Monday, 23 July 2012

Ume syrup - round two, week 4

What are these penguins celebrating?

It's all ready! Golden and sweet and tart and very very very yummy.

I wonder how long it will last? ;)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Metro Movie

Riding the Tokyo Metro everyday to and from work, I keep an eye out for the manners posters.  A few years ago they did a series encouraging people to leave certain behaviours "at home" and the Tobu line did a series playing on children's stories (here and here). Then the Metro went through a period of using cute animal pictures for their manners posters (of course, I'm partial to July 2011). Currently they are back to the simple cartoon, this time with an odd little bear taking the brunt of people's bad behaviour.

But more interesting than the current manners posters, is a Where's Waldo meets hidden picture poster showing various measures the Metro has taken to safeguard their stations and tunnels from typhoons and the rains of the rainy season.  It is a fun poster with tons of cute details  from dinosaur bones buried beneath the tracks to a ninja in full get-up to a bride and groom running to catch their train. Rurousha wrote about the poster much better than I could, so I'm going to leave it at that... and the video below, of cartoon version of the poster, playing on screens throughout the Tokyo Metro.  The Ninja makes an appearance, as do the dinosaur bones, with the addition of a cute frog hopping along the Tokyo sidewalk and somewhat disturbing disappearing Metro employees...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Umeshu

100 types, 100 minutes, 1000 yen self-serve umeshu.

Happy Wednesday!!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Ume syrup - round two, week 3

These two little penguins are ready to dig in, and so am I, but there is one week left before this syrup is ready...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Osaka Day Three

I had been planning to head out early-ish and hit up two museums before catching the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. But a holiday Monday and two adorable little ones who wanted to play cars and throw themselves at me after racing down the hall meant I didn't get going until early afternoon, giving me just enough time to check out a special exhibit i had missed in Tokyo I feel badly for skipping the half a dozen Osaka museums I'd like to have visited, but there always is next time and how can you beat a morning spent running matchbox cars along a plastic track and a visit that ended with "Wub ew Sarah! Wetz pway agen soooon!"

Osaka Day Two

Day two began just south of Osaka where we visited a small but very impressive local natural history museum. A very dedicated and VERY enthusiastic volunteer gave a rather long tour of the exhibits before taking us behind the scenes to the storage space, full of jars of specimens and stuffed tanuki dressed up in plaid golf suits.

After lunch we met with the honorary director of the museum, a venerable old gentleman well into his 80s. He too, however, was rather long winded and we were over an hour late heading back into Osaka to meet with a past grad working at a museum in the city. All we had time for was a quick run through the permanent exhibits (and a majestic if marred by reflections view of downtown Osaka and the castle) and the a brief peek behind the scenes (where we were accosted by a part-time security guard who didn't know the curator and was rather insistent he usher us out of what was supposed to be a closed museum!).

But the best part of the day came after I said goodbye to my advisor (heading to have drinks with the curator before grabbing a Shinkansen back to Tokyo) and the other students (off to buy gifts and kill a few hours before their overnight bus back). I jumped on a train and headed to Kobe where a friend from my Harvard days met me at the station. We caught up over a painfully slow but delicious Thai dinner and then back to his place. His wife and two small kids were still awake and despite assertions that they tended to be shy, I had them both sitting on my lap within a few minutes, and was sent to bed with a chorus of "g'nai!" and two sets of little arms encircling my neck for goodnight hugs.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Osaka Day One

I didn't arrive in Kansai until after noon (and got off the Shinkansen and promptly got on the wrong local train and ended up in the opposite direction from where I wanted to be... necessitating a backtracking and meaning I arrived at the meeting point just as all the others finished lunch), but as soon as we all met up my advisor led us off to two museums one after the other - walking in the muggy heat and bright sun. We were all hot and sweaty in no time.

The first stop was a small and pretty basic local museum, but the second was a much larger municipal institution where one of the curators, a friend of my advisor's and a very keen and bright young guy, let us wander the exhibits before taking us on a very detailed tour of the storerooms and other "backyard" areas. Being given free rein to poke about the storerooms was pretty cool, bit how do you really excite a group of museum nerds? Show them the fumigation chamber! We all whipped out our cameras and started snapping away as if it were a star-studded red carpet!

(Speaking of stars, this grumpy roof ogre was my favourite artifact on display - wouldn't you like to have him guarding your home?!)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Kakigori

Shaved ice with sweet yoghurt and fresh mango sauce. Not your average dayglo snowcone!

Hamamatsu Toshogu

The first time we visited Hamamatsu Toshogu it was mid-summer, hot and humid.  We parked the car in what was almost a parking spot and walked up the hill.  There was only one other person there - a young guy clutching his tourist history map who stared at us as he wandered around.  As always, I had to remind U to pay our respects to the shrine (tossing a 5 yen coin into the box, ringing the bell, clapping and bowing) before taking pictures.

U was disappointed we weren't able to get our shrine stamp books stamped, so when we were back in Hamamatsu six months later, over new year's, we went back with the hope of finding a priest to sign and stamp our books.

Again we found a slight widening in the road in which to park, and walked a short distance to the shrine.  The difference in the shrine, however, was... well, since it was just past midnight the differences were more than just night and day! The path to the shrine was lined by tables, there was a tent with a gas stove where a few older men were warming their hands against the cold night air, and a group of middle aged women and men stood around a gas ring with a steaming pan of amazake.

U accepted a china cup of the ghastly sweet sake-like (alcohol free) drink and pronounced it delicious.  A beaming man thanked U for the compliment, telling us he ran the sake store just down the hill.  As we chatted with the rather tipsy man U asked him whether the shrine had a regular priest, and if would be possible to get stamps in our books.  We were told to go to the sake store the day after next, and our new friend would help us out.

Two days later we pulled up to the sake store and I was more than a little uncertain - there was a very good chance the friendly owner had been too tipsy to remember the promise.  As soon as we walked into the store, however, we were ushered into the back room.  A quick glance around the room convinced me my worries had been unnecessary.  Just about every free space was littered with scraps of paper covered with brush strokes with the shrine name and date, somebody had been feverishly practicing their brushmanship!

Although I'm not sure that the shrine stamp originally contained a line about a certain type of herb sake being Ieyasu's favourite, the resulting stamp and signature are ones that U and I will treasure and remember for many many years.  And U's family enjoyed the herb sake omiyage we brought them, so I guess Ieyasu had good taste!

Hamamatsu Toshogu 

Look carefully above the hand-washing fount...

Its a nemuri-neko!
(See, Rurousha, I told you it wasn't just at Nikko! sorry I made you wait so long for proof!)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The End

All good things must come to an end... Goodbye hydrangeas!


The fact that it had a garden was one of the things that made us fall in love with our place the first time we saw it. At the time we didn't know that our garden had a hydrangea. It is a gorgeous vivid blue and still blooming now.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ume syrup - round two, week 2

The sugar is almost all gone and the syrup is looking good. Not much longer now!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

TILT - Saturday version

Sure I'm a few days late, but here are a few things in loving this Saturday...

- umeshu
- laughing till I cry (perhaps related to the first one...)
- finishing projects at work
- helping foreign visitors to the museum
- making new friends (related to number two and number four!)
- museums open late in the evening and interesting special exhibits!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Buy Canadian

People say you appreciate something more when you no longer have it - your health, a partner, your country...

Being an expat can teach you to appreciate the country of your birth in many ways, sometimes not entirely expected.

After having been an expat of some sort for a decade I have gone through a range of things - at grad school in the US I had no problem with toiletries or clothes, but found myself craving wine gums, mars bars, and salt and vinegar chips that make the inside of your mouth hurt they are so strong. In India it was hot chocolate, cheese, and sushi (yes, I got teased about that one, but Vancouver has some of the best sushi I've ever eaten).

In Japan my biggest problem is clothes. Since many stores in Canada don't sell pants long enough for me I'm not surprised that in a country where the average female barely comes up to my shoulder the pants are a little short. So trips to Canada always entail a suitcase coming back with a new wardrobe - packed around sauce packets (gravy mix, hollandaise sauce powder, etc), wine gums, pita chips, maple syrup and maple cookies for gifts, deodorant sticks, and various other toiletries. And drugs. Not the kind that'll get me stopped by the sniffer dogs, of course, but extra strength Advil liquid gels and extra strength Midol.

With our trip to Canada coming up in just over a month I'm excitedly making lists of things and goods to bring back. I've also started getting omiyage (gift) requests from friends and coworkers. One wants duty-free cosmetics, another wants decaf tea bags, and my coworkers want maple cookies, except for the two who asked for "pain killers that actually work."

If you could have one thing from Canada, what would it be?

Monday, 2 July 2012

Ume syrup - round two, week 1

Starting off with a bit of vinegar definitely gets the juices flowing and stirring daily breaks down the sugar faster!

(and a different penguin, just for fun)

East eats meet West eats!

(try to say that ten times really fast!)

I stopped in at one of the import food stores the other day, always a dangerous thing to do. There are fridges full of cheese to drool over (including "apple pie cheese" with apple bits and raisins and sugar... eeeeewww!) and mixes and packets to make Korean stir fries or Thai noodles or Indian curries or... Then there are imported chocolates and cookies an snack foods...

I went in with an empty stomach as I was waiting to meet U for dinner, and we all know that is the most dangerous time to go shopping. I managed to come out relatively unscathed, although somehow I did end up with a bag of salt and vinegar chips. Not something I buy regularly at all, but I do love salt and vinegar chips - the ones that are so salty and vinegary that your mouth shrivels after a few chips. And with Canada Day and planning our trip I guess I was feeling a want for something Canadian. So I bought the chips.

But they aren't me being homesick, they are a sign of how much I'm used to and comfortable with life in Japan. The chips aren't potato chips, they are seaweed chips - pieces of seaweed battered on one side and deep fried. And flavoured with salt and vinegar.

Boy were they good. A bi-cultural success - both the Westerner and the Easterner thought so!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Canada Day

With no festival in the nearby park or parade down main street or fireworks and BBQ, I have to celebrate Canada Day myself. Sure, I could have dragged U to a bar in Shibuya for a Canadian beer and music party, but I decided to do things my way.

I bought sausages and eggs and "American cherries" at the grocery store last night, and was going to make a special Canada Day brunch this morning... until I realized I had forgotten we were out of maple syrup. How could I do a Canada Day brunch without maple syrup?

(In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit I don't actually like syrup of any sort on my pancakes. U does but I find it too sweet, especially with the sweetness of Japanese pancake mix. I usually mix the mix with plain yoghurt and an egg instead of milk or water and I find it much less sweet and amazingly fluffy and good, but still not on need of syrup. I do, however, put syrup in my sausages, a habit that some British friends labelled as quintessentially Canadian, and some Canadian friends have called odd, but my Japanese brownies LOVED when I taught it to them at camp one year.)

So I as I was contemplating the disappointment and possible passport-revoking that would follow from a Canada Day brunch without syrup, U offered to make a supermarket run. Thirty minutes later a plate of golden sausages and two plates of fluffy golden pancakes were on the table, along with Canadian maple syrup and two glasses of Canadian Dry soda water that were U's attempt at adding to the festivities.

As we ate we discussed the War of 1812, the royalty and Canada, how maple syrup is made (my uncle makes the BEST SYRUP in his very own backyard... yummmmm!), and the first prime minister of Canada. No fireworks, and the sausages were not maple smoked breakfast sausages, but not a bad way to celebrate the 145th birthday of my country.

Happy Canada Day!