TLT: Kit Kats

Regardless of where you live in the world, you’ve probably eaten a Kit Kat chocolate bar before, or have seen one, or at least have heard of them. However, you haven’t really eaten/seen/heard of a Kit Kat bar until you eat/see/hear about Japan’s!

KitKats02

My current stash of Kit Kats!

Since moving to Japan, I’ve seen dark chocolate, pumpkin, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry cheesecake, green tea, dragonfruit, citrus golden blend, cookies and cream (my favourite!), hot Japanese chili pepper… You name it, Japan has a flavoured Kit Kat for it! I’ve even heard of wasabi-flavoured ones!

Some of these Kit Kats are dyed to match their flavour, too, such as the sakura matcha (cherry blossom-green tea) Kit Kats that I bought at Narita Airport during last winter vacation. Despite their green colour, they were actually really good!

Green sakura matcha Kit Kats! Don't let the colour fool you - they're actually delicious! (Source)

Green sakura matcha Kit Kats! Don’t let the colour fool you – they’re actually delicious! (Source)

And not only can the colours and flavours be unique, but so can the method of eating them. In fact, Kit Kat Japan has even made a bakeable Kit Kat.

Seriously!

The pudding-flavoured bakeable Kit Kats that I tried!

The pudding-flavoured… bakeable Kit Kats?!

As a Westerner living in Japan, I consider it my mission to check the chocolate aisle every time I go to see if new or different Kit Kats are in stock. So, when I saw these at my supermarket last spring, I had to buy them! I actually don’t have a toaster oven, but I used the grill function on my oven-microwave to bake the Kit Kat for 4 minutes. It didn’t turn out as puffy and golden brown as the picture on the bag, but it tasted much better than I thought it would! It really does turn into a crumbly, pudding-flavoured, delicious biscuit… How strange!

However, considering this country has its own Kit Kat specialty store, I wouldn’t expect anything less!

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Even the stores in Narita Airport sell the unique Kit Kats so you can get your fix before you leave Japan!

One of the reasons I’ve heard about why the chocolate bar is so popular (and thus has so many flavours) is that, when pronounced in Japanese, Kit Kats turns into “kitto katsu,” which is a homonym for “you’ll surely win.” Kit Kats are seen as good luck and students will sometimes eat a Kit Kat before writing an important exam.

Regardless of why their popularity in Japan has exploded, if you ever come to Japan, your Japanese experience will not be complete without trying at least one of the unique flavours of Kit Kats!

TLT: School Uniforms

Autumn is in the air – the crisp breezes, the falling leaves, the changing of the school uniforms…

Like most junior high schools in Japan, my students are required to wear a school uniform. However, because the classroom temperature fluctuates so greatly from winter to summer (remember, schools are basically all windows and there’s no insulation, central heating, or air conditioners, etc.), there are two versions of the uniform: one for winter and one for summer. At my school here in northern Japan, students start the school year (April) in their winter uniform, transition to the summer uniform on June 1, then transition back to the winter uniform on October 1.

For winter, my school has the stereotypical navy sailor uniform for girls and the black gakuran suit for boys (although the girls’ skirts are worn much longer than what you see in anime – hah!). In the summer versions, the bottoms stay the same – navy skirt for girls, black pants for boys – but the girls wear white sailor-style tops and the boys wear a white dress shirt.

A sailor-style uniform very similar to my school's winter uniform.

A sailor-style uniform very similar to my school’s winter uniform. Source.

Very similar to my school's girls' summer uniform.

This top is really similar to the summer version of my school’s uniform for girls. (Note: she’s not my student! I found the image on Google.) Source.

The students have a week to make the transition from one uniform to the next. During that week, they can wear whichever they want to wear on that day. Last week was transition week, so when I walked in to class today, all of the students were in their winter uniforms for the first time since last spring. The change is pretty drastic – there is a big difference between a classroom full of white shirts and a classroom of dark shirts!

The boy's gakuran. (Note: these aren't my my students! I found the image on Google. source)

The boy’s gakuran. (Note: these aren’t my my students! I found the image on Google.) Source.

Even the teachers have to change from “cool biz” summer wear to winter wear. It doesn’t affect us women as much because we have more flexibility when it comes to dressing for school (I’m still wearing the same dress pants and button-down shirts that I’ve been wearing all summer), but all of the male teachers showed up today in their suits and ties. Whoa.

School uniforms aren’t new for me. In Canada, I went to a school that had uniforms for Kindergarten through Grade 3*. Although, when I was tired of wearing the girl’s dress, I sometimes wore the boy’s pants and shirt! I don’t think you can find that kind of flexibility here in Japan – at least, not at my school, where even hairstyles must follow the dress code! As a Canadian, I think it’s interesting to see the precision and conformity of Japanese culture even in something as simple as changing clothes to match the season.

*It’s also interesting to note that, while I had to wear a uniform in elementary school, my elementary school students here in Japan don’t! They get to dress however they want. いいなー!

TLT: ATMs

Ahh, Japan: the land of technology – and cash.

Japan has yet to embrace the use of credit cards outside major urban centres (which baffles my Western mind because, back home, I paid for pretty much everything with my Visa). Here in Akita, I use cash for literally everything, from buying groceries, to paying my utility bills, to going to the movies. It’s not unusual for me to have 30,000yen (~$300) in cash in my wallet at any time.

The reason I carry so much cash around with me (and actually start to worry when it gets below a certain amount) is that, despite Japan being a cash society, it is actually incredibly difficult to access your money. Why, you ask?

In Japan, ATMs have working hours.

As in, after a certain time, they physically close.

(Source: http://sandrathompsonauthor.blogspot.jp)

Luckily my bank’s ATM hours aren’t this bad, but you get the idea! (Source: http://sandrathompsonauthor.blogspot.jp)

Forget banking hours – after 9pm on weekdays (6pm on weekends!) I can no longer access my money at my own bank’s ATMs because the machines are turned off for the night. Instead, I have to go to the convenience store and pay the 210yen (~$2.10) fee to use their 24/7 ATM.

(Oh, the banking fees. My inexperience in dealing solely in cash meant that I racked up over 2,000yen (~$20) in banking fees in my first month here – yikes!)

But wait! Is it New Years Days or Golden Week or certain national holidays? Then the 24/7 ATM might not work for you, either, because your bank may be closed-closed and the ATM may not be able to access your account – for several days in a row.

ATM Comic

This wonderful comic by the wonderful Marika essentially sums up the ATM experience in Japan. Check out her other comics at http://www.mikeandowly.com!

I wish I were joking!

I have been lucky so far – I haven’t run out of money on a national holiday, but I know of two different JETs using two different banks who tried to access their money at multiple convenience store ATMs and couldn’t because their bank had decided, “Nope, no money for you today!” (Or, in the case of one JET, for an entire long weekend!)

That being said, Japanese ATMs can be useful considering that online banking is also pretty much non-existent here. (Are you sure that Japan is the Land of Technology®?) So far, I’ve used them to transfer money to buy my Arashi’s LOVE concert ticket and pay my gas bill. However, in my opinion, Japanese ATMs remain one of the more inconvenient things about this otherwise (supposedly) technologically-advanced country!

Just another little thing that makes Japan so… Japan.

P.S. Liked the ATM comic? You should check out Marika’s website,  The Adventures of Mike! She also has Twitter (@MikeAndOwly). Go on, you know you wanna!