A little Mountain in the Sea

A Blanket of Dog Teeth

Dog Tooth Violet

湯の島 is literally a little mountain in the sea. One week a year this beautiful place opens to the intrigued public. For seven days only you can skip around, around and up and down… probably because a yearlong of trampling might flatten the island into the sea. This place is very special to the people of Asamushi-Onsen not only for its lovely organic cuteness but also because of the rare blooming of the ‘Dog Tooth Violet’. The flower blooms for this week in April only and the island opens up its soggy freshly de-snowed pathways for people of Aomori to view it.

The boat leaves from the pier whenever people are there in need of a ride, its 1000yen (about 10euro) for a return five minute trip and a friendly guide to walk you up the hill and down again. Your guide will be sure to point out every single variety of color/ shape/ size of the precious dog tooth violet. They are cute beauties, both the flowers and the guides.

Asamushi Onsen Island

 

Asamushi-Onsen Island climb

 

Dog Tooth Violet
Half Way Up
Our Wise Wise Guide
Sonomi, myself and Crave at the top!
The Peak

 

At the corner of the island there is a shrine in the sea, you finish off your hike with a perfect picture of peace. Arriving on the mainland you look back at your reminder of the amazing beauty of this country and you pray for the pain they are all silently suffering right now.

For Peace
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Ikebana April

Focus Point Flower

 Back to school, back to the tricky Ikebana. Now even trickier as my supervisor Noda Sensei was transferred to another school, therefore I have no translator…. 

There has been weeks of despretely trying to follow Ikebana Sensei’s every move then finding out I picked up on most of the ‘don’t’ than  the ‘do’s’. She usually laughs and says ‘ohhhhhhhhhhhh Hannah good challenge but no no no’. I do try very hard to follow the instructions but this day I decided to trust my instinct while keeping a vague eye on the Sensei’s piece………my bold moves payed off last Friday and the teacher was so proud of me I was picked to present my piece at the school entrance for the week.

It’s all about the angles of the curves and the direction you place them in

 

Now I am reminded of my lucky strike every time I enter the school! 

April Ikebana 2011

Spring Pan Graduates

Melon Pan

 

April in Aomori seems like a happy place to be, the anticipation over the blooming of the cherry blossom genuinely has everybody on the edge of their seats. It’s crazy how much of a big deal these blooms are, people cannot wait for them to arrive, they are extremely excited. Our whole garden in Ireland bursts with blossom every year and unless my green thumbed mum points it out it would probably go largely un-noticed. Other than the green thumbers most people might catch a glimpse of it on an odd day but I think that’s really about it. Here in Japan it is quite possibly the highlight of the year. During a class quiz a question I asked a while ago was ‘What is your favorite season?’ 77% said spring …because it is blossom season. When I was in school spring to me was exciting and all but it was really just seen as a stepping stone to the warmer days of summer. Our school books described spring as ‘lambing season’ ie when lambs are born.

Every year the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the public track the sakura zensen (cherry-blossom front) as it moves northward up the counrtry with the approach of warmer weather. Nightly forecasts following the weather segment of news programs all show these sakura zensen . The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April. It proceeds into areas at the higher altitudes and northward, arriving in Hokkaidōa few weeks later. We await with almightly patience here in Aomori.

Melon Pan

April in Aomori has people smiling…regardless of the heart breaking disaster that floats constantly in our memories .

Pan class this April was our last one of the term, we became 1st grade pan graduates yesterday! We successfully completed our course with our ‘adopted mother’ Pan Sensei, starting in the dregs of the hot humid summer, slogging through the freezing white winter and here we are arriving pan-knowledgd into smiley spring.

We made ‘Melon Pan’ which is a very popular Japanese bread. Bread buns with raisins inside, flavored with melon oil and with a ‘cookie’ layer. The ‘cookie’ is like an extra crispy sweet crunch layer that lies on top of the soft bread.

 

Making Bread Sticks

We also made bread sticks, both with black seasame and some with a cheesey layer. On the special menu was a traditional Japanese dessert called ‘Kanten’. It was made with agar-agar, sugar, kanten and water boiled together and poured into little bags with anko-beans inside. Refridgerated until set and then the bag was removed to reveal a beautiful little dessrt, they are supposed to resemble crystals. The kanten comes in jelly-ish sticks that you melt down, we think it is similar to jellatine. Very odd stuff really.

 

Black Sesame Bread Sticks

 

Black Sesame & Cheese Bread Sticks

 

Kanten Desert

Bikes Are Back

This is me standing half way along the third graders area, serious amount of bikes

Leaving a white Aomori in March and returning to a brown one (with bursts of green) in April was very odd. It feels like a new place, my eyes can’t get over all the things and people to look at, bits of buildings, roads, gardens, pathways, trees, cars, a tennis court, the river and its bridges, ponds, puddles and flower pots. I wonder did I even have my eyes open at all last summer. So they are not the most exciting things I’m re-seeing but it’s the fact I can see them that is very excited. The metres and metres of snow has vanished and the world beneath it is really very intriguing to behold. The weather is evil its warm and cold, the rain is light and heavy and even a little bit slushy. But even with the mean weather there are signs of spring everywhere, the change of food in the shops ….STRAWBERRIES, the green bursting from the ground (even just the sight of the ground is impressive), the people on the streets and of course their bikes, they and their bikes, they are back. Pretty much anybody and everybody cycles here in Japan. I’ve been home to Ireland twice since I got here last July and I keep promising I’ll cycle places instead of drive but it just doesn’t have the same pull. It seems Japan and its bikes have a greater friendship. I love my bike.

The bike cover in school was completely hidden with snow for the whole winter and the joy of seeing it jam packed with wheels on my first day back brought a great smile to my face. There must be only a hand full of students that don’t cycle at least some of their journey to school everyday. Some kids actually keep their bikes at the train station close to the school for the whole spring/ summer/ autumn and use it to travel from the station to school. If it rains no problem, you were given two hands, so use em both, one to steer and one for your brolly.

This is the bike park at Aomori city train station after a few days of sun in February these poor bikes got a glimpse of life

 

Also found this photo of my crazy neighbour clearing his roof during a rare blue sky last January

Hana (flower)

 

花 

is hana in kanji ( traditional Chinese characters used in the modern Japanese writing system) it means flower, and is a direct translation for my name, Hannah. (It also means nose but I picked flower and ignored the nose part)

My supervisor Saido Sensei teaching me the stroke order for Hana

I learnt to write my name in Kanji in calligraphy during another end of term lesson at Namioka school. It’s amazing what great teachers these kids are, all they want to do is help you and make you happy.

Students concentrating on their calligraphy pieces

 

High schooler working at Calligraphy

Learning To Roll Me Own Maki

 

 

Kappa Maki (Sushi Cucumber Rolls)

At the beginning of March I had my last lesson of the year (Japanese school years change in April) at Namioka Special Needs School. Two Wednesdays a month I hop on the train out to the quiet countryside and enjoy what is usually my two favorite days of the month. I get to wear crappy tracky bottoms to this school which is always a great start to the day 🙂  . The kids at this school adore me like the Brits love their queen….. I don’t really deserve all the love/ affection/ adoration (sorry to any queen lovers). I love them back without a doubt but it seems they just have so much more to give me than I can ever give them.

Every class with this school starts with a questions/ answers game. Without fail the first question is ‘What is your favorite food?’ this question always comes first all because the first time I answered it resulted in great amusement. It gives them endless entertainment when I tell them it ‘s ‘Kappa Maki’ (cucumber sushi rolls) I think it’s kinda like saying you like shredded carrots or something just as insignificantly boring. I’v moved on and have many new favorite foods but it’s the sheer pleasure of watching them roar laughing that makes me answer ‘ I love KAPAAAAAAAAAAAA MAKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII’.

Cucumber, Seaweed and Rice.....the essential ingredients

And so on my last day they surprised me with a lesson on how to make my own Kappa Maki. They were worried when I returned to Ireland I wouldn’t be able to find them so we set about on the most important lesson that they would ever teach and I would ever learn.

Watching the Rolling

They got so excited about it we had to split the class as they all wanted to help me, so I actually had two lessons!

I’ll hopefully never forget how to make these little gems but it’s the memory of how I learnt that will stay with me forever.

My very own kappa maki..............a little shaby yes I know but its alot harder (to keep em neat) than it looks

March’n Pan

Twisty Rolls before their fillings

Alot of pople have asked me what exactly I was doing when the big earthquake hit here in Japan, well I was in work just about to click ‘publish’ on this. The power cut out after the earthquake and I thought I had lost it but I just found the post in my draft folder it must have saved automatically. It would be rude not to post it and so on the day I return to school from a break in Ireland I bring you my last normal memory from March 11th 2011.

A twisty turny pan class to lead us through March. We made twisty rolls, cinnamon Danish pastries and good ol Swiss roll. I could not help but remember the distinct eggy smell of the Swiss roll the minute I saw the menu. It brought back memories of making it at home in ‘Cherry Lawn’ with tones of nutella or cream, strawberries, raspberries and kiwi. All three of us arrived unusally tired but once again we left pan class all smiles and bulging bellies.

Swiss Roll before the rollin

Swiss Roll with Amazing Apricot Jam

 Next is the beautiful twisties

Shaping the twisty rolls around cones

 

Fresh from the oven, filling the nostrils with beauty smells!

 

Wait for em to cool then fill em up and pack it in!!! Custard or Choccy

Following the twisties came Cinnamon Rolls, both little and large…

Beneath the layers of a cinamon roll

 

Roll it up and either make a cirlce (as photographed) or keep as a long line

 

If making one large bread make into a circle and cut with scissors as shown

 

Spread out cut pieces as shown above, let each piece overlap the last

 

Baked and glorified with almonds and sugar icing

 

OOOOOR you can make these minis by keeping the roll as one long piece and simply slice off a small section to make each mini

 

Enjoying the feasting, filling the bellies