Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday Flash

I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again..
Around this time of year many people and businesses buy daruma.These are traditional lucky charms.Named after the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, the daruma are red,hollow,round and usually made of papier mache.They lack arms and legs and eyes as it is claimed he lost the use of them during meditation.
After making a personal or business resolution at New Years one of the eyes is painted.Should the aim be achieved during the year such as a sales goal then the second eye is painted.Many politicians at the beginning of their campaigns buy a doll,paint in a eye and if they win their election paint in the other eye as part of their election victory celebrations.
At the end of the year the old daruma are discarded and burnt.They can be purchased at shrines,markets and stores at various prices and sizes.
The daruma being round and hollow are also known as "tumbler dolls" due to their self righting design.
In class the other day some of the students talked of a proverb associated with the daruma."Nana korobi yaoki" which translates roughly as "if you fall down seven times get up eight" a reference to their design but also to their being a symbol for determination and resilience.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Japanese Christmas Cake...

Still seems surreal working on a Christmas Day.Not a statutory holiday in Japan.
Business as usual.
The train to work still stuffed with salarymen donning thick coats to keep out the cold.Surly schoolboys scowling at their cellphones.Typical Monday ride to work really.No seasonal greetings or compliments of the season.No excitement or anticipation one associates with Christmas morning.No frantic parents.No kids trying out their new bicycles or gifts.

Not till I saw my colleagues at work was it acknowledged that it was Christmas Day not just another work day.
Nor was it a particularly busy day either.I had prepared two special Christmas lessons.Not a great turnout.Two students arrived for the first lesson then left.So much for cultural exchange.

In years to come I think my memories of Christmas 2006 will be rather strange.First I'll remember it was the day that James Brown "the Godfather of Soul" died.Secondly,I will recall it as the day 4 Japanese death row inmates were hanged.
Business as usual....

Friday, December 22, 2006

Friday Flash

Strawberry Yields are Heaven

Its a truism the world over.Once something becomes popular the price goes up.If theres a demand for it.. milk it.At the risk of mixing metaphors oil is a prime example of a cash cow.
Strawberries are another.The week before Christmas their price hurtles into the stratosphere like a Space shuttle launch.From a moderate 250 yen per punnet ( or "chip" as some of my North American colleagues call the plastic containers) the same punnet is today, Friday 22 December, being sold for 500 yen.
Of course one has to buy them.Its not Christmas in Japan unless there are strawberries and whipped cream atop a sponge cake which is your typical Japanese Chrissy cake.No spicy,moist cake laden with raisins and dried fruit, swollen with brandy and covered with two layers of almond icing.
No.In Japan its a sponge cake topped with a saccharin sugar Santa figure drowning in a sea of cream and strawberries masquerading as Christmas cake.
Nor will 500 yen necessairly buy you the best strawberries available.I've seen top of the range strawberries go for nearly 800 yen a punnet.With such a hefty price tag one gets the equivalent of a Rolls Royce of the strawberry world.
They are perfect.And huge.No more than eight to a punnet.Without a blemish.Not a coy blushing red but glowing red.Almost as if they too were embarrassed as to the price.
I cant vouch for the taste as Ive never eaten one.Just admired.Sighed.Moved to the other aisle and picked up my smaller punier punnet.

Finally Im not sure if I'll blog this Monday.Its not only a working day but also Christmas Day so I'll be otherwise engaged.
To all and anyone who reads these entries thank you and I wish you a Happy Christmas and good 2007.Remember that any comments are always of food and money will also receive a favourable response..

Monday, December 18, 2006

Its That Time of Year Again...

Christmas in Nagoya seems to come around earlier and faster each year.Its as if the retailers have some sort of "mission creep " at work.It appears to be starting in early November and slowly but surely rolling back into late October.As the carol goes "I wish it could be Christmas every day of the year " may be a reality in the not too distant future.
Blinded by the illuminations,exhausted from standing in long lines everywhere at this time of year.Christmas Eve in particular and the whole Christmas season is more a couple focused event here rather than a family oriented one.

Like most people in Japan I'll be working next Monday. 25th December.Its not a public holiday.Business as usual....
Another Two Quick Book Reviews.
The Best American Short Stories 2006.Selected by Ann Prachett.Houghton Mifflin Company.356pages.
These twenty short stories arent as the editor Ann Prachett says in her intro "actually a volume of the best stories in America.These are just the stories that I like best and I am full of prejudice and strong opinions".
And that in a nutshell is the problem.If you dont find your tastes the same as those of the annual guest editor you can be disappointed.Somewhat.I felt a similar sense after finishing Michael Chabons 2005 edition.And this despite this volume featuring such names as Tobias Wolff,Thomas McGuane and Alice Munro.
Nothing particularly memorable.No vivid images.Nothing you want to store away and plagarize later, dazzling your friends.
One advantage is that each year a new editor is chosen so i might luck out.And its still a good way to pass the daily 45 minute train trip by immersing oneself in reading even if your expectations havent been met.Theres always next year.

I Know You Got Soul by Jeremy Clarkson.Penguin Books.233pages.

I knew Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear a BBC motoring program.His breezy,light style as a TV presenter translates well to print.Subtitled "Machines with That Certain Something" the book is divided into short chapters devoted to a machine that he considers has a soul and are more than mere collections of wires and metal.He covers trains,planes and automobiles.He also includes the AK47 Theres a chapter on battleships with special mention of the Japanese battleship Yamato which he writes
was the most beautiful of them all.A mildly diverting book that can be read quickly.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Flash

A couple of the bentos or lunchboxes available from the local Yamanaka Department store.Each contains a variety of food,tastes,textures and colours.

The black tray bento had been reduced to 350yen while the red plastic one sporting a wooden design was a reasonable 500yen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oseibo..Gift Giving

Oseibo or the customary gift exchange to relatives,colleagues,acquaintances and others takes place during December in Japan.
Gifts are given to thank them for their help during the year.They are also given in mid-summer or ochugen.
One newspaper article (The Daily Yomiuri Thursday December 7 pg 15) describes the gifts as "an embodiment of social obligations".Gift giving in Japan is often obligatory rather than being a sign of any personal connection between people.An example would be "giri-choco" whereby females workers feel obliged to give chocolate to male co-workers and bosses to celebrate St Valentines Day.

There is a certain amount of uniformity regarding the whole gift-giving business.Oseibo are today usually bought from department stores or shopping centres.One will often get gifts through the mail or send them via couriers.The twice yearly gift giving rituals generate a lot of money for the regional and national economies of Japan.

Another feature is the fact that much value is placed on the actual wrapping paper one uses for the gift.Talking about oseibo in class today some of the students agreed and rated a present wrapped in the local Matsuzakaya Department Store paper very highly.

There is also a standard selection of gift items.One must take into account such factors as the receivers age,sex,social position and what the relationship is.Again the students came up with a list of "safe gifts" similiar to the one in the newspaper article.These safe gifts include household items that can be used by everyone for example liquor,sake,vegetable oil,coffee and drink sets.

Finally gift-giving also highlights the importance of obligation-based relationships in Japan or ningen kankei.Japanese people realise that they owe much to others in their every day dealings with others.One way of showing their gratitude and recognition of this debt to others is by exchanging gifts.Put simplistically the value of the gift given reflects the value that you put on that relationship and person.Obvivously then a 3,000 yen coffee set from a local shopping centre sends a different message about the relationship than a 10,000 yen imported wine and cheese collection from an upmarket central city department store.
The photo above shows a commonly sold example of oseibo, a boxed set of various cans of fruit juice.

Two Short Book Reviews

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster.304pages.Faber and Faber.
I found this a more accessible book than one of his other novels The New York Triology which I read earlier in the year.Basically a story of relationships,family and second chances set in Brooklyn during 2000 and ending a few hours before the events of September 11,2001.
I liked the way chance encounters and new characters moved the story on even if some of them such as Harry the bookseller were a bit too over the top and unrealistic to be believable.While I didnt find myself " not wanting it to end" as the blurb on the cover suggests I did find it entertaining.Certainly not memorable but readable.

The Geckos Foot by Peter Forbes.236 pages.Harper Perennial.
Subtitled "How scientists are taking a leaf from Natures Book" this is an account of the fields of bio-inspiration and nano-technology.Bio-inspiration is a relatively new field of science about 15 years old.It describes how scientists are looking at Nature,its mechanisms and principles such as space,shape and patterns to discover and create new products.
The author,Peter Forbes takes a few well known examples to illustrate his point including among others the field of self cleaning surfaces derived from the lotus leaf and Velcro.
The Geckos Foot of the title concerns various studies being done into adhesion and sticky/non sticky surfaces based on the structure and features of gecko feet.
For a non-scientist like myself Forbes explains such things as phages,photonic crystals and Moores Law in simple laypersons language.He also provides some easy practical kitchen table experiments one can conduct to further illustrate the concepts and principles he describes.
Despite the subject its not a difficult book to read or digest thanks to the authors enthusiastic,easy to understand style.I picked up a few new words such as tensegrity and cullet which I'll try to slip into future conversations...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Flash

A selection of shots from my recent trip to Italy.It was autumn,a bit rainy and cold in Florence but spent a sunny afternoon in Rome with the hordes of other tourists.

Lots of these Smart cars were in Florence,navigating the narrow cobble-stoned lanes.

Wash day in Florence.

A well-cared for Bambina parked in Rome.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Paper Mache Workshop

One of the reasons for visiting Florence, apart from having a vacation, was to take part in a paper mache workshop.One week.Monday to Friday.Thirty hours about four or five hours a day.

Start with one kilo of clay.Measure your facial features with callipers e.g distance from chin to forehead,nose,mouth etc and mark on the clay.Then start to shape a mask.It seems the only limit is ones imagination and ensuring the shapes and angles can be removed from a mould without breaking.

After finishing the mask cover it with plaster of paris.This provides the negative mould for the paper mache mask.

After the plaster has dried remove the clay from the cavity and clean it.Then using thin construction paper and pva glue line the cavity with one layer of paper.After the first layer then continue to paper the cavity with three more layers of thicker grade paper.

Once the final three paper layers have dried carefully remove the mask from the plaster mould.

Finally decorate the mask using acrylic and oil paints and seal it with a mix of tar and wax which both seals and "ages" the mask.We,myself and five far more artistic women on the course, also were taught how to use gold and silver foil on the masks but as I was running out of time I opted not to put any on my mask.
My mask is obvivously pretty simple and I wouldnt call myself artistic but I learned some interesting techniques and methods to attempt something more elaborate in the future.
The course was run by a very patient, friendly Alice Dessi in her basement art studio and I'd recommend it if you are in any way interested in paper mache.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Twelve Random Thoughts on Travel...

Florence Italy
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Some musing from my recent experiences in no particular order..

1.Try to fly mid week or at times when most other people dont.For example leaving Hong Kong for Rome at 12:25 a.m Thursday meant the plane was only a third full.Lots of room to stretch out and relax.
If possible try to straddle months when flying e.g the end of one month and the start of the next thus avoiding the same cycle of Dido music and Adam Sandler movies...

2. Check the opening and closing times and days carefully.Often they are illogical.Why do the gardens in Pisa close at 1:30 pm?Why is the English Cemetery in Florence closed on Saturdays?
Do the plants and trees need a rest?Nor is it likely that the residents of the graveyard have any pressing engagements elsewhere..

3.Try to be culturally sensitive.You're in Europe not America so stop bitching that the small Italian trattoria doesnt serve turkey on Thanksgiving Day and then storm out to find the nearest McDonalds

4.There seems a paradox operating regarding language.At first it appears useful to learn and memorise phrases like "I dont speak Italian" in the local lingo.However once you recite this phrase in your halting,unnatural manner the hearer seems to undergo some epiphany and greet you as some long lost relative fully conversant with the native language.

5.Take a ziploc bag or a big clear resealable plastic bag.Security checks in EU countries still require at the time of writing things such as gels,toothpaste,perfume and other liquids to be put into these bags.Also the maximum size was restricted to 100 fluid mls which meant I had to dump some shaving cream cans.

6.Keep some small change handy for public toilets.The "going" rate appears to be round .60 euros so you dont have to be flush with funds.You dont want to be caught short...
On the subject of toilet paper, a sensitive issue,it may be worth bringing your own roll.I found the European varieties more abrasive and not as soft as Im used to...

7.There appears no basis that doors open left or right according to which side of the equator you happen to be on..

8.Wear clean underwear.Should your pants fall around your knees having removed your belt at the security check, you dont want to be treated as a social pariah for the rest of the flight.

9.Be wary of scams,pickpockets and tricksters.The most blatant will approach and ask outright " Do you have 1 Euro?" or "Can you speak English?".
Then theres also the more elaborate,cunning ploy of dropping a worthless silver ring beside you.This is followed by "Is this your ring?" in the expectation you will give them some reward or donation.
My best advice is to studiously ignore all three and feign deafness.
My favorite con though is the seemingly friendly local who approaches unsuspecting couples and offers to take a photo of them in front of a church,statue or monument.Having been naively handed their expensive camera the con artist calmly strides off and is lost in the crowded masses.Leaving behind a gobsmacked,incredulous pair.

10.Be careful how you answer any onboard inflight questionaires.
Replies such as "I like to fly blah blah Airlines because it hasnt had a plane hijacked since 1946" or "I like to sit near the wing because its the safest place in the event of a crash" could arouse some suspicion from the flight crew.

11.Dining alone can have its benefits.In the case of crowded restaurants and long queues waiters will often in my experience "bump up" individual diners ahead of large parties.I found this particularly true of smaller popular places.There is also the added bonus you'll end up sitting beside another interesting solo diner or thrown into the midst of a large friendly group.

12.Finally,at check ins as well as offering an option of window or aisle seats, airlines should also offer the choice of left or right handed passengers to sit beside.One advantage of this would be to alleviate territorial arm rest disputes.Another would be that I would get an unobstructed view of my meal should I choose a left handed passenger and avoid any rib injuries as we ate in our cramped economy seats...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Friends,Romans and Marmots

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Just a quick note.Got back to Nagoya yesterday Tuesday at 5pm.About 15 hours from Rome to Nagoya not including transits at Taiwan and Hong Kong airports.
The papier mache course in Florence was alot of fun.The food there was terrific.I made it up to Pisa and did a tour of a villa used in a couple of movies just above Florence.
The photo shows my travelling companion in Rome posing with a friendly local.He had a great time.Almost blown off the Leaning Tower by the wind, getting searched and patted down for drugs at Hong Kong airport and x-rayed at Nagoya Airport by the local Customs officials.
More details and photos later..

Monday, November 13, 2006

Brief Break

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I'll be out of the country and away from the whiteboard over the next two weeks or so.I managed to organise a quick vacation in Italy.

More specifically I'm going to participate in a week long papier mache course in Florence.Run by Italian Professor Agostino and his daughter Alice, I'm eager to learn more skills in this artform and also complete a mask.Check out the website

Bookended between the start and end of the course Im also hopefully if somewhat ambitiously trying to fit in a day trip to Pisa and some tours of local villas in Tuscanny.I've also earmarked several restaurants I want to visit.

The pension Im staying at has been renovated since I last visited in 2003 so it will be interesting to see the changes.It advertises free internet connections in each room.At first I was tempted to take my trusty ibook G4 halfway across the world.On reflection,having to lug it through the airports and checks at Nagoya,Hong Kong and Rome doesnt seem that appealing so it'll stay put here in Nagoya.
Consequently this will probably be the last post till early December when I drag my jetlagged body back home and to work on Thursday 30th November.

Odds and Suds

Naturally Clean Soap
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I bought this three pack of soap over the weekend.I was intrigued by the label it bore."Naturally clean soap".Im uncertain if its a selling point or just something you,the purchaser,take for granted.
On an unrelated point I received a pamphlet in the mail advertising a new hair salon.Not of itself unusual.Except the name."Pig Shave".
It hardly conjures up a positive image.I cant see the LV bag wielding women of Nagoya bearing down emasse to a place bearing this name.Maybe.
A quick search seems to show that a pigshave is a butchery term and quite possibly and more relevantly a kind of short haircut akin to a crew cut.
Just think of all the pejorative words and phrases associated with pigs such as "piggy","pigsty" or "pig out" and I for one wonder why such a title was chosen.Nice ..shame about the name.

Last Grand Sumo Tournament of 2006

The last sumo tournament of the year kicked off in Fukuoka,Kyushu yesterday.
Lone yokozuna Asashoryu is odds on favourite to win his nineteeth Emperors Cup.Hakuho,his most consistent challenger,has withdrawn due to a broken toe sustained in training.

I'm looking forward to see how Kaio will fare in front of his home crowd.Having withdrawn last basho due to an injury he is again fighting to save his ozeki rank status.He needs eight or more wins or he gets demoted.At 34 years old and with recurring back problems if he fails for the tenth time to stay up some pundits are saying he will retire.
Other wrestlers I'll be watching include Baruto, who like Kaio withdrew last tourney and dropped five positions, and Kotooshu, another ozeki who has changed the kanji of his name and put on some extra weight to improve his chances.He enters the contest at 150kg still the lightest ozeki but about 4kg heavier than Asashoryu.Of course at 2.03 metres he has a height advantage over Asa who stands at 1.84 metres.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Flash..Uncoy Koi

Japanese Koi 2
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Last Sunday morning I cycled down to Shirotori Koen.An oasis of spongy lawn and ponds.There are some 1,500 trees within the grounds.Too early yet for them to be sporting fully their fall finery.
Late November or early December would be better.
The overfed koi(carp) were eagerly elbowing and barging each other greedily as green fish pellets rained down on them from visitors fifty yen cups.
Slurping,gulping noisily.Their scales reflecting the color of the leaves above them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2006

FAE 2006
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The Foreign Artists Exhibition wound up last night round 5pm.There were the usual scenes of bedlam as artists feverishly packed and stored away their exhibits before the presentation of certificates and a small party that followed.
I went along on Friday afternoon as I did last year but much less apprehensive.As with last year I again met some interesting people.Among them was Ron,who had on display some of the nail art that his two shops in Nagoya produce.Of particular note was a set that won a major competiton in L.A.They were a blue and orange colour and the two thumbs made up two halves of a devil-like creature.

I also met Sarah Milburn.She had on display some eye-catching photos.
Her website is
Well worth a look for some interesting shots.
Also I was pleased to meet Kirsty and her boyfriend John.Kirsty had some graphic/computer art on display including a flying pig which she was kind enough to give me a copy of.
All in all judging from the comments in my book most people understood the message behind my exhibit.It was interesting both on Friday and yesterday watching peoples reactions to it.Most wanted to touch it which wasnt something Id thought about beforehand.
Now Ive just got to work out what to do with 2,400 glued together packets of tissues and what Im going to display next year..maybe a giant pair of wooden chopsticks to make people aware of the waste of timber...umm who knows

Go-the very best of Moby

Go-the very best of Moby
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
This album was released here in Japan last week.I was pleased because I managed to finally get "Porcelain" which appears on "The Beach" soundtrack.Also on the 15 track cd is one of my favorite Moby songs "In this world".One of those songs that lodges itself in the back of your skull and refuses to disappear.
Theres a collaboration with Debbie Harry on "New York New York".Not another remake of Frank Sinatras song but his own take on that city.The last track is "Slipping Away" with Mylene Farmer singing in French.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I noticed this week on the shelves of my local convenience store a couple of new boxes of KitKat products.
Each box contains sixteen bite sized kitkats.Selected by Patissier Takagi.Apparently famous.Though no-one Ive asked knows him.
The pink ones are strawberry flavoured with pistachio,almond and thyme ingredients.
The green ones are green tea flavoured.According to the box they contain Ujimaccha,Kinako and Ume.
Ujimaccha, Ive been unreliably informed, is green tea from a famous green tea area near Kyoto.Kinako is ground or powdered soya beans.And ume is plum.
Im not sure how long they will be on sale.Only fleetingly,like other seasonal confectionery,chips and snack food...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2006 Part 1

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
On Sunday I took my exhibit to the International Centre for the upcoming Exhibition which runs from tomorrow Tuesday to next Sunday.Aided and abetted by my friend Peter, we got the thing set up in about 2 hours.
My exhibit is meant to represent a tissue packet commonly given out freely on street corners and intersections the length and breadth of Japan.The tissues are used as an advertising tool by such diverse companies as loan and finance firms to escort agencies and language schools.
As to the specific details.In the first photo you can see the 80 piles of tissues and plastic covers which will enclose the tissues.Each of the 80 stacks is 16 centimeters high and made up of 20 separate packets of tissues.Each separate packet has 7 individual tissues inside it.
Each individual tissue required glue at each end and then more glue to attach it to the next tissue.It was necessary to ensure the tissues were so well glued otherwise the stacks lost their shape and form.Tedious and time-consuming.It took about 30 minutes to glue and complete one stack.Multiply that by 80 and it took roughly 40 hours to complete the stacks.Add another 10 hours for the painting of the covers.I used about 10 litres of glue in total.
There were some unforeseen problems.I initially stored the finished tissue piles in boxes but a combination of the glue and the humidity of the rainy season caused some of the stacks to go mouldy.This required a hurried unpacking of the boxes and replacement of the now useless mouldy stacks.The remaining stacks I kept in my small living room/kitchen which meant space was at a premium.

The second photo below shows the covers and the finished assembled exhibit.There are 60 or so artists exhibiting various works and art-forms including photography,sculpture and paintings.

Im going along Friday afternoon to hob-nob with the other artists and talk to any interested visitors over a beer or three.Im still trying to think of what Im going to say about it.Maybe something along the lines of "Yes its a serious statement about contemporary society and capitalism" or "Cant you see its a corrective to the Picasso and Cubist movement" or even "Its a cross between Murakami's Superflat movement and Pop Art style."

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2006 Part 2

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The actual covers for the tissue are just two sides of a rubbish bag cut up roughly in half.The design is meant to represent a famous brand of bag beloved of Japanese women of all ages.
As with the tissues I ran into a few problems such as the paint not sticking to the plastic and flaking when moved.Another problem was the lack of sufficent supplies of paint.I ran out of the yellow paint I started using and couldnt find anymore in the five or so shops I tried.The only solution was to repaint using a similiar shade of yellow which was more readily available.Again time consuming and tedious.To stop the chipping and flaking I tried a number of things including varnish and gesso and a light coating of watered down PVA glue all which were only partially successful.
However I managed to get the covers to the International Centre Display Room and assemble the tissue with only a few chips requiring a quick touch up.
Overall Im pleased with the finished thing.Judging from the reaction of some of the organisers and other artists it was well received.Ive left a comment book this year so will be interested to see what the general public think of it as well.

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2006

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
The Foreign Artists Exhibition in Nagoya runs from tomorrow Tuesday October 31 to Sunday November 5.Admission is free and the exhibition on the 4th floor of the Nagoya International Centre runs daily from 10:00am to 7pm except for the last day when it ends at 5pm.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Flash

mushroom mountain
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Mushroom Mountain
Enough already with the mushrooms I hear you cry.Ok. The last photo above is of a box of Kinoko Yama or Mushroom Mountain chocolate confectionery.Produced by Meiji the mushrooms sport light and dark chocolate and a crisp crunchy shortbread like stalk.Not sure they are as healthy as some of the earlier species of fungi I've posted but they are just as delicious.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More Japanese Mushrooms

Japanese Mushrooms 2
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Nameko Mushrooms
Like last weeks fungi (eringi,maitake,shiitake and shimeji) nameko are available all year round.
They are usually sold in plastic packs with liquid as they dont keep for long.However about this time of year,late autumn,they can be purchased fresh and shiny.
The yellow mustardy coloured mushrooms have a slippery,"gluey" feel about them and are mostly used in soups and stews.

Autumn Bento

Autumn Bento
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Autumn Bento
The local bento shop produced this seasonal lunchbox last week.
There are a couple of oyster croquettes and the rice has some mushrooms mixed through it for an autumnal flavour.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Kaki or persimmons are traditional autumn fruit in Japan.In days gone by people used to have a persimmon tree and a chestnut tree growing in their backyard or that of their neighbors.
They can be peeled and eaten fresh though they are somewhat bitter or hung under the eaves of the house in a sheltered place and dried.This process removes some of the acidity.
Apparently eating dried kaki is a New Years tradition.I tried one of the persimmons in the photo above.It wasnt bitter as I'd been led to believe.The taste was more akin to that of a plum.
The kaki above were evidently grown with a box shape around it that gives them a cube -like shape.This makes them easier to store and pack than the more common rounder variety.
Theres also a pentagon shaped kaki available as a lucky charm.I've been told that the 5-sided kaki or "gokaki" also means "to pass an entrance exam" so they are popular with students sitting tests...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lost in Translation

I often get asked why I dont speak Japanese better given the time Ive been here.I resort to explaining that its a difficult language.Even the slightest wrong nuance or pronounication slip can create havoc and hilarity.Or both.
Consider the following situation.The Japanese word for devil is "oni" while the word for sea urchin is "uni".Imagine a small local sushi bar.Imagine mixing up the words "oni" and "uni" while trying to order.Picture the bewildered looks and then the amused recognition of the restaurant staff as you make another gaffe.
The defence rests its case.

While fossicking about last week I came upon this very comprehensive website.Well set out with lots of useful information and links about Nagoya City.Its worth a visit if you are looking for something specific or just browsing.Click on my link in the "Regularly Read " section on the right hand side of this page.

Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

Japanese Mushrooms
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I dont know why but over my last week mushrooms have loomed large.
Maybe its North Korea and its nuclear test.Or the fact that its the in-season for the fungi and they feature prominently in supermarket vegetable and fresh produce aisles.Or maybe because of the report earlier in the week of a man being attacked by a bear while out "hunting" for mushrooms.

In Japanese kinoko (mushrooms) translates charmingly as "tree children".There are around 4,000 or so species of mushrooms in Japan.Some poisonous.Some are mycorrhizal which means they are only found in the wild.The best example being matsutake.
The matsutake or red pine mushroom only grows for a few weeks in areas of red pine trees.Sought after for its fragrance and taste Japanese matsutake are expensive.Around 5000 yen a small specimen.Or you can opt for cheaper imported ones from China,Canada and until recently North Korea.

The mushrooms in the photo above are readily available all year round.They can be found in local supermarkets and greengrocers.These are four common types I regularly cook at home or eat at restaurants.
Shiitake.Grown in Toyama these brown velvety capped mushrooms in the front are shiitake.They can be used to make a mushroom tea and are also popular as a base for soups.Grilled,fried or simmered they are apparently the most common mushrooms used in East Asian cooking.You can also buy them dried.

Maitake.These came from Shizuoka.Directly behind the shiitake on the left are the maitake or "dancing mushrooms".Sold in a clump they have brown fan-like tops that overlap like wooden roof shingles.I usually saute them in a little butter and garlic.Delicious.

Eringi.From Gifu these are at the rear of the photo.They are large stumpy mushrooms that have thick stalks and quite flat caps.They are quite firm when you cut them and I usually cut off the tough stalks before cooking them.Again sauteed or fried in butter with bacon and eggs is a personal favorite.

Shimeji.From Shikoku.On the right hand side of the photo are some shimeji.Like maitake they are sold in clumps.There are various kinds with both white and brown caps.They can be used in nabe(stew) or miso soup.
As mushrooms absorb liquids easily I dont wash them under running water.Instead I was advised to lightly brush or clean them with a paper towel or cloth.Likewise they taste best if not drowned in butter or oil when cooked to retain their taste and flavour.
Finally in English when we refer to different kinds of mushrooms,for example, shiitake we say "shiitake mushrooms" but in Japanese this is unnecessary.In Japanese shiitake or for that matter shemiji is sufficient.......

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Flash

Halloween Cookies
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Tis Friday 13th October a Black Friday for those who believe in such superstitions.
For me however, the afternoon brought the delivery of these lovely Halloween biscuits from New York courtesy of the one and only New York Geisha, Halli-san.Check out her blog in my frequently read blogs section.
The vanilla flavoured biscuits topped with a piece of walnut arrived safe and sound.Several were eaten with an afternoon cup of Earl Grey on this sunny autumn day.Thanks again Halli-san.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Osu Kannon Shopping District

Osu Kannon Shopping District
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I live in Nagoya's Osu shopping district.The area centers on Osu Shrine which dates back to 1610.Its a traditional shopping district with small shops lining narrow arcades and alleyways.
Apparently there are over 1000 shops selling an array of products.
Groceries to kimonos.Recycled clothing to computers and duty free goods.There are also a number of small restaurants and coffee shops which attract a wide range of customers.
While nearby Sakae has its modern upmarket department stores and amusement facilities I prefer to shop locally.I like the relaxed pace and diverse range of shops available.I cant think of anywhere else in Nagoya where you can find a Brazilian and Turkish restaurant within a stones throw of each other.
The last few years have seen some of the covered arcades getting a facelift.Being painted.Renovated.Earthquake strengthened.
Some of the older wooden character buildings have given way to faceless concrete structures but the arcades still retain their older style which distinguish them from ultramodern less friendly shopping malls of central Nagoya and the Nagoya Station and Towers complexes.

Haagen Dazs Ice Cream Flavours Japan

The green tea and azuki bean flavours are available year round here in Nagoya Central Japan.Additional flavours appear at different times and just as quickly disappear.
The three most recent discoveries Ive made are Hazelnut (top left) which contains bits of hazelnut,Affogato (top left) which appears to be a coffee expresso based flavour and my favourite Banana Caramel Tart (lower right) a mix of banana,caramel and pieces of crust like pastry.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday Flash

Quick Snack
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Just a small quick snack from the bento shop across from my apartment building in Osu Kannon,Nagoya.
Looks like the rain has set in for the few days with Typhoon 16 and 17 making their presence felt.I'll just hunker down and try and finish my art work for the Foreign Artists Exhibition at the end of the month and catch up on some video watching...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Beautiful Japan

Beautiful Japan
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Shinzo Abe became Japans new Prime Minister last week having earlier won the post of President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
At 52 years old he is the youngest post war Japanese P.M and also the first to be born after World War 2.
He has urged Japan to become " a beautiful country that is trusted and loved."
He wrote a precampaign book called "To a Beautiful Country".He has spoken of the need to create a society where second chances are allowed and of the need to reduce wealth disparity in Japan.
All in vague terms according to numerous newspaper reports and commentaries I've recently read or heard.
He wants to motivate people to "rechallenge" themselves and to provide "a safety net " for the needy.

He's also been elusive about whether or not his administration will raise the consumption tax or not.One possible reason being an affirmative answer would hurt the LDP in the upcoming Upper House elections in 2007.
Former Finance Minister Tanigaki proposed raising the consumption tax to 10% as a means of cutting public debt and supporting Japans increasingly gray society in the face of a falling birthrate and fewer workers to provide a tax revenue base.
Instead of raising the consumption tax Abe wants to implement "a strategy for economic growth" with the focus on high economic growth and cutbacks in government spending.
As one economics professor commented "He (Abe) is being contradictory in his idea of cutting public expenditure while investing in "rechallenge" projects for workers".

Abe also faces other domestic and foreign challenges.
He has to continue the half completed reforms of the Koizumi government.
He also wants to revise the Constitution in particular the war renouncing Article 9 and to continue to strengthen the US/Japan alliance.
He faces the task of mending relations with Japans Asian neighbors.
China and South Korea have suspended summits in the wake of former PM Koizumis visits to Yasukuni Shrine.Abe who visited Yasukuni in April has yet to announce whether as P.M he would continue to visit the controversial Shrine where Japans war dead are enshrined.

With a hawkish reputation and a strong stance on North Korea it will be interesting to see what position he adopts.
The photo at the top shows a blue tarpaulin "home" built by one of the homeless people who live under an overpass near my apartment building in central Nagoya.


Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Along with nerines,cosmos flowers are in full bloom in Nagoya.They can be seen in raised beds and parks.The plants come in a variety of colors and seem to do best in areas that are exposed to full sunlight.

Blind Willow,Sleeping Woman.
Earlier in the week it was reported that Haruki Murakami had won the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Award.The award is the worlds biggest short story prize and Murakami will share the 35,000 Euro prize with his translator Jay Rubin.
Murakami's work has been translated into 38 languages and Blind Willow,Sleeping Woman is his third collection of short stories to be published in English.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
These red nerine flowers have been blooming in the entrance of my apartment building all week. A sure sign that autumn is upon us despite the warm weather.Today Friday we're expecting a pleasant 28 degree celsius day.
According to the BBC gardening website nerines come from South Africa in a variety of soft pastel colours.
Here in Nagoya City,nerines along with cosmos seem to be the plants of choice in the local public and park garden and flower beds.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Quick Book and DVD Review

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Triangle The Fire that Changed America.
2003.David Von Drehle.340pages published by Grove Press.

I bought this book in New York after visiting the Fire Service Museum and learning of this tragedy.The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village March 1911 killed 146 workers.It was the worst workplace disaster in New York until 9/11.
Von Drehle traces the background of those involved in the fire and its aftermath.The immigrant sweatshop workers,the owners,the early union organisers,city officals and politicians.
He also details how the susequent trial and fallout changed laws and led to political changes on a local and national front.
Particularly harrowing were the accounts of the fire.They eerily recalled scenes of September 11th 2001.
Judging from the extensive reference section at the end of the book and extensive notes and sources Von Drehle spent a lot of time researching this important event.This is reflected in the compelling highly readable book he has produced.Recommended.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
I watched this dvd earlier in the week.Its a comedy of sorts.Detective noirish.Buddy movie.Set in New York.With a plot that gives a knowing wink to such classic gumshoe detective movies as The Maltese Falcon and ChinaTown.
Robert Downey Jnr stars and narrates while his sidekick Val Kilmer plays a gay detective.Its fun trying to unravel the plot and keep up with the twists.
I also think the directors commentary is worth a listen as Kilmer and Downey together with the director go off on various tangents and name drop.An enjoyable movie and as they joke "wheres our franchaise deal"...

Sumo Round Up

With a final scorecard of 13 wins 2 losses Asashoryu won the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.He lost his penultimate bout to Chiyotaikai in a humdinger of a match.Slapping furiously, Chiyotaikai managed to stay on his feet longer than the lunging falling Asa.with cushions flying into the ring the four judges conferred and awarded Chiyo the match.

It was pretty academic as Asashoryu`s closest rival had lost earlier ensuing him of his 18th Emperors Cup.He is now just four Emperor Cup victories from Takanohana (22) on the all-time winners list.
Baruto ended up with a 4win 7 loss record before withdrawing with a leg injury.Kaio ended up with a 1 win 6 loss record before he retired injured as well.
Unfortunately both Hakuho 8-7 and Miyabiyama 9-6 winning records werent enough to warrant their promotion.It doesnt seem at the moment there is any wrestler,Japanese or foreign, able to challenge Asashoryu consistently.He remains the sole yokozuna....

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Flash

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
A late takeout lunch today.I got up late to a cool fine autumn morning.
In the post was an application for this years Foreign Artists Exhibition at the end of October.
Four weeks.Panic!
I havent a clue if I want to put anything in or any idea what to put in.
Ah well theres the sumo on the tv later maybe I'll get some inspiration...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Respect for the Aged Day

Today was Respect for the Aged Day.A public holiday.For most people an excuse to play golf and go shopping.
I had an early shift today at my help shift school.I started at 10am.It takes about one hour and fifteen minutes to get there.The journey requires a subway ride,a bus ride and then a ten minute walk.Its ok if the weathers fine.Today I was weary as Typhoon 13 was passing.I didnt fancy braving a walk in strong winds and rain.Luckily neither eventuated.
As it was a public holiday and I finish early the company dont provide a taxi ride to the station.The only alternative is to catch the bus to the station.As the last lesson finishes barely 15minutes before the bus arrives its a mad dash from the school,past the security check and a furious run for the bus stop.Thank God it wasnt raining...

Sumo Update
With his third loss to date Hakuhos possible promotion to yokozuna seems to all but have disappeared.
Asashroyu lost to Kisenosato on Friday but got his revenge next day by quickly disposing of Baruto.To date with one loss he retains a share of the lead.
Kaio has withdrawn from the tourney due to injury while Miyabiyama continues to look good for promotion to ozeki rank.
With a number of wrestlers still in contention the remaining eight days should be interesting....

Last Weeks News Recap

The new prince was named last Tuesday.He'll go by the name of Prince Hisa Hito which translates as "relaxed,easygoing,virtuous person".The symbol chosen for his personal crest is the umbrella pine a species native to Japan.The umbrella pine apparently grows strong,sturdy and tall....

High Prices Everyday
To clarify last Mondays photo it seems the business buys second hand motorcycles.The ad tries to atract potential sellers by offering them top dollars for their used bikes.Obvivous when you think about it....

It sure aint Bonsai...Before

It sure aint Bonsai
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Each year towards the end of summer gangs of local council workers break out their chainsaws and leafblowers.
The annual tree pruning took place last Monday.If you squint or look closely you can make out one worker in the cherry picker basket while another is perched in the tree happily hacking away at the foilage.
This is the before shot.Its still quite warm and the trees provide welcome shade and protection from the sunshine.
If you look below you can see the results of the workers labour in the next photo.Same tree.Next day...

It sure aint Bonsai..Aftermath..

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.

This is the after shot.Same tree.Sans leaves.Sans branches.Sans everything.Stark.Stunted.Sullen.I have no idea why such brutality is meted out on a seasonal basis.It may be to prevent falling leaves in autumn from blocking drains.Or even to minimise damage and injury from flying debris in the upcoming typhoon season.
Whatever it still example of urban vandalism...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Flash

Sushi Takeout Lunch
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
A closeup photo of my sushi lunch takeout today.Theres something about autumn that makes the food and colors worth waiting for after the steamy, stinking, summer season.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Everyday High Price

Everyday High price
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
I did a double take when I saw this advertising poster.I'm not sure what the deal is.The sign appears outside a local business that hires out motorcycles.
Just another example of how difficult the English language is or a ploy to get new customers...go figure...

Its a Boy

The big news over the last week has been the birth of a new prince.The first male born to the Japanese Imperial Family since 1965.With his birth it seems any revisions or amendments to the Imperial House Law allowing both males and females to ascend the throne will be put on hold.
The government was to introduce a Bill in 2007 to begin procedures to revise the laws of ascession but the point seems moot.The birth of the prince means theres a male successor for the next generation has been found.
The prince will receive his name tomorrow Tuesday at the Meimei no Gi or Imperial naming ceremony.At the same time he will also get his offical oshirushi or Imperial crest that will be used to mark his belongings.

The Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament got underway yesterday.Hakuho who is still in line for promotion to yokozuna got off to a bad start.Unfortunately he lost his first bout.As his 13-2 record in Nagoya wasnt considered good enough for promotion he cant afford to lose another match in the current basho.
Asashoryu,the sole yokozuna started well with a straight forward shove out win against Kokkai from Georgia.Kokkai,whose name translates as "Black Sea" was recently promoted to the komusubi ranks was no match to the powerful Asa.
Chiyotaikai won his bout against Barauto who fell awkwardly on his left leg.He seemed to be favouring it as he left the ring.
Hopefully it isnt serious...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday Flash

Marmot Hat
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Earlier in the week I got this baseball cap in the post.
The Marmot Recovery Foundation were good enough to send it to me after I renewed my membership in the the Adopt-a-Marmot Club.
For those of you who dont know the Vancouver Island Marmot is Canada's most endangered animal.
Check out the Foundations website at or click on the link on my website.

Monday, September 04, 2006

There Goes The Sun...

Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.

Fall is in the air.
Almost arbitrairly autumnal.
Come September 1st shops clear their shelves of summer sale stock.Despite remaining broiling outside.Fall fashions,food and fancies fill the stores.

Its cooler at night.And Dawn.Making sleeping a much more viable proposition than even a week ago.Cicada cadavers crowd the pavement.Crunch crunch underfoot.

My own contribution to summer has been this modest sunflower grown on my balcony.The sole survivor of seeds sown earlier in the season.
It battled pests and the rainy season.Withstood a leaf curl attack and my neglectful watering.While not exactly thriving it did flower which must count for something.Five floors above a smoke choked six lane highway.
Evidence of natures stubborn wilful resilence..

Gokiburi Dango (Cockroach Bait)

Gokiburi Dango
Originally uploaded by pookie_san99.
Despite my rigorous cleaning schedule the apartment lately seems a target for gokiburi(cockroaches) to relocate.Maybe they have been transferred or are on summer holidays.Whatever,they seem to regard my living space as fair game.Prime real estate.A Club Med for creepy crawlies.
A student was kind enough to give me a homemade remedy,gokiburi dango,to battle the unwelcome squatters.
These small balls are made up of the following ingredients-flour and sugar,salt,onion and boric acid.Obvivously the boric acid is the killing agent while the onion apparently lures the pests to their last suppers.
I've put about a dozen round the perimeter of my rooms.So far no bites.Nor any new arrivals.Nada.I dont know if the deterrent value outweighs the dangos killing power.Still no cockroaches is good cockroaches....