Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) is Japan’s most northern region island and it’s closest prefecture neighbor is Aomori which is at the very northern part of the island of Honshu. Hokkaido was first ‘stolen’ from the Ainu people and made as a Japanese land mass in 1869 right after the beginning of the Meiji period.
It’s hard to describe the history and the current state of what Hokkaido is without explaining who first lived on this northern island of Japan before even the Japanese themselves occupied the land of what is now known as Japan. The Ainu people were the indigenous people that first inhabited the lands of Japan.
They are said to have come over from Russia long time ago when a frozen mass connected the island and Russia, and their ancestry has been said to stem back to the Jomon period, which is basically early man kind. I strongly recommend learning about the Ainu people, click here to learn more about Hokkaido the Ainu and where it’s been.
Hokkaido has been known as several names throughout history. Ezo, Yezo, Yeso and Yesso. It’s their second largest island of Japan and of course the most northern area of Japan before you get to the Kuril Islands and Russia. Hokkaido is separated from the island of Honshu of Japan by the Tsugaru Strait, but the two islands are now connected by an underwater railway called the Seikan Tunnel.
The main capital of Hokkaido is Sapporo, although there are several large cities in Hokkaido this is the only one that is ordinance-designated by the Japanese government. The Meiji period government had a tough decision to make when they came to renaming Hokkaido which was called Ezochi then.
They had a few choices when it came to renaming the island. They had Kaihokudo and Hokkaido, they of course decided to name the island Hokkaido, but they decided to write the kanji in a way to compromise between similar names then like Tokaido. But according to the Matsuura, the name Hokkaido was brought up because the Ainu people called the region Kai.
The food in Hokkaido is said to be some of the best seafood in the world. But the residents of Hokkaido have been able to manage growing crops on soil that’s been said to be hard to grow on because of all the activity with the volcanoes and the huge amount of volcanic ash that is in the area. But Hokkaido is known for garlic, potato’s and Japan’s largest grow area of corn.
It’s said that the seafood is so good though, that if you have any desire or liking of seafood, you should visit Hokkaido at least once in your life!
Hokkaido has a good amount of Earthquakes every year and also has active volcanoes such as:
But not everything in Hokkaido is a snowy mass or a volcano. The spring, summer and fall times of Hokkaido have a lot of beauty in them as well. In fact many come to Hokkaido during the summer months to come see the flower farms.
There are over 80 different flower farms or flower lands in Hokkaido that you can visit. Because of the unique summers Hokkaido has by not being too hot or too cold, it’s perfect for growing flowers, and because of this, Hokkaido has a huge tourist industry based solely off of Hokkaido’s flowers, and when the trees start to change in September for a festival called Momijigari. Click here to see the different Flower Lands in Hokkaido.
The wildlife in Hokkaido is extremely rugged being that it’s one of the roughest areas during the winter in the world. But, besides this rough wilderness it has more brown bear in the world then anywhere else in Asia. But it’s also known to have large amount deer and red crown crane that still live on the island. Some mountains will incur up to 400 inches of snow fall during the year and because of this Hokkaido is known for it’s snow sports.
Since it’s roots are in the winter, it’s not surprising to note that Hokkaido hosts several different festival during the Winter but host some famous Spring, Summer and Fall festivals as well:
|Sapporo Snow Festival||Asahikawa Snow Festival||Sounkyo Ice Festival|
|Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival||Obihiro Ice Festival||Otaru Yukiakari no Michi (Snow Gleaming)|
|Showashinzan International Yukigassan (Snowball Fight)||Sounkyo Hyobaku (Ice Waterfall) Festival)||Otofuke Tokachigawa Swan Festival Sairinka|
|Abashiri Okotsk Drift Ice Festival||Lake Akan Ice Festival “Fuyu-hanabi” (Winter Fireworks)||Mombetsu Drift Ice Festival|
|Sapporo Lilac Festival||Hakodate Goryokaku Festival||Matsumae Cherry Blossom Festival|
|Non Key Land Moss Phlox Festival||Yosakoi Soran Festival||Hokkaido Shrine Festival|
|Sapporo Summer Festival||Pacific Music Festival||Otaru Ushio Festival|
|Lake Shikotsu Lake Water Festival||Hokkai Heso (Belly Button) Festival||Shiretoko Shari Neputa|
|Noboribetsu Hell Festival||Esashi Ubagami Daijingu Togyo Festival||Furano Wine Festival|
|Nemuro Crab Festival||Autumn Wine Festival||Momijigari (Leaf Watching)|
|Marimo Festival||Sapporo White Illumination||Hakodate Christmas Fantasy Festival|
Click here to learn more about these festivals.
All you really need to know about Izakaya in Japan
It’s said that the infamous izakaya of Japan are basically small (sometimes large) restaurant/bars. This is where a lot of Japan goes before they end up going home for the night. Many will either visit a izakaya before or after their last train home. This is what makes Japan so alcohol friendly, there’s no need for designated drivers as long as you jump on the last train for the night (Usually between midnight and 1am).. but if you’re drunk as hell, you might want to remember your manners on the train.
Try this one: Open the door to the izakaya, enter slightly inside (mostly with just your head), and say the following “haitte mo ii desuka?” which means, “may I come in?”. Now since you’ve totally just impressed everyone, lets move on!
When you arrive at a izakaya you may hear “otsukaresama deshita!!” (You look tired and deserve a drink!) and Kanpai (cheers)! This is a great place to unwind, relax, get wasted if you so choose and enjoy a great variety of izakaya foods. It’s not solely about the drink! During the weekdays you’ll notice a lot of coworkers sitting together talking and laughing to end their day before going home, and on the weekends izakayas are a popular location for get togethers, parties and the like.
But it’s good to know when you first get there you will most likely be brought what they call a “o-tooshi tsuki-dashi” it means, “first snack, with the first drink”, and they can range from a basic cabbage mix to a bowl full of recently frozen edamame from China to a delicious seared tuna. But be sure to say something immediately if you do not want these appetizer/hors d’ourve then say “o-tooshi katto shite kudasai/お通しカットして下さい！” It means please remove or cut the appetizer. You can learn more about how to say Japanese hor d’ourves and Appetizer by reading this post.
But lets get to the good of an izakaya. What kind of foods are usually available at a izakaya in Japan?
#1: Okonomiyaki It’s usually a build your own pancake if you will, and it’s one of Japans more popular dishes believe it or not on street corners and izakaya. The Japanese meaning behind it is “as you like it”. So you can throw anything and basically everything you want into it!
Many times you’ll have cabbage, pork, fish, squid, or shrimp on the inside. The crispy and gooey meal is usually then drizzled with Kewpie mayo, blasted with some bonito flakes and layered with a bit of tonaktsu sauce!
#2: Korokke is a famous drinking appetizer in Japan at izakaya’s, it’s a fried croquette with potatoes and crabmeat.
#3: Yakitori of course is also a famous Japanese choice of appetizer and many times full meal. Yakitori is basically a skewered piece of chicken meat that it served with dipping sauce and a side of vegetables which are also skewered. You can also expect to see the skin, liver and heart of the tori (chicken) to be served as well
#4: Ikayaki is a basic type of o-tooshi (appetizer) that is a soy marinated squid (Ika) which is then grilled and sliced into pieces. It’s also a favorite street food in Japan and many street vendors will sell Ikayaki
#5: Omusubi and Onigiri are similar foods to sushi. These are basically rice, salmon, pickled plums, code or teriyaki spam or bacon wrapped in a nori (seaweed) wrap and severed with a blast of vinegar on the top.
#6: Karaage is Japanese fried chicken which is coated in potato starch which is called katakuriko. It’s a much lighter fried chicken then what most westerns are use to.
#7: Gyoza is a traditional Japanese food which is stuffed with vegetables and ground up pork meat. Gyoza is actually a potsticker, it’s a crispy meal that is covered in a sauce which is based around rice vinegar, soy and rayu which is a chile oil, this can be found in many real Chinese restaurants.
You might do well to learn basic chopstick etiquette while you are visiting izakaya in Japan.
It’s great to know these izakaya will pair their food nicely with the alcohol they serve.
Izakayas are most of the time casual in their atmosphere, which overly means you leave the formality at the door!
#1: If you are with a group of people, it’s best to order the same drink as everyone else for the first round. Many times this will be a ‘nama biiru’ (which is a draft beer), this is normal and it’s something you will order before looking at the menu. You can ask for draft by saying ‘ Toriaezu, biiru’ (just beer for now).
#2: Using the phrase ‘Kanpi’ (cheers) before drinking and the phrase ‘itadakimasu’ (time to eat/thank you for the food) before you eat is a great way to be apart of the energy of the izakaya and to politely express that you are ready to eat. But if you happen to be drinking at a specialty izakaya you may find yourself drinking a shot or two of habushu sake, and with that you may need to double up on your kanpi’ing.
#3: It’s considered polite to pour for others while in a group if you are drinking from bottles of sake or beer when they finish their cup, of course you can use this as a reminder for others to pour for you by pouring for them. If you are done drinking, just leave your cup full to avoid anyone else pouring for you.
#4: If you happen to be at a traditional izakaya, they may have bathrooms with bathroom only slippers. You’ll take off your shoes and use the slippers while in the bathroom, then you will take off the slippers when coming back out. It’s said that wearing the bathroom slippers out of the bathroom is one of the most embarrassing etiquette slip ups that you can make in Japan. I suppose it would be similar to have a piece of toilet paper sticking out of your shoe or pants.
You should be able to make your way around Japan and enjoy all the Izakaya you can possibly find!
An over view of the Japanese chopstick etiquette guidelines set in stone by the chopstick Gods themselves.
So here it is, a basic list of etiquette when it comes to eating with chopsticks in Japan. I thought I also give you the regular punishments that happen in Japan for disobeying the chopstick gods. The punishment must be appropriate to the offense, may the Chopstick Gods have mercy on your soul!
I hope my utter nonsensical punishments help you remember your manners when eating with chopsticks! Remember, the chopstick Gods are ALWAYS watching you, judging every move you make with your chopsticks, so pay attention, and stay alive!
When not using your chopsticks place them on your chopstick placer (which is usually a piece of wood)
or you could if it’s a disposable pair, set them resting the paper cover it came with. Make sure you lay them down
in front of you with the tips to the left, if you place them to the right… well. Just don’t! You don’t want to know what happens.
Hiroi-Bashi – Avoid at all costs of being cast into the ocean by passing food from your chopsticks to another’s. This practice is purely used at funerals which involves the bones of an ashed and cremated body.
Tsukitate-Bashi – Avoid ever sticking your chopsticks straight into your food, especially into gohan/rice. This is another act done at funerals with gohan/rice that is put into an altar, doing this could get you shipped off to Pyong-yang in North Korea.
If you spear your food with chopsticks, a kung-fu master will spear you.
Utsuri-Bashi – If you pick a piece of food up and then decide you don’t want it and you put it back down to pick something else up.. That’s called a no-no, soon after you will start to see black and white spots in your vision from the local Shinto priest casting magical spells on you under the direct guidance from the chopstick Gods.
Mayoi-Bashi – If you’re indecisive about what you want to eat from your plate or community platter, avoid hovering your chopsticks over food. This is seen as greedy, and you’ll be sleeping with the pigs that night!
Sashi-Bashi – If you point with your chopsticks, your Grandmother will be sent to the disposable chopstick work camps based in Hokkaido where she will work until her end of days.
Koji-Bashi – Avoid digging for that perfect water-chestnut or french onion, always pick up food from a bowl or dish that’s easy to get to (you know, the top). You’ll be headbutted by the nearest Japanese person if you do so.
Waving your chopsticks in the air or playing with them will get you sent to the kiddie table.
If you need to tear a piece of food apart, use your chopsticks. This takes practice! But you know you can do it. It’s acceptable to pick up larger pieces of food like tempura and take a chomp out of it.
Don’t spread Koodies, if you’ve eaten food from your chopsticks, don’t pick up food from community platter or shared plates with the eating end. Turn your chopsticks around and take from the plate that way and bring it back to your plate first before eating it. You’ll not go to chopstick heaven when you die.
Namida-Bashi – Dripping liquid from your chopsticks whilst in the middle of bringing food to your mouth is also a mortal Japanese sin and it will eventual lead to epic sadness throughout the world. You can prevent this by putting
your free hand under the chopsticks while bringing it to your mouth.
Yose-Bashi – If you feel frisky you can play with and move your dishes and plates around with your chopsticks. But do this with extreme caution as you will wake the Japanese fang-gore beasts and they’ll eat the cutest puppy and kitten you’ve ever seen right in front of you. (@_@) You’ll need years of therapy..
Neburi-Bashi – By licking the ends of your chopsticks, you will not only look like a total gaijin, you will be asked to pay the bill for your entire party and if you don’t, your Grandmothers freedom again is at risk. Don’t be licking the ends of your chopsticks! Very important to remember.
Do not swirl your chopsticks in your soup. Why? Because you just don’t do such things in Japan. Be respectful, do that behind closed doors.
If you cross your chopsticks when putting them on the table you evoke great wrath from all those around you. This is another touchy moment for the Japanese as it’s another symbol which is used in funeral ceremonies.