Search This Blog & Get A Rife

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cuts Like A Knife

For many people, there seems to be confusion over what constitutes the Japanese delicacy, sushi. The prevailing thought was that sushi means raw fish. Well, it might utilize it, but it is more than just raw fish.

Sushi involves taking some hot sticky white rice that is mixed with sugar, vinegar and salt, pressing it into a cylindrical shape, adding a dab of green wasabi mustard (a tasty but hot form of Japanese horseradish), and then having it topped with a strip of thinly sliced (freshness of the meat and the adroitness of the sushi chef with his knife is key to having good versus great sushi) fresh uncooked fish, roe, shrimp, squid or octopus. Of course, you can also use an egg in a light omelet form. You can pick it up with o-hashi (chopsticks) or your fingers and dip it into soyu (soy) sauce before eating it.  
I'm sure many of you have seen sushi with a thin strip of dark green nori (seaweed) surrounding the whole roll of rice that is wrapped around one of the toppings. This is called makizushi, and people often eat it with any of the above-mentioned ingredients tucked in the middle, or with salmon roe, eel (Conger is good) or sea urchin (yuck, says me). You may have seen something called a California sushi roll, with is the makizushi with carrots or other veggies contained within with a dab of mayonnaise. I'm guessing it was created for people too afraid to try the seafood, or those with severe allergies or pregnant.

Other types of sushi (o-zushi, if we wish to be more honourific), include: chirashizushi--thin slices of raw fish placed atop a bowl of rice (let's call it sushi rice, because it's got the other ingredients mixed in); inarizushi--envelopes of bean curd flavoured with sugar and soy sauce hold sushi rice; norimaki--sushi rice and other ingredients wrapped in nori. There are probably many other more local ways to make o-zushi, but I'm not privy to them all. Pity.

Hey... do you know when I first had my first taste of sushi? In Toronto, two days before leaving for Japan - just so I wouldn't be a complete virgin... though there was that whole never-got-laid thing I harboured until my first three weeks in Japan (yay!). 

So what about the raw fish thing? For that, you need to try (or not) sashimi, which is literally slices of raw fish. The fish must be fresh and not frozen to get the best flavour.

Thinly sliced fish is dipped into a bowl of soy flavoured with wasabi (you add the potency), and you eat it. I'm pretty sure you always had to use chopsticks, though. Typical fish you would eat as sashimi include: tuna (red meat only - the Japanese used to consider the white meat the garbage, throw away meat, until they learned to like it because Americans liked it - hell, I like it, too.); yellow-tail; bream; flounder; squid; octopus; shrimp.

I've eaten them all - and lots of other things too as sashimi - and it's all freaking fantastic! The squid and octopus... when you think of them you'd expect them to be a spineless lump when taken out of the water. However, they maintain their consistency when fresh.

Want to hear one that makes me question the sanity of the Japanese? Ikizukuri. This is when a thin slice of sashimi is cut from a still living and breathing fish... the slice is placed back onto the fish - as if to taunt it that it still has a chance to survive - and then served and eaten. That poor critter is still opening and closing its mouth, gasping for breath. Why so cruel, Japan? I was told that the fish gets a special flavour from the terror. As well, you can't argue about the freshness of the food you are eating. 

Despite my comic book fish tales (Read a story HERE and HERE), I'm not really into torturing fish - in fact, the last time I went fishing was with my friend Michael Hutchison in Nikko, Japan back in 1993? I would tell you that I feel really sad every time one of my tropical fish dies - but I wouldn't want you to think I'm a big baby.

And then there are other types of raw food to eat (or not) while in Japan. Personally, I enjoyed eating basashi (raw horse meat). I wouldn't purchase it myself, but the old grey mare, she still had a lot of tastiness left in her. To quote my old pal Rodney Dangerfield (people keep telling me I look like him - yes, I look like a dead 72-year-old, white Jewish comedian) (Not) (Do I?)--"It still has marks from where the jockey was whipping it."

Another delicacy is gyu reba (gyu means cow, and I do believe that reba is the phonetic transformation via the Katakana alphabet of 'liver'). I swear to kami (god) people of Japan - sometimes you just shouldn't tell people what they are eating until after they have swallowed it. I don't care for liver at the best of times, but will eat it if offered - I know it's good for me, but I'd rather have a lobster or some other animal - rather than parts of an animal. 

Of course, again I think that's part of the Japanese sense of humour mixed with immense pride in being Japanese. They really don't expect gaijin (foreigners) to be able to eat the same foods they eat - and when people like me show up, it really throws them for a loop. I'll eat anything.

Of course, I may not like it, but they'll never know. Just smile, swallow it, and tell them it's oishii (delicious). Chances are they'll call your bluff and order another helping for you - but it's well worth it to help break down the stereotypical walls that  cultures have about each other.    

Somewhere needing a biryu (beer) to wash the reba out of my mouth, 
Andrew "I don't get no respect" Joseph
Today's blog title was spun by Bryan Adams - CUTS LIKE A KNIFE
PS: My reason for this song? You need a very good knife to make sashimi (and sushi) et al. I would have used The Tubes Sushi Girl, but I did that a year ago.
PPS: If there are any topics you'd like to be better informed upon, let me know. I do requests. And If I don't know the music, I will hum along.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Can't Stand Losing You

Originally entitled: The Girl's High School, there's probably a very good reason why I never published this before. Still, it'll give you a bit of insight into my mind back in there during my third-year in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

Geez... when did they develop breasts?

Man... is every girl at the Ohtawara Girl's High School a babe, or what? Why can't I teach at this school? Ashley did for those first two years - including more of a daily thing at the Boys High School... but now that she's gone home, I don't think they have added a replacement. If they did, I don't know about it - and believe you, I would - especially if it was an another female AET (Assistant English Teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.

Huh... it's probably a good thing I don't teach at the Girl's High School. Half the graduating class would be pregnant.

Naw. That's just guy talk. You'd like to an all, but I know I shouldn't... I hope.

I'm not like one of those guys on the JET Programme, whom I heard through the grapevine, that was sleeping with one of his female students. Bizarre. It's like they'll let anybody into JET. Maybe they should have a morality check. I mean, what about that new guy - Julius Johnson Magic Irving (obviously not his real name, but I'll tell you more about him in another blog soon). But, I digress.

Whenever I ride my bike past the Girl's High School, I do so with my head down. It's not so much that I don't want to see them or talk to them. It's just that I don't want it to look like I am 'checking out' the babes. I know there's a 10-year age difference, and by the time I get out of jail, they'd be 30 relative to my 40! Just kidding.

Maybe they think I'm a snob. I hope not. I just don't want to... maybe I'm afraid. Afraid of my own moral fiber (do I have one?). Naw. Maybe I'm just shy and don't want to be bugged. But I do like being bugged. It makes me feel needed.

But, I guess being looked upon as a pervert would dissipate my enthusiasm. Best not to look.

They sure do look cute, though.

Somewhere riding my bicycle into the back of a parked white car,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is from the Police - which is what would be involved should I think about dabbling in the female high school population. The reason I chose this title, is a single line contained within: 'You can call it a lack of confidence'. It's not about confidence in getting away with something - it's about a lack of confidence in being that good person that is well liked. It's all I ever want(ed). Still do, and I can't stand losing: CLASS IS IN.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fire When Ready

Tanuki cup with hat lid.
While it's not my intention to offend... but if you are the type to go to Pottery Barn for all of your artistic pottery needs, chances are you would find the town of Mashiko-machi in Tochigi-ken, Japan a tad overwhelming.
I was lucky enough to accompany the Ohtawara Junior High School third-year (Grade 9's) students on a field trip back in 1990, weeks after arriving.
Because I was still getting acclimatized to a new country and a new language and customs, I really had no clue where I was going or why I was going or even why they were nice enough to want me there. But, as far as that last point, even after just a few months in Japan, it was already quite evident to me that the Japanese are very hospitable. And they always were to me.
Hanging out with Shibata-sensei (Shibata teacher), the hip, good-looking English teacher from the school, he explained to me in near perfect English just where we were going and what the place had to offer. 
Mashiko, along with Arita in Saga-ken, and the towns of Seto and Tokoname in Aichi-ken, are known as places where the finest pottery in Japan is produced.
Now I have to admit that I was not a big pottery fan. It was just plates and dishes and cups, and so what? But when you actually visit a place and see it being made... well, it changes one's perception quite dramatically. 
Made in Canada by yer author.
I had always known that skill was heavily involved. Take a look at the blue cup with the letter A on it that I made back in grade 7. As well, there's the small bowl I made for my mother back in grade 5. Not sure why there's nothing from grade 6... If I can do it - and granted I'm not saying what I did was great (it's not), then really anyone can do it. 
I was wrong.
Mashiko-machi (Mashiko town) first began producing pottery back in 710AD, but as an art form, the town was unable to sustain any success - perhaps because the main potter died? Anyhow... in the 1800's, Mashiko revived its pottery skills in order to supply Edo (the capital now named Tokyo) and its 1-million residents with all of their kitchenware.   
Now here's where it gets interesting again... just like with Japan's national anthem (read about it  - Kimiyago), a gaijin (foreigner) became involved.
In 1909, Bernard Leach from England met a potter named Shoji Hamada. Leach had come to learn etching techniques, but it was Hamada's pottery skills that greatly impressed him, and the two began to work together. After working with each other for four years in England, Hamada returned to Japan to live in Mashiko where he used the excellent clay in the area. 
With his glazing and shaping skills, he became a master potter - which is also great for a town's reputation as well. 
Nowadays, there are too many potters to count in Mashiko, some better than others, but all are a lot more skilled than I ever was as an 11-year-old (obviously). 
My two favourite o-cha (green tea) cups. Rough on Left, ugly/beauty on right.
With the school (and a plethora of other schools from other towns), we received instruction on how pottery is created. Shibata-sensei said that one can even take a crack (bad choice of words) at making their own.   
We toured around a few kilns and shops, and pretty much everybody bought something - me more than others, because, well, I wanted to fit in. Being broke, be damned.
We were ushered to the town's square where there was a giant  - I thought it was a raccoon, but Shibat-sensei told me that the 20-foot high critter was called a tanuki (see top photo). We looked it up in my dictionary and discovered it was a mix of raccoon and dog. What it was, however was a pot-bellied critter with his wang jutting out. 
A flat dish. Again - texture.
Like you (in future blogs), I was to learn the Japanese have a lot of images involving sexual body parts (male & female). And while there was much tittering (sorry!) from some the girls, the boys all kind of stood at attention (ahem!) and stared at the tanuki with reverent awe.   
While I wasn't smart enough (again) to bring my camera, I did purchase the tanuki cup. 
The photo at the very top shows of some of the more artsy pottery I purchased that day. And, while I may not know what's good or bad pottery (okay, the stuff I made was really bad), I do like what I bought there.
If you ever do get a chance to visit Japan and Tochigi-ken, I highly recommend you spend a few hours in Mashiko. Tell them I sent you. It won't mean a darn thing, but imagine the look on their face as they will politely try to remember who you are talking about.
A nicely textured vase.
Since I didn't do anything spectacular - like knock over the statue, or break all of the wares in a shop - I was just another shopper to them... and mind you you, not once that day did I hear the word gaijin. After all, they must be used to seeing us all after a hundred years.
Somewhere my clay is achin' over my lack of artistic skill,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is brought to us by: Perfect Strangers: FIRE WHEN READY, in this case implies the firing of the pottery. The lyrics have nothing to do with anything I have to say today. It's also country rock. Lite.  

PS: clay is achin' is a poor pun relative to former American Idol television star, Clay Aikens. I said I had no artistic skill.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Somebody To Love

Because my ego pre-supposes you liked that comic story I wrote while in Japan back in 1992 (you can read it here: The Irrationality Of My Goldfish), here's the other fish tale that appeared in the same comic book: Strange Fun Comics #2, published by Strange Fun Comics. It's called: A Different Scale Of Thought. Art is by the awesome Pa5cal St. Clair, Edited by Steve Guzelis, and written by your old pal Andrew Joseph. Hey! That's me. It's also a much better looking representation of me, as I enjoy writing in the first-person to make people who know me a bit edgy. Let's just say that when I first published the story in an issue of the Tatami Times newsletter for Tochigi-ken JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme people, some people were very concerned for my mental well-being... fearing I was doing drugs. I wasn't and don't. My reality is way more weird than your fantasy.

Somewhere trippy,
Andrew Joseph   
Today's title is by The Jefferson Airplane, with their classic song available for your listening pleasure HERE.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fishin' Blues

The following comic book story is about me and my goldfish entitled: The Irrationality Of My Goldfish. I previously presented that tale to you HERE, as I wrote it back in March of 1992. However, in the summer of 2001, it was published as a comic book story in Strange Fun Comics #2 - published by Strange Fun Comics. Art is by fellow Torontonian Kyu Shim, Edited by pal Steve Guzelis of Illinois, and written of course by yours truly. I know it's just me, but it's awesome! As an aside, there was another goldfish story in that same issue written by me... and I'll present that to you very soon. It, too was written that month and year while I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan. The guy in the story is me - when I had a ponytail.

Somewhere reading a comic book,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Taj Mahal and can be heard by clicking on THEHOOK.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Like A Rolling Stone

Have you ever heard the Japanese national anthem? Known as Kimigayo, Japan's anthem is a sad sounding, solemn dirge. At least to me. But to the Japanese, Kimigayo is calm and dignified. It's not loud and pompous like the Russian national anthem - and I mean pompous in a good way - I love that one! It's proud like O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner, and so too is Kimigayo.

Have a listen to Kimigayo. Did you read the words? Kind of awe-inspiring, isn't it? If you haven't the means to listen to it, here are the words:

May the Emperor's reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss.

This is a waka, a 31 syllable, five lined poem and was written in a pair of chronicles entitled the Kokin wakashu and Wajan roeishu - written in the Heian period of 794AD to 1185AD when the country's capital was in Heian-kyo, now known as Kyoto. It was an era when the arts reigned supreme.

In 1869, a year after Japan opened up its borders--to allow gaijin (foreigners) in, and for the Japanese to get out (funnily enough, I haven't heard too much about the Japanese wanting or actually leaving Japan)--J.W. Fenton of England suggested that Japan get with the program and create its own national anthem. With the words chosen by Oyama Iwao, Fenton created the music - though in true Japanese fashion, they took what others did and reworked it to make it better - making it what it is today.

While the waka and song describe Japan's wish for the Emperor's rule to last forever, after WWII the Allies made Japan admit that the Emperor was not on the same level as 'God'. I put it in 'quotes' because I'm unsure which god they meant. With the Emperor forced to lose face in the minds of the world, there was some internal Japanese criticism for Kimigayo continuing to be the national anthem... how can you sing about the Emperor's reign lasting forever if no one believes the Emperor actually holds any sway over the nation?

And, while a rolling stone gathers no moss, no matter how one looks at it, Japan's Emperor is a symbol of Japan, and wanting that symbol to last forever is a wish for Japan to last forever.

Somewhere standing on guard for thee,
Andrew Joseph  
Today's title is by Bob Dylan. LIKE A ROLLING STONE is kind of about a guy who has fallen from grace. And while I don't believe that about Japan presently, I believe it may indeed have done so just prior to (with it's invasion of many surrounding countries) during (Pearl Harbour et al) and just after (capitulating to the victors in allowing them to destroy a symbol of Japan) WWII. I'm not going to get into any philosophical discussions about War and armies, save that I bet there are a lot of people everywhere glad when someone stepped in to intervene on their behalf. Justice should always prevail over greed and tyranny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Bug Me Bad

Today in 2010... I stand scratching before you a sober but bitten man. I have bed bugs. I am breakfast, lunch and dinner for this relatively new North American epidemic that was previously only the scourge of the so-called downtrodden, poor masses.
Lucky me, I'm the only one getting eaten right now. I've got a company coming in later this morning (Wednesday) to napalm the heck out of them.   
I hate bugs. I hate spiders. I generally have this hate on for anything that has more than six legs - so I can handle ants. I don't care for them in the house, but at least they aren't a pest with eight legs. 
I suppose the same holds true for squids and octopi... I hate them, and don't want them in my house.
I will eat them, however. The same will not ever be said by me regarding bugs.
I have, as mentioned in a previous blog, eaten hachi-no-ko, which the Japanese translated into English for me as 'baby bees'... but I believe the correct term would be bee larvae. Now I didn't eat them in their ooey-gooey goodness - NO! - I eat them boiled in a brown sugar goop that would make anything taste good.
As well... I have eaten inago, which the Japanese again were nice enough to translate for me via hand gestures as: "boing-boing-boing" implying something hopping around. I though they meant kangaroo (which according to a Japanese junior high school English text book was what the aborginals of Australia called the critters we know as kangaroos... turns out - according to the book - that the Aussie didn't know what they were called, and when asked by Captain Cook, simply said 'Kangaroo' or 'I don't know'. A nice story. Is it true? Visit here (and come back for the answer: HERE). 
Anyhow, inago are grasshoppers. Yup. Boing-boing-boing. Grasshoppers. They are supposed to be a delicasy... and you know what, I think it was cooked in this wonderful sugary sauce again that made the bee larvae taste grrrrr-eat. The inago were less gross in my mind, to eat and I got a perverse satisfaction from popping them in my mouth and having a leg stick out while I grossed out whatever girlfriend I had around me at the time. (I suppose a kiss is out of the question?)
As delicious as it was, I can honestly tell you that my stomach couldn't handle the rich cuisine, as I had to poop it out. And I know I shouldn't have looked, but apparently I didn't chew the grasshoppers as well as I should have. Some looked intact. What the hell is wrong with my teeth?
The person who cooked them for me (it was given to me in a plastic bad, like a bag of nuts), when she asked if I liked it, I knew it was a test, of sorts, and proudly stated that it was delicious. Well, it was, even if it was too rich for my weak stomach (ruined by too much alcohol and delicious Coke products, perhaps). I told her it was oiishi (delicious)... two days later she presented me with another bag of bugs. 
Since I still wasn't going to get kissed (not by her!), I ate them all and had the same evacuation occur. No, it didn't tickle coming out.
Sorry... I forgot the warning... ***GROSS WARNING*** + ***GROSS WARNING OVER***. There you go. Just to show you I care.

Now I guess it's the bugs turn for revenge, as I get eaten by bed bugs. I don't know why they need revenge... I've been bitten by tiny house spiders and have had my fingers swell. I am bug bait for mosquitos and by being bitten in order protect everyone else around me who is never bitten. I really hate bugs. Tomorrow, I may still be itchy, but at least I'll know after the first round of spraying that they'll be dead soon. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Somewhere 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay' so sayeth,  
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is rockabilly-ed by Wanda Jackson: BUGGERALL

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving The Dog A Bone

I'm bone-tired today, but I'm still thinking about Japan for us...

I don't know if any of you saw the small piece done up by Reuters, that appeared in the Reuters Life! section, on Friday November 19, 2010 and again in 24HR, a weekday newspaper available in Toronto on Monday, November 22, 2010, but I thought you'd get a kick out of it, so I'm passing it along.

This is how it appears in Reuters:

Japan's newest police dog -- all 3 kg (6.6 lb) of her.
In what is a first for Japan and perhaps the world, a long-haired Chihuahua named "Momo" -- "Peach" -- passed exams to become a police dog in the western Japanese prefecture of Nara.
The brown-and-white, perky Momo was one of 32 successful candidates out of 70 dogs, passing a search and rescue test by finding a person in five minutes after merely sniffing their cap.
"Any breed of dog can be entered to become a police dog in the search and rescue division," said a Nara police spokesman.
But he admitted that news a Chihuahua had been entered may still come as a surprise to many.
"It's quite unusual," he said.
Television footage showed the 7-year-old Momo bounding across grass or sitting proudly, long hair blowing in the breeze.
Momo will be used for rescue operations in case of disasters such as earthquakes, in the hope that she may be able to squeeze her tiny frame into places too narrow for more usual rescue dogs, which tend to be German Shepherds.
The public response to the news of Momo's selection took police by surprise, the spokesman said, adding: "The phone's been ringing all afternoon."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato

Pretty cool, huh? I never saw a chihuahua while in Japan, but I would be naive to assume they weren't there. But a chihuahua as a police dog? I know space is at a premium in many Japanese cities (especially Tokyo), but I never would have thought about utilizing a toy dog in the police force. 

I just have this mental image of chihuahua's shivering in the 30C cold because they are always cold... or sitting in some celebutante's (my made-up word - I think - celebrity and debutante) handbag or purse!

I'm getting more upset at my chocolate labrador Buster as I write this. Still... despite me having written negative things about dogs in Japan, I would have loved to have had one... but, of course, it wouldn't have been fair to the critter when it was time for me to leave.

Actually... I never thought about getting a dog while there - or a cat (though I did have one for a bit), and just stuck with goldfish - figuring it was easier to get rid of the evidence should they, you know, accidentally die while I was around.

I know the Japanese have been famous for taking existing technology and making it smaller, but this chihuahua police dog takes the cake - no, wait... my dog Buster just snatched it from its maw.

Somewhere in the peach pits,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is brought to you by AC/DC: GIVING THE DOG A BONE
The photo was scanned from 24HR

Monday, November 22, 2010

When I Grow Up

One of the more interesting gifts I received from a female Japanese admirer thanking me for... well, the most awesomest time of her life... okay, even I can't type that with a straight face... I no longer recall the details of the whys or the wheres, but I do know that the present was indeed from a young woman (or two) and was very thoughtful.
Check out the photos here in the blog. They are called kokeshi, and are painted dolls made simply from wood. Key to their simplicity, is the cylindrical shape - which might make it look crude - but it also lacks arms and legs, making it seem even more primitive. And that's the allure for me and millions of others.
Most dolls you see today are so realistic, you wonder why kids don't simply have a real person as a friend, because aside from taking a poop, today's dolls do everything a real person does. Oh wait... they can POOP.
Anyhow, these dolls are indeed made of wood, and are turned on a lathe - often from one -piece of wood (like both of mine are), and are then painted - either simply like my one-night stand, I mean like the doll in the simple way it is shaped - and the two I have are very different in their simplicity.
The small one with the simple red kimono is about 12 centimetres tall and is at least shaped like a person, while the other kokeshi with the elaborate kimono paint job, is about 30 centimetres tall and has the simple ovoid shape. Simple, yet elegant.
Apparently, there are several types of kokeshi - 11 types, in fact, depending on the techniques used to make them, with the shape, facial expression and painted patterns as distinctive ways of describing the types.
Now... because I am a lazy cuss, I'm going to present from Wikipedia, the write-up describing the types of kokeshi. It can be found HERE:
"Traditional" kokeshi (伝統こけし dentō-kokeshi) dolls' shapes and patterns are particular to a certain area and are classified under eleven types including: Tsuchiyu, Togatta, Yajiro, Naruko, Sakunami, Yamagata, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu, and Hijioro. The most dominant type is the Naruko variety originally made in Miyagi Prefecture, which can also be found in Akita, Iwate, and Yamagata prefectures. The main street of the Naruko Hot Spring resort is known as Kokeshi Street and has shops which are operated directly by the kokeshi carvers.
"Creative" kokeshi (新型こけし shingata-kokeshi) allow the artist complete freedom in terms of shape, design and color and were developed after World War II (1945). They are not particular to a specific region of Japan and generally creative Kokeshi artists are found in the cities.
The woods used for kokeshi vary, with cherry used for its darkness and dogwood for its softer qualities. Itaya-kaede, a Japanese maple, is also used in the creation of both traditional and creative dolls. The wood is left outdoors to season for one to five years before it can be used.

Now I'll be honest... I know the small kokeshi is what it is, but I am unsure if the larger one is actually a kokeshi. It seems to fit the criteria, but then again it doesn't. Regardless, I'm very proud of them both. I'm proud because I have items that are for girls and women, and for the fact that I don't care.
If anyone can give me more info about the large wooden doll I have, it would be appreciated.

Somewhere playing with my dollies,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog is brought to us by some living Pussycat Dolls. It's not rock and roll, but, as marketing suggests, they are easy on the eyes: WHENIGROWUP, I want to get a few more dolls.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Closing Time

Sorry people... my photos from yesterday did not load... I've inserted them INTO the story, so please feel free to take a look at yesterdays blog for some nice pics of my sake bottle and cup collection. CHEERS.

Now on with today's blog entry... 

One of the cool things about living in a relatively small city like Ohtawara-shi, in Tochigi-ken Japan is that it's small enough to be cozy while still being large enough to offer all of the amenities.

Near my apartment complex - Zuiko Haitsu, a seven-story building that, back in 1990, was the tallest building in the city - I was within a five minute bicycle ride of a couple of grocery stores, a video shop, umpteen restaurants (one was located on the main floor of my apartment), and bars... which were conveniently located maybe a good four minute stagger from my apartment.

Unlike here in Canada, if you are four minutes away from a bar, you're going to hear a lot of raucous music and drunken behaviour. In Japan, that sort of behaviour is done relatively quietly, and probably only gets out of hand when the gaijin (foreigners) are involved. I'm looking at you, Matthew. Just kidding of course. Both Matthew, myself (and Ashley), we may have had one too many often enough, but we tended to keep our vocal adrenalin out of the limelight - afterall, being on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, we weren't just visitors to Japan, we were representatives of our respective countries.

Still... that didn't stop us from going out and tying one or four on while off duty.

Y'see... we were just doing what the Japanese do.

As mentioned ad nauseum in these blogs - and you've probably already heard of it before visiting here, the Japanese tend to work long hours. It is disrespectful to the company you work for to finish work and leave before the boss does. If the boss can stay and work late, so too can you. 

I know, I know... it makes me want to vomit up my beer just thinking about that. And I'm not even drinking a beer.

Of course... there's always the possibility of the boss catching a nap in his or her (sorry, that's funny... a female boss in Japan!) office... and the employees waiting  patiently outside for their hard-working boss to leave so they can leave too.

Tricky bosses aside, there's also karoshi - which means, death from overwork - and as bizarre as it sounds to most of us, this is a a concern in Japan. But that's not what we're here to talk about.

After work, let's go have a drink.

This is not just a once in a blue-moon thing, or even once a week-thing... it's something workers do everyday after work. Of course, at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education), if they did, I wasn't invited, probably because I didn't stick around long enough to go drinking... working my standard 9-5 routine because that's what gaijin are used to - and we are.
Going to a nomiya (an old-style Japanese tavern - as opposed to a western-style meat market or pub) is something Japanese workers (and gaijin) look forward to - as kind of a reward for their days efforts (okay, maybe not the gaijin).

I asked Kanemaru-san (one of my OBOE bosses who was responsible for my overall well-being while in Japan) what's up with that.

Apparently, forget about going home to the wife and kids, having a drink or two helps the Japanese relax, get some co-worker bonding in and really, not have to go home to the wife and kids.

If you are in Japan and looking for a nomiya... look for the red lantern (aka chochin) hanging out front in the doorway. Now, I always though the red light was used to show that there was a prostitute available (see the POLICE) but I see that in Japan it means you can come in and have an inexpensive drink. 

Somewhere looking for the red light special,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog title is song by Semisonic: CLOSING TIME 
PS - that's two blogs in a row about drinking. I don't really drink anymore, but thanks for asking.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sock It To Me, Baby

I've mentioned in here my penchant for diving face first into the whole Japanese culture thing - and why not. If you are going to Japan to vacation or live - or heck, visiting any other country than that which you are used too, you must immerse yourself into the culture.

Now obviously I didn't listen to my own advice completely, what with having gaijin (foreigner) girlfriends mostly for the first two years of my stay in Ohtawara-shi... it was a language thing, I tell myself.

Still... there are many interesting and fun ways to become more Japanese-like.

There's learning the language - hell, I can barely speak English - how am I going to learn Japanese?

There's getting involved in cultural hobbies: ikebana (flower arranging); bonsai (tree bondage); drinking; pachinko (arcade time-waster); trying to pick-up gaijin women (did that), and learning how to cook (nearly burned down the place the first time I made tempura)... wait! What was that one I said? Drinking?.... Hmmm.

The Japanese love to drink alcohol. Not at work - which is most of their day - but when work-time is over and they have a few moments to themselves with their co-workers, before they need excuse themselves to go back home to their wife and kids, or to their mistress. 

Yes, believe it or don't, it's a well known fact that most Japanese men have a mistress on the side. And, as long as the wife doesn't know who, things are okay as long as there is food on the table and the bills are all paid.

Now... personally, I never heard of any of my male Japanese cohorts heading out for a quickie. I did my best to associate with good people with good intelligence. And while that doesn't necessarily mean you aren't going to cheat, at least they should know better. Unless it's a cultural thing.

Whew! I need a drink.

While beer and whiskey were very big amongst the Japanese - especially as they wanted to be more Western, I wanted to appear more Japanese and got my swerve on with Japanese rice wine (sake). 

Now I wasn't such a knob that I'd order sake when out with Matthew or Ashley. Naw... I'd have vodka-based drinks or rum-based drinks. Sake was the alcohol of  choice when the Japanese were involved, as they enjoyed themselves a little bit more (in my humble opinion) when you drank a Japanese drink.

I've already recounted quite a few episodes of me and sake, but should you wish, please have a sip again, and another. And another. It tastes like water doesn't it?

Now wait a few minutes, while you keep drinking wondering if it's ever going to make you feel drunk - and that's when it hits you like an apartment building falling on your head destroying your brain, your equilibrium, and your ability to form compl sentenc.

By now, you are long past caring what your brain is trying to do (hide), and continue to pour sake into your gullet. You've usually only had enough when your brain shuts down for the night and you pass out.

Man, I love sake.

My convection oven/microwave oven had a setting on it to warm up: one cup of sake; two cups of sake, and; three cups of sake. Seriously. That's how you know the Japanese are serious about sake.

Should you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to drink sake, please don't be as stupid as I have been. Sake. Water. Repeat. Don't forget to urinate. Once you open up the gates to whizz, you'll be going all night. This will help you avoid a bad hangover - which, by the way, I never, ever had. That's right... I never had a hangover. I've done irrepairable damage to my liver and self-esteem... but never have I spent a cold morning in the drum.   

So what's this blog about? Well, actually, I just wanted to show off some of my lovely sake bottles and glasses via photographs.

Sake bottles, when taken from a glass bottle, and placed into a decorative decanter, those decanters are called tokuri.
Actually, the tokuri are used more in the consumption of hot sake. The tokuri, filled with sake, are set in a bowl of hot water - but it's only immersed a tad around the base. You don't want to get the neck hot or no one will be able to grab it to pour it.
Now here's something interesting - the Japanese using different counters when counting objects of various sizes or shapes. For example, a beer bottle and a sake bottle are similar in shape, and are much different from a cat, (neko), let's say. The cat (and other small animals) has its own counter, in this case, it's hiki. One cat is spoken as 'ichi hiki no neko')... So how would you say one bottle of sake? It's not 'ichi hiki no tokuri'. It becomes 'ippon no sake'.

Hmm... can you see why learning Japanese is a bugger? There are counters for flat things, round things - actually, there are pretty much counters for all nouns.  

To avoid confusion when you are ordering, hold up one finger and say sake! That'll get you on your way to a good drunk-on.

Anyhow... check out my lovely sake cups and bottles.

Somewhere not hungover,
Andrew Joseph
Today's blog is by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. I chose Sock It To Me, Baby because of the similarity between that phrase and sake it to me, baby. Pretty lame, I know, but I was drunk when I came up with the idea.
PS: Did you know that Winona Ryder took "Ryder" as a stage name, after seeing a Mitch Ryder album in her father's collection? I didn't which is surprising seeing as how I remembered to include that fact here.
PPS: I wasn't drunk. In Japanese, being drunk is called 'yopparai'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick

Part of the coolness about living in Japan was the never-ending supply of new cuisine to try. At least that's what I tell myself now here in 2010.
Prior to arriving in Japan, I was 25-years-old, living in my parent's basement watching Star Trek and reading porn with one hand. Although I had spent five years in university (York) doing Political Science, and a couple more at Humber College studying journalism (yes, I graduated both), I had never left home before.
While not exactly a momma's boy, this former king-of-the-nerds managed to reinvent himself into court-jester-of-the-normals. Whatever that means.
Back in Toronto, my parents, Ron & Lynda (who were born in India), used to cook for my brother Ben and I. One meal for us, and one meal for them - on many, many occasions.
Us two kids were spoiled and had no interest in eating 'foreign' food. We were brown guys living in Canada and wanted to be as Canadian as possible in order to fit in. Believe it or not, but racism was rampant in Canada during the 70s and 80s (and I'm guess, before that, and after that).
I'm just saying that I was no great connoisseur. I used to eat pork shops (not a typo), steak and chicken, with potatoes and if I had to, something called a vegetable.
In Japan... it was adapt or die.
And, let me tell ya.... those first three weeks in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.... I didn't eat that much, except when we had office lunches (every weekday) or there was an enkai (party) or festival.  Combine the lack of eat with the heat, and I dropped about six-plus kilograms. Not that anyone noticed.
My parents had warned me before departing to have an open mind. So I did. And I do. I made it my goal to eat everything placed in front of me, and to stick with the things I liked the best. Okay, that last part came out wrong... but the first part is the part we should all remember. Go to Japan with an open mind and an open mouth.
A co-worker of mine recently went to Japan on business (I don't get to go anywhere!). She hated the food... but then again, she's so skinny that I think she hates all food.
Now, I've already talked a bit about Natto, and other somewhat strange Japanese foods, so today, let's talk about a veggie called a daikon, a white radish.
The radishes I know about are these cherry-sized and shaped, purple coloured sharp-tasting things that I have no idea what the heck to do with. The Japanese daikon looks vastly different. It looks, well, it looks sortta like a sex toy that I may have heard the big kids talking about under the bleachers the other day. No wait, scratch that... they are cylindrical (like a rocket), white, generally smooth-skinned (similar to a carrot), and have a tuft on top like a carrot. As well, like a carrot, they grow pointy end down in the ground.
Generally speaking, the daikon has a diameter of about eight centimetres and a length of 40 centimetres. And after I've just spent this length of time to describe it all to you, I suddenly recall that there is also a round variety - see photo above.
Now... unlike a carrot, I've only seen daikon used in a grated form called daikon oroshi, and is often found served with fish--always with one called a Pacific Saury.
Though having a sharp, almost bitter taste (unlike a carrot, but more like a radish), the daikon is served to help cleanse the palette, as well as for its digestive properties, as enzymes contained therein can help break through any greasy meal.
From what I've observed, daikon is used as  a condiment (like ketchup and mustard) and is put into tempura dipping sauces. When I made tempura that one time in Japan, I did not use grated daikon, and after the fireman came to put out the blaze engulfing my apartment, it was obvious to me that I should have used some.
I'm not a tremendous fan of daikon--I mean, I'll eat it, and it is tasty, but I guess since I really didn't know how to prepare it, I was always leery of using it in my chili con carne a la Andrew or my spaghetti sauces, or in my heat-and-serve meals from Ai-Ai-Town or Iseya. Hmm... in hindsight, it was probably a food thing that I never used it when cooking.

Somewhere wondering how I'm supposed to fit this stupid tuber in my tiny fridge,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Listen to the second line of the song and know that I chose this song because a daikon is one rhythm stick is one you don't want to get hit with.
PS: Here's something interesting - a Japanese anime (animation) show called Nerima Daikon Brothers.
PPS: In the photo up above, you can see a young Japanese boy (circa 1930 - and from my personal collection) holding a daikon radish that's far larger than what I have described because it was grown in the rich soil of the ever-exploding Mount Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima.
PPPS: In the photo below, you can see my tiny fridge in my large apartment in Ohtawara-shi. The swivel chair is sort of blocking it, and it has a convection microwave oven atop it.