Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Oreo & Hershey's Sweets Taste Test

I was at the supermarket last week when I remembered that Oreo has released a line of sweets. It's supposed to be only available this summer, so I decided to look for it and I found that Hershey's released a line of sweets as well!

And because my willpower for sweets is practically non-existent, I bought everything that I wanted to try and spent last week constantly snacking.

And I figured that since I was eating, I might as well make notes and share them, in case you're like me and want to try the sweets but have more willpower and will only get one or two.

1. Oreo cake (130 yen)

I liked how this looked because it promised to be an oreo in cake form. Well, it was pretty good, but it wasn't amazing. I couldn't really taste the oreo filling in most of the cream - the only time I tasted oreo was in the crushed oreo bits in the center of the cake.

Hershey Cookie & Cream Sand (130 yen)

Yes, this is called a "sand", I'm guessing it stands for sandwhich? This reminded me of dorayaki and the cake part was really fragrant and delicious. Unfortunately, that meant that it overpowered the cream and I didn't taste Hershey's cookies and cream in this.

Crepes - Hershey (140 yen) and Oreo (130 yen)

Since there were two of these, I ate them at the same time. The pastry for both of them was nothing to shout about, but the Oreo crepe tasted a lot like the Oreo cookie (at least way more than the cake) and I found that I really liked it.

The Hershey's crepe, on the other hand, made me worry that I have forgotten the taste of Hershey's cookies and cream despite that being a huge treat for me when I was young. It was nice, but the taste of the crepe was stronger than the taste of the cream and it reminded me of the cake in the Hershey's Cookies and Cream Sand.

Eclair - Hershey (130 yen) and Oreo (120 yen)

front: Hershey's. back: Oreo

And another two sweets that I ate in together because I couldn't decide which to eat first (and ended up alternating bites). The eclair is my favourite of the Hershey's sweets and I even preferred this to the Oreo version. The cream here was nice and strong and I finally tasted the cookies and cream. Too bad the pastry was only so-so.

The Oreo eclair definitely looks better (or maybe I'm just a sucker for things with something crumbled on top) than the Hershey's one. As with its Hershey's counterpart, I liked this best of all the Oreo sweets that I tried, probably because the taste was the strongest. And like the Hershey's version, the pastry was only so-so.

If you're only going to buy one sweet, you should definitely get the eclairs.

Also now I need to start eating healthy (until I see the next limited edition sweet).

Sunday, 6 August 2017

(Part Of) Japanese Church History

Today happens to be the anniversary of the Church that I'm attending in Sasebo and 平和聖日 (Holy Day of Peace) for the 日本基督教団 (United Church of Christ in Japan - for convenience,  I use 'the Church' and 'United Church of Christ in Japan' pretty much interchangeably in this post, but I am not talking about the whole of Christianity in Japan) and there was a message from the organisation, plus today's sermon was about it and I wanted to share what I learnt.

By the way, I assumed that today was 平和聖日 because the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki on August 6th, but apparently, it's basically the first Sunday of August, which happens to be on August 6th this year.

The Church that I'm currently going to was started in 1889 and is closely tied to the history of Imperial Japan. When the navy of Imperial Japan decided to make Sasebo one of its naval bases, Sasebo turned from a village of under 4000 people turned into a major port. In that same year, the Japanese Church sent missionaries to Sasebo and that's how the Church started. In other words, the history of the Church I'm attending is closely tied to the navy of Imperial Japan.

Which leads us to the role of the Church during the war. History books might have told you about State Shintoism during the period before WWI and the Church was also drawn into it. During WWII, the Japanese Church worshiped the Emperor as God as part of worship. That included things like 宮城遥拝 (kyuujyou youhai), which is basically facing the Emperor and saluting, forcing Korean Christians to worship at shrines, and others. In fact, from the 24th to 26th of June, 1941, the Church sang the national anthem (君が代; kimigayo), did the 宮城遥拝, and prayed for the war dead during the General Assembly for the founding of the United Church of Christ in Japan, using the reasoning that "while we are Christians, we are also Japanese citizens and must show our loyalty to the nation" (rough translation, actual Japanese is 「われは 基督教信者と同時に日本臣民であり、皇国に忠誠を尽くすを以って第一とす」)

In fact, the Church actually sent a letter to other Churches within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere called 日本基督教団より大東亜共栄圏に在る基督教徒に送る書翰 (the translation is basically the first part of the sentence), which included things lines like 「世界は畢竟キリスト教によりて救わるるのである。しかも武士道の上に接木せられたるキリスト教に由りて救われるのである」(The world is saved by Christianity. Moreover, it is saved by Christianity which is grafted on to Bushido).

And in this way, the United Church of Christ in Japan supported Japanese war activities, which  repented for in the 'Confession on the Responsibility During World War II'. As a result, when there was a 大嘗祭 (daijyousai; the first offering of rice to a newly enthroned error) in November 1990, the Church opposed the movement to use state funds for religious ceremonies. And this June, with the special law for the Emperor to step down being passed, the Church is once again reminded of the events of 1990.

Interestingly enough, this confession was published in the name of the chairman, not on behalf of the Church. Even 50 years later, there are still people opposed to having this become the official confession of the United Church of Christ in Japan because it might hurt the Church (from what I heard today. The confession was approved by the committee so I'm not too sure what the difference in it being published in the name of the Chairman and in the name of the Church is).

And this is why the Church now is active in taking a stand against the revision of the constitution and militarisation in general. Up until now, I've never really understood why, but knowing the history helps to put things into perspective.

Further Reading
Most of my information was taken from today's sermon and the message that was handed out, but I did find these resources online:
Catholic Church History in Japan (Didn't really use it for this post but it's fascinating reading)
Confession on the Responsibility during World War II
Sasebo Naval Base  (not about the Church but it was interesting!)
日本基督教団より大東亜共栄圏に在る基督教徒に送る書翰  ( and this is the google translated version)

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Random Ramblings on Stereotypes & Making Friends

(This post probably does not have a point)

So a while back, I did an AMA on living in Japan on my Dayre. This was one of the questions:
Have you been able to make good friends with Japanese? I've heard they are notoriously difficult to befriend and can be very fake and insincere.
And my answer:

Funnily enough, my closest friends in Kyudai were Japanese people. I think that there definitely is a culture gap but the Japanese people are as fake and insincere as Singaporeans, Americans, Malaysians, Chinese nationals and pretty much any nationality. 
There are unpleasant people but I don't really think it's a culture thing?
That said, I do know a lot of people who have struggled with making friends in Japan and I think (like totally personal theory because I'm not them) it's due to:
1. Not seeing the Japanese as people/human but bringing your own set of expectations. This is especially so if you (general you) form stereotypes from anime or jdramas which aren't really that close to reality. 
2. Expecting others to adapt to (and understand) you and your culture. While I do believe that cultural differences make it slightly difficult to make friends with Japanese people, I don't think it's significantly harder than say, making friends with British people or Hong Kongers or South Africans. You are basically trying to be friends with someone else from a different culture and who operates with a history and a set of assumptions different from you. 
So for me, I find that as long as I just think of the people around me as people and not some strange and foreign race, then the cultural challenges are surmountable. Most Japanese people that I've met are happy to explain stuff that I'm not used to and are very forgiving of my social gaffes. 
(For some reason it seems like people tend to view Japanese people differently from foreigners from other countries, like it's a magical anime-like place which I guess gives it a reputation of being hard to fit in and stuff when people realise that things are not what they expect?)
For some reason, this question stuck in my head. It's been something that comes up every now and then (I have blogged about making friends in Japan before), and well, I don't know why or how some of these stereotypes even come about.

Anyway, I met up with a couple of friends (guess I should clarify, they're Japanese) a few days later and when I was telling them about this question and answer, their reply was basically:

"I think it's less of a stereotype issue than a language issue."

So from their point of view, it's less of a cultural barrier than a language barrier. Which might be true for a lot of cases, because Japanese is not an easy language to learn (well, a foreign language tends to be difficult in almost any case. At least for me).

But despite their answer, I kept thinking: what about the stereotypes?

And then I was reminded of something that happened last December. I'm not sure if I mentioned it here, but an acquaintance on Facebook was ranting about the Japanese and as far as my friends and I could tell (his English wasn't that good and it was even more rambly than this one), he was upset that no Japanese students were interested in some event he was involved in and that he felt like the Japanese weren't interested in being friends with foreigners (so I'm guessing the "standoffish and hard to make friends stereotype, even though the exact words weren't used).

In that particular case, I actually had an in-depth conversation with some of my zemi friends (you know how it is, you spend a lot of time together on a project and eventually you all have to take a break and talk about something else because any more and the reputation of being "that weird group that debates about Pokemon GO very loudly in the library" will become permanent) and they had a slightly different take. My position back then, as it is now, is that people are people.

My friends focused more on the specific incident, but they also pointed out that while Japanese people may not be particularly eager to go for events for the sole purpose of making friends with foreigners, most of them aren't opposed to making friends with one either. It's like how in Singapore, I didn't go out of the way to find events where foreign students would be in attendance and go there to make friends, but instead just made friend with the people around me, which ended up including a sizeable number of non-Singaporeans.

So yeah, I guess after all this rambling, I wouldn't really change the answer I gave. I'd probably add in something about needing to be able to speak Japanese if you want to make as many friends as possible, but at the core of it, people are people. If all you see are stereotypes, then it's not really surprising if you don't ended up making many friends.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fireworks + MEXT book maybe?

Hey everyone.

Nothing much has been going on (besides work) which is why the blog has been really quiet. There were fireworks yesterday, though, and I managed to snap some photos as I was leaving work!

Ok, I know I said photos but I used the burst function so Google turned them into gifs for me. (On a side note, it is so much easier to get google to make animations compared to when the function was first introduced and I am so thankful for that! )

Basically, the tower is going to be in every single shot :p

Anyway, since I graduated in March, my MEXT journey has come to an end. So I was thinking of grabbing all the MEXT related posts and turning them into a free ebook for reference? I'm just not sure of how useful it'd be because some of the information will be as old as 5 years old (makes me feel old too).

So let me know if you think it'd be helpful? I'm in two minds about this so outside opinions will be helpful.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Blueberry Picking + Gelato!!!

Yesterday, my friends and I went to pick blueberries! Originally, we wanted to go on this blueberry + onsen + gelato tour but they couldn't get enough people so they canceled. Luckily for us, we found a farm we could go to and decided to just go there ourselves.

The place was really very ulu though. It's pretty near the firefly place, but the farm requires you to turn into a very, very narrow road and we ended up missing it twice. We did find a number to call, so we managed to get there eventually.

It really is in the Japanese countryside. (Well, I suppose this applies to most of Sasebo but I'm still not very used to it)

To the blueberries! 
 There are basically two varieties of blueberries: Brightwell (I hope I'm transcribing to English correctly)

and Powder Blue.

I didn't really believe the lady when she said that they tasted different but I HAD TO EAT MY WORDS. Not only did the two varieties taste different, even the different tries within the varieties tasted different. So when we found a tree that we liked, we just stood there for a very, very long time.

Blueberry trees (bushes? Maybe I should just stick to 'plants') as far as the eye can see!

This is probably my favourite picture from the whole day:

And now for photos of the stars: the blueberries!

So there were white, red, and blue berries around but the only ones we could eat were the blue ones (and they had to be completely blue - no tinge or red or any of that) because the other two meant the berry wasn't ripe.

And I guess this is pretty obvious to everyone but I was quite surprised to see them (I was so obviously raised in a city).

And for some reasons, the blueberries started to look like grapes at times.

It was apparently 28.5 degrees in the greenhouse, but I honestly didn't feel the heat. It was actually pretty cooling.

The deal with the blueberry picking is that you can eat all the blueberries you want but you have to pay 350 yen for every 100g of blueberries that you bring home. I was aiming for 100g, but the first time I went to pay, I vastly underestimated the amount of berries I picked and only had 72g. I went back to get more and ended up with... 98g. So my friend gave me 1 berry and I managed to get exactly 100g which is probably the accomplishment of the day.

I also picked up a small bottle of blueberry juice! Gonna drink it sometime this week(:

And these are two more photos I took at the blueberry farm. In a very amazing coincidence, one of my friends from Kyudai actually visited this place last week!

After we finished stuffing ourselves with berries, we decided to... stuff ourselves with gelato. My friend had heard of this place called Milky Way Farm and since it was only a few minutes from the blueberries, we decided to head there.

Although I was probably more fascinated with the coin-operated rice-polishing station when we parked.

The place! Apparently, the gelato there is hand-made and it is definitely all very delicious!

The interior.

For some reason, they were also selling homemade saussage and I ended up buying one (the small one!) and I'll have to remember to cook it soon too.

The gelato! Mine is the ridiculously big one because I couldn't decide what flavour to get so I ended up getting FOUR. Obviously I couldn't finish it but I have no regrets. It was really good and at about 550 yen (can't remember the exact price and I can't remember if this is before or after they raised the price - there was a sign) it's actually pretty cheap.

From left to right: Belgium Chocolate, Milk, Chocolate Mint

Middle: Royal Milk Tea

All the flavours were really good and we were all really full. All in all, this was a really good day(:

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Lupicia Tea Marche 2017

Last week, I traveled all the way back to Fukuoka for the Lupicia Tea Marche! (To be honest I didn't really need much of a reason) I really enjoyed last year's marche and since I'm doing a tea exchange right now, I thought it the tea fair would be a good excuse to get all the teas I needed to buy in one place.

This year, the door gift was a packet of tea cookies and two tea coasters. Since last year's gift were those tea clips (and you can get something similar at IKEA), I liked that they gave out something different this year.

Much like last year, the corner right next to the entrance is where all the limited edition teas are! If you don't get to travel much, this is the place to get all the limited edition teas within Japan and from overseas without having to actually travel to the place.

I'm totally loving the different can designs!

I really just enjoyed walking around and looking at the various booths.

I also really liked how they used Japanese tea to form the shape of Japan!

Like last year, the Lupicia Milk Tea was present (I've been in love with the tea since I found it last year, but I don't buy it enough because I do need to drink the teas I have right now). This year, though, they have this little promotion going on. Take a picture with the giant cutout of the tea...

... and get a free gift! It's actually a little cooler bag made for the tea so I guess it's an excuse to buy the tea the next time I see it(:

And of course I tried lots of teas, like chai.

I was really tempted by JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING at the fair but I tried to keep focused on tea and my lunch. I mean, I was slightly more prepared than last year (aka I brought more money) but I really shouldn't spend everything I have in one day.


(But I do live fairly near to several pottery places so I can always look for mug cups there. I did get a pot though.)

There was a band too!

And this year, I decided to eat lunch here! I wanted to get the tea cocktail as well, but I completely forgot about it until after I left the place.

I didn't know what to get so I just got the two dishes that the staff recommended(:

You basically have to buy the coupons for the food first and that serves as a handy reminder as to the names of what I ordered since I didn't want to have to zoom in to the previous picture. Basically, I got:

- Hokkaido Chicken Fricassee
- Cream Tea set (with Peach Oolong tea)

The chicken fricassee is basically just stew. It would be ordinary but I really like the cream cheese in it! I don't know if it's part of the recipe but I'm totally doing this the next time I make something similar!

The cream tea set was pretty good too! I still prefer the scones at Afternoon Tea, but the clotted cream and tea honey were really good! I really, really loved the tea honey and was sooooo tempted to get it but I don't really eat honey on a regular basis so I ended up passing on it (also I didn't know what flavour to get).

In the end, I bought so much that I qualified for the highest gift tier (basically if you buy over a certain amount, you get a free gift and there are a few tiers). There were three options: tea + tea bag, two cans of teas, and a book and I ended up getting the book. Plus they gave me a set of teas anyway.

This year's tea fair was largely like the previous one that I attended. But if you're a fan of tea, I think you'll enjoy it because it's a good chance to see (and buy) a bunch of different teas and tea-related goods at once. I don't think that you can ask for much more than that(: