Not Cookie Cutters

These are not cookie cutters.

Well, I guess they could be cookie cutters. But they’re not really.

You can  find them in all sorts of Japanese stores. They’re usually sold in sets of four, like this.


So what they are, actually, are vegetable cutters. You use them to cut carrots or daikon radishes or, heck, even sliced cheese into pretty seasonal shapes.

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Then you can add them to soups and stews. Or you can pop them in the microwave to soften them up and put them in your obento to decorate it and make it pretty. Anything your heart desires.

The big mystery for me  was that I always suspected they were seasonal. I mean this is Japan, the country of four distinct seasons. And there are four of them, right?*

I just recently learned I was right! It only took twenty years.

And now I’m slightly confident which flower each represents shape and what season it corresponds to.

Spring was easy: Cherry blossom. You can always tell by the five petals with very slight dimples at the points.

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Winter was easy, too: Plum blossom. Plum blossoms also have five petals, but they are perfectly round and oh-ho cute.

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The other two stumped me.

But I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of searching. Here we go.

Summer is a dhalia. That one was hard, but when you look at the veggie cutter above it kinda looks like a dahlia. (Although, I guess it could be a Chrysanthemum which would work for the season, too. But I like the word dahlia better.)

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Finally, fall is a kikyo or Japanese bellflower. Another one with five petals, but all pointy. And very, very seasonal.

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So if you ever decide to buy the veggie cutters remember to use the right one for the right season. You do that and you’ll certainly impress your Japanese friends and family! If nothing else you can teach them about the bellflower. I don’t think many people know about that one.

*For some reason the above photo has FIVE cutters.

New mystery to solve: Discover what shape that fifth one is.

It never ends…

Monkeys on a Stick!

I’ve been wanting to write about this for awhile, and now I’m finally getting around to it. This is what I love about Japan.

Monkeys on a stick.

Before I went into the hospital to get my gall bladder out – um, ages ago (last spring?) –  a good friend gave me this little thing as a protective charm of sorts. Adorable, isn’t it?

Nine monkeys on a stick.


It’s called Kunan wo tori saru, 苦難を取り去る。

It’s a play on words and meanings and what Japan does so well. Kunan (苦難) are two Chinese/Japanese characters that basically both mean distress, suffering, hardship. So it’s hardship doubled, right?


Wo tori saru (を取り去る)  means to take away.

So, basically to take away suffering or distress or hardship from a person. It’s given when someone doesn’t want you to suffer or feel hardship they present you with this stick and voila!

But why monkeys on a stick, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

If you write kunan by different characters you get ku(hiki) (9匹)=nine (animals) and  nan(ten)(南天) = the name of a sacred bamboo stick called nandina in English. The saru part of “wo tori saru” becomes monkey(s)!

I’m not sure how sideways you have to look at it, but I’m guessing those nine little monkeys were there to take away my suffering and distress. They did quite the good job, too, because I don’t remember really being in too much pain after the surgery, I healed up so well they let me go home early, and despite having no more gall bladder, I can basically eat and drink anything I want without any discomfort.

Okay, with that last part I am firmly knocking on wood, or a sacred bamboo stick, maybe!



Skipping Town–Yonige (夜逃げ)

Japanese Word-of-the-Day: Yonige (夜逃げ)–skipping town; literally running away at night.


I was really trying to sleep past three am last night, and I was almost there. That is until sometime around 2:55 when I started dreaming about explosions.

Time to wake up.

It turned out I wasn’t actually in a war zone. Instead, someone was outside my window opening and shutting their car doors over and over again. I might have fallen back asleep except there was something about the *way* these mysterious people were opening and shutting their car doors over and over again. There seemed to be an urgency about it.

Time to grab my glasses, sit up in bed, and watch the show.

First off, you have to know that my neighborhood is mostly a bunch of nondescript houses all lined up smack-dab next to each other. We’re all very close whether we want to be or not. There is also a small, three-story apartment building just across the way from my bedroom window. It’s there, kinda out of nowhere. Plop. Very cheap rooms. Very small rooms. Very shady characters living there.

(Side note: Once I saw a guy get into his car one morning, and he was still sitting there when I got home about six hours later. Seems he couldn’t move for some reason. I suppose that doesn’t mean he’s a shady character. Just, who wouldn’t shout or make a phone call or honk their horn to get a little help? He wasn’t passed out or anything. Just sat there. Dude had patience. …Or was he shady?)

Back to the story.

So what I saw  outside my window at three am on January first was a big white van parked under the streetlight in front of that apartment building. All around it a man and woman ran about like loons, opening doors, throwing boxes in, slamming doors, re-opening doors, tossing in more boxes, and then re-slamming doors.  After doing this for fifteen-twenty minutes and filling up the van, they both hopped in and sped away.

My first thought was: Gee! This must be a real, live, bonafide yonige! Never seen one of these before!

The economy sucks, jobs are lost or money is gambled, maybe a family can’t budget for crap or makes bad buying choices. I don’t know, but the easiest way to borrow money in Japan is something called sara-kin.  Never a good idea. Those guys will come after you. And I *do* know people who have been bullied and threatened by them when they can’t pay back. It’s a whole new kind of hell, I’m told.

So I’m guessing that’s what this was,  a couple skipping town. Sad, actually. But I was happy to see there were no kids involved. That would make it really, really, really sad.

The whole thing doesn’t say much about their intelligence though. Slamming doors at three am when you’re trying to do something clandestine, I don’t know. Because if I was woken up from a deep sleep across the way, and I could see the van and the people under the streetlight rather clearly, I can’t imagine how many eyes all the other windows on the block had.

I don’t know the circumstances, so I can’t root for the couple or not. But the more I think about it the more I kinda want to root for them. I imagine them holed up in that tiny room, sharing a single futon, one pillow, lamenting about debt collectors and wishing for a brighter future. Then one of them has this brilliant idea: Let’s skip town! Let’s leave this all behind! Let’s start anew! We can fall in love all over again in a brand new place.  And let’s do it on January 1st. What a great way to start the year! It’s all rather romantic.

Or they could have been packing and heading out early for a skiing trip up north.