Archive for November, 2012

Hiking

“The Sunwell”

             



Went to…a mountain, possibly called “Kanayama”, but I’m not really sure. At the top of the mountain (which is not a big mountain for Japan, more like a foothill or smallish mountain) are the ruins of an old Japanese castle, built in the early 1400s. Probably for a Daimyo or Shogun (Shoguns were Japanese warlords and Daimyo were sort of their…magistrates, from what I remember of Japanese history. You can almost undoubtedly look it up yourself and either prove me wrong or just woefully under-informed.)

Mika (an American girl) and I drove halfway up the mountain, hiked to the top, took in the view, saw the ruins and visited the shrine and temple. There was a prayer for a happy/fortunate holiday posted outside of the temple (it was a holiday weekend), and there were statues of foxes everywhere.

A fox, or “kitsune”

The fox is a prominent figure in Japanese folklore, although I’m not sure of its specifics. So here is a wikipedia link for us all to learn a little more:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitsune

Then we hiked down the backside of the mountain to an awesome children’s playground (which, given what sorts of things were on the playground, could also totally serve as a ninja training camp). There was also supposed to be a Koi pond, which on the map showed happy little fish jumping out of the water. Instead it was sort of dull and only had rather limpid ducks.


All in all though, a really fun time, and a beautiful day. I plan on going back, frequently if possible.

Prayers left at the temple

Kitsune

Mountains in the distance

Some parts of the mountain were covered in bamboo groves


Meandering Thoughts on Food. First Installment.

Sorry for the hiatus everyone! More posts from now on, I promise.

So now that I’m back…Japanese food. Again. Even though I may have briefly touched on this already….food is important to me. Because I love it.

Can you spot the gelatin cubes? 😀

Fruit: I tried for about a period of two weeks straight to find some kind of fruit cup-esque thing that kids take in their school lunches. That sort of thing. Or even just yogurt with fruit in it. Fruit here is either expensive or exotic enough that I don’t know how to consume it. Plus, I wanted to add something relatively healthy to my convenience store lunches, and salads get old. (Or have weird identifiable items in them, and sometimes, I just want to know what the fuck I’m eating.)  So I have bought probably around ten different items which I believes to be fruit cups (so, fruit in fruit juice) or yogurt with fruit chunks. I was deceived. EVERYTHING here has gelatin in it. Everything. At first I was slightly concerned over the sheer number of murdered horses this probably entailed, but then I learned that I [think] they make most of their gelatin out of soy. Which still didn’t solve my problem of finding large cubes of gelatin in everything. Also, the gelatin varies in consistency, sometimes we’re talking finger jello, sometimes we’re talking those weird old people fruit candies…that have a name. But I don’t know what it is. Also, I’m not sure how you feel, but I think jello is sometime a fun treat. Or shot. But that’s about it. I have NO desire to eat gelatin on a regular basis until I lose my teeth. It’s a consistency that, as an adult American, I am no longer accustomed to, and don’t find it appetizing in large doses. They also use gelatin as filler to make their desserts look larger, so you can bet that under that tiny scoop of delicious looking chocolate mousse, there’s a blob of gelatin. Most commonly I find it as a jello surrounding all of my fruit, in my fruit cup pretending to look like pieces of pear or apple, and in my yogurt as unpleasant hidden surprise cubes. I am so. sick. of gelatin.

Meat: Oy. I haven’t bought much meat at the supermarket yet, mostly for lack of money and knowledge of what I’m buying. I bought white meat boneless chicken breasts at costco! Miracle. Japanese much prefer dark meat, so white meat is actually cheaper here. By a lot. My other forays into meat include eating at a Brazilian restaurant…I was skeptical, since nearly all the dishes are simply a giant piece of meat with not much else, and I’ve never been a fan of eating just a piece of meat for a meal. I just don’t like meat THAT much. Ohhhh until now. It was so good to take real steak, real pork, even real sausage (which I generally dislike). If you want meat in this area of Japan, go to a Brazilian restaurant. Or grocery store.

Which reminds me! While hanging out in Oizumi [Oh-ee-zoo-mee], the Brazilian part of town, I stopped at a grocery store where some Brazilian men were making FRESH caramel-filled churros outside. I never thought I’d have the best churro of my life in Japan. Next door there was a vendor selling some meat pastries, which were also delicious. I think I’ll be hanging out in Oizumi more often.

A seafood bento box

Ok, back to meat: Convenience store food. I usually stick to salads (which don’t worry, are still weird), rice balls (as previously discussed are actually triangles), and breads stuffed with hot fillings (particularly the “pizza” flavored one).  These things are beginning to get tiresome because I probably eat about 4 meals a week at a convenience store, sometimes more. So I’ve ventured into Bento boxes (“lunch” boxes, which is essentially a tray of prepared, assorted foods). I’ve had the seafood/ fish one twice, which either has squid, octopus, or both. (I can’t read the label, nor identify what I’m eating). It also has at least one kind of fish, and sometimes shrimp, along with a little salad or Japanese pickles, and a fried potato. I decided to try the “meat” one. There was chicken in it, which was…ok, though by all normal standards of chicken it was bad chicken. But my expectations for meat here are considerably lowered. Then there was a patty of some kind of ground up and pressed together meat stuff. I have no idea what animal it came from, it was closest in color to a warm grey, and didn’t taste like anything I’ve ever eaten. It tasted so. bad. I will take chewy chunks of octopus over this mystery meat any day. It had some kind of Japanese attempt at bbq? sauce on it, which did not improve it. I choked about half of it down because I get the feeling that my diet here is woefully short on protein. About 20 minutes later I had to leave my elementary class to run to the bathroom, because I thought vomit was impending. Seriously, hot sweats, everything. It didn’t happen, thankfully. For probably unnecessary reference, thus far my stomach has been adjusting find to Japanese food. It doesn’t leave me sick, and I haven’t had the problem that many Americans claim to have: “Japanese food doesn’t fill me up”. But this meat thing almost killed me. And the sad thing  is? It was probably beef.


Let’s Learn Katakana!


This is the Katakana. The alphabet which was invented specifically to express foreign words. Meaning that THESE are the symbols which only appear when you’re reading foreign words. So it’s only useful about 20% of the time. Great.

Keep in mind here that vowels only make one sound (as far as I’ve heard): 
a = “ah” as in Gaga
i = “ee” as in see
u = “oo” as in moo
e = “ay” as in hay
o = “oe” as in snow
Mostly I’ve just been drilling and memorizing, but here are some stupid associations I use to remember a few: 
ki = pronounced key, obviously looks like a key.
ko = looks like a KOala, hanging onto a tree
shi = looks like a sideways smiley, not very happy. She is not very happy.
su = looks like a woman in a skirt. Sue wears a skirt.
chi = looks like a cross with a cool little beret. Like the concept of “chi” is christianity wearing a trendy            little hat. 
tsu = sounds similar to Sue. Sue is smiling because she’s wearing a skirt. 
to = clearly looks like a toe
hi = guy sitting down
he = haystack
ho = those dashes off to the side are spread legs
nu = new way to write the number 7
ne = pronouced “neigh” looks like a picasso horse face
ma = crooked arm, like a mother holding a baby
mi = sideways confused looking face….how I usually feel
mo = a figure with widespread arms like…”give me mo’!”
yu = you are almost losing at hangman
re = ray of sun
ro = that’s a boat. duh. 
I haven’t even delved into the crazy ones on the left yet. So yeah. This is the first alphabet I’m trying to learn. I need to actually get it down quickly so I can start learning hiragana, the non foreign, non kanji alphabet. Wheeeee.