Photo Spotlight: Meiji Visit

By Raven Bluford

This picture was taken during the second Kakehashi visit at Z Burger, where we got a chance to meet up with the Japanese students from Meiji University again. This allowed us the opportunity to practice some more of our Japanese. One of the things I remember the most about this experience is that as we were struggling when speaking in Japanese due to the limited amount of Japanese that we know, the Japanese students were struggling just as much when trying to speak in English. This made me feel much better and also motivated me to try to become as close to fluent in Japanese as I can, because being able to break the language barrier would be quite useful in trying to communicate with other Japanese people to learn more about their quite intriguing culture.

It’s What I Believe

By Chidera Obiwuma

I found it interesting how free Japan is with religion and philosophies. They mix and combine the different religions and philosophies amongst them. For example, in Japan, it is normal to be baptized in the Shinto ritual, get married in a Christian way and celebrate a funeral using Buddhist traditions. This is very unlikely in the United States, where people tend to be defined by and just strictly follow one religion. It is unlikely to see a Christian practicing parts of the Islamic religion, because more than likely it will be frowned upon and criticized. In the United States, you can get discriminated against because of your religion, but that is unlikely in Japan since no one is really subjected to one religion.

So what’s religion like in Japan vs the US?

By Chi Onyeka

So I was born and raised to be an avid Christian and I remember getting into an argument about whether God was alive or not in the 5th grade. Here nowadays, you can’t do that because people are sensitive about things like that, hence the reason why you’re not supposed to talk about religion in public. It’s not at all that the US isn’t religiously diverse, it’s just that there are so many strong opinions developed about religion in the US that people prefer not to be so open about their religion. For instance, you wouldn’t see someone openly saying the grace at a restaurant or blabbing about atheism, because they wouldn’t want someone to get offended. Religion isn’t really applied to the daily life unless you attend or reside in a place that identifies strictly as one religion.

In Japan, on the other hand, people don’t really identify as one religion; they merge different aspects of each religion into their daily lives. The main religions practiced in Japan are Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism. Some people even practice two religions at the same time! But Chi, what do you mean by they apply religion to their daily lives? Well reader, here’s what I mean. Take itadakimasu, for example. Itadakimasu is the practice of saying thanks before a meal to the gods and everyone who contributed to making the meal. If you’re about to eat a nice warm bowl of miso shiru at the most popular restaurant in Tokyo and you say “Itadakimasu!,” no one would give you side eye because that’s a part of their culture and you’d probably get more side eye not saying it anyway. That’s what I mean.

In conclusion, there’s definitely more than one religion in both the US and Japan. It’s just the portrayal of religion in Japan would be more open and common because it’s normal to be a Buddhist in the morning and a Confucist in the evening. Whereas, in the U.S, that kind of stuff is rare because we follow mainly monotheistic religions that tell us to not bow down before another God, so if a Christian says “God Bless you” to a Muslim..that might be seen as a problem. So in the US and Japan religious diversity is handled differently.

Tono Sushi

By Talia Zitner

Tono Sushi offers classic Japanese and Asian cuisine, and a cultural experience for patrons. Our class was lucky enough to get to have lunch there last Saturday, and to practice our Japanese. Before we left for the restaurant, we practiced ordering in Japanese and proper restaurant etiquette. For example, did you know that in Japan it is considered polite to slurp your soup while pouring your own drink is not? The restaurant itself was comfortable and open, with dark green carpeting and a wooden sushi bar. The service was efficient and the staff was very polite, extremely reflective of Japanese culture. I definitely was able to practice saying arigatōgozaimashita (thank you very much)! The food was quick, and delicious. I had ordered tonkatsu (fried pork), miso shiru (miso soup), and gohan (rice). We also were presented with different ice cream options, and I chose green tea ice cream, which was fantastic. Overall, the experience was a success, culinary and culturally.

Flying Cards

By Ana Nguyen

March 11, 2017: The DC Inishie Karuta Club visited our class and we played a simpler version of karuta and a game called “Pick Up Priest.” Karuta is a card game in Japan that uses the “one hundred people” poems. In its simplest form, karuta is played by two players with cards laid out on either player’s side. A reciter reads a poem out loud and the players must grab the card with the poem on it first. That card is then removed. The person who is able to remove all the cards on their side wins. For our class we played in groups of four to five, with scattered cards in front of us; grabbing the card with the poem recited. Pick Up Priest however, is a game based on luck. Each player takes a turn picking a card, and each card will have a drawing that means: keep, take cards from person on the left, put your cards in the center, etc. The winner, like in karuta, is the person with the most cards in the end.

This was my first time seeing an example demonstration of karuta. I’ve heard of the game before but never understood the rules and just knew it requires reflexes and fast reading. Half of which, I didn’t have. The two players bowed to the reciter and then to each other. The first poem is read. No one moves yet. Then the second one is read, in a louder, quicker pace, then… ε=(ノ*^*)ノ三█ !!! The card, flew across the room. I think it hit the wall that was about 3 feet away.

I never knew how serious this sport can be taken. This game requires a lot of reflexes and speed. Which I didn’t have. I’m only a fast reader. I paired up with people with slow reflexes like me, hoping it’ll balance out the game. The reciter slowly read the poems for us, and scanning the hiragana…..failed. There were so many cards scattered around. I’m amazed by how the players before were able to find them within seconds of hearing the poem. Amazingly. I won! I was able to pick up 11 cards, with my slow reflexes. My only advantage was that I’m a book nerd who can read quickly. I enjoyed the whole event, and hope to play again.

Karuta and Pick-Up Priest (PUP)

By Dakharai Murray

Saturday we learned how to play an INTENSE card game, called Karuta. Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game revolving around a theme using poem clue cards and the answer (e.g., a picture) on separate cards. In the game, there are two players who play against each other and a third person who reads off Japanese poems. The players have to listen to the poem and SLAP the corresponding card into oblivion. Onlookers have a slight chance of being pelted by cards, but it’s worth it, as the game is very interesting and competitive. A winner is declared when one person has no cards left on their side. The game is very fast paced, requires mastery of Hiragana, and can only be won with lightning fast reflexes.

After watching the professionals go head to head, the class was split into groups for our own mini Karuta competition. Our Karuta reader read different Japanese poem cards and we all had to slap the life out of the correct card to claim it. I won the game within my group and received a box of oishii (delicious) Green Tea Kit-Kats.

Following the Karuta game, the Priest made his return when we played a game of Pick-Up Priest. In PUP, a deck of cards with different pictures of Japanese cultural figures [The Priest (my “favorite” card), Semimaru, A Lady, Tengu, Gentleman, Gentlemen on special mats, and Ladies on special mats] are placed in five decks, arranged in a circle. Each card has a special ability, (except for the regular Gentlemen), such as the Priest who makes the person who drew him put all their cards into the pot, which is in the middle of the card circle. Other cards, such as the Lady, allow you to take all the cards from the pot, and if some had crazy card stacks, but lost it all, IT’S PAY DAY!

PUP is a very fun game and entirely based on luck. Due to my nickname, Priest, my luck is a little on the bad side. However, PUP is a game that anyone will enjoy and play for hours on end.

In-Class Karuta

By Bryson Torgovitsky

This past Saturday, Ms. Matsumi Stone visited our class with two members of her Karuta-playing group, the D.C. Inishie Karuta Club. I had previously attended a Karuta competition that was sponsored by Ms. Stone, but I could not participate because I did not know any hiragana at that point (for more on the Karuta competition, please view my previous blog post “Priest”). However, I have since learned hiragana over the past few weeks along with my classmates, so now it was time to put those skills to the test.

Karuta is, at its core, a test of simultaneous reading and listening comprehension. A speaker reads one of the hundred set poems and it is the job of the two players (or teams, as was the case on Saturday) to identify and slap the card which has the hiragana of the poem’s second half. Since there are one-hundred poems, Ms. Stone demonstrated a few mnemonics to us so that the game would be easier. Personally, I was confused and stuck to listening to the words and connecting them to the cards. In the end, my team won the game (and a box of Matcha KitKats, which we shared with everyone at our table). After we had played Karuta, I got to revisit Pick-Up Priest! Unfortunately, the Grand Priest Dakharai was not in my group this time, but I got more than enough priests to make up for his absence. I still won a round though, and Ms. Stone gifted me with a beautiful fan with a picture of a dragon on it!

Ms. Stone also described to us how European card games, collectively named as “trump,” are popular in Japan. While I do enjoy a game of War or Mao, I would much rather play Karuta or Pick-Up Priest!


By Chi Onyeka

Iki is the concept of doing well, but not in an effort to stand out. For instance, comparing two rich men, the one who wears expensive clothing with the biggest house, the most security guards, and the shiniest shoes, would be less iki than a rich man who doesn’t show off his money, but is still doing well…maybe even more than the aforementioned rich man.

This is completely different from the American perspective, because here we strive to stand out and are admired when we do. For example, take the rich man scenario. The man with most expensive items (bling if you will) would be admired more than the one who’s modest. Iki is a concept I admire because it demotes conceitedness. Braggarts are more common in American society because they seek admiration without thinking of how cocky they might sound. Iki would be a good thing to introduce into American culture just so that no one feels less important than another.

Japan and Work Ethic

By Bryson Torgovitsky

In my most recent post, I reviewed the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the work ethic exhibited by Yoshikazu Ono, the son of renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono. I expressed how impressed I was by Yoshikazu’s tenacity when learning how to make tamagoyaki and how that tenacity was explained in the documentary as a shining example of Japanese work ethic. When I discussed the documentary with my teacher, she recommended that I read a section of A Geek in Japan by Héctor García about the apprenticeship system in Japan. After hearing from the (Japanese) food critic in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” that Yoshikazu Ono was a prime example of how the Japanese operate in their jobs, I was impressed but skeptical that such tenacity was such a widespread phenomenon. Once I read Geek in Japan and learned about the three-step Tao-Zen philosophy, I was assured that the food critic was speaking honestly and not from a patriotic bias.

The steps of the Tao-Zen philosophy are fairly simple.

  1. A set of ideals, patterns, or behaviors (culminating into a lifestyle called kata) has been set prior to the beginning of an apprenticeship.
  2. That kata is practiced by the apprentice for many years, with each part being practiced via daily repetition.
  3. The beauty of the kata is found through the perfection of its multiple parts over time, then fit into its continued practice, thus leading to personal enlightenment.

While García exemplified the practice of Tao-Zen through references to Buddhism (from which the philosophy originated) and martial arts, it is also apparent in how Jiro taught his son how to make tamagoyaki. As I wrote previously, Jiro had Yoshikazu practice by making over 200 practice tamagoyaki dishes and found faults in all of them before finally deeming his son’s cooking acceptable enough to be sold to their customers. That amount of daily repetition is part of the second step of the Tao-Zen philosophy. Jiro’s application of Tao-Zen to the teaching of his son is made more evident by his visit, with his son, to a Buddhist temple during a trip to his childhood home.

While the Tao-Zen philosophy being prevalent in how Jiro Ano taught his son is clearly evidenced by Jiro having Yoshikazu repeatedly make tamagoyaki as practice, and his Buddhist roots, I want to avoid making a generalization that all Japanese people follow Tao-Zen. Jiro Ono himself complained that people are doing less disciplined work in his documentary, citing parents who allowed their children to return home if their job did not go as planned or young people not establishing a lifelong career until their 20s or 30s (he began his apprenticeship in sushi-making at the age of 10 and was told by his father to leave home for work in the first grade). Thus, I am still uncertain about the true extent of Tao-Zen in contemporary Japan despite what the food critic claimed. When I finally get to see Japan for myself, I plan to pay close attention to working people and ask how they were prepared for their jobs so I can obtain a firmer comprehension of Japanese lifestyle.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

By Bryson Torgovitsky

I took the SAT multiple choice test (and essay) on March 1st, and my AP Language and Composition teacher kindly decided to let my class and me watch a documentary rather than write our weekly practice essay when we came to her class the next morning. After some debate about which documentary we could watch on Netflix (our teacher wanted us to choose one from which we could identify what the film was asking of the audience), we chose the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” This hour-and-then-some film catalogues the daily life of Jiro Ono, an 85 year-old Japanese man who is renowned as the greatest sushi chef in the world. Being in a Japanese class, this film naturally intrigued me.

A large portion of the documentary followed the day-to-day chores of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro Ono’s restaurant with only 10 seats and a ¥30,000 month-in-advance reservation fee (which does not include the price of a meal). Seeing all the different types of sushi and the careful preparation made me, a person who is not a huge fan of seafood, hungry for sushi!

tamagoyakiA small section of the film was dedicated to Jiro’s eldest son and future successor, Yoshikazu, describing his experience with learning how to make tamagoyaki, a dish made from pan-fried egg. I have had tamago sushi rolls at the Wasabi sushi shop in Tysons Corner Mall, and they are my favorite kind since I don’t like seafood very much, but still want to eat sushi with my friends! Yoshikazu’s tamagoyaki looked so good that I plan to learn how to make it, and the discipline that he put into his work made me appreciate what a food critic, who frequents Sukiyabashi Jiro, calls the Japanese work ethic.

Yoshikazu explained that he had ten years of training with other types of sushi prior to being allowed to attempt making tamagoyaki for the customers. He had assumed that tamagoyaki would be easy to make compared to other sushi types, but as his father tasted over 200 of his practice dishes and had disapproved of each one, he recognized the difficulty of making tamagoyaki. Regardless, he persisted and came to make tamagoyaki that his gourmet father approved for sale. Not once did he consider quitting his efforts or arguing to his father that his dish was good despite what he said. He absorbed each criticism and kept working and improving. This kind of trait is one I wish to learn more about, since I can be argumentative when my work is criticized. If it truly is a staple characteristic of the Japanese workforce, then I believe that I could learn how to take criticism better by studying or working in Japan, so I will keep working and improving my Japanese!


Yoshikazu in the workplace says, “I have been practicing
making the egg sushi (tamagoyaki) for a long time.”