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.