Japanese Dining, The Real Deal

Japan's beautiful crocs

すずめ (The Sparrow) restaurant was where I enjoyed the first of many un-usual dishes to grace my presence. I have been very lucky to have eaten some fantastic local quisine in Aomori, on Friday I had some strange textures hit my palate.

To start I had sea slug, an extremely rubbery rubbery sea creature, almost like chewing on five rubber bands at once, and raw. I was scared I would choke on it, it was that rubbery but it was nicely pickled and eventually after a solid 10minutes of chewing I washed it down with a few gulps of beer. Thank god for beer. I did not know you could digest rubber bands but here I am alive and well.

Sea Slug

Next a small pot arrived, delighted I presumed it was Nabe, my heart went warm at the thought of the cozy soup dish after the stress of the slug. No nabe. It was described as fish eggs, but I think it was actually fish guts, again a rubber outside but this time once you crunched pass the exterior you were met with an explosion of creamy slimy. This has to be the most difficult plate I have experienced so far. I could not handle the creamy bit, it was like an old yop yogurt drink. Thank god it had soup that I could wash it down with, and beer, thank you beer.

Fish Eggs / Guts

Next was a delicious sea shell, lots of garlic and butter and it was beautifully roasted. The flavor of this was un-believable. Phew.

Garlic Sea Shell

Sashimi plate was next. This one I usually love so I was happy for its arrival. The only thing that scares me is the slimy prawn, it is just so so goo-y (what I would do even for just a gentle steaming or grilling). The minced tuna on this particular plate was amazing, so tender and full of flavor, gotta love the tuna.

Sashimi

Then came the sushi plate. It included various raw fish slices (on steamed rice) that I cannot identify or translate but enjoy swallowing. Just that wopper of a raw egg at the end, glaring at me as I devour the rest of the plate. The only way it slides down is with beer before, during and after. And heaps of fresh ginger which is a god send. In between the sushi and sashimi I got 3 oysters but living in Ireland prepped me fantastically for this one, they tasted like surfing in Lahinch. The trick is in the lemon. And also another strange sea creature which could not be translated for me, something that crawls along the sea floor apparently, maybe a cuttle fish? I really don’t know, but it was yummy, like a more generous steamed prawn.

Full belly of beer.

Sushi Dish

The EGG

Oysters

Sea Floor Creature

Gyouza bar for dessert!

Working hard

A みず Mistery

Water Bottle Mistery

Every day I cycle to work and I pass all these bizare water bottles at the side of the road. Can anyone, anyone at all give any clue as to what the hell they are for?? They are used, refilled water bottles, I have never seen them being opened or even touched. They are not for watering because the grannies I have seen watering plenty of time and they use water cans & hoses. Most houses have them at some area around their boundary and not always near shrubbery, some are just plonked onto the concrete beside the telegraph poles. I haven’t noticed them in other areas of town just my little neighbourhood but who knows. I thought maybe they are some sort of emergency water for earthquakes, a terribly bad conclusion I know. Some people say maybe something to do with keeping wild animals away? Still I believe they have some greater purpose, they must!

Water bottle mistery

 

and some more

 

A greedy amount of them

Onsen Pot Wallowing

Pot Wallow

Tuesday was Labour Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday in Japan, boomboom lazy day off. Smiles.

We had great intentions to venture out to Namioka to visit a rural country onsen but our time keeping got the best of us. We were up plenty early but had deadlines at lunch time so we thought it wouldn’t be worth the fuss (and knew we would probably get lost!).

Instead we headed to Goku-Raku-yu, one of my favorites in Aomori City, this was my first time early morning onsening. There are many up’s and downs of early morning onsens; you are half asleep anyways so its delightful to slip back into your slumber state and embrace the laziness. It is also a far more enjoyable way to enjoy a morning shower. Then again on the other hand it is far less discreet without the low lighting, which leads to far more starring, I found myself shuffle running from bath to bath, often stretching my modesty towel beyond its limits. Quite simply the place was jammers with gossip grannies who have no problem starring, discussing and re-starring. Funny little women.

There is this one extra glorious thing about Goku-Raku-yu http://www.gokurakuyu.ne.jp/gokurakuyu/about/ofuro/….the giant flower pots I have mentioned before. These are without a doubt one of the most unbelievably amazing things I have experienced here. Huge, huge flower pots filled with sliky hot  water that you climb into. It feels so cozy having your own pot and it’s so slippery you just slide around like a baby. You can plonk your legs or arms over the edges if you get too hot (frequently happens) and the rim of the ‘pot bath’ is perfect for balancing your head on. It is so hard to express the sheer joy that these things bring to me. Wallow pots are what I have decided to call them. I wallowed in one pot for an un-healthy long time, eventually getting out flimsy and shriveled, but it was dam worth it.

I want one

We then were lucky to be treated to a matinee orchestra in the concert hall. Myself, Sonomi and Jackie headed for a quick lunch to try and wake us up before the show.  This was really a fantastic display but probably one of the worst ideas to go after a feed that was following an onsen. It was an immense task keeping our heads from falling and our eyes from shutting, way too much wallowing in those pots.

Hirosaki Univercity Orchestra

The day was topped off by sushi dinner in a great restaurant called Kantarro. Check out Tesia’s blog, she is making her way through the entire menu, brave brave girl!

http://tayshatesiatesha.wordpress.com/kantaro-and-the-150-plates/

 

Council Meetin’

Erina Kneeding the Rice Flour Doe

 

After arriving back from the two day mid-year conference at Hachinohe (lasted on 3hours sleep during Friday’s lectures) exhausted I went to bed at 7.30pm and got a solid 14hours of sleep. It was only glorious.

I was ready for the weekend which started with house cleaning, soup making and swimming, a Saturday ritual & combination that I have come love. Saturday evening I went to a gig by Council meetin’ . It was great great fun. Erina, Christy and myself got a good feed of Thai food before arriving at a cosy venue full of extremely trendy Japanese music hippies! British fashion is at it’s height of popularity here, it was like being stuck in a time warp in the 60’s. There was a lineup of DJ’s and also a live performance in a small and wonderfully intimate room upstairs. We were the only foreigners there so got plenty of shout outs from the singer who played a few English songs and dedicated them to Christy and me!

We spent the entire night dancing with crazy Japanese friends, with not one break in about 4hours we left the place before the sun rose in need of some serious showers before bed.

 

British Time Warp

 

 Sunday morning with sore heads we dragged our sore limbs out of bed and headed for some cooking fun. We had such a blast at the sweet potato event a few weeks ago that we decided to return to the countryside for a Rice Flour Bread Class. This time we asked Kodama to join us (the Art teacher from Nishi).

We managed to have a wonderful time despite the sleep deprivation and explored the gardens while waiting for the doe to rise! A lot of the bread techniques I learnt at bread class came in handy but the rice flour made all the difference. It tasted like real bread as opposed to fluffy clouds!

Next we hope to return again and will be challenged with Udon noodle making.

 

Mixing the doe

 

Christy working hard on kneeding the doe

Christy Chan kneeding

Rice Flour Bread Baps

Baking Buddies

❤ ❤ ❤

Scott’s Calligraphy

 

Scott and his calligraphy

 

Wednesday was a visit to Namioka. I adore these trips, my days are packed with class visits that are always great fun and the kids are so enjoyable to teach. I usually have one or two free periods but I wander around and join any class I want when this happens. They adore when I pop my head around the corner and say ‘Can Hannah play too?’

This cool little fella is called Scott, his dad is Japanese and his moma is from the Philippines. He is a bright kid but has a physical disability which makes walking impossible and disrupts his movements and co-ordination. It was amazing watching him do calligraphy, he concentrated so hard and I was blown away by how much control he managed to master!

Concentration

Slow and Steady wins the race

Finishing touches

Scott's Calligraphy

Autumn And It’s Leaves

Most places get Autumn right?  Most places have trees that turn from green to brown with a wonderful orange in between. In Ireland tree leaves turn beautiful colours too, it has forests that become seas of reds, yellows and browns but in Japan they talk about it for weeks and for some reason it makes it more beautiful.

Yellow

 

Red

 

Orange

 

Namioka

かき Fruit

 

Japanese KaKi

Noda Sensei gave me these last Friday, how does one go about eating/ cooking a fruit/ vegetable you have never heard or seen of in your life?!

She told me it was called かき (KaKi) and that sometimes it had dangerous pips.  ‘Be careful of dangerous pips, very serious!’  I nibbled away at the dried ones all day, they are quite mushy and fleshy to munch through considering they are supposed to be dried, but delicious all the same. I shamefully have not tried the others yet, I have no idea how to eat the fresh ones and have decided tonight I’ll sink my nashers into them before it’s too late.

 

Japanese KaKi, fresh and dried

 

Medical Test

 

Going for a medical test in Japan is rather extreme.  To join the local gym and be able to access the pool I had to go through a rigorous medical test, several medical tests actually.

There was an intense question session where I had to recount everything I had eaten for the past week, how many snacks I ate, how often I pooped, my sleep patterns, what time I went to bed and woke up, did I dream?, how often and for how long did I exercise, when I wake up what is my pulse (do they actually do that? take their pulse every morning?) the teacher laughed along with me so I think most of the questions he found bizarre too.  Then he whipped out a very odd question out of the blue, do you have pictures of your breast? I got such a fright and really just could not answer for a while until I asked him to repeat and he said, to check your lungs? …An x-ray, not a picture of my breasts but a chest x-ray is what he was looking for.

So then part two was medical number one, you go to a special centre, get into a robe and shuffle around each station with your chart, weight, height, (both standard), then you give blood, get an ESG done. You also go into a little cubicle to pee in a bottle and a tiny shutter in the wall opens with a gloved hand waiting for your pee. Very funny handing it over but never seeing the face of the gloved hand. The doctor gives you the once over and you await your results for a week before step three of medical comes around.

Turns out I was Anaemic. Noda Sensei tried to bring me straight to the hospital when we got the results, but settled for sending me home for lunch to eat some spinach, as I refused to go to the hospital.

Step three was a physical test followed by three specialists advising you about all the combined results.  This is all just so I could swim in the pool.

The physical test was a similar set up with loads of small stations. Each was testing a different physical element. Strength, durability, balance, flexibility, reaction etc.  Some very odd ones where you had to stand on a small platform, close your eyes and lift a foot off the ground whenever music stopped playing, others made you watch the wall for a light and you had to jump when you saw it. I felt a bit like a guinea pig especially because all the staff kept ooooooooooiiiiiiiiiiing at any of my results, both good and bad.  A ten minute cycle where you where hooked up to various computers and monitors finished it all off.

Then they told me three things 1) I was fat.  2) I needed to eat more carbs in my diet.  3) I excercised more than sufficiently.  Too ME these all contradicted each other, I’m fat but eat more and don’t do any more excercise?  Funny Funny Japanese.  They laughed when I repeated this back thinking I was making a joke, but for once I wasn’t, how did it make any sense?

Part four was my gym tutorial where they gave me a plan which I must take around each time I go there (they make sure I do this and that I never leave it behind by accident).  The staff showed my every single nut and bolt on every single machine, recording all the levels I needed to change the machines to when I use them.  I feel thoroughly prepped and examined and eventually after almost two months of testing I am free to roam the fitness centre!

Skating Festival

The skate rink before the invasion

I remember going ice-skating on a class trip. I remember the run for skate boots, getting the wrong size shoes but having no choice as they ran out of my size, I remember the wet floor your socks got soaked on when you changed shoes, I remember being flung onto the ice and learning by falling and realising how painful it was so trying really hard not to do it again. I remember forgetting which group I was in and which teacher was in charge of me (usually because they were off having cups of tea away from the cold ice). I remember it being an hour of free ice skating and I remember it very fondly.

An ice skating school trip in Japan is done so very differently.

It’s called a festival to start and is really quite the spectical. The students all have a hand book with their group names, the teachers and sub teachers in charge of them, their lunch numbers, their shoe size and their transport home. As well as a timetable for the day. It starts with an opening ceremony, which includes speeches from all the teachers about what a great day they will have, this is followed by a demonstration on how to put on your skating boots, how to tell if they are correctly fitted and correctly tied up. Then there was an actually skating demonstration by two professional skaters which had mic’s on and described the process as they were gliding around.

 

We chose between ice-hockey or ice-skating. I chose the hockey because I thought I would hopefully at least have some hockey skills I could transfer to the ice from the grass. You would think they just throw you a stick and a few pucks to mess around with.  Oh no, the whole sheebang, head to toe kitted out in ice-hockey gear, it took 45minutes to get it all on correctly. After a quick demo on how to skate we were given helmets and told to practice tackling, i.e bashing your partner up against the side walls. Poor kids who got paired with the giant foreigner teacher who is very competitive, we were given padding for a reason though!  We played a match at the end which was amazing fun, you forget you can’t skate because of all the padding and end up flinging yourself around the ring on your knees, scrambling after the puck. I scored some goals and became the national hero of the day (I am still getting high fives in the hallways for these goals I scored almost 2weeks ago!)

Then we had lunch, very organized and very civilized.

Next was ice-games again very organized… but not so civilized. We put on our indoor shoes and stepped onto the ice to play つな ひき aka TUG-OF-WAR. Has anyone seen Takashi’s castle? This was a real live version of it. They had helmets, knee and elbow padding, thank god as they were standing for very little amounts of time. I cannot imagine what nut case made this game up but it was hilarious to watch hundreds of baby giraffes constantly losing their legs from beneath them!

Hat's

 

They day finished with a big closing ceremony which involved the usual thank you speeches and loads of bowing!

Waiting for the whistle

 

This day spent messing with the teachers and students is added to one of my fondest memories of Japan.

Approx 4seconds after the whistle!

Messing

Skating Festival

Messing

 

Chilling

GeorgeHenry Lives on

George Henry

About a month ago I showed you George Henry, this obnoxious spider that lives outside my shed.  He’s an absolute beast and eats massive dragon flies, what a hero!  He is quite terrifying, someday the cold will kill him but for now we live together at peace (just so long as I can see where he is) I am happy to watch his beautiful body expand and change such wonderful colours.

BIG GH