Saturday, 29 December 2012

Getting Lost in the Wilds of Sagamihara

One weekend in late November U and I headed out on a Toshogu crawl, as we often do (but hadn't in a while). Sunday being his one day off we started late, and weren't out of the house until early afternoon. Then we ran a few errands, and before we knew it it was starting to get dark! We headed off to the first Toshogu on our list, but by the time we got there it was dark and so we decided to visit again another day when we might actually be able to see the shrine!

Thus started our adventure.

U took a wrong turn as we were leaving the neighbourhood of the shrine, turning left when he probably should have turned right. The road wasn't on our navi system, and going by the piles of equipment still littering the area, the road had only just been completed. There wasn't anywhere to turn off or turn around, so we kept going.

We were on a new road through rice fields in a valley ringed by tall hills. Suddenly we came to a small village - it could have been just about anywhere in rural Japan, and probably about anywhen from the past 40 years too! We slowed down and drank in the view, amused by suddenly happening on this little town not all that far from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and yet so far far away from it all! The guy behind us wasn't too thrilled with our lazy pace, however, so U veered off onto a side street to let the mini-pick up truck pass.

We drove down narrow little roads and before long came to the edge of town. A bridge took us across the river and to the other side of the valley. Familiar blue signs pointed the direction to various places, and U started to go into the right hand lane to turn and head home. I looked left, and saw another little village tucked away around a bend in the road. Impulsively I asked U to go left.

He grinned and switched lanes, turning left with a big smile on his face.

We drove along, feeling like little kids exploring a new park. The road dipped and went around a bend and we stared out of the windows watching with delight.

Unfortunately the scenery that unfolded was all to familiar urban sprawl. I sighed and sat back, disappointed. But then I saw what appeared to be a michi-no-eki. My stomach was telling me it had been a while since lunch, and michi-no-eki often have yummy food on sale, so I pointed it out to U and he pulled into the parking lot. By the time we had parked and gotten out of the car I realized it was not a michi-no-eki, but a bakery complex. The banners proudly proclaimed an-pan to be the specialty, and my heart sank. I do really like bean paste, but most an-pan is rather boring. But we had parked and our stomachs were growling, so we headed in.

Ogino-pan (Ogino Bread) turned out to be a delightful discovery. At 6:30 Sunday evening the store was hopping, full of customers and the staff were busily putting out tray after tray of items fresh from the ovens. Free samples were copious and enthusiastically pushed onto customers. And the bread was delicious! We bought the ever-common Japanese cheese bread (a round loaf with cubes of cheese in the middle, and found it to be so much more flavourful than is common, with an array of herbs mixed in with the cheese), a cheese and kimuchi bun (that was still hot and ooooooohhhhh so yummy!), and a few other bits and pieces. As we were leaving the doughnut counter lady offered us a nibble of their doughnuts - wow! Soft and chewy yet crunchy outside, sweet but not overly so... So U went back into the store to buy a few doughnuts!


Most of the bread didn't find its way back home, although we did a few hours later, after taking another detour to a local kiddie amusement park...! But that will have to wait until tomorrow... ;)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fall Recap

I realize I've gotten far behind, but I'm finally just going through my photos and I found all the fall foliage photos I took and... well... here's a peak at some I took on two different days in Asukayama Park... sigh...

Saturday, 22 December 2012

To Chuck or not to Chuck

That, is the question.
Whether 'tis safer to toss it quietly,
Or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous proselytism....

When my dad was staying with us a few weeks back he answered the door one day to a woman who he deduced was a political canvasser. He said she seemed very friendly and used gestures to promise she'd be back. I didn't think about it much, hoping the fact that the election was soon to be over would solve it.

But, I have since discovered that it is actually illegal to canvass door-to-door for a political party in Japan (trolling the neighbourhood in a truck with loudspeakers that would make a headbanger band cry, however, is perfectly acceptable - go figure!).

I didn't think about my father's visitor, however, until we got up last Sunday. After a... ahem... VERY late night the night before, we slept in on Sunday and discovered our mailbox full of parcel delivery slips (two! different companies!) and a book wrapped in a plastic baggie. U opened the bag and pulled out the bag and accompanying note. The book is old and worn, the pages are yellowing but it has obviously been carefully cared for. The note, written on scented pink paper decorated with cutesy characters, looks like one written by an eight year old girl to her new penpal in some exotic location.

We can't be sure who left it, but the note does make it seem like the woman who did was a repeat visitor, and it is in English.

Now we have two problems - the local odd cult has marked us as foreign targets, I have no doubt they'll be back. (I don't normally answer the door, however, it is much easier to hang up the inter phone on someone than to shut the door when they've inserted themselves into your doorway!)

And, what to do with the book? I don't want it. The note includes the woman's name, address, and phone number, so I could call her to come and get it, but I hardly want to give her the chance! U didn't like my idea of him using it for English practice, and it is too late in the season for me to send it to my father as a Christmas present. U said to just chuck it, but it's a book and I can't seem to do that...


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Rainy Day Park

On Saturday I went on a walk on my lunch hour. It was rainy and cold and miserable, but still beautiful!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Vending Machines

Japan is well known for its vending machines - drink machines can be found on every street corner and out in what seems to be the middle of nowhere by the edge of a rice field. The norm is drink machines, with heated cans or bottles replacing a row or two of the regular chilled drinks during the colder months. Drinks can vary from sodas, juices, green tea, coffee, and milky black tea to beer, sake, corn soup, or even red bean soup.

Some stations have newspaper vending machines and recently I've seen more snack machines - selling chocolate bars and bright yellow boxes of "Calorie Mate." Parking areas or service areas on the highways have vending machines that will (supposedly) heat up a box of french fries or tako-yaki, and others that will make you a fresh cup of coffee - right from grinding the beans - and show you the whole process in real-time via an internal camera.

Then while shopping the other day I saw a new kind of vending machine... a Proactive face wash machine! It was huge - easily the size of three regular drink vending machines across, and appeared well-stocked.

But I still think my favourite vending machine has to be one that I heard about listening to my favourite news podcast, CBC's As it Happens, the Bibliomat, a home-made vending machine that dispenses used books at the Monkey's Paw second-hand bookstore in Toronto!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Seasonal sights

Summer in Japan is hot and sticky and ugly. Winter, in poorly insulated and badly heated homes, is cold and miserable. Spring and fall, however, can be gorgeous - sunny and warm and full of colour. In the spring it is the cherry blossoms covering everything in pompoms of pink and white, and then raining a snow of petals. In the fall it is ginkos and maples and a host of other trees turning colours from deep yellow to bright bright red. Some people have a clear favourite, the sakura (cherry blossoms)

or the koyo (fall colour),

but others, like me, can't choose just one. The sakura, with their fresh but ephemeral beauty and the koyo with its majestic and awe-inspiring ability to paint an entire hillside a rainbow of reds and yellows.

Well what if you didn't have to choose? What if you could have your sakura AND koyo too?!

Known as ju-gatsu sakura or aki-zakura (October or autumn blooming cherry), there are cherry trees that bloom in the fall, their delicate pink and white petals standing out against the showy vibrant trees.

Sure the sakura were rather scraggly, but sakura AND fall leaves?! Now that is having your cake and eating it too!