Completely Lost in Translation

 

Keep it Simple

 

Some things in Japan make me laugh so hard it hurts, some things are so mysterious I wonder about them for days, others can be powerfully shocking to both my eyes and ears (but rarely in a bad way). Most though are simply ‘WOW that is SO weird!’… it’s hard to believe if you’ve never lived somewhere so far from home but we really do live in such different worlds.

The local swimming center have lots of friendly smiley staff I have become great mates with, especially since winter has come; the gym is the warmest place I can find. The language is always bizare, it can be any combination of Japanese, English, sign language, smiles, nods and all kinds of strange gestures and noises to accompany all/any words. But we usually manage well enough to have some sort of conversation at the end of the exchange exercise.

A few weeks ago the swimming pool put up some new English male/female signs around the changing areas. I think this may have been in response to me using the men’s only sauna for the first few months (by accident of course) or maybe having me around every other day just ‘inspired’ them to dig deep and get out their rusty English skills, who knows. Walking passed them at the counter they were extra smiley, I knew something was waiting and sure enough I turn the corner to some lovely new signage. You have two options, you can enter the ‘Man Sex only please’ room or if you’d prefer head for the ‘Woman sex only please’. I could not contain myself, I read and re-read them thinking could this be more wrong and funny at the same time? How could they mix up such simple things and come out with these beauty’s? A simple ‘Man/ Woman’ in blue and pink would have done the trick no bother, in this particular case trying that bit too hard couldn’t have resulted much worse. God bless them though. After casually telling them ‘Woman only’ and ‘Man only’ is much more commonly used and looks better (no awkward explanations necessary) they changed them instantly, delighted I had corrected them. I cannot help but crack a huge smile every time I enter the ‘Woman sex only’ changing room.

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Cutest Treats Ever?

Pretty little yums

 

Japan has the most beautiful designed creations, everything from clothing, chairs, toys and tea pots to eyelashes and sweeties is meticulously/ painstakingly designed by artists that have imaginations that span beyond this world. They are a nation of gifted artistic creatures for sure.

How could you eat such cuties?!

Aomori Shi Sushi

Japanese Sake

 

Sometimes just because you are who you are, or even you are where you came from, means that you land yourself in some fantastic lucky opportunities. A lot of the experiences and adventures I have here are because of the generosity and kindness of others, of the people of Aomori. I don’t just stumble across the food and the company, I am invited as an honoured guest. I appreciate the people here so much that I find myself always looking to return the favours, but all they want is a smile and a little English chat. A chance to be in the company of someone from a far away land. Foreigners have a mystical and magical element to them, we are rare, unusual and intriguing to their curious minds. It would be like me going for dinner with someone from Mars (sorry I can’t help myself …another slight exaggeration!)

Anko Fish- what a beauty!

On Saturday I went to a sushi tavern in the heart of Aomori city with two friends, Tomoki and Masaki. We enjoyed some of the freshest fish in all of Japan, all of it had been caught off the coast of Aomori and displayed along the counter top of this cute little tavern. We sat at the bar with a great view of the head sushi chef working his magic.

Crab and Octopus of Aomori

Fresh Aomori Oysters

Sushi of Aomori, includes (from left to right) Abalone(shellfish), scallops, tuna, squid, salmon and octopus

Friends of Aomori

Japanese Pickles

 

Guess what popped up again? The dreaded Shirako….can’t even say the word without the shudder…and I happened to be sitting directly in front of a massive mound of it. Just a reminder Shirako is milt or soft roe which also refers to the male genitalia of fish when they contain sperm. In Japanese cuisine, the milt (白子 shirako ‘white children’) of cod (tara), anglerfish (anko) and pufferfish (fugu) are a delicacy.

Shirako

Shirako

The Big Thaw

The Glare of Aomori

 

The temperature (would you believe) has been rising quite steadily over the last two weeks, the snow (would you believe) has begun to melt and drip away. There is a blue sky, a glorious snow melting blue sky above our heads.

Instead of a sharp white glaring light hitting my eyes when I walk out the door there are glimpses of color slowly but surely creeping in, tree tops are gaining control of their trunks as the level of snow lowers, they are beginning to stand tall again. Pieces of pavement and walls are creeping out from beneath the dripping layers. I find myself staring at the ground as I am walking along, amazed at the browness and the fact that I don’t have to climb on mounds of ice anymore.

The melting snow on the roofs comes thundering down every so often, creating a colossal boom that shakes my whole body in fear every time. I thought my washing machine had exploded the other day, then I thought the shower exploded (which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I got a new one), then I thought someone was trying to break in…eventually I realized the huge icicles were shattering onto my balcony. I watched those things grow every morning while eating my breakfast and in just a few days the crystally hanging columns had suffered the burn of the sun, plummeting to their deaths.

The drains have the sweetest sound of running water, the white blanket of silence is lifting.

I miss the white but there is something really special about Aomori climbing out of its snowy grave. Spring is fighting for its slot.

Hakkoda with Allie and Josie, enjoying the glory.

 

 

Hakkoda Gondola.

 

 

Hakkoda Happy

 

The snow in the Shi is melting but Hakkoda is still heavenly powdery, we returned on Saturday for some cheeky runs and hope to squeeze in a few more weekends before the grass pops through and the Sakkura blossom explodes.

 

Team Hakkoda with the Joshu (snow monsters)

 

Hakkoda

 

Allie the Messer and her Hakkoda

 

Josie @ Hakkoda

 

Allie @ Hakkoda

Josie, I, Hakkoda and Aomori

Hina Matsuri Pan Class

Hinamatsuri Dolls

 

March 3rd in Japan is known a “Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival)” this is a day to pray for young girl’s growth and happiness. The word hina means “girl” or “princess” so I’ve also heard a lot of people call it the princess girl festival.

Families generally start to display “hina-ningyo” (special dolls for Hinamatsuri) in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4th will result in a late marriage for the daughter.

The displays are usually arranged on a five or seven-tiered stand covered with a red carpet. At the top are the imperial dolls these are the Emperor and Empress. The next step contains three court ladies (sannin-kanjo), followed by five musicians (gonin-bayashi), two ministers (udaijin and sadaijin), and three servants ending the bottom row in a five-tiered display.

Emperor and Empress

 

Udaijin and Sadaijin tier

 

 

 
 

Enjoying our princess feast (Sonomi's photo)

 

 

AMAZING Chirashizushi; sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with raw fish and a variety of ingredients

 

Pan sensei had a beautiful display in her house when we went to bread class on Thursday, she had also prepared a special Hinamatsuri dinner for us. We felt so loved when she said she would be our Japanese mother as we are so far away from our own.

 
 
 

Cream Pan

 

This month we made some ‘Cream Pan’s’ (bread with custard inside) and some mouthwatering pizza’s. The three of us all go straight from work which means we are starving while baking, so it is very hard not to dribble when we smell it cooking in the oven. We also made a traditional Japanese snack called Karinto, which are deep fried brown sugared snacks. Yum bite sized goodness.

 
 

Cream Pan

 

Cream Pan

Pizza

 

 

Karinto Japanese Snack

Karinto Snacksssssssssss

Pan Sensei's pizza.....fish flakes and mochi (rice cake) was pretty delicious even though sounds bizare

Pancake Drink ala Can

I frequently stumble across things that blow my mind in Japan. The oddest, strangest quirkiest of things that make me double…triple take and generally spark a jaw drop. This is quite a fantastic example.

Running through a shopping centre yesterday this caught my gaze for a split second and before I knew it I had dropped my bags and umberella…there I was frantically scrambling in my purse for 120yen (1euro 5cent). Get me this thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!

 

Hot Cake Milkshake drink

 

A can of ‘Hot Cake Milshake’. Not too sure whether it would be amazing or atrocious I didn’t care, I just wanted the damn can to prove I wasn’t imagining things.

Sure enough I found it pretty horrid, but if you’re a pancake freak and love sugary drinks then why not have a can of ‘Hot Cake Milkshake’ for breakfast tomorrow. It came from the vending machine warm and tasted, surprisingly, like a pancake! A seriously syrupy pancake.

 

What next? A canned sandwich to slurp before your sweet pancakes?

Canwich's are apparently on sale in Salt Lake city in Utah USA

 

 

ゆきまつり ‘Sapporro Snow Festival’

Train to Sapporo

The train ride from Aomori to Saporro was supposed to be an opportunity for me to pass out and catch up on nap time. But…I just could not keep my eyes off the outside world. Perfect blue skies meant the countryside we travelled through was lit up in the most glorious of ways. The sun bounced off the snow and made everything look so quietly stunning, as family’s slept drapped over each other all around me I felt like I was the only one alive, the silence from the inside of the carriage made me imagine I was travelling through a dream, truly a winter wonderland. I arrived into the Saporro terminal with my eyes burning from starring at the white world, images of the breathtaking scenery have been stored in my memory for ever. What a way to start a weekend…..no sleep and burning eyes!

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Every winter, about two million people come to Sapporo to see the hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park, the grounds at Community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Susukino.
For seven days in February,these statues and sculptures(both large and mini) turn Sapporo into a winter dreamland of crystal-like ice and blinding white snow.

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 
 

Made by the Japanese Army

 

 
 

This particular sculpture is constructed and carved by the Japanese Army

 

 

 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 

This place blew me away, the sheer size and extreme detail of all the sculptures was truly amazing. Hours of slavery and skill was pumped into every little carve. The ice sculptures twinkled in the sun (and began to drip a bit because of the unusually warm day) and the gigantic snow sculptures stood tall and strong, overpowering the crowds scurrying below them. It was impossible to walk around the parks, myself and Sonomi spent hours just laughing our heads off at how disabled it made us, all you can do is clamp on to each other and slip along (on your bum if you’re desprite), no grip just solid sheets of ice to walk on. There is a hospital set up just for the Snow Festival to deal with the hundreds and thousands of slip victims! Thank god for the big crowds as it meant the bodies surrounding you held you up for 90% of your skids.

Dusk fell and we caught most of the snow sculptures at twilight before catching a ‘street car’ and heading off to dinner with Sonomi’s cousin and uncle.

 
 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

 

Sapporo 'Yuki Matsuri' 2011

札幌 寿司 あら政(Sushi ARAMASA)

Sushi at Sushi Aramasa

 
 

Sushi at Sushi Aramasa

 

Friday evening we had some seriously amazing food. This is a top notch sushi restaurant in Saporro that Sonomi’s uncle is a regular at. After a long day of slipping though the snow park this cozy spot and the delicious food was the perfect end to our day and a celebration for the official start of our weekend! The sushi chefs were very chatty, they enjoyed listening in to our conversation in English and helping out with translations, they even produced a book that had every type of fish used in sushi, with ENGLISH translations, we stuck our heads in it for ages, I tried to find out all the stuff I’d been eating with Atsushi, then after a few discoveries I decided to stop, for me it’s best not to know… Before we left they gave us their business cards and declared ‘add us on facebook’, made me laugh a lot. Facebook is not popular at all in Japan, ‘Mixi’ is their thing so this really was an unusual thing to hear! I very much enjoy the company, food and staff at this restaurant so hope some day to return. In the meantime I’ll settle with being their mate on Facebook!

 
 

Sonomi, Yamazaki-San, Haruka and I

 

Sushi Aramasa

Sushi Chefs at Sushi Aramasa

Sushi Aramasa

Sushi Aramasa

Otaru- Sapporo

 

Sonomi and I ate Otaru by day

Saturday we enjoyed some more snow sculptures at Odori Park and also stumbled across a snowboarding jump competition which was great fun to watch but it was hard to stand for too long before every inch of our bodies began to freeze over. After a well earned bowl of warm miso Ramen (which helped hugely in the defrosting) we hoped on the train to Otaru.

Sapporo Snow Park

Sapporo Snow Park

Sapporo Snow Park

Ready For Ramen

Miso Ramen

 

Otaru has a snow lantern festival during ‘YUKI MATSURI’ (Sapporro snow festival), the town lines a cute little canal and the locals build beautiful snow lanterns that light up your heart when the darkness falls. In Sapporro at Odori park the sculptures are built by professionals and artists who are very skilled craftpeople. However in Otaru the lanterns are made by the locals, simple but stunning. We hid out at the Otaru beer garden for drinks and more warm food while waiting for the night to come and the lights to be lit. It was so gloriously twinkly!

Otaru

Otaru- Lighting the Lanterns

Otaru

Otaru Beer Garden with Anne

Otaru in Twinkles

Otaru Snow Lanterns

Otaru Snow Lanterns

Snow-Chans 😉

Otaru Snow Lanterns

Otaru Love

School Ski Trip, Agigasawa

Leaving Aomori

 

Bus to Agigasawa

 

Agigasawa hidding

Last Thursday was the first grade school trip, in all my years of school trips this was a league of its own… it was like no other I had ever experienced.

We left at 7.45am, six bus loads of screeching students and a collection of over organized teachers and we began a gloomy snowy 2 hour journey to Agigasawa. On the bus the home room teachers sorted the students into numerical seating arrangements and each was assigned a big red bib with their identity number. Once the bus pulled up the students filed out in perfect order into the thick white clouds of snow. We started the day with an opening ceremony (of course) and then the students were grouped off and assigned to instructors. No free skiing that would be out of control and far too stressfully disorganized. I tagged along with different groups throughout the day (to spread the English encouragement) and had the best day ever. The students were so happy, so smiley and so so excited. Every time I passed a group they would screech at me and I would join them for a bit. Most students were complete beginners but there was the odd impressive group. Then of course there were the groups that looked like they would be deadly, with all their amazing kit and turns out some of them had never even used it before! Throughout the day you would pass men with the same bibs on but with huge cameras, five photographers where spread over the mountain just for Nishi Koko; in Japan photographing a trip like this is just as important as the actual event. Over lunch time when you arrive into the canteen with red cheeks you get a lens in your face, guaranteed. For a shy nation they take this constant intrusion so very well, I on the other hand was trying to hide in any corner possible to eat my ramen without cameras recording my every slurp.

The entire ski resort of Agigasawa was crammed with school kids, all with their own unique bib color and reference number. What a great thing being a school kid in Aomori and having this fun opportunity to learn to ski!

To say the bus ride home was quiet would be an under-statement. Sleeping babies.

Opening Ceremony

 

Agigasawa