please contact the GoodsFromJapan Concierge Service, which can take of the arrangements for you for a reasonable fee and have the reply from Saihoji posted to your hotel in Japan.

Please contact us to use our service to make an application to visit Saihoji Temple.

The visit fee charged by Saihoji is 3,000 yen per person, which is the highest in Kyoto. Prior to entering, you will be asked to take part in a period of zazen, the chanting of sutras or calligraphy. This lasts 40 minutes to an hour but allowance is made for people to retire early from this, especially the elderly, infirm or non-Japanese visitors.

A carpet of moss at Kokedera (Saihoji Temple) in western Kyoto.
A carpet of moss at Kokedera (Saihoji Temple) in western Kyoto

Moss Temple Access - how to get to Saihoji

Kyoto Bus #63 from Shijo Kawaramachi and Sanjo Keihan Station is the most straightforward. Get off at Koke-dera/Suzumushi-dera - the final stop. There is only one bus an hour at 27 minutes past the hour. See here for the full timetable:

Kyoto Bus #29 starts at Shijo-Karasuma. Get off at Koke-dera-michi bus stop. Go back a little in the direction the bus came from, as far as the footbridge across the main Mozume-kaido Road, and go left there. You will get to Koke-dera in just under 10 minutes.

Kyoto Buses #73 and #28 start at Kyoto Station.

Take bus #73 to the "Kokedera Suzumushidera" stop and walk 3 minutes. There are #73 buses on the hour or just past the hour from 8am to 9pm and at approximately 20 minutes past and 20 minute to the hour. See here for the full timetable.

On the #28 bus get off at Matsuo-Taisha-mae bus stop. Walk back down the main Mozume-kaido Road in the direction the bus came from, about 12 minutes to the second footbridge, then right down Koke-dera-michi for about 8 minutes.

The nearest train station to Saihoji Temple is JR Saga Arashiyama. From Kyoto Station the journey takes about 12-16 minutes on the JR Sagano Line to Kameoka and Sonobe and costs 240 yen. From JR Saga Arashiyama Station a taxi would cost about 1,000 yen and takes about 10 minutes.

Alternatively from Shijo Station on the Kyoto subway take a Hankyu Arashiyama Line train to Matsuo Taisha Station and walk 20 minutes.

There is also a route from Saihoji by bicycle from Arashiyama.

Matsuo Jingatani-cho 56
Tel: 075 391 3631

Book Hotel Accommodation in Kyoto Near Saihoji

Hotels in Japan -
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Hotels in Kyoto - Agoda

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Sansho Japanese Mountain Pepper

Japanese Mountain Pepper - Sansho 山椒

Sansho fruits on a tree.
Sansho fruits on a tree

Sansho, known as Japanese Mountain Pepper or simply Japanese Pepper in English, is one of the essential spices of Japan. Traditional Japanese eel dishes would be unthinkable without sansho, sansho is an integral component of the widely used shichimi togarashi (Seven Peppers).

Sansho also works great on Western dishes like steak and other meats, it works perfectly with fish of all sorts as well as in salads. The edible leaves of the plant look delicious on any food platter - from sashimi to ham to cheese. The varieties of the use of sansho are almost endless with both Japanese and international dishes.

Sancho tree in Japan.
Sancho tree in Japan

What is Sansho?

Biologists use the Latin name Zanthoxylum piperitum for the plant. It is a tree which can grow up to three meters high. It can be easily recognized by its particular pinnated (feather-like) set of leaves and it sports long and quite sharp thorns.

The plant is native to Japan as well as parts of South Korea and a few areas in China. Known as chopi in Korean, sansho is also in heavy use in the cuisine of the Southern part of the peninsula.

Sansho is closely related to Sichuan peppers though their taste differs. Sichuan peppers fit the spicy foods of southwest China while sansho caters to the more subdued and refined tastes of Japan.

Bamboo sprouts with sansho leaves.
Bamboo sprouts with sancho leaves

Male and Female Plants

Sansho plants come in two varieties - male and female. Only the female plants feature blossoms (in about April), and only the female plants are able to grow fruits and seeds. Their leaves are larger, darker, and harder than those of their male counterparts.

The male plants on the other hand produce soft and light-colored leaves throughout the spring season. Those leaves are cherished in Japanese cuisine. In department stores, they are often sold in quite extravagant packaging for an according price.

Casual meat platter with sansho leaves.
Casual meat platter with sansho leaves

Sansho Leaves

This means that sansho from the male and female varieties is sold and used in quite different ways.

In April and May, male sansho leaves are available – going to a farmers' market you find them at a much lower price than at the department stores. Those leaves are fresh and they provide the very best of the sansho taste and smell. They are typically referred to as hana-zansho (flower sansho).

Typically, Japanese will place those leaves on one of their palms, then strongly clap hands. That brings out the full taste the best, it is said. If you get the chance to try your hand on that old custom, you will certainly attest to its veracity.

Those leaves go especially well with the fresh bamboo sprouts heading out of the ground at the same time.

They are very decorative and you often see them in advertising, sometimes used to advertise foods that call for sansho but are offered in different seasons. Like eel, a dish most commonly consumed in summer.

Unripe sansho fruits for sale in a Japanese farmers' market.
Unripe sansho fruits for sale in a Japanese farmers' market

Unripe Sansho Fruits

In June and July, unripe green sansho fruits become available at Japanese farmer's markets and department stores.

Those fruits, called ao zansho (green sansho) are often boiled in a broth with soy sauce and kombu (kelp) to make a tsukudani (rice topping). Mixed with tiny chirimen fish, they make great chirimen zansho, a famed Kyoto dish.

Ground sansho produced by SB on a Japanese supermarket shelf.
Ground sansho produced by SB on a Japanese supermarket shelf

Budoh Sansho

Sansho trees grow all over Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu. The center of sansho production however is Wakayama Prefecture in Western Japan, south of Osaka. Wakayama cultivates about 80% of Japan's sansho.

Wakayama is also home to a special type of sansho, known as budoh sansho (grape shansho). The fruits of budoh sansho are much larger than average sansho fruits, they look more like grapes, hence the name. The budoh sansho variety is particularly sought after - it is not only larger but also offers a spicier taste than the average sansho.

Budoh sansho is sold both in unripe and in mature form.

Sansho rinds packed by Mascot.
Sansho rinds packed by Mascot

Ground Sansho

Harvest time for the ripe sansho fruits is in about October. That is when the by then dry reddish fruit rinds break open and reveal a black seed inside.

That seed is inedible and thus gets discarded. The valuable part of the fruit is the dry rind.

Most commonly that rind is ground into a more or less rough powder. Unlike the fresh leaves and unripe fruits, that powder can be purchased and used throughout the year.

Ground sansho is an elemental part of shichimi togarashi, ground sansho is no doubt the most commonly used form of sansho in Japanese kitchens today.

That’s what is sprinkled on the dishes in summer in most eel restaurants, that’s what you find as a condiment on the tables of Japanese udon and soba noodle restaurants.

The most common variety of ground sansho in Japan is the one manufactured by spice giant SB. Their sansho powder, labeled in hiragana letters as さんしょう, is available in every supermarket. That is the sansho most Japanese use at home.

Sansho Rinds

The main selling point of ground sansho is its convenience. You get the sansho taste on your dishes quickly and reliably.

For the real aficionado, however, ground sansho does not fly. Too much of the taste and fragrance of the sansho invariably evaporates during processing and storing.

Under the name Japanese Pepper, Japanese spice maker Mascot sells the original dried rinds. Rinds of Wakayama budoh sansho, the large and spicy variation of the plant.

You get the real rinds tightly packed into a glass jar. Keep them dry and only use the portion for the meal you plan. Grind them in a suribachi mortar. The suribachi will bring out the best of the taste - especially if it is one of those traditional Japanese mortars that come with a pestle made of fragrant sansho tree wood.

Buy Sancho

Goods from Japan offers a variety of Japanese spices and condiments.

Purchase a range of Japanese foodstuffs and drinks from GoodsFromJapan.



Ema Votive Plaques

Happi Coats

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Kaki no Tane

Masu Wooden Sake Boxes


Sayama Green Tea

Shichimi Togarashi

Yanai Goldfish Lanterns

Yatsuhiro & Tatami

Yuzu Kosho Spice from Kyushu

by Johannes Schonherr


Sunday, May 14, 2023

Katsuobushi & Katsuobushi Kezuriki

Bonito Flakes in the Kitchen: Katsuobushi and the Katsuobushi Kezuriki 鰹節と鰹節削り器

Katsuobushi fillet and katsuobushi kezuriki.
Katsuobushi fillet and katsuobushi kezuriki

Remember the first time you were served okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) in one of those dark, dingy, tiny but homely restaurants in Osaka? The first time you received a boat of takoyaki (wheat batter balls containing a piece of octopus)? Did you wonder what those wildly fluttering flakes on top of the dish? Those flakes almost seem to have a life of their own! It's the heat of the dishes underneath that makes them vibrate.

Those flakes are called katsuobushi and you encounter them in Japan quite frequently and in many different ways. They are used as soup stock, mixed with rice in onigiri rice balls and as topping on an endless variety of dishes ranging from tofu to soba noodles to meat (especially chicken), more recent recipes even include them as toppings on avocado and other imported foods.

Katsuobushi fillets from GFJ.
Katsuobushi fillets

What is Katsuobushi?

Now, what are those katsuobushi? Roughly translated, katsuobushi means dried bonito flakes. Katsuo is the Japanese name for the skipjack bonito, a fish belonging to the tuna family.

The best meat of those fish, usually caught in the waters surrounding southern Japan, is filleted by hand and knife. Work that needs quite some skill. An experienced worker cuts the fillets from the fish in less than a minute.

Those fillets are then simmered close to the boiling point for an hour or more, then wood smoked up to a month. A smoking session lasts about six hours, then the fillet rests for a day. This process is repeated for about 12 to 15 times. Finally, the fillet is sun-dried for about two weeks with the help of a special mold, the Aspergillus glaucus. The mold ferments the fillet and removes any residual moisture.

When ready for sale, those fillets are hard as wood and brown on the outside, resembling short sticks of firewood. On the inside, they are a blackish purple. After scraping a section of the fillet, the exposed parts glisten in the light like dark, colored glass.

Katsuobushi-centered meal. Katsuobushi-topped tofu, katsuobushi-topped bamboo sprouts, rice mixed with katsuobushi, miso soup using katsuobushi stock.
A katsuobushi-centered meal: katsuobushi-topped tofu, katsuobushi-topped bamboo sprouts, rice mixed with katsuobushi, miso soup using katsuobushi stock


Dried bonito is as old as Japan. The most ancient books refer to it as do the legends of the Ainu, the original inhabitants of the islands. Dried bonito could be stored for a long period, it was easy to transport, it was very nutritious and it was very tasty when mixed with rice. That ancient dried bonito was however not the same as the katsuobushi flakes in use today.

Those were invented by a man named Jintaro Kadoya in the Kumano domain (today's Wakayama Prefecture) in the mid-1600s. Kadoya came up with the concept of fumigating the katsuo fillets to preserve them in the best possible way.

Not finding the success with his invention he had hoped for in his native Kumano, Kadoya moved to the Tosa domain on the southern shore of Shikoku (today's Kochi Prefecture). There, the bonito catches were better and the locals embraced Kadoya's production method.

Producing katsuobushi in Tosa proved to be very challenging, however. The climate was wet and mold easily settled on the fillets when set out for sun-drying.

But soon, the Tosa locals producing katsuobushi in Kadoya's way learned how to deal with that ever pervasive mold. They incorporated the mold into the production process, turning the mold from a nuisance into the final step of refinement.

Tosa katsuobushi soon became all the rage on the markets of Edo and Osaka.

The production process was a closely guarded secret but that secret soon leaked out to the Satsuma domain (today's Kagoshima Prefecture). Production conditions in Kagoshima were very similar to those of Tosa (Kochi).

Katsuobushi kezuriki.
Traditional katsuobushi kezuriki

Famous Production Areas

Kochi and Kagoshima Prefectures are still the main producers of katsuobushi today. They got the brand name recognition, they got the history and the experience of family-run firms dealing with the product for centuries.

Shaving the Katsuobushi

Most common today are factory-shaved katsuobushi flakes. Those are sold in plastic bags in all Japanese supermarkets and they are the most easy to use.

It’s more fun, though, to produce the katsuobushi flakes in your kitchen by yourself. To do so, you need a special tool to shave the flakes from the wood-like katsuobushi fillet.

Traditionally, for this purpose a katsuobushi kezuriki is used. Essentially, that’s a wooden box with a blade inserted. You move the katsuobushi fillet with a certain amount of strength over the blade functioning as a sort of wood plane. The shaved-off flakes are collected in the drawer below the blade.

Working the blade needs a certain amount of practice, though. You need to figure out how exactly to hold the fillet stick and what amount of pressure to apply. If done incorrectly, the result of the shaving will be rather a reddish rough powder than the desired flakes.

That powder is delicious and can be used in salads, for example. But you wanted the flakes, right? The real thing.

Those can be more easily produced using a mechanic katsuobushi shaving machine. Of course, the mechanic shaver leaves you a little short on the experience of cooking in real traditional Japanese style but it provides you with the desired result easily and efficiently.

Katsuobushi fillet and katsuobushi kezuriki.
A katsuobushi fillet and katsuobushi kezuriki

Buy Katsuobushi

Goods from Japan offers all the options, the wood-like fillet sticks and the old-style kezuriki as well as two kinds of mechanic shavers, one named the Okaka and the other the Kakuta-Kun, and of course, the most easy-to-use bagged factory-made katsuobushi flakes.

Purchase a range of Japanese foodstuffs and drinks from GoodsFromJapan.



Ema Votive Plaques

Happi Coats

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Kaki no Tane

Masu Wooden Sake Boxes



Sayama Green Tea

Shichimi Togarashi

Yanai Goldfish Lanterns

Yatsuhiro & Tatami

Yuzu Kosho Spice from Kyushu

by Johannes Schonherr

Katsuobushi Shaving Machine Kakuta-kun.
Purchase a Katsuobushi Shaving Machine Kakuta-kun


Monday, May 08, 2023

Ghosts of the Tsunami

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

by Richard Lloyd Parry

Picador (2017)

ISBN: 978-1250192813
Paperback, 276 pp

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone.

On March 11, 2011, Japan's Tohoku region (northeast coast) was struck by what has been called a triple disaster: the largest earthquake in the country's history (and fourth largest in the history of seismology), followed by an enormous tsunami, followed by a disastrous nuclear meltdown.

The earthquake was 9.0 on the Richter Scale, knocked the earth off its axis by six and a half inches, and moved the whole of Japan 13 feet closer to America. The tsunami reached heights of 120 feet and erased numerous villages from the face of the earth. The nuclear meltdown joined the Chernobyl disaster as one of the two worst nuclear accidents in history.

When the final numbers of the triple disaster were added up, the costs were set at $US210, billion (the costliest natural disaster ever) in damage, half a million people homeless and 18,500 dead. Of course, many of the survivors still suffer from trauma.

While author Parry does give attention to the earthquake and the nuclear meltdown, he focuses most of his scrutiny on the tsunami – most specifically the drowning of 74 students and 10 teachers of Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, who lost their lives due to some incredibly poor decisions made by that school's officials.

While some sixth-grade boys begged to be let out of school to run up a nearby hill to safety, the teachers said no, then later directed students and staff towards the incoming tsunami.

Parry, who had worked 16 years in Japan at the time of the triple disaster, follows the lives of the local survivors, including their attempts - through the courts and otherwise - at getting to the truth of what happened at Okawa Elementary.

The ghosts from the title of the book refer to supernatural phenomena that were reported after the tsunami. The ghost stories are somewhat interesting, but can probably be better explained by either mental illness due to the enormous stress people there had to endure, or depending on your belief system, demon possession.

In any case, psychists and mediums often gave completely different answers to questions they received such as where the best place to look for bodies would be and whether the deceased children were now happy or miserable.

Although the book is recommended reading, there are a few minor annoyances. One is the author's dependence on/love of his thesaurus. Numerous words like frisson, tannoy, catarrh, rotas, lineaments and other very low-usage words are sprinkled throughout the book. His oeuvre is bumfuzzling.

Another annoyance is the low quality of the half dozen pictures in the book. This is likely the result of using low quality paper. Also, cutlines (captions) on the pictures, something that would have been helpful, are non-existent.

Parry shows great empathy towards the people of Tohoku (which he inexplicably says is pronounced "Tour hock-oo"), but he gives no breaks to the two men deemed by him and others to be the most responsible for the school children's deaths.

Overall, the book is a good read into some of the darkest days in Japanese history.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

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More Japan Book Reviews

90-Day Geisha

All About Japan - Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids

Exposure: From President to Whistleblower at Olympus

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Introduction to Japanese Masks

An Introduction to Japanese Masks お面

A selection of onna masks representing young women in Noh Dramas.
A selection of onna masks representing young women in Noh Dramas

Like many ancient cultures all around the planet, Japan has used and produced various types of masks that were probably originally used in rituals and magic and that later developed into storytelling and theatre. Outside of the various types of masked theatre, numerous participants in festivals wear masks.

There are many recognizable types of masks that are found all over the country and can be said to represent a purely Japanese style, but many regions and localities have unique forms not found elsewhere in the country.

In Japan, masks are considered to possess power and so are used not just as decoration but also to protect shrines, temples, and increasingly homes.

A Noh-mask carver in Hofu, Yamaguchi, applying pigment to a mask.
A Noh-mask carver in Hofu, Yamaguchi, applying pigment to a mask

Noh Theatre

Japanese mask-making reached its peak with the masks created for Noh dramas. Noh is a style of musical theatre from the 14th century and is still performed today. Masks are integral to Noh, with hundreds of different ones produced for characters both human and supernatural, but an interesting feature of noh masks is that to a large extent they are made to be expressionless. The art is in making masks that display different emotional states just by changing the angle of the mask. Noh masks are carved from a single block of wood, usually cypress, and painted using minimal, natural pigments.

The most iconic of Japanese masks, the female demon known as Hanya.
The most iconic of Japanese masks, the female demon known as Hanya


Perhaps the most well-known Noh mask is the Hanya, or Hannya, a type of female demon. With sharp horns and teeth, and a somewhat leering mouth, Hanya masks express a range of emotions from demonic and angry to tormented and melancholic as the Hanya represents what happens to women when they are betrayed and become angry and jealous. The hanya mask is so iconic it is seen in many other forms of art and is a very popular design element in tattoos.

A selection of wooden masks made not to be worn but displayed.
A selection of wooden masks made not to be worn but displayed

Oni Demon

The Oni mask is probably the type of mask with the widest variations across the different regions of the country. Oni is most often translated as "demon", but in fact "ogre" would probably be a better translation as in the West demons are considered pure evil, but oni, while generally doing bad, can in some cases be capable of doing good. Oni come in a variety of colors and are usually quite hairy and horned and in many stories are obviously linked with outsiders and the wild and dangerous mountains.

Namahage demon masks from the Tohoku area of northern Japan.
Namahage demon masks from the Tohoku area of northern Japan


Often referred to as "forest goblins", red-faced and long-nosed Tengu are also a very common mask found throughout Japan. Earlier versions of the Tengu called Karasu Tengu, "Crow Tengu", had beaks but most nowadays have the very phallic long nose and wear a small black cap called a tokin which are worn by the mountain-dwelling ascetics called Yamabushi who spend time in the mountains gaining magical powers. Tengu and yamabushi are inextricably linked and tengu masks are very common at shrines and temples and sacred mountains connected to Yamabushi all over Japan.

Masks from the Kunisaki Peninsula in Kyushu are very striking and would not look out of place in Africa.
Masks from the Kunisaki Peninsula in Kyushu are very striking and would not look out of place in Africa


The development of the long-nosed Tengu from the Crow Tengu is probably linked to a character from ancient mythology called Sarutahiko. He is said to have led the imperial ancestors to Japan from the High Plain of Heaven.

Consequently a character wearing a Sarutahiko mask will usually lead a festival procession, though nowadays it may just as likely be a tengu mask. Sarutahiko married a goddess called Uzume and they are said to be the ancestors of the clan who served as theatrical performers.

She is often represented with a rather chubby, round-faced mask, and a male-female pair of Sarutahiko and Uzume masks are commonly found together. They are also used in a few of the remaining phallic festivals that remain in Japan.

In many agricultural-based festivals and folk dances male dancers wear rather comical, simple-minded, peasant masks. Often playing the fool, he is often represented with his mouth stuck in a twisted and protruded position that comes from a character called Hyottoko whose face is stuck in that expression by blowing through a bamboo pipe to keep the coals of a forge fire going.

Masks of various kinds, especially demons, are put up in buildings to protect against various forms of misfortune, but some masks, specifically those of  Daikoku and Ebisu who are two of the Seven Lucky Gods, are put up especially by businesses, to attract good fortune and success.

Purchase a Range of Traditional Masks from Japan

Purchase a selection of traditional masks from GoodsFromJapan

Jake Davies


A mask-maker in Oita working on a Hanya mask.
A mask-maker in Oita working on a Hanya mask
Standing guard during Setsubun at a Kyoto temple, an unusual single-horned oni mask.
Standing guard during Setsubun at a Kyoto temple, an unusual single-horned oni mask
A variety of different Tengu masks including a Karasu Tengu, top centre.
A variety of different Tengu masks including a Karasu Tengu, top centre
Giant Tengu mask at Kurama, a famous yamabushi site near Kyoto.
Giant Tengu mask at Kurama, a famous yamabushi site near Kyoto
Sarutahiko, wearing a tengu mask, leads a mikoshi parade.
Sarutahiko, wearing a tengu mask, leads a mikoshi parade
Hyottoko mask worn during a rice planting festival.
Hyottoko mask worn during a rice planting festival


Ema Votive Plaques

Ishigaki Sea Salt

Koinobori Carp Streamers

Sayama Japanese Green Tea

Shichimi Togarashi Seven Spices

Yatsuhiro & Tatami

Yuzukosho Spice of Kyushu

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Japanese Culture Religious and Philosophical Foundations

Japanese Culture: The Religious and Philosophical Foundations

Japanese Culture: The Religious and Philosophical Foundations

by Roger J. Davies

Tuttle (2016)

ISBN: 978-4805311639
Paperback, 160 pp

Japanese Culture Religious and Philosophical Foundations.

What have been the most powerful influences shaping Japan over its long history? Exactly what has each of these influences contributed to make Japan what it is today?

Professor Roger J. Davis has put together this interesting book from his college lectures designed for international business students studying in an MBA program at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

At 160 pages (125 without the appendixes), it is not an exhausting tome, but it is enough to inform and entertain any reader wanting some of the basics.

The first two chapters are spent not on expounding on the most significant influences, but on the basics of where the Japanese people came from and what models social scientists usually use in dissecting civilizations.

From there, there are six more chapters, with each chapter dealing with one of what Davies says are the main influences which helped shape Japanese society. Arranged chronologically, they are: Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Confucianism and Western Influences in the Modern Era.

Each chapter ends with extra notes on that chapter's main topic, followed by discussion questions. Some of the discussion questions can be answered quickly, even by novices. An example from the Western Influences chapter would be; "It is often claimed that contemporary Japanese society is highly secular and materialistic. Do you agree or disagree?" Anybody who has lived in Japan for any period of time can offer a reasonable opinion on this.

Other discussion questions require a deeper knowledge to even attempt an answer. An example of this from the Zen chapter would be; "Although Zen is not the largest sect in Japan, it is the most popular and widely recognized in the West. Why is it not as popular as other Buddhist sects in Japan?"

For all of its modern technological wonders, Japan got off to a late start according to Edwin Reischaeur, former US Ambassador to Japan, who is frequently quoted throughout the book, and who has several entries in the helpful six-page bibliography.

Reischaeur is quoted as saying, "The (Japanese) islands were thousands of years behind Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and China in the introduction of agriculture and centuries behind in the use of bronze and iron."

One of the more interesting sections delineates how the Japanese government started and propagated state Shinto - with special focus on education and thought police - to move the Japanese citizens towards accepting war.  Shinto and state Shinto were very different things.
Reischaeur makes the case that state Shinto was "a ruthless attack on Buddhism." It sure was an attack on something.

Overall, the book would be interesting for almost any reader, but if you are already an expert on the religious and philosophical foundations of Japan, you might find the depth a little lacking.

Note: This book is a follow up to Davies' well-acclaimed "The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture," which was published in 2002.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

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Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Exposure Review

Exposure: From President to Whistleblower at Olympus


by Michael Woodford

Penguin (2013)

ISBN: 978-0241-9636-16
Paperback, 272 pp

Exposure: From President to Whistleblower at Olympus.

One of the biggest financial scandals in Japanese history was the 2011 scandal surrounding Olympus Corporation. The scandal is said to have involved $US1.7 billion, or more.

In April, 2011, British national Michael Woodford, who had worked at Olympus for 30 years, became chief operating officer, and in October of that year he took the reigns as chief executive officer. Almost immediately after becoming CEO, Woodford sniffed out giant financial shenanigans in Olympus and started asked questions.

Two weeks after taking over he was fired for, it turned out, having uncovered the malfeasance, but he remained on the board of directors as those positions are determined by shareholders.

Fearing for his life, and suspecting that Japan's yakuza might be involved in the fraud - a suspicion that turned out to be erroneous - Woodford fled Japan and headed home to England.

He immediately contacted the Serious Fraud Office and New Scotland Yard, and was interviewed by a number of major media. He had covered his bases well by sending emails with his questions and suspicions to numerous people. The word was out, and he was safely, hopefully safely, in England.

In 2012, Woodford wrote this book about the whole sordid affair.
One thing that many readers must overlook is the seemingly unquenchable ego that Woodford displays throughout the book. He is to be commended for working his way up from a lowly start in life, but he is eager to let everyone know how posh his lifestyle was.
There are numerous examples of this, from his expensive champagne to his hotel room with the 1,000-book library and baby grand piano. Admittedly he was upgraded to that by his hotel for being a frequent customer, but you get the idea.

The book was written in late 2012, and occasionally references are a bit anachronistic. For example, of the four foreigners who had headed major Japanese companies he writes, "with only Carlos Ghosn of Nissan remaining, Japan seemed to be shutting the doors (on foreign leaders of Japanese companies)." The door on Ghosn would later shut as he escaped the country in 2019 while hiding in a musical instrument box while out on bail for alleged crimes during a later corporate scandal involving a foreign CEO.

One thing that inquiring minds will want to know is what happened to the bad guys involved. How many of them got locked up in jail and for how long? The book doesn't answer these questions, but the info can be found on line. Hint: Not many and not long enough.

The civil lawsuits were more fruitful. In May of 2019, well after the book was published, the Tokyo District court handed out a fine of 59.4 billion yen (then US $594 million) to the three main miscreants, former president Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former executive vice president Hisashi Mori and former statutory auditor Hideo Yamada.
Additionally, Woodford was later awarded £10 million for personal damages.

The exact fraud, basically a tobashi scheme, is not fully explained until about ¾ of the way through the book. The explanation may be a little bit hard to follow for some laymen, but readers don't need to fully understand how it worked to understand the gravity of the situation.
After all, $US1,700,000,000 ($1.7 billion) is a lot of fraud.
Woodford's work is easy to read and the pages fly by. Readers don't have to like Woodford personally (though some certainly will) to enjoy the book and learn about an interesting chapter of recent Japanese history.

Exposure Review.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

Looking to buy Japanese things directly from Japan? GoodsFromJapan is here to help.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Japanese Paper Lanterns For Films & Theatrical Performances

Japanese Paper Lanterns  ちょうちん(提灯)

Our Japanese paper lanterns are hand-made and of the highest quality. They have been used on film sets and theatrical productions both overseas and in Japan.

The customer can choose the design or leave that to GoodsFromJapan to suggest both classic and contemporary motifs such as pictured here.

Various sizes and qualities are available to suit all budgets.

These beautiful lanterns also make beautiful gifts for the home.

Japanese Chochin Lanterns

Yanai Goldfish Lanterns


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Yuzukosho Spice of Kyushu

Yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) - The Spice of Kyushu

by Johannes Schonherr

Yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) - The Spice of Kyushu.
Yuzu fruits

Yuzu are a citrus fruit famous for their strong fragrance, grown mainly on the southwestern Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku.

Yuzukosho (yuzu pepper) is a paste made of yuzu peel, green chili pepper, salt and a bit of yuzu juice which has been traditionally used in nabemono hot pot soups, typically eaten in winter.

Nowadays, the variety of use for yuzukosho as an ingredient has spread far and wide: from various Japanese soup dishes like udon and soba to yakiniku barbecue to steak seasoning. Some adventurous restaurants serve their sushi and sashimi with yuzukosho rather than wasabi.

Western chefs have also picked up on yuzukosho as an exotic yet multi-purpose spice, enlivening their creations with an earthy yet highly refined note.

Yuzu (柚子) are a winter fruit in Japan

Yuzu Fruits

Buy a premium quality yuzu at a farm in Kyushu or at a department store elsewhere in Japan and take it out of its protective plastic cover.

The fragrance of the fruit quickly fills the room.

That's why it is an old Japanese custom to let a few yuzu swim in the onsen hot spring bath water on a winter solstice night: yuzu being a winter fruit, it brings out the best of the smells of the season.

Cut open the fruit and you will be bit disappointed: plenty of seeds embedded in rather loose flesh. Very little juice can be extracted from a single fruit.

It is the outer yuzu peel that is precious. That's the part of the fruit responsible for the fragrance. Cut the outer, yellow peel off a ripe fruit and you will find it to be a delicious ingredient in soups, salads, pasta or meat dishes.

Yuzu on sale at a Japanese supermarket.
Yuzu on sale at a Japanese supermarket

Fresh yuzu fruits can be a bit hard to come by outside of Japan, however.

A limited amount of yuzu is grown in California, for example, but as food writer Helen Rosner stated in an article for The New Yorker in February 2020 aptly titled Nothing Compares to Yuzu, "the U.S.D.A. [United States Department of Agriculture] has a ban on the import of fresh yuzu from abroad - the fruit and the trees." After lamenting the high prices for yuzu on the U.S. East Coast, she continues saying, "I'm told that, among New York chefs, there is a thriving black market in fresh yuzu smuggled from Japan."

Yuzukosho however can freely be shipped from Japan to the U.S. and anywhere else. Goods from Japan is an easy and reliable source.

Yuzu fruit and Yuzukosho.
Yuzu fruit and Yuzukosho


So, what exactly is yuzukosho? Yuzukosho is a fermented paste made up of the peel of unripe green yuzu, green chili pepper, salt and a bit of yuzu juice.

It contains all the fragrance of the yuzu, it is spicy, can be used for a wide variety of purposes (you might want to experiment with it a bit) and it remains in good, fresh condition for a very long time.

The origin of yuzukosho is central-northern Kyushu. Around the city of Hita in Oita Prefecture, about halfway between the Pacific coast and Fukuoka, farmers have made yuzukosho for centuries. Mainly for their own private use though some of the specialty certainly found its way to the markets of bustling Hita, known in the Edo Period as the Kyoto of Kyushu.

Yuzukosho remained a decidedly local spice of northern Kyushu well into the 1990s, sold at souvenir shops in Yufuin and other hot spring resorts as a sort of unique local gift to take home to friends.

Fundokin Green Yuzukosho

Things changed in the late 1990s when Fundokin, a major maker of miso paste and shoyu (soy sauce), based in the old coastal samurai town of Usuki, just south of Oita City, began to sell and promote yuzukosho on a national level.

Suddenly, yuzukosho became available in stores all over Japan. Chefs in Tokyo and elsewhere took notice and incorporated the spice into their dishes. Snack makers came up with yuzukosho rice crackers, yuzu fruit cakes - if you look out for anything yuzu in any Japanese supermarket, you will find a wide variety of yuzu and yuzukosho products.

The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita.
The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita


The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita without using any additives is conveniently available in the food section at Goods from Japan.


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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Hoshigaki Japanese Dried Persimmons

Hoshigaki Japanese Dried Persimmons - A Traditional Japanese Winter Treat 干し柿

Hoshigaki hung up to dry in Japan.
Hoshigaki hung up to dry in Japan

Taking an autumn stroll pretty much anywhere in Japan, you will see trees bulging with kaki (persimmon fruits). Kaki are one of the most popular autumn fruits in Japan. Countryside farmers grow them but they can also be frequently found in suburban gardens.

Most of those kaki are of the amagaki variety, the sweet sort. After peeling, you can eat these fruits right away. They are delicious as fresh fruits.

From early December on, hoshigaki, dried persimmons, are also on sale. Akin to dried figs in Western countries, they are a popular winter sweet. In Japan, they are often served with a hot cup of green tea.

Kaki tree in autumn.
Kaki tree in autumn

The Making of Hoshigaki

It may sound surprising but those sweet hoshigaki are made from quite bitter fruits. Besides those sweet amagaki type kaki ready to eat as a fresh fruit, there is another variety of kaki called shibugaki. It's those shibugaki from which hoshigaki are produced.

Shibugaki translates as 'astringent persimmon': persimmon with a bitter, pungent taste that seems to contract your mouth. Biting into such a fruit is quite unpleasant. (In fact, biting into an unripe sweet kaki has the same effect.)

Shibugaki trees are particularly common in cold, mountainous areas throughout Japan.

In the old days, when besides fresh fruit hardly any sweets were available in Japanese mountain areas, people had to find a way to get their sugar fix for the long winter months. Thus, they found a way to turn those bitter shibugaki into a delicious, nourishing sweet.

Hoshigaki are made today the same way as centuries ago. Shibugaki fruits are collected, then peeled by hand with the help of a knife. Right after peeling the fruits' stems are connected to a rope, often many fruits along one rope.

The ropes are then hung outside in a rain-protected place exposing the peeled fruits to direct sunlight and wind. Usually the protruding roofs of the farm houses serve to provide rain protection. Rain protection is important: if the peeled fruits get wet, they would start to rot.

Being in the usually bright and steady sunlight of the Japanese autumn, along with the usually gently breezes of the season turns the fruits from bitter to sweet. Every few days, they need to be massaged by hand to keep their texture even.

The fruits hang out to dry for about six weeks to two months. Then, they are taken down and placed onto straw mats and kept outside for another 10 days or so.

At the end of the process, the fruits have shrunk to about one fourth of their original weight, they have become considerably smaller. A sticky, greyish white substance covers them. That substance is fruit sugar.

The hoshigaki are now ready for consumption.

Kaki fruits on a tree
Persimmon (kaki)

Purchasing Hoshigaki

Hoshigaki are a seasonal product. They are available in stores and markets only from early December to about late February or early March.

There a various kinds of hoshigaki on sale. The two main varieties are koro kaki which are solid, easy to cut and not too sweet and ampo kaki which are very soft and very sweet.

There are also considerable differences in the package sizes. Very common in supermarkets are packages of about 9 fruits. You can however also purchase large packs of the dry fruits tightly packed together. Those latter ones are usually all connected by one long, thin rope – the rope they were originally dried on.

Uses of Hoshigaki

Hoshigaki can be eaten as a snack just the way they are - as sweet dry fruits. The koro kaki variety is also often used in salads, cut up into smaller pieces and eaten as a snack with cheese and wine or used in cakes, cookies or other bakery products. There are also used in a wide variety of traditional Japanese confectionary.

Hoshigaki drying.
Hoshigaki drying

Ichida Kaki 市田柿

Ichida kaki (aka Ichidagaki) is the brand name for a type of koro hoshigaki from the former Shinano Province in today's southern Nagano Prefecture.

They are grown and prepared in the region around the small town of Takamori, located in the valley of the Tenryu River, right between the Kiso Mountains (aka the Central Japanese Alps) and the Akaishi Mountains (aka the Southern Japanese Alps).

There, the climate consists of hot and humid summers, cold winters and a long, dry autumn. Ideal for the production of hoshigaki. In fact, the town of Takamori calls itself proudly the 'home of hoshigaki'.

Ichida kaki are today the perhaps most popular hoshigaki brand in Japan. They are all grown and prepared on small local farms in the area, each pack carries the name and address of the farm its product originates from.

Ichida kaki typically have a sugar content of about 65% to 70%, one dried fruit weights about 20 gram.

Just as they work perfectly well as a Japanese winter snack, Ichida kaki make also for a fitting and delicious Christmas snack in Western environs.

Ichida kaki.
Ichida kaki

Buy Hoshigaki

You can purchase Ichida kaki conveniently from Goods from Japan. The product is usually only available in winter.

Purchase a range of Japanese foodstuffs and drinks from GoodsFromJapan.



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Yuzu Kosho Spice from Kyushu

by Johannes Schonherr

Small pack of Ichida kaki, containing 9 fruits.
A small pack of Ichida kaki, containing nine fruits