It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with む (mu) and we looked at Murasaki Shikibu (紫 式部).This week we are looking at things beginning with め (me). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:
Zooming Japan suggested Meguro (目黒 / an area of Tokyo), and mentaiko (明太子 / marinated roe of pollock and cod); Jay Dee suggested men (麺 / the general term for noodles), menkyo (免許 / Japanese license system, especially for martial arts), mejiro (メジロ / a bird, Japanese white-eye), Mejiro (目白 / an area in Toshima Ward, Tokyo), and Mecha-mecha iketeru! or Mechaike (めちゃ²イケてるッ! / a comedy variety show hosted by Ninety-Nine); Japan Australia suggested Meiji Jingu (明治神宮 / a shrine in Tokyo), and Meiji Mura (博物館明治村 / an open-air museum in Inuyama); UK Seikatsu suggested mentaiko, Meiji-jingu, Meiji-ishin (明治維新 / the Meiji Restoration, 11868 – 1912), mentaiko spaghetti (明太子スパゲティ / Japanese-style pasta with mentaiko), Meguro, and Maetel (メーテル / one of the main characters from famous manga/anime Galaxy Express 999); Paul suggested Meiji Restoration, meibutsu (名物 / the local specialities that all places in Japan have), meishi (名刺 / business cards), and Mecha-godzilla (メカゴジラ / the most awesome of Godzilla’s enemies!); and norikothesweetmaker suggested megumi (め組 / traditional fire fighters from the Edo period).
There were some great suggestions this week, and in the end I decided to write about…
Despite having purchased a lot of meibutsu in my time, it’s a word that always escapes me. I remember ‘omiyage’ (お土産), meaning ‘souvenir’, but forget that most of this omiyage is actually meibutsu – local specialities.
When I was in Japan, people would often ask me what my hometown’s local speciality was, and I found it hard to answer. England doesn’t seem to have as many specialities in the way that Japan does (although I’m sure some areas have them). Whilst travelling in Japan you can easily mark where you are by the changing foods, and each area is incredibly proud of its local specialities.
Meibutsu doesn’t have to come in the form of sweets as in the image above (although these are my favourite kind). Specialities can also be dishes, handicrafts, fruit and vegetables, tea, sake, and many more things. When you visit somewhere, it’s good to try the local speciality when you have dinner – perhaps Kobe beef, okonomiyaki, miso nikomi udon, or the local crab. If you’re looking for a special gift to take home, you might like to browse the local pottery, dyed cloth, or lacquerware. For fans of ‘kawaii’ (cute) there are always pens, key chains and phone charms featuring Hello Kitty and other characters with the local speciality, like this Hiroshima-style Hello Kitty:
Gift giving is such a huge part of Japanese culture, with gifts being expected even if you take a business trip or have one day off work. But meibutsu makes gift giving so much easier – simply stop in the station on your way home and there will be a whole range of local specialities to choose from. In fact, just the other day my boss came back from a trip to Japan and the burning question on everybody’s minds was “what omiyage will he bring?”. In true Japanese style, he presented us with a box of Tokyo Banana, and we were all delighted! Tokyo Banana is Tokyo’s most famous meibutsu, although I’m not sure how or why it became the symbol of Tokyo! (Perhaps like New York is the ‘Big Apple’, Tokyo is the ‘Big Banana’?!)
All over Japan you’ll find local specialities on offer, mostly in the form of delicious food and sweets you can bring back as omiyage or try whilst you’re there. When you’re going somewhere in Japan, ask people what you should try and you’ll find they can easily recommend things and tell you what the town is famous for. Knowing what the town’s meibutsu is can even help you to understand the culture and history of a place, so do try to look out for meibutsu whilst you’re in Japan!
Sometimes you’ll even find that big department stores in cities have meibutsu events, where all the specialities from a certain area are available for a short period in a special section of their store. I remember Takashimaya in Nagoya often had these events and I would always go along to see what I could find.
Finally, although you’ll find delicious things all over Japan, I’d have to say in my experience Sapporo in Hokkaido had the best meibutsu! Everything from crab and soup curry, to Royce, Rokkatei and Shiroi Koibito was absolutely divine!
Next week we’ll start with も (mo), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with も. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese words.
I look forward to hearing your suggestions! (*^_^)v