Monday, December 31, 2007

Nengajo...Japanese New Years Cards

Japanese people,traditionally near the end of December, send New Years cards to almost all of their friends,relatives and acquaintances.Likewise businesses send them to their customers.
This year being the Year of the Rat nengajo cards bear designs of rats or mice on them.Disney shareholders must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of selling cards adorned with Mickey and Minnie on them.Bear in mind that between 3 and 4 billion cards are sent each year.Its a big marketing and commercial opportunity;for example there were numerous Snoppy cards available for the last Year of the Dog.

Cards that are mailed through to late December are collected and delivered together by Japan Post on January 1st.Since 1950 government issued cards have been available for purchase.These cards have their own lottery number.Should the recipient's number be drawn they become entitled to such prizes as TVs,kitchen appliances or car navigation systems.

O-Shogatsu..Japanese New Year 2008

Well the New Year is almost upon us again.A bleak day outside this Monday 31st December 2007.A brisk wind has been blowing most of the day and theres a 40% chance of snow today.

This year is the Year of the Rat or Mouse according to the twelve year cycle of the Chinese zodiac.The Rat is the first animal in the cycle,2007`s wild boar or pig representing the last animal in the series.

Historically the rat or nezumi (mouse) is linked with bringing and protecting material prosperity.On the other paw,its also associated with war,pestilence and death.Images of The Black Plague and cries of "Bring out your dead" spring to mind.
Temperament-wise it is seen as being intense and powerful,eloquent and charismatic but also can be ruthless,tyrannical and megalomaniac.
Should make for an interesting year...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Flash...

A small slice of sponge Christmas cake.The yellow citric lemon icing atop the cake was quite sweet.

I was given one of these red centered kiwifruit some weeks ago by a student but only recently saw them in my local supermarket.Being used to the more common yellow or green cored fruit this newer variety at first seemed strange.However it tastes just as you would expect a kiwifruit to.One thing in its favour is its thin almost bald,hairless skin.This makes it easy to wash and eat.
Here in Japan,the average price of a single fruit is around 100 yen.The red variety above however were on special and therefore cheaper.I was able to purchase a carton of six for 360yen.

2007 Year End Round Up

Trust.n 1 firm belief in the reliability,truth,ability,or strength of someone or something
Blind.Naive.By weight of office or years,I think it would be fair to say that many peoples trust was tested one way or another this year.
From January 11th,when Fujiya Co announced that it had used milk past its use by date in some of products it seems not a month has gone by when some food mislabelling scandal hasnt come to light involving a local Japanese company.Ironic really,when you consider concern over the safety of imported Chinese food products and people turning toward domestic produce amid these fears.
In June a meat processing company based in Hokkaido was found to have mixed pork into ground beef.
The fact that a company had some 300 years tradition behind it was also no guarantee as to the products.Akafuku Co was discovered to have falsified the production date of its red bean paste and mochi rice cakes.Apparently the practice had been going on for more than thirty years.Frozen Akafukumochi had been in some cases unfrozen,repackaged and sold with production and consume by dates moved back.
Another well-established confectioner Ishiya Co and restaurant operator Senba Kitcho were also found to have mislabelled food.

Trust.n.2 acceptance of the truth of a statement without proof
Some things you take for granted like getting paid or being able to get a pension or use services for which you have paid for.
In the case of Nova Corp,a leading chain of English language schools,employees and students trust was severely tested until the company filed for creditor protection on October 26th and shut its doors.This was despite a fax from Sahashi Nozomu the CEO the day before reassuring employees.."I will resolve the salary issue in a day or two as well as do my best to resolve the refunding problems by the end of the month".
As for pensions,problems serviced in April when the Social Insurance Agency stated it couldnt identify the holders of around 50 million accounts due to mistakes or lost records.It has since emerged earlier this month that about 19.5 million of those would be extremely difficult to identify.
Trust.n.3 the state of being responsible for someone or something
Various political scandals also highlighted breaches of public trust.Three different Ministers headed the Agriculture,Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and resigned over the year.Ties between politics and money,dubious use of office expenses led to two of the Ministers resigning while a third committed suicide.
Further problems also arose this year after a former Administrative Vice Defence Minister was arrested on suspicion of taking bribes from a defence contractor.

On the sporting front yokozuna Asashoryu also lost the trust of the public and the Japan Sumo Association.After opting out of a regional Japanese tour due to apparent injury he was filmed playing soccer in Mongolia.He was subsequently banned from the two next tournaments.He is due to make his comeback in the first tournament in January 2008.
It will be interesting to see how Asashoryu,politicians,bureaucrats and companies try to regain the trust and confidence they betrayed and lost this past year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What?? Christmas already!!

Another well presented lunchbox from the Mitsukoshi Department store basement.The purple coloured mass in the lower part of the bento is sweet potato.There is a mixture of meat and salads and vegetables.

Below is the latest flavour Ive tried from the Dean and Deluca range.At first glance the combination seems odd.Balsamic vinegar isnt the first thing Id think of putting into my ice cream.I thought it would be over-powering.Too striking and at odds with the other ingredients.
However,combined with little chunks of fig mixed through the sweet ice cream,the result is akin to a raisin like ice cream in terms of flavour and texture.
The ice cream is packaged very attractively and sports yuletide seasonal red and gold.
I only discovered by chance there is a Dean and Deluca store opened in a new shopping complex near Nagoya Station.Something to check out on my short Christmas break.

The sight of Father Christmas figures climbing up the outside of buildings is quite common in Nagoya.I suppose you can put it down to the lack of chimney stacks or even global warming.For many people in Japan tomorrow Tuesday the 25th of December will be just another working day.This year it will be the first working day of the week as yesterday was the Emperors Birthday but because it fell on a Sunday is moved to the next day.Thus most people have just had a three day weekend.
My colleagues and I will work tomorrow though we all start early and finish at a respectable time to share dinner with family and friends.Our Christmas New Year break runs from the 28th December and thanks to a quirk of the calendar and my regular weekend I go back on Sunday 6th January.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Flash...Christmas Desserts

It seems at Christmas the small bakeries and pastisserie shops go all out to produce eye-catching and colourful desserts and treats.Much care and attention goes into producing these extravagant individual offerings.
The one above has a few strawberries and cranberries sitting on a base of cream and sponge.The sponge is itself floating on a sweet caramel like sauce.

The second dessert has a thin champagne coloured jelly on top.Once you dig in below the surface there emerges a trifle like mixture.Small chunks of pineapple and sponge together with a custard sauce appear on the end of your spoon.Very tempting.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tsuramai Park in Autumn

A brisk walk around Tsuramai Park last Saturday morning revealed some lingering autumn foilage offsetting the grey overcast day.The band rotunda above is used for a variety of concerts during the year.Its surrounded by grass covered mounds and steps for people to sit and relax.

Despite this being the season of consumption with a constant barrage of ads to spend and shop till you drop,there are a number of people who wont be making big ticket purchases this year.Easy to ignore and avert ones eyes.But the evidence is there.Shuffling through rubbish bags and crushing cans to be recycled.
The bedding under this walkway bridge in the park has been neatly folded and left for the day sheltered from any rain or showers that may occur while the owners are away.

A final flurry of colour before the chilly breeze and cooler temperatures curl the fragile dry maple leaves.

The tent above differs from the usual blue canvas or plastic structures you can find scattered throughout Tsuramai Park.The number of tent like dwellings seems to decrease during the cooler weather but some hardy souls still remain year round.
The area around the tent has been swept clear of any fallen leaves and any rubbish has been disposed of.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Flash..More Bentos

I spent the best part of Friday morning at the local city tax office trying to explain that I havent received a full salary since August and wont be getting another till mid January.Yet I still found myself having to pay a late penalty despite my pleading for some kind of waiver or compassion.
Anyway to cheer myself up I visited the basement of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Sakae,Central Nagoya.
The bowels of the Mitsukoshi Building(which may not be the most apt adjective) contain a huge food court.Fresh produce and vegetable stalls are jammed up against other small counters serving a virtual myriad of foods and sweets.
Not only can you see fresh bentos being made up as you watch,dazzled by the rainbow of colours and ingredients on display but one can also purchase many different types of confectionery such as cakes,cream rolls,pastry,traditional sweets...the list is endless
The bento above contains all sorts of beans and things to nibble on.Theres a small portion of hamburger meat next to a small serving of spicy tomato sauce containing chick peas.The yellow patty cup in the centre contains some shiny mushy black beans.
The whole bento is very eye-catching,moderately priced given its contents and quite filling.

I was also attracted to the small pack above which was sold at another busy stall on the basement floor.
These four rolls contain a wedge of avocado,crab and a small slice of cream cheese surounded by rice.Obviously the avocado and cream cheese are not traditionally found in such rolls but their colour,taste and texture make them suitable companions for the crab and orange roe.An agreeable and adventurous snack.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tokugawaen Garden in Autumn

I travelled again last Friday to Tokugawaen Garden in Nagoya to take in the autumn colours.Ive blogged about the Garden recently but wanted to return after hearing that it was a nice spot in autumn.

I wasnt disappointed by what I saw as I walked around.Unfortunately my camera doesnt do justice to the late fall foilage.
Brilliant reds and yellows almost iridescent in hue.No need for Photoshop or any other computer software to "big up" or amplify the colours on display.

The varied colours of the maples stood out among the darker green leaved pines near the lake and were reflected and repeated in the waters by the passing koi on the look out for any water borne insects within their range.

It was a pleasant way to spend a few spare hours reflecting on the past week at work.Things are getting more organised and the number of students is increasing.
Consequently Im also teaching more lessons per day and slowly getting back into the rhythmn and timing of classes.While it still doesnt feel like my old school,where I was for almost nine years,I may begin to feel comfortable there in time.

Seasonal KitKat MiniPacks..Strawberry,White Maple KitKats

This pack contains 15 mini kitkats and is obvivously aimed for the Christmas season.
Once you open the wrapper you are greeted with a strong strawberry scent which doesnt smell totally natural.That said the brown chocolate on the outside and the smooth strawberry creme inside combine nicely.

The white maple minipack are another limited seasonal addition to the KitKat range.I spotted them among the Christmas confectionery shelves last week.The name of these kitkats,"white maple" describes their taste and appearance exactly.
In appearance,the smooth white chocolate exterior contrasts nicely with the crumbly texture of the biscuit and maple creme interior.
To be honest,I found them a bit too sickly sweet.The novelty of the maple flavour soon wore off as it overpowered the white chocolate.A case of the whole being less than the sum of the parts.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Flash..Some recent Bentos Ive eaten..

Having enjoyed the recently rare pleasure of actually being paid for my labours I expanded my spartan diet to include the bentos or Japanese lunchboxes Ive photographed below.The first bento has a mixture of rice and various meat servings including a small saveloy or red hotdog together with a less than tradtional dollop of mustard and tomato sauce.

This second more traditional bento below illustrates what for me are important factors when considering bentos...the colour and presentation.It is very attractive with a variety of autumnal colours.The egg yellow omelette(top left),compliments the orange pumpkin in the mid foreground while being separated by the diagonally arranged rice servings.There are also a variety of tastes and textures included in this offering.Crunchy carrots.Fibrous mushrooms.Smooth tofu.Pickled ginger.

While this third and last bento is less visually compelling than the vegetarian offering above it still contains assorted tastes and different servings.Top left there are bite size offerings of fish while bottom right there are shrimps marinated in a spicy chilli sauce.Also offered in this bento are vegetables and egg omelette decorated with a couple of mushrooms as a garnish.

Monday, December 03, 2007

I Smell Winter

I shot this autumn scene down a narrow lane in Osu Kannon on a bright,sunny Saturday afternoon.Today,though it feels like winter as this morning opens with driving rain, dark skies and cool temperatures.
Workwise things are gearing up with more students booking lessons plus we got paid on Friday.Not a full months salary but enough to keep the wolf from the door.

Book Review..I am a Cat

I am a Cat.Soseki Natsume.Tuttle Publishing.2002.Translated by aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson.Introduction and 638pages.

This novel started out as a short story and gradually grew by installments into the three volume publication I recently read.
In a nutshell its a collection of observations of a cat living in an upper middle class household in Meiji era Japan.This was a period of social change and economic growth as well as a time of conflict with the Russo-Sino War in the background.
As the book develops the cats descriptions of human foibles extend to cover not only the society and times it lives in to more general human attributes found in all societies.
Soseki's writing and description of the teachers household where the cat lived reminded me at times of P.G Wodehouse's domestic farces with characters similiar to Bertie Wooster and his Aunt coming to mind.Theres a very funny breakfast scene laid out from page 494 in which the father is oblivious to the chaos and mayhem of his daughters eating habits.
The cat also describes in length a bathhouse scene and also ruminates on other diverse subjects as clothes and the nuisance of letters requesting money.
There are many quotable extracts too numerous to list.I think the cats view of humans
can be summed up though in the following..."It is painfully easy to define human beings.They are beings who,for no good reason at all,create their own unnecessary suffering."(page 493).
Theres a very full introduction which explains how the book came about.Theres also an admission by the translators that it was difficult to translate into English because of the authors "brilliant and concise use of the Japanese language".I did find myself at times reaching for my Thesaurus when encountering words such as "unpetrine" or "infundibular" but overall found the book flowed well with no glaring clunky or awkward constructions bearing in mind it was written in installments from 1905 to 1906.Do be warned however that the introduction gives away the fate of the unnamed cat which for me somewhat spoilt the ending.
As with his much shorter novel Botchan I read earlier this year I'd recommend this book for its style,quality of writing and satire.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Flash..Nana Chan

This six metre or so tall mannequin stands outside the Meitestsu Department store near Nagoya Station.Here she is sporting a seasonal Christmas outfit.She seems to have a large wardrobe of clothes.In summer she wore a pink bikini and recently she was clad in the Chunichi Dragons baseball strip when the team won the Japan Series for the first time in about fifty years.
Apparently Nana chan is the largest doll-like figure in Japan and first appeared in 1973 to mark the anniversary of the Meitestu Department store opening.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas Illuminations

Around this time of year the streets are ablaze with Christmas lights or what are locally known as "Christmas Illuminations".The Santa Claus decoration above is postioned beside an intersection in central Nagoya.

The largest concentration of lights and decorations however can be found at Nagoya Station.On the wall above the main entrance to Nagoya Station a huge illuminated castle draws crowds of camera bearing people eager to pose under the display.

As you approach Nagoya Station from Sakae and walk up the steps there is what can best be described as a lit garden display.In this area there are illuminated arches to walk through and various illuminated animals such as bears and penguins as well as the requisite Christmas trees.All bedecked in red,green and white lights.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Flash..Paper Mache Lizard

I finally got round to finishing this small gecko/lizard paper mache creation over the last few weeks.It had been lying around in a semi-completed state for about six months.Its only in the last month or so while being "unemployed" or "on standby"I have had the oppurtunity to add a few more layers of paper mache to it as well as paint and varnish it.
From the tip of its nose to its tail it measures around 25 centimeters in length.The black and silver paint and varnish sheen is quite deceptive.One of my friends thought it was metal rather than paper and glue.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Clinging to the Wreckage

Well I finally got rung last Thursday night by a G.Com rep around 10:45pm.I was asked to go to a school last Friday which was across from G.Coms headquarters in Nagoya.
There were about 20 or so instructors who turned up.
So far so good.Lots of bits of paper and information flying around.There are plans to open 30 or so schools shortly.It will be interesting to see how the Nova and EC school systems are intergrated both in terms of resources and management styles.
Today Im off to a school in central Nagoya only ten minutes from my apartment which cuts down travelling costs and time.

Autumn in Shirotori Garden

I bicycled down to Shirotori Garden yesterday,buffeted by strong northerly winds which apparently herald the onset of winter.Suitably clad in coats and scarves,many people were taking the opportunity to stretch their legs and observe the autumn foilage.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Flash..Apple KitKats

This small KitKat box contains two apple flavoured KitKats.On opening each KitKat wrapper you are greeted with a sweet apple scent.The creamy apple flavouring and biscuit are surrounded by thick dark brown chocolate.
Im not sure that eating one of these apple KitKats is "a moment of precious indulgence" as written on the box front but nonetheless its a pleasant enough treat.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Haagen Dazs Kokuto and Kuromitsu

This new flavour has a distinctive bitter coffee/burnt caramel taste.Kokuto translates as brown sugar while kuromitsu translates roughly as sugar syrup or treacle depending where you google.It seems that both kokuto and kuromitsu originally come from Okinawa where the main sugar cane fields are found in Japan.

Hanging on the Telephone....

G Communications Co,the offically annointed sponsor of Nova held meetings in Tokyo,Osaka and 23 other locations on Saturday.I attended one in Nagoya.
Along with multitudes of other hopefuls I sat crouched in a corridor while the three and a half hour meeting unfolded on a small TV linked to Tokyo.
There wasnt much information given out that was specific or even new.The meeting was prolonged due to the need for translation both Japanese and English.The government official translating the legal documents merely referred to the page numbers and different sections as if those present couldnt read that for themselves.Not particularly useful or encouraging.
Anyway,it was confirmed that G Comm would take on those who wanted a job.An official from G Comm,which is based in Nagoya stated it planned to open 30 branches by the end of the month.Eventually its planned to open 200 schools in total.Umm 30 branches and 4,000 odd Nova instructors.Oh and they would still pay wages even if there wasnt a branch near you.Skeptical?A little.
Due to the numbers at the meeting the planned short interviews were cancelled but we were told we would be phoned by Wednesday.Im not holding my breath...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Flash..Mild Bitter Kit Kats

In between applying for jobs,trying to keep up with the continuing Nova saga and attending meetings I spied these Mild Bitter KitKats on the shelves of my local convenience store.
My first thought was...WHY? Mild bitter...KitKats for the indecisive?
After sampling a couple of bars(there are 6 in this pack) I thought they still tasted rather sweet so Im not sure who they would appeal too.What next sweet and sour kitkats?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Stand by at Home

The receivers or now as they are termed "interim trustees" of Nova Corp announced on the company website today they were approached by around ten companies in their quest to find a sponsor company.
After screening these companies the interim trustees in their words"would like to determine the sponsor by Thursday this week November 8th".Later they ask that"you wait at home until November 8th".
Thats all well and good but every day that goes by ones savings decrease.Ive been applying for various jobs in schools and ALT(assistant language teacher) positions in Nagoya and further afield even China.My lack of Japanese is a considerable hindrance and rules me out of many jobs.If Im here in a months time I'll make a serious attempt to upskill.

Trying to stretch and eke out my savings Ive been buying a few packets of moyashi(bean sprouts) each week.At twenty yen a bag they represent good value and can be eaten fresh in a salad or sandwich or stir-fried with other vegetables.

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2007

The Foreign Artists Exhibition finished last night having been held at the International Centre in Nagoya.It was the twenty second exhibition.There were around fifty two artists exhibiting from seventeen different countries.Some of the exhibits that caught my eye are below.The first is a painting by Glen Spencer.

This paper mache character was created by Marcio Minoru Ueno.Apparently he assembled it on site with just a couple of Japanese newspapers and glue in a matter of hours.

Finally a ceramic tile carving by Rezeq Boshnaq.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Flash...Its Been One Week Since..

Its been one week since Nova Corp sought court protection from its creditors.
One week in which it was announced schools would be closed indefinitely.
One week in which Japanese staff and foreign instructors were told via the company website to stand by.
One week during which the government appointed receiver has been trying to find a sponsor company to operate Nova.
One week in which Ive been spending my time trying to decide what to do next.
One week when Ive applied for countless jobs both in Japan and overseas including China.
One week in which Ive divided my time between trying to get to grips with the whole situation regarding employment,resignation,certicates of job separation and unemployment benefits and sitting in at the Foreign Artists Exhibition that runs this week.
Hopefully the situation will become clearer on Monday 5th November when the receiver will apparently make some sort of announcement regarding the company.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Foreign Artists Exhibition 2007

As noted in my last post the Foreign Artists Exhibition in Nagoya has provided a welcome distraction from "the dark clouds" of my current employment situation.In fact being told "to wait at home and stand by" until next Monday enables me to attend more frequently.
The exhibition opens on Tuesday October 30th and ends November 4th.It runs 10am-7pm each day and 10am-5pm on the 4th.As usual it will be held in on the fourth floor of the Nagoya International Centre.

My contribution this year is again based on paper mache.The three cigarette packets are constructed from a chicken wire frame over which paper mache has been layered and built up.
Cigarettes and smoking are still very prevalent in Japan.My next door neigbour is a hard smoking salaryman.Banging shut his balcony door loudly each time he steps out on to his balcony like clockwork at 11pm and 1 am each night and again at 7am each morning clouds of smoke drift into my apartment.Paying no heed to the weather and lacking any consideration, his selfish anti-social behaviour provided the motivation to create this years exhibits.
The packets are designed to be attractive.Many of them are colourful. The colour "white" features prominently along with alluring names like "Dove" and "Peace" to entice people(particularly it seems an increasing number of younger women) to partake in this habit.
The picture shows one of my friends who helped me complete the exhibit and set it up.Thanks again Peter..