Sunday, 28 March 2010

The reason...

why I haven't been posting recently...

that and my dad is here to share in the festivities... and camp out in my teeny tiny one room apartment...!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bookcase Tour Tuesday - Hokusai

One of my friends works for the Cultural Properties Department of Sumida-ku, in Tokyo. She has been indirectly involved in the ward's plans to build a Hokusai Museum. The ward was given an impressive collection of woodblock prints by the famous artist, collected and donated by an American art historian, Peter Morse (great-grandnephew of Edward Sylvester Morse, a zoologist who first taught that field in Japan and also discovered the first shell mounds thereby starting the study of archeology as well; also half of the focus of my first MA thesis)


When he donated the collection to Sumida-ku, Morse stipulated that it should be put on display in a purpose-built museum. While that museum doesn't exist yet (although archaeological surveys are currently being carried out on the land where it is to be built) a catalogue of the heart of its collection has been published in limited circulation. I was lucky to be given a copy of this large hardcover book for free!

The collection is lacking in Hokusai's more widely known prints but it is very impressive and extensive, and contains some beautiful prints of people and everyday situations, of landscapes, and... of ghost stories! - I'm looking forward to visiting the finished museum!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Loving two worlds

As I mentioned last week, it has taken me a while to get back into the swing of things in Tokyo. For a while, with the glow of my visit to Olympic Vancouver still on, I was questioning my desire to stay in Japan. But slowly I've gotten my groove back. Today was a day that reminded me why I am here, an easy day for a things I love Thursday!

I spent the morning at SnB - while we haven't had many the past few months, there was a great turn out today, and we took over one side of the second floor of the coffee shop. I'm sure there were more than a few salarymen freaked out by the large group of foreign women laughing and talking loudly in English!

I left there and headed off to spend my afternoon with a very different group - all Japanese and almost all male. I had been invited to attend a meeting/mini-conference held by a group of about two dozen museums. It was very well attended and the discussion was much more lively than I had expected. It gave me a lot to think about, and reminded me that just because I'm graduating next week does not mean my opportunities to learn and discuss are coming to an end.

Two very different groups, two very different meetings, two very different parts of my life here, two very different things to love!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boiling the oil

I was rather apprehensive when La Fuji Mama announced that this month's Washoku Warriors challenge was tempura. I enjoy eating it, don't get me wrong, but cooking it myself? Tempura cooking fires are a danger I heard about in spades and then got to take my hand at putting out when I went to the Tachikawa Bosaikan (a hands-on disaster prevention museum). Then there is the mess involved in cooking with oil - judging by the complaints I've heard just thinking about cooking with oil could condemn my kitchen (such as it is) to be permanently coated in inches of oily sludge. When I told U that our challenge this month was tempura he wasn't pleased either. But I insisted and he gradually warmed to it - as long as I would agree to doing more than just the kakiage (mixed veggies) the challenge called for.

So we headed out on Saturday afternoon to do our grocery shop, me attempting to faithfully pick up the veggies the recipe called for and U questioning every vegetable I chose.

U - "What? You're using sweet potato? Why?!??"
Me - "Because that is what the recipe calls for."
U - "But kakiage doesn't need sweet potato. Why are you buying carrots?"
Me - "Because that is what the recipe calls for."
U - "But kakiage doesn't need carrots. Why aren't you buying lotus root?"
Me - "Because the recipe doesn't call for it."
U - "But kakiage needs lotus root! Why aren't you buying baby shrimp?"
Me - "Because the recipe doesn't call for it."
U - "But kakiage needs baby shrimp!"

and on... and on...

In the end we agreed on burdock root, and I was able to convince him on the carrot (because we cheated and bought it already julienned with the burdock root) and the sweet potato but gave up on the parsnip (I'm not sure I could have found it here anyways) and used lotus root instead. We also bought a package of big shrimp to make up separately. We decided to go ahead and make up the kakiage with all the veggies we had bought - and ended up with a LOT of extras. I followed Andoh's advice and froze them and am looking forward to heating them up and trying out two more of Andoh's recipes to reuse them - putting the kakiage over noodles or rice with sauce.

As for the actual cooking...

It turned out to be not nearly as scary/messy/difficult as I had worried. Our only problem was that, without a thermometer, we couldn't check the temperature of the oil and I'm fairly sure that we ended up cooking our tempura in oil that just wasn't quite hot enough.

The poor shrimp were first, and took the brunt of the oil's low temperature, I think - not quite getting the golden browny colour the should have, and ending up a little on the soggy side.

We had two sweet potatoes left over after we mixed up the kakiage veggies and decided to just slice them up and tempura them too.

Wow... what a good idea! These were delicious! Since I made a number of the flavoured salts (matcha salt, goma/sesame seed salt, sansho salt) while U was frying up the shrimp and the first batch of sweet potato, we just HAD to test it and the tempura too... mmmm... I think we ended up eating about half the sweet potato that way - "just one more, I haven't tried this salt yet..." mmmm!

And then, of course, the kakiage - which turned out surprisingly well, sticking together and even making relatively the right shape (except when I got over ambitious and put too much in, and even then it was pretty forgiving!)

Our meal was terribly unbalanced - three types of tempura with just rice and miso soup to round it out - but oh so yummy.

The clean-up wasn't nearly as bad as I had worried either (bless U, he's a real keeper as he did more than his fair share of the clean-up!) so who knows, tempura may make an appearance in our kitchen again. Although I have a feeling U will insist on choosing the ingredients next time...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Bookcase Tour Tuesday - Ravishing Beasts

While visiting Canada last month I was able to visit two museums, including the Museum of Vancouver. I already mentioned the museum and the Ravishing Beasts special exhibit, but I wanted to share more about the exhibit and the catalogue.

When I discovered that one of the special exhibits was on taxidermy I wasn't expecting much, I tend to find it rather creepy. The exhibit, however, turned out to be a fascinating one.

It started with an overview of the history of taxidermy, including early museum-like displays.

Then there were step by step examples of how a model is constructed.

Then there was an area about dioramas and habitat exhibits with animals. These types of exhibits were once very common in museums but are increasingly being replaced in renewals so I really enjoyed this section, especially the video that demonstrated how one such exhibit was constructed.

Then were also a number of different animals on display - local animals, a "trophy" wall, and a few fantastical beasts.

(I convinced my friend that this particular animal was commonly found in the local area. She asked me about its habitat and diet and I was almost able to make up answers with a straight face, but then I started giggling and she realized she had been had... tee hee!)

There were some whimsical examples of how taxidermied animals were displayed.

and some less whimsical examples of modern art.

Being the museum nerd that I am, however, I loved the last section, with a display recreating how taxidermy animals are stored in museum storage. This section asked visitors their opinions on taxidermy collections and for suggestions about what should be done with these collections in the future.

A fascinating exhibit that connected into many of the things I've learnt about museum history and also made me think about the future of museums too.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Yesterday I went to a very odd museum with a friend. We kept feeling as if we had fallen down the rabbit hole as things just kept getting curiouser and curiouser.

After today I am convinced that I am in some sort of bizarre alternate universe.

Not only did my visa application get (successfully) processed in under a week, but when I went to pick it up today I was back on the bus to Shinagawa with a new sticker in my passport in under 15 minutes!

I got there later than I had planned and fully expected to have to cancel my lunch plans. Instead I was early and had to wait for my friend!

Certainly an alternate universe... or at least I thought so until a crazy guy started making faces at me while I was waiting for the train, and later I realized I was getting a full watt obaasan glare... yup, still in Japan.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Thursdy lovin'

I've been back in Tokyo for a week and a half now and am slowly getting back into the swing of things. I wasn't thrilled about having to come back, and then being welcomed back only a few hours into my return to Japan by having a police officer demand to see my papers for no apparent reason - not the greatest welcome back. But things have been slowly getting better, and to remind myself of that, here's a Thursday list of things I'm loving this week:

- onsen... and even better are the outdoor variety - rotenburo! (especially in cool mountain weather!)
- hand-made buckwheat noodles (te-uchi soba)
(why yes, I did go to Nagano for the weekend, a class trip to Matsumoto and a nearby onsen area that was very relaxing and just generally good fun despite icky cold drizzly/slush weather)
- spending long days at the museum editing and proofreading English material for an upcoming special exhibit - and catching a few Japanese mistakes! Then having a coworker compliment me on just how much my Japanese has improved due to writing my thesis
- getting a letter from my university with confirmation I will be graduating as well as all the details for convocation
- having the free time to cook for myself - not gourmet meals by a long shot, but equally not just throwing together whatever I can in under 5 minutes before I go back to studying. Using actual ingredients (fresh vegetables!!) to make a pasta sauce, or a stew, or...
- freshly made and piping hot tai-yaki (fish-shaped red bean buns) from the stand near my school
- catching up with friends - lunches, museum dates, time with people I haven't had the chance to hang out with recently between being away and having my life be swallowed by my thesis
- the weather! After what seems like weeks of cold icky wet weather, today is warm and sunny and beautiful. I have my balcony screen doors open and am loving the feeling of the breeze blowing through my room and how bright and fresh my room feels!

but most of all I'm loving a piece of mail I got yesterday. If it turns out to be what I think it is, that is...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bookcase Tour Tuesday - Beautiful Japan

At the risk of sounding sappy, it was after an all-day visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (or 'Edo-haku') that I remember first saying to myself "I would LOVE to work in a museum someday... And, wow, to work in a Japanese museum!" At the time I wasn't in museum studies, nor did I actually think I would end up working in a museum - let alone a Japanese one (which by the way looks like it will continue a while - Japanese immigration willing - as the museum has offered me increased hours and a half-step up from my current position post-graduation... wheeeeee!)

Edo-haku has two large floors of exhibits on the history of Edo - from its beginnings as a castle town in the 16th century, to the modern Tokyo. It has some great hands on sections, and I really like the mix of historical objects with dioramas and other modern secondary objects to round out the picture. Unfortunately over the past few years Edo-haku has begun to show signs of carelessness - objects being changed around while the interpretive panels remain the same (and thus no longer quite fit with the objects on display), a lack of background information, and most glaringly seriously flawed English.

The "Beautiful Japan"(Utsukushii nihon - taisho showa no tabi) exhibition in the late summer/early fall of 2005 was no exception - some truly beautiful objects, a fascinating range of objects, and some appallingly bad English.

The good...

the bad...

and the just plain ugly English... (and no, I'm not referring to the name, although it would more commonly be spelt "Chichibu")

and some more good...

(sorry for the poor quality of the images this time around, its a big catalogue with a very hard spine, and didn't want to play nicely with my scanner!)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Feelin' Useful

When I knit something for a friend I normally do so of my own volition – I choose the yarn and pattern.

Sometimes the result is a perfect fit for the recipient, and sometimes not. I accept that, partly because I enjoy the opportunity to play with different types of yarns and various patterns, and partly because I’m just contrary enough that I wouldn’t enjoy knitting something I was told to knit. So I try not to get too upset when I realize that something I’ve knitted doesn’t actually suit the person I’ve given it to.

But sometimes whatever I’ve knitted IS right for the recipient. Watching the face of a friend unfolding a new hand-knit scarf can be incredibly rewarding, by far worth all the time spent knitting (although perhaps not the time spent weaving in the ends – ugh!). The realization that something I made can make another person happy is a wonderful feeling.

Then there are other times, when I see an object I’ve knitted in use. Being able to see that something I’ve knit for somebody is not only appreciated as a thing of beauty, but is used on a regular basis makes me incredibly happy.

One of the first scarves I made a few years ago was out of Noro for a school friend. It goes with all of the various weights of coats she owns, and matches all her regular bags (she, like me, has a bit of a bag fetish). She uses it ALL the time, and every time I see her wearing it, or see it tucked into her purse in case the day gets colder, it never fails to make me smile.

When I was back in Canada recently I realized that my knitting is used there too. In the back seat of my dad’s car, perfect for easy access and solving the problem of where-did-I-leave-it-last-itis, I found the scarf I had knit for him last year. And, when I went to see my old Japanese professor, I saw folded on her shelf the shawl/lap blanket I had knit for her in the fall. She saw me looking at it and explained that now that the weather had warmed up she wasn’t using it often, but it had been wonderful through the cold part of the winter (this year has been unseasonably warm in the area, regular temperatures of -20 have been replaced by those hovering around the 0 mark, leaving an icy but almost snow-free landscape that is very very uncommon for BC’s frozen north!)

Knowing that my knitting is being used, keeping warm those I love even when I’m far away, is a wonderful feeling. But seeing these two last projects made me realize two things – 1) I’m a forgetful daughter because I completely forgot I had promised to make a matching toque for my father, I need to go and try to buy some more of the same yarn! and 2) I’m a forgetful student because I completely forgot I hadn’t yet shared photographs of my professor’s lap-blanket!

(a gorgeous gorgeous variegated yarn in greens and purples that I just about kept for myself until I remembered how much I dislike yarn with bobbles on it!)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Bookcase Tour Tuesday - Doll Festival

With the Doll's Festival a few days away I figured I should choose a doll-themed catalogue for this week.

This catalogue was printed by the Shibusawa Memorial Museum for their Doll Festival Exhibit last year. It is small, only about 20 cms square, and slim, only 25 pages, but it has gorgeous photography. The dolls and their various possessions are presented in stunning colour and accompanied by exerpts from the diaries of the dolls owners.