Sleeping Beauties

Train Sleepers

The people of Japan can sleep anywhere, anytime, anyplace. They pop their heads down shut their eyes and boom boom the lights are out.

Who knows where they learnt the speed napping tricks from, but they are extremely impressive at it. A train ride in Japan is not a train ride without plenty of passengers head bobbing (with their mobile phones still glued to the palm of their hands). It’s a joy to watch them float away into dream land with the occasional head jerk in fear they have missed their stop.

Not only do they sleep on trains but a power nap in work is not a rare occurrence. Head down, happy days, off they go. No snoring, just peaceful dossing. Noda sensei tried to teach me. She said to always have my hands on the desk with a pen ready and nobody will notice…..I asked her how she stopped the pen from sliding out of your hand or how to make sure to stay sitting on the chair. She said years of practice.

Train Napper

 

Train Napper

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Kerry Apple Muffins

Kerry Apple Muffins

Thanks to Aunty Jane for sending me noddlesys ‘Kerry Apple Cake’ recipe. And to Ronan for typing it out!

It has successfully cracked Japan, it passed imigration and the recipy has been distributed around Nishi Koko after a fantastic tasting session.

I made muffins as oppposed to cake as it was easier to hand around mini muffins instead of slices. They were delicious and I regret not keeping more for myself. Greedy I know.

Trying my hardest to use up the apple cupboard before my flight home on saturday. Wish me luck!

Kerry Apple Muffins

Kerry Apple Muffins

Kerry Apple Muffins

My Japanese Bonenkai

Atsuhi and I at our 'Bon-Enkai'

Tuesday was my last dinner of 2010 with Atsushi. Our bon-enkai! Japanese don’t celebrate Christmas that much but New Years is very important to them. And so there are many ‘Bon-Enkais’ which are end of year partys. On Christmas it is traditional to eat fried chicken or sushi followed by extremely elaborate Christmas cakes. New Years Eve is more of a family occasion, after midnight they all go to pray at their local shrine. One of the teachers at school told me that each shrine has a territory, so whatever shrine territory your house is on, you go and pray at.  For myself and Atsushi’s bon-enkai we went back to the very first restaurant that he had brought me too. It’s a great spot where you can see into the kitchen and watch the master chef do his tricks. Hence my numerous visits to the bathroom so I could spy on him and his wonderful kitchen! He and his wife run the restaurant together. They are always very friendly and happy, so it’s very easy to peek into the kitchen and and up talking to them about all the wonderful ingredients I see. The master chef will never serve the same menu twice, Atsushi has been going here for almost 10years and has never had the same menu. The chef believes variety is extremely important. Some dishes are repeated but never an entire menu. The best thing about these dinners is arriving and instantly getting served a cold draft beer and a nibble. We started with a New Year designed plate, which was a sea shell, sweet potato, and a cheese flavor dressing on fresh oysters. These were amazing, the cheese and oyster was a fantastic combination along with the soft tender sweet potato, the shell looked a little scary but was not a bother to swallow!

Sea shell, sweet potato and cheese

Sea shell

 

The sashimi plate came next, again with new cuts of fish but I’m sorry to say I still can’t identify them. I think the dark red one was the heart of some fish, this is from talking to the chef but he could have been pointing at something totally different to what I ate! I ate the flower which was a really bad move, it was insanely bitter and it took a long time to get the taste out of my mouth. I believe you are only supposed to eat a few leaves as opposed to lashing the entire thing (stem and all) in your mouth, which was a school boy error.

Sashimi

Sashimi

Fish Heart? maybe maybe?

 Then came a small soup bowl with a deliciously tender fish fillet, daicon vegetable, spinach and scallop swimming in light soup. This was a cosy dish and went down with ease.

Scallop daicon soup

So now, now we have the pregnant fish. Yes a pregnant fish. The fish is caught just before it releases its roe, then fried and served. It comes to the table bulging with fish eggs. Slight panic. It was nice, nice to get to the fillet of the fish but I found there were too many eggs to handle and they were kind of gooy and slimy after they were lightly cooked. Atsushi went to the kitchen and was able to bring back an un-cooked one to show me, which was amazing. I actually didn’t realize until I saw it that the fish is cooked with its own eggs inside as opposed to the chef putting in fish roe (eggs) after, which is what I had thought.

Preggers 'Hata Hata' fish

N

Hata Hata before the frying pan

 

Next came a fish and daicon (Japanese radish) mixture with mushroom and carrot with a massive load of wasabi, ‘blow your head off’ wasabi.

Fish Wasabi Dish

Wasabi mound

Following the wasabi mound was a dam amazing mousse topped with prawn and caviar. That’s the first time I tasted caviar, thumbs up to you caviar.  This was a very tasty little dish which came with boiled potato in fish roe sauce. Served beautifully.

Mousse

Caviar and Prawn mousse

We had a little break then and the chef showed us his puffer fish. It is very hard to get a license to hold these fish, but this chef is top notch so knows what he is up too. The fish are massive extremely ugly creatures that he buys from just outside Tokyo. It takes huge skill to cut the fillet from this fish without activating the poison. Which would kill you pretty pronto.

Then we slurped some tasty soba noodles. Usually soba noodles are thick and chunky but these were skinny like ramen noodles, very tasty little noodles indeed. The more you slurp the happier the chef is, so slurpy slurpy. Dessert was very tasty too. Macha tea crème brulee kind of thing, with whipped cream and strawberry ontop. No Guinness this evening as it was a week night so we both headed home after a wonderful bon-enkai to sleep off all the crazy grub!

Puffer Fish

 

Very ugly fish!

 

Soba noodles

 

Soba with spring onion and seaweed

 

Macha tea dessert

Strawberry cream topping

HipHop Queens

Hip Hopers Decmeber 2010

Last night was the last class of our first term of Japanese hip hop. I have to say Monday is my favorite day of the week simply because I have this class to look forward to. It is hilarious how bad I am but the fun we have means I barely notice how awkward my moves are! I do the class with Nicole and Jackie and lots of Japanses of all ages, shapes and sizes. Up the front are the young extremely slick kids, they simply blow you away with their talent. Not only do they dance extremely well with no effort at all but they dress like pro’s. Down the back of the class there are some dodgy mummy’s doing half ballet half hip hop but none the less enjoying the exercise. We stand about half way. (But no matter where I stand you can see my head pop over everyone else’s in the mirrors!) We have three great pals that we have made, two are students from Nishi Koko, one 1st grader Rui that I teach, then a third grader called Misaki and also her younger sister Yuka who is at junior high school, these kids are amazing fun to mess with and really make the class. They help us lots and often try to teach us some of their insane tricks. We completed our dance last night, which was to the song ‘Hottie Tottie’ by Usher. Very funny I know. I’d have to say we struggled a lot in the beginning, I had to practice in school on my free periods to simply remember the moves but we can perform an entire dance now. We may not be as good as the front row kids but I am rather impressed we have fulfilled the task and have memorized the insane dance! All I can say on my behalf is what was learnt in hip hop stays in hip hop! I cannot wait to start next term and I am far too excited to hear what song we will be busting moves to.

Yuka, Misaki and Rui... crazy kids

 

Yuka loves sloths!

 

The Crew!

Festive Pan Class

Sonomi chan and Hannah chan stolen bread

 

 

Well December is upon us already, with the excitement building uncontrollably for my trip home it seems the days are flying by faster than ever. I find it hard to sleep at night with the butterflies inside my stomach. Being so far from home for so long makes me proud of my adventure but I can’t wait for hugs from friends and family, cannot, cannot wait!

Prepping for the pasting

 

Last night at pan class we made ‘Stolen Christmas Bread’, stolen is a sweet German bread with lots of fruit and roasted almonds. It was fun being daring with the shape making, myself and Sonomi did it the hard way as a challenge and they turn out beautiful! We also made some pumkin croissant shape rolls, sensei said we needed some practice hence the repetition of the croissants. She was very pleased with our performance this time around! I brought in the Christmas bread for the teachers who could not get enough of it, they were all running around racing to get a piece before it vanished, before I knew it it was all gone and I realized I never ate any, woops! But I got to eat some last night so it was probably best not to feed the bread belly again. The trick with this bread is the roasted almonds in the mix, it gave the bread a seriously tasty crunch along with the sweet fruit. The top of the bread was only gloriously dressed. First with brandy to preserved it, then with a thick layer of melted butter, apricot jam and sprinkled sugar, we very much enjoyed licking our fingers after this step. When the bread has cooled a bit it got a large dumping of powdered sugar. It was hard not to get the sticky tasty toppings all over my face as I devoured a few slices with dinner, it was amazing! I am going to try very very hard to make this for Christmas day.

Bravely shaped 

 

Brandy'd

 

Apricot'd and sugar'd

 

Fruit and roasted almonds

 

Pumpkin Rolls

Pumpkin delights

Fresh from the Oven

Aomori, The Home of The Apple

Aomori Apples

I heard many things about Aomori and its apples before I came here. I heard they were the biggest, tastiest and most beautiful fruits grown for miles. Well yes, they sure are.

I never knew I could become so fascinated by a fruit I have eaten yet barely noticed for years. These apples are grown for you to appreciation, they are not your average ‘pink lady’ that you wolf down while running to the bus but in fact they are bursting with flavor so delicious it makes you sit down, peel and cut it up so as to treasure each and every bite. They cost a fair penny to purchase some can reach up to 700yen(7euro each) just in your local supermarket. That’s if you ever have to buy them, if you have friends in Aomori no doubt you will be spilling apples out of all your cupboards. It is a worrying thing though, this overload of apples. They are so preciously delicious that I am terrified of not eating them fast enough, it would be a huge waste and to see one of them rot would be devastating, something my conscious wont handle well. I eat at least two monsterous apples a day and still the pile does not diminish. So I have started my apple crumble factory.

Apples from Maejima Sensei and his wife

On Monday I baked an apple crumble from a batch of 5 apples given to me by one of the many apple donating teachers at Nishi. On Tuesday I presented the crumble to the sensei for him and his wife (to his utter joy and delight). On Wednesday I arrive at my desk to greet a bag of 6 apples as a thank you for the apple crumble. I started with 5 apples and I got 6 back.

My crumble factory was successful in ways I hoped it would fail.

Apple Crumble

Apple Crumble

Kanaima Pottery

Pottery crafting

 

 

Last minute plans can often brighten up a very normal day. On Sunday I was lying in bed thinking of the hoovering, clothes washing and shower scrubbing that lay ahead of me… Then before I knew it I was en route to Goshogowara with Chirsty, Erina and Kanako to a pottery retreat!  A very sudden but extremely exciting change.

We arrived to ‘Kanaima’ at lunch time and sat down to a very cozy little lunch nestled close to a stone oven and its roaring fire.  The food was warm, comforting and simply delicious, beautifully presented in the pottery that was made on site.  There was something so peaceful yet fun about the atmosphere in this place, and the smell of the food helped a lot too.  You could roll out and make your own pizza to pop into the stone oven, but we enjoyed watching a big group of kiddies excitedly make their personal pizza instead.

Lunch Time at Kanaima

 

Sharing is caring

 

Kanaima Pottery

 

Cheeky Dessert

 

Apple sponge cake

 

After lunch we signed up for a pottery class, the four of us, plus a Japanese couple watched as our sensei skillfully whipped out a stunning jug out of a lump of clay. No wheel just pure hand skill. We had a feeling she was making it look far easier than it actually was. Not understanding her directions I tried very hard to be a good student by copying her crafty hands. She really was a pro.

Ms.Crafty hands at workJoining the top and bottom halves

 

Using a cloth & your thumb to smooth the outside, then string to trim the base

 

Adding the handle to the milk jug

 

But sure enough with a little help from Ms.Skilfull hands I managed to craft together two cups. The clay shrinks a huge amount so they look like bowls at first but after 1 month of drying out, then a blast in the kiln, they will hopefully be beautiful baby tea cups! They will be posted to us 3months from now… oh the excitement!

My baby tea cup!

 

The price of this thoroughly enjoyable class is about equal to buying a cup in the shop

1200yen (12euro) which is a bargain to say the least. It may have a few wobbly bits but every time you drink your tea think of the joy of saying ‘Hey, I made this’

Kanako and Erina chan (photo credit to Christy)

 

Having the chats ...makin some pots (photo credit to Kanako)

 

A helping hand (photo credit to Kanako)

Successfully trimmin Christy's bowl rim! (photo credit to Kanako)

Happy Friends

Door Etiquette

 

I have grown up in a culture where if you go through a door ahead of someone it is polite to hold it, to save it slamming their face. Or you could open it and offer them to go ahead. Japanese are the politest society I have come across but this custom they do not practice. No matter how close behind you are to anyone, of any age, they will just not hold that door. A creature of habit I suppose I am and I keep holding doors for people, getting astonishing looks of appreciation. How could you not hold a door when you know they will be hit with a full swing if you don’t?  The amount of times I have been door slammed is shocking but it really is nothing offensive just something I need to try to embrace along with all the other cultural differences. I am pretty nervous to go home and end up door slamming people in the face, that would be uncontrollably rude. But I am just as nervous of embracing this culture and knocking out some poor Japanese obachan as I march my way through. I’m stuck in door etiquette limbo.

Apple Of Aomori

 

I cannot express in pictures or words the sheer size of this apple. Aomori produces beastly apples! It was given to me along with four others from a fellow teacher. It took me the entire day of nibbling to consume it, he kept coming in to check I was still enjoying it. I also received a bag load from Jacqueline, terrifyingly big aswell. Apple over load is a  fairly daunting when you know each one was grown and picked with Blue Forest love!

My granny made the most amazing apple crumble, so here goes my weekend challenge, this is for you noodles!

Dance Performance

Our hiphop dance teacher was having a performance in the city so myself and Jacqueline decided to head along to support her. She has the longest hair I have ever seen so it was partly just to watch her hair, but also to see if we could study harder and teach ourselves the slickness we are lacking in class. It was in an amazing concert hall, and was full of all ages, granma’s and pops, young kiddies, school kids and then us two token foreigners.

Have you ever been to a kids ballet performance and you only really go because your kid is in the ballet school and performing? well it was kind of a similar affair except it was with adults, no kids on stage at all. They weren’t professional, but we hadn’t expect that anyways, but what a strange bunch of people we were watching. Some took it very serious others flaffed around in the background. It was pretty much half pantomime half dance show, the sensei (our dance teacher) kept coming out in bizarre dress up costumes and doing these odd skits (which had everyone in stitches). It was themed around the arrival of the new shinkansen station, (everything in Aomori at the moment is) so they would come out in cardboard trains to the extreme joy of the audience, we were also thought a dance in our seats so that everyone could participate. Very funny affair.

When we arrived into the hall a student from Nishi Koko (who is in our dance class) came running up to us and persuaded us to sit at the very front row…. ‘really?the very front’ we were thinking? But we actually had no choice, we were taken by the hand and dragged down to meet her mum, sister and granny….in the very front row!

So there we were squished in between sister and granny, watching strangely shaped and aged woman in cardboard boxes, clapping and dancing along for the solid hour.

It really was a very enjoyable evening because of all these strange go-ons, we were kept endlessly entertained!

In one of the acts these big bellied men came into the audience and flew these ridiculously big flags, it seems to be a traditional kind of act or ‘sport’. The strength you would need to even hold up the pole would be quite substantial but they fling them all over the audience. Impressive for sure.