Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Better Canada

I may no longer reside in Canada, but I am still a Canadian. Although the past nine years have made me less than proud to be a Canadian, my pride as a Canadian was restored this past Federal (National) Election. 

The Harper Government's leadership of Canada has led to the deterioration of Canada's international reputation as well the erosion of democracy, science, environmental protections, care for veterans and much more within Canada. (See a "brief" list of some of the damage wrought by Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of Canada on The Tyee: Harper, Serial Abuser of Power: The Evidence Compiled.) 

Thankfully those disheartening years seem to be past. On October 19th, 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada, under leader Justin Trudeau, won 39.5% of the popular vote which translated into 184/338 seats in parliament to form a majority government. (Detailed election results available on CBC News: Canada Votes.)

Justin Trudea hasn't even been sworn in as Prime Minister yet (so he won't officially become the Prime Minister until November 4th, 2015) but Canada is already better under his leadership.

He has invited all of the provincial premiers to join the delegation--demonstrating a willingness to collaborate with the provinces and to further cooperation between the Federal and Provincial governments. This, of course is in stark contrast with Harper, who couldn't be bothered to attend Council of Canadian Premiers meetings and had a decidedly adversarial relationship with Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynne. (The Globe & Mail: Premiers agree to attend Paris climate summit with Trudeau)

He is further working to make the Canadian Government collaborative instead of adversarial by also inviting opposition party members to attend the UN climate summit in Paris--unlike Harper, who shut opposition party members out of important international talks. Sixty percent of voters in the past election did not  vote for the Liberal Party. By including other party leaders in the delegation he is giving all voters a voice and more truly representing Canada. (CTV News: Trudeau invites May, other leaders to join UN climate summit delegation)

And of course the fact that he is bringing such a large delegation to the Paris climate summit demonstrates a willingness to address the climate change issue in the first place--again, completely unlike Harper.

On a completely different note, he has also committed to electoral reform, doing away with the first-past-the-post system that gave his party a majority government in the first place. (Had the election been held using proportional representation, the Liberals would only have achieved a minority government.) By also examining online voting and mandatory voting, Trudeau has also demonstrated a desire to increase voter participation rather than trying to suppress it as Harper did through the (un-)"Fair Elections Act." (The Toronto Star: Electoral reform looms for Canada, Justin Trudeau promises)

Oh, and let's not forget that he specifically created an opportunity for members of the press to ask questions at the National Press Theatre shortly after winning the election--something Harper reportedly hadn't done in about seven years. (The Huffington Post Canada: Trudeau Takes Questions At National Press Gallery Theatre In Departure From Harper)

I'm sure that I will disagree with Trudeau's policy choices, etc. sometime (the TPP and pipelines being foreseeable issues), but in less than a week as Prime Minister-Elect, Justin Trudeau has already started restoring my respect for Canadian democracy and the government and given me hope for the future of the country.

So thank you, Justin Trudeau. And thank you, fellow Canadians for voting (even if you did vote for the Conservative Party). 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

B-1 Grand Prix in Towada: Day 1

The B-1 Grand Prix in Towada is a massive 2-day event featuring the local "soul food" of sixty-two different towns/cities across Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu.(More information about the event at my Towada & Beyond blog.)

Wanting to avoid the predicted crazy hordes of people, my friends and I crafted out a "divide and conquer" strategy that had us split up to cover three different venues to get a total of about 10 different dishes. We started walking to the venue almost an hour before the event was due to start. Even stopping occasionally to take photos and to chat with (former) students, acquaintances, etc. we managed to get in line a good 15-20min before the start of food sales.

It was raining pretty heavily while we were in line, but thankfully it let up by the time things got started at 9:30am. Based on my experience during the 2013 Hokkaido/Tohoku B-1 Grand Prix in Towada where I waited about 2 hours for Kofu Tori Motsuni, I was expecting ridiculously long line-ups. Whether it was due to the rain, or the early hour, or just that I happened to have picked the less popular booths, I don't know what it was, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how short the waits were.

My longest wait (pictured below) was for Komagane Sauce Katsudon. I was waiting in line for about 15-20 minutes until 9:30am, but I only waited about 3-5 minutes from when they started distributing the food.
Komagane Sauce Katsuodon Flyers 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

After the katsudon, I headed to the Tottori Tofu Chikuwa booth. There were maybe 3 or 4 people ahead of me in line, and I probably waited for 1-2 minutes or less. The wait time was just long enough for me to notice the little work of sand art (Tottori is known for having vast sand dunes) seated off to the side.
Tottori Tofu Chikuwa Souken 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Tottori Tofu Chikuwa Souken Sand Art 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Tottori Tofu Chikuwa 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

On my way to the next booth on my list, I stopped to get my picture taken with the Ohotsk Kitami Shio Yakisoba mascot. I had tried the Shio Yakisoba during the previous B-1 event in Towada, so I didn't feel bad about taking a picture with the mascot or even for getting a "Ohotsk Kitami Shio Yakisoba Supporter" sticker stuck onto my t-shirt despite not actually getting any food from them this time around. I liked the mascot and the "personality" of the group so much, I even ended up voting for them (again, this despite not actually getting any shio yakisoba this time round)!
Ohotsk Kitami Shio Yakisoba Ouentai 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

Next on my list was Joushuu Ota Yakisoba. The wait was so short I didn't even think to take out my camera for a photo of the booth!

Less than ten minutes after the start of the event and I was heading for my fourth booth, Minamiuonuma Kirizaidon. They had people dressed up as samurai, so of course I couldn't resist getting my photo taken with them.
Minamiuonami Kirizaidon DE Aitai 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Minamiuonami Kirizaidon DE Aitai B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

My last stop was for Kuji Mamebu Jiru. Since I had tried a mouthful of someone else's bowl last time, plus I had purchased a package of instant (just heat the pack over the stove in a pot of water) mamebu jiru at the grocery store, I hadn't been planning on getting any, but since I had tickets leftover and plenty of time before the others were due to arrive to meet and divy up the food, I went for it. And it was a good thing I did because it ended up being both my favourite food and group! They had a mini sumo dohyo (just big enough for one person) and a guy dressed as a sumo offering "ohimesama dakko" (お姫様抱っこ "princess carry") which was pretty funny and cute! Plus, they had little stations set up within their line where you could try things like sifting through a sandbox for "treasure", etc. to keep you entertained while you waited. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a picture of the little activity booths because there was no line-up and I just went straight for the food. (Of course I voted for them as well!)
Kuji Mamebu Heya 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Kuji Mamebu Heya 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Kuji Mamebu 2015 B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

A mere 15-20 minutes after the official start of the event, the two of us who were in charge of getting food at the Track & Field Venue had everything and were sitting in the bleachers waiting for the others to arrive.
B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

Out of all the food that we got, only half of it (Kirizaidon, Tofu Chikuwa, Mamebu Jiru) was for me; the rest was for the others in the group. (Clockwise from top left: Minamiuonuma Kirizaidon, Komagane Sauce Katsudon, Joushuu Ota Yakisoba, Tottori Tofu Chikuwa, Kuji Mamebu Jiru, Imabari Yakibuta Tamago-meshi.)

Apart from the three dishes I had picked up for myself, I also had Tsu Gyoza that one of the others had picked up for me from the Baseball Diamond Venue.
Tsu Gyoza B-1 Grand Prix in Towada
Tsu Gyoza B-1 Grand Prix in Towada

I only actually ate the gyoza and mamebu there, though. The rest I transferred into Ziploc containers I had brought with me to take home. The others also packed up at least one or two dishes each to take home. Between four of us we had managed to get about 10 different dishes and finish eating all in about an hour!

After eating we voted for our favourite groups and then wandered around a bit before heading home. So we managed to eat a lot and enjoy the B-1 Grand Prix and still be home by around lunch time. It was great!

Originally I had only planned to go the one day (today), but the experience was so fun and painless (much less crowded and far less waiting than I had expected) that I might actually go back again tomorrow just to people watch and to find out who was voted this year's Gold Grand Prix winner.

Friday, August 28, 2015

2015 Japanese Population Census

The Japanese national population census is taken once every five years in October. The previous one was done in 2010, so this year, 2015, is another census year.

There is a very helpful webpage made by the Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications that provides information in Japanese, English, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean:

I recommend looking through the website on your own, but here are some quick, basic facts about the census:

**All residents of Japan (as of October 1st, 2015, including non-Japanese residents) are required by law to fill out and submit a census form.**

This year is the first time the population census can (and is in fact recommended to) be submitted online.

Census Timeline:
  • September 10th-12th: Census takers provide households with "A Guide to the Online Census" document and online user ID and password
  • September 10th-20th: Period to fill out the census online (using a PC, smartphone, or tablet) using the provided user ID and password
  • September 26th-30th: Distribution of paper census documents to households that did not complete the census online
  • October 1st-7th: Deadline to submit census forms (either to census takers or by mail, depending on the municipality) 
  • February 2016: Preliminary census results scheduled to be released
  • October 2016: Detailed census results scheduled to be released

Beware of Fraudulent Census Takers!
  • Census takers never ask you for money. They also never ask you for information such as your bank account or credit card numbers.
  • Watch out for suspicious persons visiting your home and claiming to be census takers. Also beware of suspicious phone calls, e-mails or other communications. If you encounter this sort of suspicious person or communication, do not provide any information and promptly contact your municipal government to report the incident.
  • Census takers wear official "Population Census Taker identification card" with them.
    *In some areas, census taking duties is assigned to building managers, and they carry "Census Taking Authorization Certification" with them.
If you would like an idea as to the type of information required for the census, see my 2010 post about "Filling out the national census form (国勢調査調査票) "

And again, the 2015 Population Census official website address:

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kusa Mochi Azuki Monaka Ice Cream Sandwich

Monaka is a popular Japanese sweet (和菓子 wagashi) traditionally "made of azuki bean filling sandwiched between two thin crisp wafers made from sticky-rice." 
(Source: TORAYA, "Types of Wagashi")

The azuki paste can also be replaced with ice cream for a delicious Japanese-style ice cream sandwich. Monaka are one of my favourite types of ice cream treats because they are relatively clean to eat and easy to split for sharing (important since my husband and I usually share food).

The standard ice cream monaka has a plain wafer and vanilla ice cream. There are many different brands, but my personal favourite is Lotte's "Monaou." The name combines the words monaka (モナカ) and ou (=king) and means "Monaka King."
Monaou Monaka Ice Cream モナ王
 Monaou Monaka Ice Cream モナ王
 Monaou Monaka Ice Cream モナ王

Recently, however, I discovered a Kusa Mochi Azuki Monaka--intriguing as it combined two traditional Japanese sweets (kusa mochi and monaka) with an ice cream twist.
Kusa Mochi Azuki Monaka Ice Cream 草もち風あずきモナカ
(Mochi is a type of "rice cake" made by pounding sticky rice until it reaches a chewy, dough-like texture. Kusa mochi (草もち literally: "grass/weed mochi") is mochi made with yomogi (Japanese mugwort) which gives the mochi a distinctive green colour and slightly grassy flavour.)
Opening the package I was surprised to see the smooth texture of the wafers; it made it look much more like a traditional (non-ice-cream) monaka.
Kusa Mochi Azuki Monaka Ice Cream 草もち風あずきモナカ
Kusa Mochi Azuki Monaka Ice Cream
regular (non-ice-cream) monaka
Biting into the monaka, rather than the slightly grass-like taste of kusa mochi, I was surprised by a faint taste of cinnamon. The exact taste is hard to describe, but I really liked it and would definitely recommend it--in fact I went out and bought another two bars shortly after first trying it.