Losing the Mystery

I have become very discouraged with Japanese lately.

It’s not because it’s hard, honestly.  It is hard, but it’s manageable.  There’s a lot to learn and a lot to memorize, but it’s not beyond my abilities.

It’s really not because it’s time consuming either.  It kind of is, but I can carve out the time.

I think it’s more because I don’t really see an end game to the whole thing.  I started learning it because it interested me, and it still kinda does, but it is starting to feel like I’m learning it in a vacuum.  I’m in that place where I know just enough to know that there are probably things I’m missing, and not enough to be able to hold conversations to learn those new things.

So I’m backing off a little.  I’m still doing the Jalup reviews, but I signed up for a community college class starting in late August, and I do plan on taking that.  I honestly don’t expect it to teach me much I don’t already know as far as hiragana, katakana, pronunciation, etc.  I think I probably already know the meanings (but probably not the pronunciations) of about half the kanji they’ll teach.  So I’ll be going in with a head start.

But the value is this:  it will give me people to actually speak with.  Maybe they won’t be at quite the same level I am.  Maybe a couple will even be more advanced.  But at least then I don’t have to be embarrassed to try.  I probably will be anyway, but I don’t have to.

When I start those classes, I will start a series here, blogging about it.  I don’t know much about them yet except the textbooks are expensive, they’re Fridays and Sundays at ACC, and the teacher’s name (which I won’t mention here, though you could find it on the syllabus if you really wanted).  It’s been 20 years since I’ve taken any kind of class.  I hope I don’t stuff this up.

Kinokuniya

A new Kinokuniya just opened in Austin.  I discovered it by accident, as it is right next door to Kura Sushi, which is one of my favorite places to eat sushi.

As I walked in, two thoughts filled my head.  “Holy crap, I just found the mother lode” was one.  The other was “There goes my budget”.

They have Japanese language magazines.  They have Japanese language books.  They have Japanese language manga.  They have books on how to learn Japanese.  They have plushes, they have stationery, they have novelties, they have almost everything Japanese that you could possibly want (though other stores in Austin do have a better selection within their niches – Anime Pop has more anime stuff, Fit Japanese has more housewares, and Asahi has groceries).

Heck, they even have a $400 pusheen that’s about half as big as I am!

I will be back there.  And back there.  And back there.  And did I mention I will be going back there?

It is at the junction of Airport and Lamar, right next door to the Kura Sushi.

Japanese Food and Stores in Austin, Part 4

Today I decided to “pop” into Anime Pop, a small store dedicated to Anime on Airport Rd. just north of Koenig.

When you walk in, there are two aisles full of anime stuff.  Figures, magazines, books, pins, plushes, the works.  If you are interested at all in anime, this is the place for you in Austin (though Gift World might have something you’re interested in).

Perusing the figures, the thing that struck me the most is that nearly every single female is scantily clad to various levels, to the point where while some of the figures were extremely beautifully done, I would have felt a bit ashamed to bring one home.  So I didn’t.  Instead I bought a pusheen plush, of which there were several.

I chatted briefly with the guy behind the counter, and got the impression that he’s pretty much an otaku – doing what he loves doing.  He expressed a desire to someday get J-pop stuff in, and I agreed with him that that would be cool.  He said he would like to have an Oshima Yuko (AKB48) figure, and I countered that I would love to see a Suzuki Kanon (Morning Musume) figure.  We laughed a bit – like that will ever happen – and I left.

Of course, said figures would probably sexualize the hell out of them, so I’d probably pass anyway, but it’s a nice thought, anyway.

Anyway, it seems to be a decent place run by a knowledgeable guy, so if you like anime stuff, that would be a good place to visit at some point if you’re in Austin.  There are also Anime Pop places in Dallas and San Antonio (as far as I know), so maybe it’s a Texas thing.  Even if so, cool.  Maybe I’ll stop by every now and then, even though anime is not and has never been my thing.

Japanese Food and Stores in Austin, part 3.

I had some errands to run this morning up in Cedar Park.  On my way back, I decided to stop at Lakeline Mall to see what they had to offer.  I was not disappointed.

However, I was indeed disappointed by their “Japanese” fast food restaurant in the food court.  It was kinda sorta Japanese food, but just barely.  I had a chicken bento, and while nothing in it was particularly bad, it was just not of any quality at all.  Basically, Japanese food of mall quality.  I’ll pass.

So after that, I decided to take a walk through the concourses.  I found a “pokemaniac” store, with lots and lots of pokemon paraphernalia.  I bought a little pokeball plush. I found a store called “Cool and Eclectic” – which lived up to its name.  Very few specifically asian items, but there were a few racks of plushes, where I’m sure you could find something of interest if you looked.

But the mother lode was a store on the other side of the mall, on the first level, called “Gift World“.  There were figurines – actual anime figurines.  There were plushes – whole racks of plushes.  Shelves of Japanese gifts.  And a couple of racks of kimono-style robes that were quite beautiful, I thought.  There were so many kawaii things that I could barely choose which one I wanted – I finally settled on a hamster holding a little waffle.  And I bought a royal blue kimono-style robe.

This is a place that never showed up on any google searches, and I would have walked right past it if they hadn’t had the kanji in the window.  If you are at all a fan of Japanese gifts and trinkets, this is a must-see stop in Austin.

Japanese Food and Stores in Austin, part 2

I have been continuing my search of Austin, and found a couple of interesting places of note that I thought I’d review.

The first is Asahi Japanese Store on Burnet just north of Koenig.  It is a store that carries only Japanese groceries and gifts, and is manned (womaned?) by Japanese speakers.  It is a small, out of the way place, but it has a lot of unique Japanese treats you will not find anywhere else.  I found some berry and mikan daifuku, and while I couldn’t eat the whole thing, I found it a very interesting experience.  I shared some with my coworkers and they found them just as delicious.

The other place I found was Kura (Kula?) sushi on Airport just south of Lamar.  It is the most authentic (definitely the most modern) revolving sushi place I’ve ever been to, and the only one I know of in the Austin area.

When you walk in, you are walked to a table or bar chair, which has its own touch screen.  You can take sushi out of the little containers that trundle by you, or you can order special sushi to order on the touchscreen.  Special order sushi arrives on a second conveyor belt just above, right to you.  If you put in enough plates, there are also little cartoons and at some point something they call a “bikkura pon” (basically gachapon without the gacha) will drop out.  I apparently didn’t order enough sushi to get a toy.  Maybe next time.

Bikkura, by the way, is a play on the word “bikkuri”, which means “surprise”.

Is it the best sushi I’ve ever eaten?  No.  But it was decent and edible, and to be honest, the experience was exactly like a real Japanese sushi place I saw on YouTube – and that one was in Japan.  So it is cool to have a little bit of the Japanese experience here in Austin, even if it’s just a sushi place.

I have a list of sushi and Japanese cuisine places I want to try, and will review them as I do.  I’ll also review products from the stores as I get a chance.

Japanese Food and Stores in Austin

I have a serious post in the works, but this one is fun, I hope.

Today I went around my current town of Austin, Texas, looking for interesting Japanese things.  I found a store called FIT Japanese Store over on Lamar, in the ChinaTown shopping center.  It had a pretty decent selection of interesting and cutesy stuff, including toys, housewares, plushes, etc.  I was a little disappointed at how small their selection was (I would have hoped there were more plushes and other cute things) but all told, it was a fun little trip.  They had gachapon – I got three Winnie the Pooh figures, a fairy, and a little (oddly functional!) notebook.  A little on the pricey side, but what else do you expect from an import shop?  They even have purikuri, so A for effort for them!

After that I went to Jinya Ramen, a ramen place at the Domain on Esperanza Crossing.  I had the Sukiyaki rice bowl, which was very good – especially with the soft-boiled egg mixed in.  Next time I go I’ll be a little more adventurous and get real ramen.  One selection looked appealing, but it has pork broth, which I have to stay away from for health reasons as much as I can.

One thing I have noticed about sushi (and other) places in Austin – there are (with exactly one exception) no Japanese there at all.  They are mostly Vietnamese and Korean.  Of course, this is fine, except it would be nice to actually be able to speak Japanese every now and then – none of them know it.  Maybe I’ll try Kura on Airport Rd. next.  I LOVE track sushi.

If you want to get a little more pricey, Fujiyama on Braker Lane and Jollyville is quite good.  However, I think Sushi Junai 2 on Parmer and Mopac (in the same parking lot as the Fry’s) is better.  They have a $29 (or so) all you can eat menu, and their philly roll is utterly decadent.  And, at least when I was there, I ordered ala carte and spent more than $29, well, they just charged me for the all you can eat.  In fact, two of the three times I was there, they offered me free sushi while I was eating.  I’d recommend them in a heartbeat.  Across Parmer, there is another place called Odaku Sushi, which I have been to a couple of times.  I had the pokedaku bowl and enjoyed it each time.

If you are willing to broaden your search to other types of asian food, the market eatery at H-Mart over on Lakeline is tough to beat.  I especially like the bulgogi hot dog from the street food place towards the back – it is the absolute best!  It is bulgogi on a hot dog bun with melted cheese.  If it weren’t for my having to watch what I eat, I’d eat that every single day!  They also have an interesting bulgogi roll, which is a sushi roll, but with bulgogi instead of fish.  Very interesting asian fusion, for sure!  They do have a Japanese place (Sushi Momo), and it’s very good, but they never seem to have half the things that are on the menu.

They have live music, too, if that’s your thing.  It’s not mine.  But I’ll put up with it for the oishii food!

Not only is there a high quality eatery, but if you go across the wall, there is also a pretty comprehensive store as well.  Don’t go on the weekends, though, if you don’t like people.  There are a LOT of them.

I realize that Texas isn’t exactly East Japan, but I do wish that there were more Japanese-style experiences to choose from.  I find myself envious of the arcades in Odaiba and other places in Japan, with row after row of claw machines, coin pushers, etc.  There’s nothing like that here and it seems like it would be so much fun.

But here’s the thing, and the important thing:  I don’t live in Japan.  I don’t live in Akihabara, or Odaiba, or Shibuya, or any of the interesting places in Japan with lots of interesting, fun things to do.  I live in Austin, Texas.  I guess it’s up to me to bring a bit of Japan here and fuse it into my culture in a way which honors the best of both.

As the Japanese are fond of saying, I will do my best.