I’m enjoying my mini-vacation with my kids through the Japanese Alps, about 100 km north of Nagoya. We trekked through the ancient farmhouses of Shirakawa-gō, made an offering at the Higurashi When They Cry shrine, and froze solid trying to capture photos of the town from above in -6℃/20℉ weather. Each region of Japan promotes itself as being famous for different foods, and we knew we had to try Hida beef, high quality meat similar to Kobe beef which is marbled with lots of fat. (It was good, though I honestly prefer the leaner U.S. beef Costco Japan imports). Now we’re at Gero, a pleasant onsen (remember, pronounced own-sen) city that’s one of the three most famous in Japan, dating back 1000 years. Unluckily for the town, gero (hard ‘g’) is an unrelated Japanese slang word meaning “barf,” so people from Tokyo always giggle about the city’s name. And now you know a new word of Japanese…

As is usually the case in Japan these days, we’ve seen more than a few tourists, thanks to the weak yen making it inexpensive for people to visit. While there are tourists from all countries, the largest single group has definitely been Chinese, who are taking the opportunity of their Chinese New Year holidays to get in some sightseeing then engage in 爆買い baku-gai or “explosive buying,” literally descending on a store and buying everything in sight until the shelves are empty, which has developed into a full-blown economic phenomenon in Japan. Last night we stayed at a hot springs bath, and the only people in the bath were a British guy working in Osaka, three gentlemen from Hong Kong, my half Japanese son and me…no Japanese to be seen at all.

Guess what? February 9th (2/9) is officially known as Cat Paw Day for some reason! According to the Japanese staff of J-List, the word for “cat paw” is niku-kyu, which also means February 9th. To celebrate, we added a huge volley of kawaii cat related items for you to browse. Check them all out here!