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What Japan Does Well - Construction & Sauce

They're 2 things that I honestly don't think about much and things that Japan isn't really known for, but for that very reason they deserve befitting acknowledgement.  Before moving to Japan I never realized that Japan is really really good at building stuff and really really good at making mouth-watering sauce.

Ask any 9.0 earthquake and he'll tell you that Japan knows what they're doing when it comes to constructing durable buildings.  I used to wonder why their 50-story apartment buildings all look like drab concrete boxes in want of stylish European flair.  Now I know.  Stylish flair comes at a very expensive price that Japan is not willing to pay--and rightly so.  Japan shakes more than a hyper-powered vibrator high on Jolt cola, so it makes perfect sense to put function before fashion.  Sadly, like others, I too used to criticize Japan for their seeming lack of elegant architecture fashion, but those days are long over.  I've since come to understand that Japanese architecture marries quiet, simple style with shocking durability--a harmonious and beautiful representation of traditional Japanese ideals.

Japan accomplishes awe-inspiring architectural feats, and this was no better demonstrated than on the afternoon of March 11th, 2011.  As I cowered in panicky fear under my desk on the 15th floor of my office building, I gained true appreciation for Japanese construction.  The building swayed and pitched like a seafaring vessel, and that was the point.  The sounds were terrifying, resembling the final minutes of the Titanic's brief life.  But had the building tried to resist the awesome power of mother nature, it would have surely lost.  Instead, it swayed like a palm tree in typhoon winds, acquiescing to the energy and flexing accordingly.  Needless to say, Japan's construction skills are freakin' sweet.

Not only are they earthquake-resistant, but Japanese buildings are just generally well-built.  My apartment feels more solid than a bomb shelter.  The steel front door is plenty adequate for panic room use.  The reinforced windows feel like they could take a stray bullet or two.  The walls flanking the neighbors are solid cement.  The only time I feel I actually have neighbors is during the hot summer months when everyone's windows are open.  The smartly laid wood flooring never creaks or complains.  The lines are straight, clean, and symmetric.  Friends and relatives visiting from the US unfailingly comment on my apartment, specifically expressing envy for my delightful shower room.

If I ever return to the USA, I'll no doubt hire a Japanese carpenter to build my dream house.  Gotta win the California lottery first, though.

My former impression of Japanese culinary delights revolved around sushi, udon, tempura, and other artistically-presented dishes.  When I thought "Japan," I thought "soy sauce."  Who knew they make a plethora of sauces to die for.  Japanese sauces are so good I never fail to drink whatever remains on my dish after a meal.  I lick the plate ravenously like a poorly-mannered dog.  A quick list of some of my personal recommendations:
  • goma sauce (white sesame)
  • ponzu
  • okonomiyaki sauce
  • gyoza sauce (basically soy sauce with vinegar and red pepper oil)
  • yakiniku sauce
  • any sauce with shiso (a leaf often served with sashimi)
Unfortunately, they have yet to master barbeque sauce.  It's always too sweet for my taste.  But as you would expect, Japanese salad dressing is equally heavenly.  Watch out France--here comes Japan!

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  • Guest - The Oracle member of the terrible trio, circa 平成18年

    Speaking of shiso, I discovered shiso juusu this just gone summer. It definitely qualifies for placement with the word awesome in the same sentence. Just mix it with water, fizzy stuff (e.g. Perrier), and ice, and you have the best summer refreshing drink out. Oh, where to buy? I dunno, only ever had home made! メッチャ旨いぞ!

  • Guest - C Goto

    Having worked in construction in Europe for over 30 years it would be worth mentioning that Japan has a long way to go in improving buildings in terms of stopping fittings rusting (A/C units etc), improving insulation and lowering running costs.
    Stick-built houses are more expensive in the long run than (reinforced) concrete insulated ones. Concrete also tends to be less flammable than wood. So insurance should be lower.
    It is hard to find any people willing to make themselves aware of better design and alternative choices (at least in regards to being able to make money from it).
    Where optional;, I wouldn`t live in an average Tokyo apartment that`s half the size of half of my Niigata garden shed.
    N.B. Apartments might be nice if built in a pyramid shape with internal parking.