Thursday, September 28, 2017

Classroom Ideas: Change the World with Onigiri

How would you like to introduce Japanese onigiri into your classroom AND affect positive change for the world?  Table for Two is a non-profit organization that through its “Change the world with onigiri” campaign gets participants to make onigiri to fight world hunger and obesity.  Other Japanese classrooms have joined in the fight against hunger and obesity, and so can yours!  In fact, it’s very easy to participate in this campaign; simply post a picture eating onigiri on their campaign site, starting October 5.  Table for Two will then donate five school meals to who need it.

Check out this example of “onigiri action” from Blair High School in Maryland!

Related links:

Table for Two website:

Table for Two campaign site:

Video on how to make onigiri, from Nami Chen’s Just One Cookbook!

Article on Newswire:

Recipient of the Asia Marketing 3.0 Award!

Monday, September 25, 2017

An Interview with Japanese YouTuber Koichi Kuwabara (Free Hugs for Peace)

Koichi Kuwabara is a popular Japanese YouTuber who several years ago caught worldwide attention through his “Free Hugs” videos.  In them, he visits countries such as China and South Korea – countries that have historically had tensions with Japan - to interact directly with the people there by offering free hugs to people who choose to do so.  His videos gather hundreds of thousands of views, and his Free Hugs for Korea-Japan has over a million views. 

But more than the numbers, what stands out is the meaning behind these videos.  Through these videos, the viewers come to understand that what is really meaningful are the direct, person-to-person interactions that we have with others.  In the videos, the local people – no matter if they are mainland Chinese, Korean, Singaporean, or Hong Konger – all come alive as individuals.  No matter the country, the people are diverse, from young to old, men and women, but their smiles capture the same joy.  In essence, Kuwabara breaks down the stereotypes and barriers that divide people, and in doing so creates the opportunity for heart-to-heart cross-cultural exchange.

I had the pleasure to talk to him via Skype.  To begin, I shared a message from my friend, a third year student from the same Soka University from which he graduated, in which she spoke of how she was moved by his actions.  Then we moved onto our interview.

[Interview below]

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Imoni Wars 芋煮戦争

Now that autumn is coming, here’s a fun and interesting cultural note to share with your students and/or any others who want to learn more about Japan, especially those who may be interested in its various regions.

Have you heard of the Imoni Wars 芋煮戦争?

In the Tohoku region of Japan, there is a popular dish that one can try during the autumn.  This dish is imoni, a delicious soup consisting of locally grown potato, meat, and taro.  In Yamagata’s popular Autumn Imoni Festival, you can even find a giant pot of imoni being stirred by a building crane!  There are also smaller imoni-kai (get-togethers) that people go to with friends, family, and coworkers.  You might have an imoni-kai picnic outdoors, overlooking the beautiful mountain ranges along the rolling fields.  Or have it served in one of the exceptional, intimate traditional-style restaurants around town.  Wherever you have it, these imoni-kai will surely bring you closer to each other…


Depending on the region you are in, there are actually different ways to make imoni.  In the areas around Yamagata City, for instance, the meat used in imoni is beef, while in Sendai, which is in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture, many people use pork.  Even within Yamagata, the northwest Shonai area uses pork as the meat.  Meanwhile, further up north in Akita and Aomori, you may find dishes using chicken.

Check this map for easier visualization:

Although most people generally enjoy their imoni regardless of what it uses, there are also a number of passionate folks who (playfully) admonish other regions for using a different type of meat or soup base.  It’s a “battle” for the best way of making imoni!  This is the Imoni War.  You can even follow it on Twitter by searching #芋煮戦争2017 (You can also try searching different years going back to 2013) and seeing what people are actually tweeting.  Check it out - it’s quite amusing, and a great insight to “live” Japanese voices!

Which side are you on?