2017-Aug-04, Friday 09:52
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Last night at [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's suggestion we watched a documentary called The Birth of Sake, about the Yoshida sake distillery in Ishikawa Prefecture, while we drank some sake ourselves and ate Japanese snacks.

Sake is my favorite alcohol but I knew basically nothing about the process of making it, so everything in the documentary was new to me. The workers live at the brewery from October to April, tending the sake around the clock from rice through to finished product, and then need to find other work for the rest of the year. They could automate the process and leave the measuring and tending to machines, but the workers value the human approach and believe that their customers value that aspect of the process. The brewery has been open for six generations, and there's a 神棚 (kamidana, "household shrine") up on the wall in the main room of the brewery and some scenes of the workers gathering together to pray.

Over the course of the documentary, one of the workers died of a sudden heart attack and two quit due to the grueling schedule, inability to find good work the rest of the year, and being away from their families, so one worker who was going to retire came back for another year. There's a note that sake consumption has been in decline since the 70s and that now there are only about 1000 breweries down from 4600 a few decades ago. That does match with my experience--though there was a brewery in Chiyoda, everyone we knew drank beer or shōchū most of the time.

I really liked it! It was all in Japanese with subtitles, though I could barely understand anything the older workers said (they might have been speaking Hokuriku dialect). It was immersion-style, with the filmmakers taking scenes from the workers' dormitory, the five a.m. waking period to tend the sake, the parties, the quickly-scarfed-down meals of miso soup and tamago kake gohan before going back to the floor. It's up on Netflix if you want to watch.

I looked into where to get Tedorigawa sake, and while there are some stores, none of them are nearby. Maybe I should get some shipped to us while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is still at home and can sign for the shipment...
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I've been tinkering with RPGs again. Some people write fanfiction, some people draw fanart, and I come up with RPG homebrew. Even though I'm in three games right now--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's 7th Sea game, [livejournal.com profile] mutantur's Call of Cthulhu game, and my own Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom game--and thus have no time for another one, I just enjoy game design. My latest burst of creativity was spurred on by finding Heretical Shadows, someone's fan supplement for using the Shadowrun system with fantasy settings. It's something I've always wanted to try, since there's already rules for fantasy races, magic, and spirits, it's skill-based instead of class-and-level based, and it uses my favorite dice mechanic (giant pools of dice). But it would be a bunch of work for a game that I'm not likely to run anytime soon, so I'm glad someone else did it.

I keep thinking about tweaking it more, but I should actually run Shadowrun for a while first to familiarize myself with the system. I did a lot of tinkering with Exalted, but I ran that game for years. And anyway, one of my players perks up every time I mention canon Shadowrun so that's probably next in the queue. And urban fantasy cyberpunk is a good departure from grim sword and sorcery.

At [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's suggestion, we sat down and watched an episode of Chef's Table about Ivan Orkin, a Jewish New Yorker who ran a ramen restaurant in Japan. So now I want to move back to Japan, and I really want a bowl of ramen. Especially his ramen, with its noodles made in-house using toasted rye flour. He's right that it's very unlikely a Japanese person would have thought to do that, especially since they usually buy their noodles.

This also reminds me of the first time I saw salarymen ordering noodle refills and decided to do it myself. I spent a few minutes psyching myself up and formulating how to ask and eventually said something like すみません、もう麺を一皿お願いします ("Excuse me, may I have another plate of noodles?"), and the ramenyasan looked at me quizzically and said かえだま (kaedama), the specific word for that very thing. Emoji Smiling sweatdrop I did get my noodles, though.

And speaking of food:

Farmer's Market dinner )

Overcooked comes out on Switch tonight and we're probably going to buy it. Usually, if a game is multiplatform I buy it on PC for future-proofing reasons--I just recently played through a game from 1994 with no problems at all--but Overcooked is specifically local co-op only, and sitting on the couch next to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to play is more comfortable than both of us crowding around my computer. It's also about cooking, one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's my treasured hobby. I'm looking forward to cooking together, on the back of two speeding trucks!


2017-Jul-14, Friday 11:07
dorchadas: (Perfection)
Prime Day happened and we didn't pay much attention, but we did take the opportunity to grab some new cookware. A replacement for the crockpot we've had since we got married, a new lunchbag to replace the tattered one I've used since I started my current job, and something else that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found that got me really excited:

Tamagoyaki Pan
A tamagoyaki pan!

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd makes dashimaki for me every time we eat breakfast together, and the pan we've been using is adequate but obviously not designed for the purpose. Since we have next week off together, I'm really excited for all the new delicious dashimaki I'm going to get to eat! Emoji Fairy La
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
I've occasionally seen fancy food being marketed as made with genmaicha, or "Genmaicha Brown Rice Tea" (see also Panko Bread Crumbs or ATM Machine--玄米茶 is literally "brown rice tea"), and it always makes me laugh. Genmaicha is upper-end working class food, a way for people to stretch out their supplies of tea in the post-war period when shortages were common. But just like with sushi rice, it turned out that he additives were pretty tasty and improved the whole product, and so it's still sold to this day. Including at the Persian grocery store in Andersonville, which is why we currently have half a bag of genmaicha in our tea cupboard.
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dorchadas: (Perfection)
This week [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I received our shipment of mirin, the sweet cooking sake that we use to make some meat and all the だし巻き (dashimaki, "dashi-flavored fried eggs"). It took us months to use up the last two bottles and this time in a fit of exuberance, I ordered five, which will probably take us years to use. Fortunately, since it's mildly alcoholic, it's not going to go bad. But because we ordered them close to the new year, they sent along packets of spices for お屠蘇 (otoso, "spiced New Year's sake").

I'd never even heard of this before the packets arrived. It's not something I was familiar with in Hiroshima, though it's possible that I just never noticed it. I could read enough on the packaging that I understand the recipe from the spices comes from Three Kingdoms-era China, and became popular in Japan during the Heian era, and we had to look the rest up online. And then we had a bottle of sake around, and we're going to a party tonight, so we took out some of the packets, put them in a bowl with some sake, and set it to soaking:

It should have just enough time soaking for the flavor to really permeate it, and then we'll bring it along to the party and drink it at the turning of the year. Hopefully it will drive out the evil of 2016--屠, "to slaughter," 蘇, "to be revived"--and taste good to boot!
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
A while ago, we signed up for a service called Shoshbox that delivers a monthly shipment of Japanese candy. It's since merged with Tokyo Otaku Mode, and we've upgraded to a larger box size, but it's nice every month to get a shipment of candy even if a lot of it isn't to my taste. The gum goes to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, as do some of the more cracker-like snacks, and sometimes we get something amazing like the 菓実グミパイナップル (kajitsu gumi painappuru, "Real fruit gummy pineapple"), which actually does taste like it has real pineapple inside. And, very rarely, we get something that's suitable for Darker than Black.
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dorchadas: (Default)
One of the benefits I get from my job is an extra day off during the summer, taken in two half-day increments, and since last Friday was the last Friday that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would be free before she returns to work next week, I cashed in the second and last of my half-days and we went out to lunch. And after lunch, we followed a suggestion from [livejournal.com profile] drydem and went to the Art Museum to check out an exhibit of Japanese period maps on display.

I've actually known about this for a couple weeks since [livejournal.com profile] drydem first sent us the email, but we didn't get around to going until now. And it was great, especially so since we just got back from Japan! My favorite parts were the maps of Kyōto, which is where we spent the majority of our time, poring over them and looking for all the temples that we had visited. We didn't find all of them, or maybe it's just that I can't read some of the pre-Meiji kanji and didn't know what I was looking for, but I did find some. Including [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's favorite temple:

North is to the left.

Look at that detail. That's the layout of Sanjūsangendō--our recent visit to which you can read about here--with the long hall in front and other buildings in back where the garden is. The river at the bottom of the picture is still there too, and I remember crossing it when we walked from Kyōto Station to the temple. The whole map was like that, obviously made by someone who had been to the temples or had excellent descriptions from people who had been there, with relief maps of the mountains all around Kyōto. Mountains filled with temples because of course they are.

That turned out to be the only thing we saw at the art museum and it was worth the price of admission. There was an exhibit of 1930s American art called "After the Fall," but it was a special exhibit that required a ticket, so we didn't go.

We also went to get more tea to replace the enormous amount we drink, and while we were there I finally bought a 茶碗 (chawan, "tea bowl") so I can stop making tea in our rice bowls. And today, I got the chance to use it to make tea:

Tea and sweet!

It was much easier. The depth allowed me to whisk without having to worry as much about spilling tea everywhere, and the bowl is just the right shape to make gripping it to drink without spilling easy. Basically I don't have to worry about spilling it anymore. I think that's why it took me so long to get the proper amount of foam, because the vigorous whisking necessary for it is pretty hard to do when you're concentrating mostly on not launching tea all around your kitchen.

And it was delicious. Yum.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
Yes, I realize that this isn't dark chocolate, but that's why it's a combo breaker! It is from Japan where I just spent two weeks, and that's why we're doing it now.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I get a shipment of Japanese food every month called Skoshbox with candy and snacks. Some of it is more famous foods like matcha kitkats, some of it is food we loved like pretz or BAKE crème brûlée bites, and every once in a while, we get some chocolate. Despite there being dark chocolate in Japan--dark chocolate is marketed as men's dessert, in contrast to the giant sugary parfaits that are the domain of women--we haven't gotten any of it in our monthly box yet, but we did get a chocolate bar that was distinctly Japanese a couple months ago, so I set it aside to use it in a future Darker than Black, and the time has come.
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dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
The first thing we did this morning after showering, before we packed and before we even ate breakfast, was to finally eat the sakura manjū we bought on Miyajima in the Hello Kitty store.

I'm as tasty as four apples.

They were delicious.

Then we packed, checked out, ate toast and tea/coffee because the soup had pork again--I don't understand how Sakura Hotel offers halal ramen and then has pork in seemingly every soup they make--and walked to the train station. On the way, I learned about this exhibition which I'm now really sad I didn't know about a couple days ago, when we were over near Sunshine Mall and could have gone. Yōkai are one of the parts of Japanese culture that doesn't get much play abroad, like kagura or foods that aren't sushi or ramen, and this would have been a great chance to see them. Sigh.

We stopped at Chocoholic so [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture could get a present for her roommate and then got on the Yamanote Line heading for Tōkyō Station, where we got off, went outside the gates, got tickets for the Narita Express, went back through the gates, and waited for the train. While we were on the platform, I got one last onigiri for the road. Fatty tuna and spring onions. Then the train started moving, and I said goodbye to Tokyo.


The train ride was an hour and the only problem were two businessmen sitting ride in front of us who randomly picked seats until they found an occupied one and then loudly spent the train ride discussing business. But that was short, and then we got off the train and made for our terminal. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had some お土産 (omiyage, "gift souvenirs") she needed to buy, and as long as she was doing that, I picked up some for my Japanese tutor as well. I hope she likes green tea. I've met Japanese people who don't. I've also met Japanese people who don't like fish or rice, which strikes me as almost debilitating. You know, like how I'm an American who doesn't like pizza or hot dogs.

Then we went to the food court and had our last bowl of reasonably-priced ramen.

¥880. About $8.25.

We went to go check into our flight but accidentally went to the wrong wing of the terminal, and then when we did go to the right wing, found our airline, and got in line, we got an attendant who must have been new. Her English wasn't that great (and my flight-related Japanese isn't either) and had some trouble finding our reservations and boarding passes. But she did eventually find us with some help from her co-workers, print out our boarding passes, and send us on our way.

We got through security in three minutes because Japan isn't invested in stupid security theatre that just wastes everyone's time and money, went through immigration in about the same amount of time, and proceeded to the gate.


We went through the airport, stopping to say goodbye to [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega at their gates, and then made it to our gate. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went to buy some sakura-flavored kitkats to use up the last of our yen and we settled down to wait, along a few Buddhist monks and a giant horde of schoolgirls probably going on a school trip. No wonder the flight was full.

Fun fact: kitkats are popular in Japan partially because the name sounds like 屹度勝つ (kitto katsu, "I will surely win").

The flight boarded slightly late and we were sitting across the aisle from each other, but as soon as we got on [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd asked the man sitting in the middle seat to move to my aisle seat and he happily did so, so we got to sit together again!

We also sat next to the monks, but didn't talk with them. There was also a kid who thought having to put on his seatbelt when we hit turbulence was worse than being tortured to death and decided to shriek his head off for a while until, presumably, he tired himself out and fell asleep.

About a third of the way through the flight, I started to feel really cramped. I don't usually have problems with claustrophobia, but airlines are the exception. It wasn't until I compared seatbacks with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd that I realized the problem--the man in front of me had lowered his seat by about 15 cm and I really was dealing with less space. So I immediately rammed my knees into the back of his seat--by which I mean "sat normally, thanks airlines!"--and was rewarded by him shifting repeatedly as I did. And eventually, after enough shoving, he moved his seat back upright. I am not above petty revenge against people being inconsiderate.

We also flew above a lightning storm, but I was not sitting by a window.

Breakfast was pretty tasty:

No pork to pick out this time either!

We landed in Toronto to the news that they didn't actually have a gate for us and we'd have to take a bus to the terminal. Then we went through customs and I was all set to get annoyed until I realized that this wasn't bullshit Canadian security theater, it was bullshit American security theatre because we're going to America. The highlight was the customs agent saying he could tell we were married because we answered all his questions in unison.

Then we got to the gate and our flight was delayed an hour.

And then it was cancelled! So we had to go out through Canadian customs and pick up our baggage and hope we got another flight. Except our baggage wasn't showing up, and when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went to ask about it, they told her that our flight wasn't canceled and they were loading our luggage onto the plane, so we ran back through US customs and back to our terminal to find our flight was delayed due to...weather.

Ah yes, weather. Oh Chicago.

Ignorant Air Canada employees aside, after a two-hour weather delay we got on the plane. Then we sat there while they loaded in some extra luggage, and while I'm normally contemptuous of people who check carry-ons on the plane, I think it makes sense in this case. Then we taxied away and sat again on the runway. Then finally, finally, we took off at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.

Then we flew through turbulence pretty much the entire trip.

The sun and the storm.

We landed, taxied to our gate, and got our luggage in much less time than I was expecting because we went through customs in Canada. And now I'm posting this from the ride home, and unless our apartment has burned down in our absence, there's nothing further to report.

Thus ends the Japan Trip 2016. What a wonderful time! I'm so glad I got to go back and visit our old students and show all the places we came to love to our friends. The only problem is...now I want to move back.

Maybe someday.

Steps taken: 13245

Tokyo: Thursday

2016-Jul-29, Friday 00:51
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious and cheap breakfast of toast and butter and tea and no soup because it had pork and shellfish despite being beet soup, we left the hotel at 10:15 in order to have enough time to make our 11:30 Sailor Moon Cafe reservations in Shibuya. But we had more time than I thought, so when we passed by Ozz On and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd saw a blue and black dress in the same style as the previous skirt/shirt combo she had bought, we stopped in. That turned out to be a dud--it was a skirt and shirt just like the other set, but they didn't have the skirt in--but she did find a black vest and skirt combo that made her look like a vampire hunter. Just needed black boots and a ruffled top. And stakes.

Also, Ozz On takes Discover. Japan really is prepping for Olympics-related foreign tourism.

The train to Shibuya was only about fifteen minutes, leaving us plenty of time to walk to the cafe without having to rush. Except we did have to rush because we went out the wrong exit, and then we arrived at Q Cafe and got into line, so it was a case of hurry up and wait. The line ended one person behind us, too. But it moved quickly, and after a few minutes...

Fighting evil by moonlight.

Sugary desserts are a feminine thing in Japan--there's all kinds of sweet parfaits filled with ice cream and whipped cream and berries and so on for women. And this was the Sailor Moon Cafe, so they turned the sugar up to 11. When I ordered the Moon Faeries' Tea (upper left), I was expecting actual tea, not a blueberry smoothie with fresh cream and white chocolate on top. At least with Sailor Neptune's Praline ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would like to clarify that it is called the Elegant and Sweet Neptune Set ) , I knew what I was getting. And it was pretty good, mostly dark chocolate and a matcha base.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also got the tea and the Cosmic Heart Macaroon, which wasn't actually a macaroon. It was more like a layer cake, and it was also loaded down with an enormous amount of sugar. I guess Sailor Moon is powered by love and also sugar rush.

My stomach hurt when we were done eating. I am not cut out for fighting evil by moonlight.

We ducked into the main store across the street after we ate to look around. The company running the cafe is famous for making jewelry inspired by desserts, so they had a lot of really cute necklaces that looked like macaroons but also like the warriors' regalia. I didn't get any pictures of those, but I did take one of the wall mural:

Senshi, assemble!

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was extremely tempted by some of the jewelry but realized that she wouldn't really have any opportunity to wear it, so we left and decided to walk to our next destination--Roppongi Hills Mori Tower for the Ghibli Exhibit. Plus, then we could stop at CoCo's for curry, which we did.

The walk was peasant mostly because we were in the shade of tall buildings and managed to go out in the open when the scattered clouds covered the sun. Mori Tower was a bit of a maze, the kind of place where a corporate espionage film would be set, but after going up, then down, then around, we bought tickets for the exhibit and took the elevator up to the 52nd floor.

Welcome to the sprawl.

The exhibit mostly didn't allow photographs or I would have taken a ton. Walking in was a hallway with posters from all the movies they've done, then a small section with storyboards and production stills from the next movie coming out this year (Red Turtle, I think?). Then a giant Totoro, a reproduction of Miyazaki's office, some soot spirits creeping through a corner, a full-size reproduction of the catbus, and a floating airship from Castle in the Sky, which I've never seen but know about because Sky Castle and Ancient Robots and Girl With Mysterious Pendant are all in it, and from there entered the top tier of JRPG tropes.

They didn't have that much from my favorite Ghibli movie (千と千尋の神隠し/Spirited Away), sadly, other than the Oscar that they won for it. And while I loved the Nausicaa manga, I've never seen the film.

I did find this article that has a lot of press pictures in it if you'd like to know what it looked like. And they allowed pictures later, so I got this picture of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd where she has always truly wanted to be.

All aboard the nekobus.

There were a couple people over in Akihabara, so we decided to go there next. Originally we were going to walk, but the map said it was four miles away, so we hopped on the Hibiya Line and rode straight to Akihabara. Then we alighted, went up the stairs, and walked over to Super Potato.

As soon as I walked in, I went like , because this is what it looked like:

It's Kirby season.

There were three floors: one floor of 16-bit and earlier games, one of Playstation and later games, and a retro arcade. I didn't end up buying any games, because I've realized that just about every game I play from now on is going to be on the computer one way or another. I did buy more plushies, though--a bob-omb and a winged goomba that we're going to hang from one of the pre-existing hooks into our kitchen ceiling.

After twenty minutes wandering through the promised land of retro gaming and meeting up with everyone after most of a day spent apart, we went across the street to the Akihabara branch of Animate so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could look for Sailor Moon items. She found a small figure of Usagi sitting on a cake, bought it, and we went on to the Yellow Submarine hobby shop in search of tabletop RPGs. They had them--there was even a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay translated into Japanese--but not Call of Cthulhu or Alshard. Sword World made a strong appearance, but I don't like the rules.

We left and I checked into our flight, getting [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I seats across from each other, and then we headed back to the station to meet up with [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and her friend, who came down from Aomori to see her, coming back from Mandarake.

We took the Yamanote Line to Yūrakuchō to walk to Ginza, but arrived a bit early to meet [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's friend, since his workday ends at 7 p.m. After trying a cafe and being told there were no seats ([livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat checked it out later and found plenty of seats. Probably another case of being too foreign), we walked to Hibiya Park and sat on benches overlooking the water.

Green space? In Tokyo?

After about half an hour of resting, it was close to the time when we were supposed to meet [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's friend, so we went back toward Yūrakuchō Station and waited until he appeared. After introductions, we all walked to Ginza to find a restaurant, since [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek wanted to see Ginza at night and his friend knew where to go eat.

If you're not familiar, Ginza is a glitzy part of Tokyo, all neon at night and no vending machines. I figured that meant we'd have a hard time finding a place to eat, but the second sushi place we went had plenty of space and good food. We stayed there for two hours until the chef came out and started clearing glasses in a universal "get the hell out of my restaurant" gesture. [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega did manage to pull off an awesome party trick, though!

That's a ¥1 coin suspended on water by surface tension.

And then we walked back to the train station and went back to our hotels to prep for the journey home. But it was lovely to have a last dinner together as a group!

Wonderful dinner with wonderful people.

Steps taken: 19942

Kyoto: Tuesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 00:56
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
Late night, late morning, and the rain that had been predicted nearly every day in the weather report finally arrived. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went out with [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture to fetch breakfast, and then came back, ate, and we left just under the buzzer to allow the hotel staff to clean our room.

Everyone else wanted to go over to Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto, their various original plans having been scuppered by the rain. They decided this when we were already on the bus toward Ginkakuji, though, so we stayed on and alighted in northeastern Kyoto in a light rain. We walked hand-in-hand for about five minutes through houses and small shops and, next to a children's park made of dirt with a single swing and slide, we found the entrance to Hōnen-in.

Shadows and light.

I read about Hōnen-in this morning, and while the website I read said the central building was only open for two weeks a year, in April and November, it also said that the grounds had a lovely moss covering and were little-visited. Both of those sounded like huge bonuses, so I asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd about it and she was all in favor. And it was exactly as advertised. I did have to wait for a couple other tourists to move out of the way to take that picture, but with the rain and Hōnen-in not really being famous for anything specific, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We couldn't go into the main hall, but it didn't matter. The advertised moss was there, as was a lovely fish pond, a few outbuildings, a stone stupa, and a statue tucked into a corner:

Watching over the moss.

After a few minutes' wandering around, we went back down toward the park and further north, where we realized we were on the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi, "Philosopher's Walk"), which we've walked before the last time we were in Kyoto when my parents came to visit. After a brief diversion over to Anraku-ji only to find it was closed, we walked about five minutes north to the end of the road and Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is my favorite temple in Kyoto, but I think a lot of that has to do with my introduction to it. The first time we went, it was the end of December close to the new year, and almost no one was there other than us. The grounds were deserted other than one man raking the sand and us.

That was not the case here. The road from the Philosopher's Walk was absolutely packed full of people and the shrine was the same. It was still beautiful, but it fell victim to the typical problem with tourism--you want places to be easily accessible but no one to be there except you. Still, when I could ignore the people around, it was lovely.

One of many small ponds on the grounds.

The name means "Silver Pavilion" to match with Kinkakuji's "Golden Pavilion," but there's no actual silver on the buildings. The story is that they planned to cover it with silver but never got around to it, but no one really knows. I don't really care much for the buildings anyway. It's the gardens that I love.

I also got this picture of the grounds and the city.

Doesn't look that modern from this viewpoint.

On the way down, we popped into the gift shop. While we were tempted by the Kitty-chan tea mugs, we eventually decided not to get them, but did go for matcha and a sweet, the real reason we had entered in the first place. The sweets were soybean flour cakes formed in the shape of the mon of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who ordered its construction. It was good--better than the matcha I can make, but not so much better than I feel like making matcha is a waste of time for me. I just need more practice, and I can do it.

After that, we took the bus back toward Kyoto Station but got off at Gion for lunch. Unfortunately, it was already 2:30 p.m. when we arrived and most places were closed or closing, and the places that weren't were serving noodles that I didn't want. We found one compromise place that had duck udon, but when we got inside, the duck udon was scratched out, so we left. We were running out of patience when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a restaurant called Izumoya, where we got a seat upstairs overlooking the Kamogawa. ¥2000 set with dashimaki, miso soup, pickles, rice, sashimi, tofu, tempura, seaweed salad, salt mackerel...it was delicious. That link had some bad reviews, but I'm really happy we went.

The dashimaki wasn't as good as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's, though.

Next was the kanji museum, which I had seen a few days ago and wanted to go to for a while. Right after entering we saw a video about the origin of kanji in China from ideographic representation to the more stylized images in use currently, which made the point that emoji are very similar to the origin of kanji. And just outside was a display that demonstrated it the progression of kanji from ancient to modern:

Touch interactive--press a modern kanji and it would transform into the older turtle-shell-carved form in the center.

After that was a display where you could write the syllables of your name and see what kanji were used to derive the hiragana and katakana to pronounce it. While doing the katakana, two women noticed our writing and we got into a brief chat with them about how we used to teach English in Hiroshima and were from Chicago, and it turned out that one of them was an exchange student in Detroit! She said she had a lot of fun, but it was extremely cold, which, well, can't argue with that.

We couldn't read a lot of the information there and the kanji library was definitely beyond our ability, so we took a quick look into the gift shop and then left to get some anmitsu and, after that, to look at kanzashi for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's hair. After a bit of browsing, she found a black and green one and then we took the bus back to Kyoto Station, browsed around the shops there, and then headed back to the room to rest a bit before dinner.

Due to a miscommunication, we ended up not meeting up for dinner, so four people went to Chojiro again and, due to long lines, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, another friend, and I took the bus to Gion and found a hole-in-the-walk yakitori place called Torin (鳥ん). No pictures of the inside because they requested no photos, but I did take this picture of the outside:

The inside decor was rubber-chicken-themed.

There was a ¥300 table,charge and one-drink minimum order, so initially I was set to hate the place. But they won me over with the food. I ordered the set meal and got a hamburg (ハンバーグ, more like Salisbury steak than hamburger) with egg, salad, chicken skin appetizer, ice cream, and three yakitori skewers. The yakitori was excellent. Crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, flavorful without being overwhelming, just fantastic. The table charge was actually worth it. And with only twelve seats in the place, I can kind of see why they charge it.

We left and met up with the others, bought some conbini sake and umeshu, and headed back to [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's Air BnB to chat. That lasted about an hour before [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and said friend were falling asleep, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and conducted a Pokéwalk back to our respective places of rest.

I evolved an イーブイ into シャワーズ, and I learned that Showers is called "Vaporeon" in English.

Steps taken: 18226

Miyajima: Thursday

2016-Jul-21, Thursday 22:53
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious breakfast of broccoli, rice, pickles, hamburger, sweetened omelet, salted mackerel, burdock root, breaded fish paste (がんす, a local dish), tea, and pudding with caramel sauce (Hotel Active, for all your Hiroshima visits!), I went back to the room, got my suitcase, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I headed down to check out right on the dot of our requested 9 a.m. departure time. Then we walked out onto Aioi-dōri and set to wait for the streetcar.

Hiroshima's street cars are a local institution. They've been running since before the war--there's actually at least one car that's been in service since before the war and survived the bombing--and Hiroshima actually turned down proposals for a subway network in favor of an underground mall because, well, they already had the streets cars. I've spent uncounted hours of my life on them, what with my incredibly long commute to and from Suzugamine every day, and sitting on them was kind of like stepping back into the past.

I had forgotten the little chime they play when the car starts moving after a stop, though...

We rode the streetcar to the end, past the stop where I used to get off for work, though now renamed to 修大附属鈴峯前駅 (Shudaifuzoku-Suzugaminemae Eki) since the school combined with a boys' school due to low enrollment. Even the old ramen shop, おじいちゃんの作ったラーメン (Ojiichan no Tsukutta Ramen, "Grandpa-Made Ramen"), was still there, though we didn't have time to go.

Then at Miyajima-guchi, we took the ferry across to the island.

At high tide, too.

After dropping our luggage off in the coin lockers and showing our friends the asshole deer of Miyajima--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd has a video of me leading a deer around using a wrapper from an ice cream cone, but it just looks like I'm using elf magic--we headed straight over to Itsukushima Shrine to take advantage of the high tide for some nice views. It was all set up like the aftermath of a festival, maybe Tanabata, with a floating stage. There was even a priest in the actual shrine conducting a ceremony, which I've never seen before. And that also means that I had no idea what the ceremony was for, either.

After we went through the shrine, everyone was pretty hungry and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture wanted oysters, so we stopped into the first restaurant we saw that was serving them. I got anago-don, fried conger eel over rice, because while I've made some effort to stick to kashrut during this trip, I'm willing to make an exception for Miyajima eel. And one of the waitresses wanted to touch my hair when we left and said it was soft.

After lunch we headed into the shōtengai to do some shopping and snacks in preparation for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I climbing the mountain. We bought a set of tea cups and a wooden case for putting matcha in, and I drank a "banana milk" (basically a smoothie). After heading down to the other end of the shōtengai, we walked back and went to the rope way stop. Originally it was going to be four climbers, but by the time we got there the group had been whittled down to just [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and me, so we dropped off our excess gear with the people going up the ropeway and took our first steps on the trail up Misen.

Mossy rocks, my favorite.

The climb up Misen isn't the hardest climb in the world. Most of it is worn stone steps like those shown in the picture, and even though the heat and humidity were brutal at sea level they weren't as bad under the tree canopy. Of course, we were climbing a mountain, so we were sweating buckets in any case.

We saw quite a few people coming down the mountain, and there was a work crew fixing one of streams that run underneath the steps in some places. There was also an old Japanese man who gave [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd his fan when he met her, saying that he no longer needed it since he was coming down the mountain. That occurred near the bottom, which I'm glad of because that fan came in pretty handy on the climb up. I'm not sure I've ever been as disgusting as when I reached the top, except for the last time I climbed Misen.

[livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture were waiting for us at the railway station near the summit, another friend and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat having gone to make the climb to the top. I went over to buy some ice cream, only to have the woman working the food desk ask me in pretty good English if I had been at the kagura performance the previous night. I recognized her, since she had been there with an American guy and she said that she knew us because he talked to us. That was the basis of our interactions though, so I ordered my ice cream, ate it, then waited for everyone to assemble.

We took the rope way back down and then the shuttle to the Miyajima Seaside Hotel, where I've stayed with my parents before and where [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who went ahead to Matsumoto, had arrived first and asked them to send the shuttle to us. We went to the hotel, checked in, and the showered to get slightly less utterly disgusting and changed into our yukata for dinner:

I'm a little surprised it actually fits.

Dinner was, of course, amazing:

This was about 60% of it.

We ate pretty much until near exploding, though slowly, which helped prevent any actual explosions. It was a little under two hours total for dinner, between the different courses, the talking, and the slow eating of many tiny portions, and was the best meal I've had yet in a trip full of great meals. When we were done, we all got dressed up in our yukata except for one of us who wanted a bit more opportunity to,rest and went down to the front desk to ask the shuttle to take us back near the shrine.

Itsukushima is lit up at night, but it wasn't as pretty as I remember it being this time. Or maybe it was just that even though the sun had gone down it was still incredibly sticky. We walked from the pier to the shrine, past it a little until the houses started and the streets started to remind us of Fatal Frame, and then back to the pier, where I successfully called the hotel to ask them to come pick us up. Back at the hotel a bunch of people went to the onsen, but I took advantage of the facilities in a different fashion--I took a bath in the huge bathtub, which was actually large enough for the water to cover my knees. When I started to feel a little cramped, I drained out the water, dried off, and went to bed.

Steps taken: 17538

Tokyo: Monday

2016-Jul-19, Tuesday 06:59
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Woke up early but at least this time I managed to sleep through the whole night. After leisurely getting ready and heading down to the attached cafe to eat--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the sakura pancakes, which had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and a bit of cherry blossom flavor in it--some of us went back to the hotel to finish getting ready while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and I went to Ikebukuro Station to do a bit of shopping. Except we forgot that this is Tokyo and there's a reason that when Gibson wrote about Tokyo in Neuromancer, he called the part of it where the story took place "Night City"--almost nothing is open before 10 a.m., and even the bakeries don't open until 7:30 or so. We went to Andersen and got a bit of bread and sat around until the rest of the stores opened, and then went to look. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a shirt at a store called Ozz On, bought it, and around then everyone else showed up and we got on the train for Ueno.

Multiple people had suggested a lower-activity day after all the walking there was yesterday, so we went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Kōen. It's a Japan-focused art museum, though there was a Greek art exhibit that was hilariously advertised as "Land of the Immortals." There was a statue gallery that banned photography, but most of the rest of the museum was fine with pictures:

Look at this detailing!

The museum was roughly ten times as big as the part we saw, but after statues, clay works, Jōmon and Yayoi crafts, and Ainu and Ryūkyū art, it was after noon and everyone was getting really hungry and the sun had come out so we didn't want to do that much walking or eating at the food carts in the museum courtyard. We waited around for a bit while [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat looked at the general Asian art building, and then we headed over to a building in the south of the park and split up between a Japanese restaurant on the middle floor and a Chinese restaurant on the bottom. I went for Japanese food, and after a steak bentō I had to get dessert because it looked like this:

I'm tempted to make a stupid panda joke, but it's not bread.

After the museum we split up. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and a couple of the others headed off to Tokyo Tower to try and see the city from the top while [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I headed back to the hotel, though we stopped on the way back to Ozz On to get a skirt that matched [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's new top. They ended up going out again before dinner, to a bunny cafe called Usabibi and met Bibi, Mikan, and Purin the rabbits. I tried to read for a bit, but pretty soon I got extremely tired and ended up napping for a bit, and again after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back. At 6 p.m., I asked for three more minutes of sleep, and after that the two of us and [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek headed out to meet one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's old friends, who neither of us had seen since we got married.

We met up in Shinjuku outside a sukiyaki restaurant, and after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd glomped her friend, we took the elevator up. Unfortunately, without a reservation the earliest they could fit us in was 8:30, so we left and went up to the top floor and another restaurant called Nanairo Temariuta, which had giant wicker balls built around tables in the center of the main dining space, all of which were occupied (手毬 is a traditional handball game). Instead they stuck us in the back room with the other group of gaijin, but that's the only (minor) complaint I had. It was great food otherwise, through the pictures were a little deceiving and we ordered way more food than we had the stomachs to eat. Two pots of nabe was probably one two many, though in our defense, the waitress did say each one feeds two people. Two sumo wrestlers, maybe.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend had to run to catch a show at the robot restaurant, but we didn't leave Shinjuku quite yet. We wanted check out the Square Enix cafe first, so after briefly checking out the lights of Shinjuku:

Night City.

...we followed google maps and two streets over, the crowds and lights pretty much vanished. We walked through darkened streets, deserted by almost everyone but a few people going about their business, and in maybe ten minutes of walking we arrived at the weird dome of Artnia, the Square-Enix cafe.

Well, sort of cafe, sort of bar, sort of gift shop. When we got there it was almost closing time and they didn't seem to have a menu out at all, so we looked at the gifts. Most of it was Dragon Quest oriented in honor of DQ's thirtieth anniversary, but there was a room in the back done up for Final Fantasy:

Not visible here is the way that the water appeared to be moving up into the ceiling.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a keychain because she felt bad looking without buying anything, and then we made our way back to the train station and headed back to Ikebukuro. A quick poll of our friends determined that nearly everyone was ready for bed, except for one unfortunate who had taken a five-hour nap, so we went back to the room and went to sleep. I didn't even get halfway through writing this before I fell asleep, and so I post it now.

Steps taken: 15565

Tokyo: Sunday

2016-Jul-17, Sunday 22:40
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
We woke up at various points from "before dawn" to "early morning" and eventually all made our way down to the cafe across the street from the hotel, where we took advantage of the ¥350 all-you-can-eat breakfast. It was super simple--coffee and tea, bread and butter, and soup of the day--but six of us ate it and the seventh got beef curry while we talked about what to do. The attendant came over and asked us in halting English if we were all friends, and I explained in Japanese that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had lived in Japan and were showing friends around. She asked if she could take our picture, we agreed, and now I wonder if it'll be up on the cafe wall eventually

Food done, and with a brief stop at Lawson to get some more snacks including the first store-bought onigiri I've had in five years, we headed off to Meiji Jingu, past the line of billboards with Password-senpai and User-kōhai encouraging people to strengthen their computer security.

Back again.

Meiji Jingu is the first place I went my first day in Japan, so it has a special place in my heart. But the other reason we went there is that nothing else was open, so we didn't hurry too much, even paying to get into the Treasure Museum and look around at the articles of the Meiji Emperor and taking the long--and much less crowded--route through the forest to get back to the main gate. Then it was time for lunch.

After wandering up and down Omotesandō and finding several restaurants that looked good but had lines out the door, we went to our old standard of Chaiyaphum, a Thai restaurant on the fourth floor of 原宿八角館, at the south corner of the 神宮前 intersection. It was still open and still delicious, and while I apparently confused the waitress when I asked for a dessert menu, we managed to order dessert too. Coconut ice cream with toasted coconut in coconut milk for me and durian ice cream for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, which pretty much was like using chemical weapons on the table.

[twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture also had a quote after using the bathroom in the building:
"Toilets here are either holes in the floor or robots."
After a quick stop at Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a set of hair ribbons on sale--as cute as most of it is, it doesn't have much practical utility or opportunities to wear it elsewhere--and then we set out to walk to Shinjuku Gyōen, since it wasn't that far and we'd get to see some of Tokyo along the way. And we did, working our way through the crowds until we passed a shōtengai and the crowds thinned out like they had been cut off by a knife. The rest of the walk was just us and a few people out and about, as well as a sizable police presence by the Turkish Embassy.

Shinjuku Gyōen has a lot of amazing trees:

It's like someone twisted a couple trees around each other.

We got turned around a few times and walked probably more than we had to, but we checked out the Japanese garden and the lakes before the fact that we had been walking for nearly ten hours finally caught up with most of the group, and we headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

Dinner was at Seikōan, a yakiniku restaurant that we found after a bit of wandering around and having our original choice be totally full. Filled with meat, we went to Penguin Bar to see if we could get in and see the penguins, but an ¥800 cover and a two-drink minimum drove us off. Instead, we headed to Taito Arcade, where two people split off to play a game called Gunslinger Stratos, where about all I could tell from a quick watch is that one of the characters (the schoolgirl, of course) exists only to provide panty shots. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega found a Pokkén Tournament head to head setup, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played Taikō no Tatsujin a bit. Then another friend challenged me to a game, and while that was going on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd snuck off and won me a Neko Atsume plushie from a crane game!

I'm a real-life kitty collector!

After a quick stop at Mister Donut for dessert, several people expressed the desire to go back to the hotel and get some water, because it turns out that constantly seeping a thin film of sweat due to gigantic humidity and walking all day requires extra water to avoid dehydration!

And all that walking and dehydration kind of caught up to us, and we went to sleep pretty soon after.

Steps taken: 21704
dorchadas: (Chicago)
A few things.

Dreihaus Museum
A month ago, my parents suggested going to see the Downton Abbey clothing exhibit at the Dreihaus Museum, a 19th century house downtown now converted into, well, a museum. I haven't seen a single episode of Downtown Abbey and know almost nothing about the show--they I have read To Marry an English Lord, one of the books that inspired the show--so I didn’t really care about the clothes, but I loved the rest of the house. Big portions of it were done up in dark wood with wainscotting as high as my waist, tiles or dark wallpaper, extremely high ceilings, and lavish carvings. It’s exactly the kind of decorating I would do if I had infinite money.

I would gladly put everything in this picture in our apartment.

Though there’s a bit too much light in that picture for me. Draw all the curtains, put a fire in the fireplace so there are shadows dancing around the room, and I’d be happier. Sure, I’m a stereotype, but it’s comfortable here.

I was a bit disappointed in the audio tour. There was the occasional cue on the various plaques throughout the house, but 80% of them related to the Downton Abbey exhibit. I was hoping there would be a bit more context for the original inhabitants of the house, but I suppose that’s not the draw. You can tell that because my parents originally wanted to get tickets for over a month ago but they were sold out until this weekend. They added another month to the exhibition and now that’s sold out too. The only tickets available are a few daily walk-in tickets.

This took place before the museum but wasn’t as important. My parents thought that we could get in to see the non-exhibit part of the house first and then go see the exhibit when our ticket time came up, but it turned out that the exhibit was spread out throughout the whole museum and so we couldn’t get in at all. So we went shopping for new boots, since my current boots are literally falling apart on my feet and if there were a particularly rainy day my feet would get absolutely soaked. We looked around a bit, and then we walked into Macy’s, I went over the sale rack, and I found these:

Black. Pre-distressed. Narrow. Suitable for scavenging through the fallen ruins of our once-glorious civilization. And they were up for 80% off so I got them for $27. When the salesman rang them up, he said apologetically that he couldn’t provide any further discount on top of that. You know, I’m okay with that.

Now I’ll just have to make sure to break them in before my old boots lose what little structural integrity they have left.

After that, we met [livejournal.com profile] drydem and his wife [twitter.com profile] ameliaaldred for dinner at Sable Kitchen and then headed down to the Gene Siskel Film Center to watch a movie they had suggested. It was called Sweet Bean on the advertisements, but the original title is あん.

It was Japanese in a way I’d have a bit of a hard time describing to someone who didn’t already know what I meant. If the movie had been American, there would have been a whole section dedicated to the evils of stereotyping and fighting to make sure that Tokue was able to keep working at the dorayaki stand, or maybe the schoolgirls would unite with the dorayaki baker to stage a protest against the owner’s plans to remodel the place where they stop in for a treat every morning before school. But, well, しょうがないな. Some things you just have to accept. It’s how you react to them that matters. I tend to take that approach to life too, which is why I think I liked the ending so much even though a lot of reviews I saw said it was overly sentimental.

I don’t know that much about cinematography, but I found the shot composition interesting. Almost all the shots were close-ups on one character at a time, occasionally with other characters blurry on the edge of the framing. A lot of the other shots were shots of nature: cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, that sort of thing. And other than maybe a few minutes here and there, there was no music whatsoever. I don’t watch enough movies to really give a good opinion of how ordinary this is, but I thought it was a neat stylistic choice.

I’m glad I could understand the Japanese, too. There were a few bits here and there with subtleties that I would have translated differently than the subtitled did, and an untranslated bit at the end just as the credits begin to roll where some children run up and order dorayaki, and when he asks how many they want, one shouts out, “Ten!” It was a lovely ending.

Also, I would kill a man for some taiyaki right about now.

Tea and sweet!

2016-Mar-27, Sunday 16:39
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd is out of town this week visiting friends so there's no Darker than Black, but I still bring you a post about food!

The first session of the LARP I joined is coming up in a week. It's a game of Scion where I'm playing a descendant of the Japanese god Izanagi, alongside [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd playing a descendant of Izanami--we were looking for a pair of deities that had a pre-existing relationship and which we felt culturally competent to play--and it finally inspired me to pull the trigger and order some matcha, along with a 茶筅 (chasen, "tea whisk") and a 茶杓 (chashaku, tea scoop). I didn't order a 茶碗 (chawan, "tea bowl") because I thought we already had one. It turned out that we did, but it was given to us by a friend and is currently sitting in our display cabinet and I probably shouldn't use it until i know what I'm doing.

Well, the tea came today, so I unboxed it, made sure that everything was in good condition, did a bit of googling to figure out what the proper ratio of matcha to water was, and went to work.

Aesthetically, I get at best a D. If you google matcha, you'll notice that the example photos that aren't the raw powder all have a nice light green foam on the top, but despite my whisking I couldn't get it to foam at all. It might be because I didn't whip it enough or vigorously enough, since the bowl I picked was more for aesthetics than for ease of preparation. It might be because I didn't sift the matcha to break it up before I put it in, since if it's finer it dissolves easier and makes a better foam. Also, I found some matcha at the bottom of the bowl that hadn't been absorbed. Oops.

It terms of taste, though, it was just as good as I remember it being. Not as bitter as some of the matcha I had in Japan, which probably means that I added too much water (or too little matcha, depending on how you're counting). It was very smooth, though, and contrasted really well with the sweets I had with it. The only problem I ran into was at the bottom of the cup where there were clumps of matcha that I hadn't mixed in well enough, but that's a problem of preparation that I know how to fix. Getting the foam...hmm. That might take longer.

It's like when I did some calligraphy at the Suzugamine Culture Festival. I can write 祭 just fine, but I didn't have any of the flair that a real master 書道家 would bring to the art.

No calligraphy to look at, but we do have a makeshift 床の間.

I didn't have any 和菓子 (wagashi, "Japanese sweets") and I'm not even sure where to get any without going to Mitsuwa and buying them directly from a bakery--with a quick search, yeah, looks that that's what I have to do--but the Asian grocery store down the street has a yuca and shredded coconut dessert (apparently from Malaysia?) that isn't Japanese at all but has a much more similar character to 和菓子 than, say, dark chocolate would. I alternated between bites of yuca, sips of matcha, and looking out the window, and it reminded me of how every time we'd see a sign in a temple that said "Tea and sweet," [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would stop for a cup. And now I can make my own.

The ears on top of the tea are pretty cute, too. But I should probably buy my own tea bowl.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
For the last few days, I haven't been able to finish my breakfast. A while ago I had to add an egg and a shot of olive oil to the traditional Japanese breakfast I eat in order to get enough food to last me through the day, but lately I end up with a bit of everything uneaten on my plate. Even more strangely, right now I'm not hungry. I'm typically starving within a couple hours of breakfast and lunch, but right now the thought of eating lunch is making me vaguely queasy.

I guess I could be getting sick, which would be just great heading into Yom Kippur. Maybe I should stop having the egg with breakfast and see if that helps. And if this continues, I'll have to figure something out. In high school I never ate breakfast and I did fine, but now I'd need to find something to bring to work because there's no way I can survive until 13:00 off last night's dinner.

Hopefully it's just a temporary thing.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
In Japan, there's a dish called オムライス ("omuraisu"), which if you're familiar with how the Japanese love to make portmanteaus, you know means omelet rice. It's usually made with fried rice, fried mostly in ketchup but sometimes in tonkatsu sauce or other heavier sauces, placed on the bottom and then a thin, slightly sweet omelet on top. It's the kind of thing that your mother makes for you in the winter when you can barely muster up the urge to get out of the kotatsu because it's freezing out, or when you're studying for your university exams and forgot to eat for most of the day. It's not very good for you, but it's really filling and it's great comfort food.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)

When I worked at Suzugamine, my second-favorite day of the week was Wednesday. My favorite day was Monday, because I only had one class that day and having a free day early in the week made weekly lesson planning really easy, but my second-favorite day was Wednesday because I'd get lunch at school in order to reduce [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's workload. For ¥550, I'd get a heaping plate of カツカレー, with delicious fatty pork, savory sauce, and fluffy rice, and I'd devour the whole thing. I even ate the first couple plates with chopsticks until the cafeteria workers told me in somewhat confused tones that it was okay to use a spoon.
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dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Shopping Center Thanks
Thanks was built back when the City University of New York had a branch in Chiyoda, and it managed to survive the closure of that university four years later by being the place where the surrounding even smaller towns, like Oasa or Geihoku, came to get goods. We went there a lot, because while it was primarily a grocery store, there were a ton of other smaller stores in there too. An alcohol shop, a bakery, a futon shop that later closed and was replaced with a travel agency (though fortunately after we had bought our futon), a stationary and book shop, a shoe shop, a hundred-yen store, two clothing stores, a pharmacy, a sushi stand...

We spent a lot of time at Thanks, though not as often as other people. While our fridge was around 2/3rds the size of an American fridge, we managed to buy a week's groceries at a time, instead of the two to three days' worth that's more common for Japanese families. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got some stares due to our bulging shopping basket until people figured that out.

The sushi stand, called 亀家 (kameya), had sales at the end of every day. At 5 p.m., sushi was 20% off, and at 6 p.m., it was 50% off. If we got there in time, before the crush of obaachans picked the offerings clean, we could get a pretty tasty sushi dinner for the two of us for maybe $15.

I'm not entirely sure what the rest of the building was for, but the bottom floor was a restaurant that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I would go to when we wanted to celebrate some event. It wasn't super high-end, but it was definitely more upscale than Funky Tonky or Iwata or Gusto. And while the internet at large is not too keen on it, we never had much to complain about. There are a lot of seafood-and-rice sets, some huge $100 sushi platters that we never got, noodle bowls, and really good appetizers. And basashi, which is amazing.

If you've heard me tell the story about ordering gekikara tantanmen and getting more than I bargained for, this is where it happened.

Coin Laundry
Yes, that's a raccoon on the sign. That's because the Japanese for raccoon is 洗熊 (araiguma), which literally means "washing bear," and the first kanji there is also the first kanji in 洗濯 (sentaku, "laundry")

We had a washing machine in our house that we washed all our clothes in, but we didn't have a dryer. That's not unusual for Japan, where hanging out the laundry to dry is very common, but during the winter hanging laundry outside is obviously out of the question so we hung it inside. And since our house was uninsulated and Japan is so humid, it would often take two to three days for it to dry completely. It was just awful all around.

It was [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's idea to start taking our clothes here, and while initially I was against it, I pretty soon came around when the benefits came through. We'd drop our clothes off, go shopping or go to dinner, change them, wait for 30 minutes, then take them home and they'd be done. Plus the laundry is heated, and the clothes are super warm when they come out. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would dump them out on the futon and then just lay on them for a bit, soaking up the heat. I really don't blame her.

This is another izakaya, though it's part of a chain and much more obviously a restaurant. The name comes from 八犬伝, the legend of the eight dog warriors, though they swap the middle character out for 剣, which is pronounced the same but means "sword." Because it's a chain, you can see their website here and their menu here. There's a ton of pictures, which is quite a change from Iwata, where the menu was just a solid block of kanji and kana in black on plain white paper.

I'm getting a lot of cravings looking at that menu. Hakkenden was the place where I learned about ochazuke and I always ordered that to finish off the meal, but there's a ton of other stuff there and now my mouth is watering. Kushiyaki, ramen and yakionigiri, gyoza and kara-age, spicy pickles and wasabi octopus, french fries and fried cheese, or--still a favorite--raw meat with raw egg and raw onions. Anyone who's seen me get grumpy when scanning the menu at a Japanese restaurant here in America, click those links and you'll understand.

We also ran into the owner of the local Poplar eating with some of his staff there once, and he bought us drinks for coming in and buying so many onigiri and cup noodles from them. That's service you can't pay for.

Town Hall and Community Center
That very uniquely-shaped building on the right is the town hall, where we only went a few times. We were there most at the beginning of our first year, when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to go get all her various papers and so on sorted out. Since she was the one with a job waiting for her, everything was in her name, so she had to sign up for utilities, register us for tax and immigration purposes, sign up for car insurance, and so on. Later on, I went there to change my dependent visa to a work visa, and later to look for work in the schools nearby.

The building on the left is the community center where we had our biweekly English class. It caught us by surprise the first time we were asked to teach it, and originally I think we didn't do that great a job, but we taught it for three years. A few people left, a few more people came in, and we honed our teaching abilities. There were some great moments, like when we had to go to a different room and ended up practicing directions by laying zabuton down on the floor, having one person close their eyes, and having the other class members tell them which way to go, or when we had a fake restaurant to practice customer interactions, or when we instituted "What have you done since last class?" time at the beginning so that no matter what, everyone spoke some English during class time.

I wrote a blog post about the last enkai we went to with the group. There's still a passage that sticks out to me:
At the end of the party tonight, we all stood outside and looked up at the full moon, and one of the students said, "When you're in America, you will be looking at the same moon." With all the friends I'll be leaving when we leave Japan, it's a good thought to remember.
I still remember that, sometimes, when I'm looking up at the night sky.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
The Corner Store
We didn't realize what this was for probably the first year that we lived in Chiyoda. It looks like it's called きもの ("kimono"), so we thought it was a clothing store or something, but it's actually きもと ("kimoto") with a stylized と. It wasn't until much later that we went and realized it was a grocery store with mostly packaged stuff but a small produce and butcher's section. They also had umeshu by the carton. It wasn't as good as the umeshu that our neighbor brought by, which looked like some kind of filthy water with plums floating in the plastic jar it was sealed in but which tasted amazing, but it was pretty good.

That store is also where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd ran into someone who claimed that he had been to Europe and he could guess any foreigner's nationality. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd invited him to try, and his first guess was "Swiss!" His second guess was German, and his third guess was British, after which [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told her she was American.

The response to all this from the shopkeeper was to the effect of, "How can you tell? They all look the same to me."

Poplar Conbini
There's two examples of what's usually called カタカナ英語 (katakana eigo, basically "Japanified English"). "Conbini" is an abbreviation of the Japanese pronunciation of Convenience (like Spanish, there's no V sound in Japanese) and it took me an inordinate amount of time to realize that the leaf symbol next to ポプラ (popura, "Poplar") meant it was the tree. The chain's website here here, though the usual warning about Japanese website design applies.[1]

We'd drive or walk down there when we needed a snack. Unlike America, Japanese convenience stores are actually worth going to. I mean, it's still not healthy, but it's not bottom-of-the-barrel packaged crap. They've got fresh-daily riceballs, bread from the Takaki Bakery just down the road (turn left and click down the Yae Bypass a ways if you want to see that), pre-assembled bentō with fresh rice from the conbini added, and so on. To this day, I still occasionally get the urge to head down to a convenience store for a snack before I remember that I've been to American convenience stores and very little there even looks appetizing, much less tasty.

The Ubiquitous Pachinko Parlor
That giant king there is one of the town pachinko parlors. Yes, one of them. If you turn the view left and look at the empty field next to the huge parking lot, there used to be another one there. The third one was there when we moved in, but closed and was demolished while we were living there. Apparently, the reason pachinko parlors are so common is that they're used for 天下り (amakudari, literally "descent from heaven"), the practice of public officials retiring and taking positions in organizations that they gave favorable considerations toward while they were government employees. Blatant corruption, basically. The associations that run pachinko parlors are owned mostly by former police officers, which makes the yakuza/pachinko connection even more unsettling.

To the right is a small ramen stand that we'd go too occasionally when we wanted a quick bowl of ramen. It was run by a roughly 150-year-old man who was quite possibly the friendliest person I've ever met. I think his advanced age meant we all looked the same to him as well, because he'd keep bringing out plastic toys and little trinkets for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd when we ate there, as though she was getting a ramen happy meal.

We also ran into him at a festival one day running an unagi stand. He was a man of many culinary talents.

Funky Tonky
This is almost certainly the saddest picture I'll post in this series, because that blank wall and empty storefront used to be Funky Talky. I wrote about the second time I ever went here, and it was probably the restaurant we went to most often in Chiyoda, usually going twice or three times a month. I say Tonky instead of Talky, which is what the little English on the menu said, because the inside was done up like a honky-tonk bar, with round tables, a carved wooden railing, a bar with a bunch of alcohol, and so on.

It was run by a woman and her son--we never got their names--and she did a lot to make us feel at home. Her mother brought her a ton of vegetables to use in her restaurant and sometimes she couldn't use them all before they would go bad, so she'd give them to us. I mostly got the yakiniku pilaf, which you can somewhat approximate by going to Sunshine Cafe in Andersonville and getting the Nanbanyaki, but it doesn't have the fried rice with bits of meat that yakiniku pilaf had. They also had a bunch of versions of American food, like the american hamburger that I mentioned above.

The sad part is that March of the last year we were there, right after the 東日本大震災, we went to go to dinner at Funky Tonky to find it closed. There was a note on the door, thanking people for coming, with another message below that I couldn't read at the time. I didn't think to take a picture and translate it later, because I thought it might be temporary closed. But it never reopened, and we never saw the owner or her son again. To this day, I have no idea why it closed.

I wonder how she's doing, and if her son ever put that French sommelier training he got to use elsewhere?

Iwata Izakaya
This is one I don't have a ton of memories of, but I'm including it for a couple reasons. The first is another example of how in small towns, shops often hide in the most innocuous of places. That's a restaurant, with houses on its side of the street and a lumber shop across the street. We passed this place dozens of times without realizing it was anything special until [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's jūdō club had an enkai there, and she called and invited me towards the end.

Izakaya are basically tapas bars, where the focus is on both eating and drinking. We mostly went to them for the food, though I'd occasionally get some umeshu (I really, really love umeshu), and Iwata had some great dishes. The main one I remember is 豚キムチ (buta kimuchi, "Pork and kimchi"), which was served all mixed together with these scooped rice cracker chips to pick it up and eat it. It was amazing. They also had 串焼き (kushiyaki, "Fried foods on a stick"), rice dishes, お茶漬け...all kinds of great stuff. I wish there were an izakaya to go to in Chicago, but as near as I can tell we just have upscale ramen restaurants.

[1]: Japanese web design is strongly influenced by the early availability of internet on mobile phones in Japan, so aesthetics are mostly based on optimizing for low-bandwidth phone connections even though smart phones are now common there. Packing tons of text in, no white space, bright-colored images with high contrast to be visible on 256-color screens, and so on.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
I've wanted to make a post like this for a while, but I've always been stymied before because I didn't think of using my phone to take pictures everywhere until about halfway through my time living in Japan, and even then I didn't typically take pictures of daily life. Everything you do all the time seems ordinary even if other people wouldn't think so, after all. I could have used Google maps, but the only places the picture vans had gone were the major thoroughfares, and even then a lot of the major side roads hadn't been explored at all.

Today, I looked on Google maps and found that Chiyoda had been thoroughly mapped by Google Streeview, even to the point of a lot of the single-car roads leading to nooks and crannies all over! So here, I present a lot of the places I remember and my memories of them, with Streetview links so you can see them yourself.

You'll have to forgive the constant shifting between overcast and sunny in the pictures, but on the other hand, it does a good job representing Japanese weather.

Home Sweet Home
We lived in that house for three years. The discolored one on the left is abandoned and had been abandoned for years before we got there, but ours was in great condition. It looks like a cement block on the outside, but the inside is all tatami and wood floors, sliding panels, shōji screens, separate bathroom and toilet, and all the other elements of a traditional Japanese home.

It was subsidized by the Kitahiroshima Board of Education, so we got a huge bargain on the price--monthly rent was 170,000円, which was around $200 at the time and is more like $160 now. That's a big part of the reason we were able to save so much money and also why we never moved, even in the winter when it got incredibly cold--most Japanese houses are uninsulated, and ours had concrete walls filled with sand so it was even worse than usual--or the summer when it was muggy and hot.

We had holes in our shōji screens for a while before we learned where to buy the supplies to repair them, so our house enjoyed brief fame among [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students as the creepy house.

A Picturesque Path
If you've ever seen those various postcards or pictures or anime sequences where children are walking along raised paths through the rice fields, while cicadas buzz or crows caw, then you recognize that picture. That was the route that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd took every day to get to school. Or at least, to Chiyoda's schools--she was at three other schools on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but since they aren't in Chiyoda and I never went there they won't feature here.

That route is also the path we always took whenever we went walking toward the town center or whenever we had to drive anywhere. It's about as wide as our car was, so it's a good thing we never ran into a car going the opposite way. There's a kind of car in Japan called a kei car that were narrower than normal and better designed for urban roads, but we had a Mazda Familia (which we affectionately called "Uncle Enzo"), so we sometimes had to be careful on the smaller rural roads.

Minimalist Intersection
This is what I mean about small roads. This is where we turned left after going down the path between the rice fields. It seems ridiculously narrow, and it was ridiculously narrow, but it's built for left-hand turns so we got used to it pretty quickly. If we were going to the high school, then we kept on straight ahead.

On the right at the side of the road, you can see an open rain gutter. These ran along the roads all over town, filling the air with the constant sound of flowing water even on hot summer days. Sometimes they had stone plates put over them with small holes to let the water in, but in Chiyoda at least, they were usually uncovered. We called them "gaijin traps."

Local Okonomiyaki
When we first moved to Chiyoda, this building was a bakery, but even though there was a sign out on the main thoroughfare and some of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students bought bread from there, we never managed to get there when it was open because it usually opened early and closed early. The one time we arrived during posted hours, it wasn't open.

About halfway through our time in Chiyoda, though, the family who lived there (shop/house combos are very common in Japanese towns) converted their bakery into an okonomiyaki restaurant where they made okonomiyaki to order. We'd select from the menu--no noodles, plus dried squid and kimchi for me, mochi and cheese for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd--and then they'd make it on the grill in view and bring it over to us. It was amazing, and writing this reminded me how much it annoys me that I can't get good okonomiyaki anywhere in Chicago.

Local Brewery and Shop
I don't have many memories associated with this place, but I'm including it because we walked past it a lot and because we'd get gifts of sake from the various people we worked with--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's co-workers, our students, and so on--and a lot of them came from here. The shop is actually quite small and you can see most of it through the door there. The building is primarily the brewery.

And yes, that is a booze vending machine on the right.

Chiyoda High School
I don't have nearly as many memories of this place as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd does, but it was still kind of the center of our lives in the town, along with the two English conversation classes we taught. I'd walk by it a lot, we'd see [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's students and their parents, around town, and I'd go to the festivals they'd hold there, like Sports Day or the Culture Festival.

If you've seen any school anime, you might recognize the building. This is because all Japanese schools look basically the same, and we were able to instantly recognize them no matter where we went. The main building is on the left, and the building on the right was a theatre and gym.

Next time, more pastoral memories!
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Well, not all that much, really.

Yesterday, the Kaminakas invited us to a local kaiseki restaurant run out of someone's house nearby (within a kilometer or so). The food was quite tasty--mostly related to spring, including mountain greens, young bamboo, potatoes, fresh wakame, and so on. It was somewhat unexpected it (the last time we got a personal invitation was two years ago), but when we asked, they said it was to thank us for having taught the class for all this time, which was quite kind of them. There wasn't quite enough normal food, but we got a giant tub of 竹の子 (take no ko) rice, which was really, really tasty.

The main thing I was happy about was that, other than a couple times where we used English because we didn't know the Japanese word (like e. coli. Had to look that one up :p) or where we didn't understand something and Kaminaka-san defined it for us, the entire night was spent talking in Japanese. A minor achievement, but every bit counts.

My parents are coming to visit on Friday. That'll be fun.

Zoo visit

2011-Mar-23, Wednesday 04:34
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Well, I mentioned the zoo in my last entry, so I might as well explain what I was doing there.

Like I said, we went there with the 大川s (that's "Ōkawa" for people who don't speak moon language). Mrs. 大川 is a P.E. teacher at Chiyoda High School with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd. Her husband is also a teacher, as it turned out, though of Japanese. Anyway, we went to the Asa Zoo, which is Hiroshima's somewhat-small zoo. It was raining the whole day, but I bought new umbrellas for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I, so it wasn't too bad. The main interesting part was talking to the 大川s' children. They had three: Ryoutarou, Hinata, and Kanata. Respectively, 8 years old, 5 years old, and 3 years old. Kanata obviously didn't say much, But both Ryou-chan and Hina-chan were able to talk to me, and I to them, with varying degrees of success. They're pretty good at English for their age--Ryou-chan could ask us our names, how old we are, our favorite colors and fruits, count to a hundred and tell us all those answers himself, and while Hina-chan lagged a bit behind, she was still better than some of the students I taught.

We did feel a bit bad, because they sprung a dinner on us without warning ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was under the impression that it was just going to be a visit to the zoo), which meant we went to their house without a house gift, and what's worse, they gave us one after making us dinner and buying a bottle of booze for me. That's massive 義理 we owe towards them, then, and I'm not sure we have a chance to repay it, since 大川さん is being transferred this year. Though we have her e-mail, so hopefully we are actually able to invite them over for dinner. We told them we'd make Mexican food for them. It's a popular choice, since it's not nearly as common in Japan as it is in America.

They made 手巻 for dinner, which, now that we've seen how it's made, we can buy supplies for to make ourselves pretty easily. The only difficult might be finding sashimi-grade fish in the States, since there's no standard for what exactly constitutes "sashimi-grade," but I'm sure we can figure it out. The meal also made me realize why the amount of water we're supposed to add to rice is so high. When it's just rice in a bowl I prefer it to be less glutinous, so to speak, but when it's part of 手巻 the stickiness really helps things out.

Someday I'm going to write a whole entry in Japanese, just to see if I can. I'm not sure if I'll make it private or not, or whether it matters in the end.

Maybe listening to 島唄 wasn't the best idea.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I've had this open for a while and not posted anything. Well, I'll leave it open for a while longer and see if I can think of anything to write. I knew I had something I wanted to post earlier, but I don't remember what they were.

We're in Fukuoka at the moment, as I'm sure you could tell from the tag. If you ask a Japanese person what that means, they'll say "Hakata," and Hakata means ramen[1]. Not the stuff that college students eat, of course, but real ramen. One of the people I know in Japan is somewhat of a ramen expert (Japanese ラーメン師, "ramen master," or at least that's what I called him when I asked for his advice), so we asked him where to go to get the best Hakata ramen. We've been stuffing ourselves on ramen while we're here, and holy crap it's amazing. I'll need to make real ramen for people when I come back to the States. I have a shōyu ramen recipe that still needs some work, but I should really try to make a good miso ramen. Tonkatsu ramen, while my favorite, requires boiling pork bones and pig fat for several hours and is something I'm unlikely to make any time soon.

[1]: And mentaiko, but I haven't tried that yet.


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