Nihon ryōri: how to make salsa in Japan

Tsukemono assortment
Nihon ryōri, or Japanese cuisine, is more than just fish and rice. A pickle vendor at a fish market in Tokyo sold just about every sort of tsukemono, from cucumber to lotus root to radish to turnip to tomato to myoga. If it was a vegetable and you could pickle it, it’d be here.

While it’s easy enough to locate pickled cucumbers, ginger, cabbage (and kimchi), or fermented soybeans (nattō) and miso, sometimes a girl wants a little spice in her life. Hot foods are a little harder to come by in Japan, but you can still find stores selling “spicy things”, as the kanji on the giant chili pepper reads. (They also had giant sticks of cinnamon for sale!)

Spicy stuff shop
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Mosquitoes, kanji, and Shiga

蚊にたくさん刺されました。 (I got a lot of mosquito bites.)  I don’t get eaten by bugs in the US, but in Japan?  Maro-san, my lab buddy, is also getting eaten alive.  I’m practicing my Japanese by joking how Maro might not have plans for lunch, but the mosquitoes do (eating Maro).  美味しいですね!  (Tasty!)

Speaking of tasty, the best way to short-circuit the brain of my Japanese labmates?  Tell them you like fermented soybean sushi:
“Sondy-san, what sort of sushi do you like?”
“Mmm, nattō is good.”
“What?!  Nattō?!  Honto desu ka?”  (Really?)
“Honto desu yo!”  (It’s the truth, with extra emphasis!)

Spoken Japanese is remaining difficult: the parts of this language that I can actually use I learned from the Pimsleur CDs from the Marin County Library.  Repetition, constant drilling, and structure helped tremendously.  Conjugating anything, whether verbs or adjectives, on my own is still really hard.  Particles remain a bit of a mystery.  Anyone want to mail me a workbook or Audible credits so I can download the rest of the Pimsleur lessons?

However, reading Japanese, especially kanji, is a little easier now that I’ve discovered two features of the Kotoba! iPhone app.  Not only does Kotoba! have a Japanese-English dictionary that accepts input in kana or Roman characters; not only does it work without an Internet connection (super important); not only does it show you stroke order for kanji… Kotoba! lets you look up kanji without knowing how it’s read.

What?!  (Or, Vaaat vaat VAAAT? as Maro-san often exclaims.)  Using either the Traditional Chinese keyboard, or the SKIP method, I can sit on the bus and decipher ads to my heart’s content without bothering anyone around me.  (Okay, occasionally I bug Maro-san or Tatsuya-san for a stroke count, but in general I’m gaining independence in my ability to read Japanese.)

First off, the SKIP classification is amazing: it lets you look up kanji based on shape and stroke, which is incredibly useful for me.  Let’s take 蚊, mosquito, which looks like two figures side-by-side.  With SKIP, I select Left-Right pattern, then guess at the number of strokes in the leftmost figure (six).

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