Monday, 30 November 2009

Yaki udon, an easy dinner

Yaki Udon

Yaki Udon is a stirfry noodle and vegetable dish (udon being a  type of wheat noodle - nowdays most commonly made with Australian wheat ).
Just as an aside, there is an interesting article on the decline of Japanese wheat production here.

A handful of thinly sliced meat - typically pork but can be anything including mince.
1 onion
1/4 cabbage
1 carrot
black pepper (most recipes don't include this)

2 packets of precooked udon noodles
2 tablespoons of sesame oil (vege oil is ok)

2 tablespoons of soy
1 tablespoons of mirin (you could possibly get away with using sugar)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (probably cider or white or malt would be fine - probably not balsamic)
  1. Put noodles into a saucepan of boiling water until the water reboils.  Take noodles out, set aside. (Most recipes don't recommend this but I think it works better.)
  2. Chop veges 
  3. Put oil in a frypan   Lightly fry veges including garlic.  Push veges to the side of the fry pan
  4. Fry the meat.   Mix meat and veges in the pan.
  5. Grate ginger and black pepper over the top.  Add the noodles, mix,
  6. Add the sauce.  Mix together.
  7. Serve   with white sesame seeds or katsuo bushi, or chopped shallots
Next time I make it I will take a photo.

Autumn leaves @ Meiji Jingu

Reveling in the spirit of autumn, yesterday we went to Meiji Jingu (shrine), along with the rest of Tokyo, to appreciate the boulevard of yellow leaved ginko trees that line the way to the Meiji Jingu outer gardens (a place comprised largely of sport stadiums).  The ginko tree has particular significance to Tokyo as the symbol of the Metropolitan govt - a stylised version of it appears on all Tokyo Met. Govt. signs and correspondence.  A huge effort is made to keep the leaves swept away.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Koishikawa and autumn leaves

Koishikawa Korakuen is without doubt the best place to experience autumn beauty in central Tokyo. Located next to Tokyo Dome and in close proximity to perhaps 5 subway lines  (at Korakuen, Kasuga and Iidabashi) and one JR line (at Suidobashi) it is also one of the most popular. .. Mind the tour groups!, Though actually they move through quite quickly.
Yesterday, my former next door neighbour, Mrs Higuchi, and I had lunch at the French Institut de Japonais followed by a leisurely stroll around Koishikawa. It is one of Tokyo's oldest parks, dating back more than three hundred years to Tokugawa (shogun) times and was built using Chinese expertise. The garden has lakes, and mountains and bridges, spring flowering plums and cherries and peaches, summer rice, autumn ginko and momiji (Japanese maple).   Each viewpoint in the garden is remarkably different, each section is its own  microcosm.
At this time of year the light gently filters into the park through the momiji (Japanese maple)  leaves. It is the middle of  kouyou (leaf changing season) there at the moment: some leaves are still green, some have turned to yellow, others are a brilliant red.       It's always satisfying as well as enjoyable to spend time with Mrs Higuchi.  She's the only Japanese friend  that I speak in Japanese with,  furthermore her Japanese is very genteel.  One can only hope that the the Billingsgate Japanese I have absorbed in high schools is polished up by association. ;)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Defray ... defla- ... or as it is know in English deflation is the media buzz word at the moment.  The Japanese govt. announced last week that the Japanese economy is back in a deflationary state.  I could have told them that without relying on a report.
The other day NHK (the national broadcasters) recited a litany of price reductions.

Average natto (fermented beans) price  - down 10%
Average shampoo price - down 20%
Bottled water price - down 30%.

I don't remember the others.

Last night we were out and hot cans of oshiruko - a sweet red bean soup - were 50 yen!  That's about 55c Aus for a can of drink.  The cans are small, the same size for coffee, but usually sell for 120Y - at least the coffee does. The other day in Niigata Lily bought 2 bokchoy for 30 yen for the two of them and a big bag of veges for about 1200 Y.

It's utterly mad with much pricing that is totally unsustainable. 
I am no economist, but there is some logic to the long term situation of deflation.

- Salaries have been cut (Hokkaido govt. 2 years ago cut all employees salaries by 10%), bonuses - which are built into a full time workers expected salary - are being withheld or cut, and new staff are more likely to be employed on a part time basis.
- immigration policy is also, I suspect, pushing wages in many sectors down - unlike Australia where most immigrants, at least traditionally, plan to live in Australia in the future, Japanese immigration seems to have a high percentage of people here for short term work.  Guest worker schemes seem to work in some places, notably Singapore and  Dubai, here I think it's probably reasonable to conclude it contributes to overall wages being pushed down.  (I will investigate this further and perhaps in the future write in more detail - immigration statistics are difficult to draw conclusive opinions from.)  There are also large numbers of people coming on short term visas in skilled industry, who can afford to work for less because they are saving for a future in a much cheaper country.  Unlike most developed countries, Japan does not really have a policy of encouraging permanent immigration which may help stimulate the economy. (this should be qualified in the pursuit of accuracy, however it's too tangental for this post.)
 - Most goods are now manufactured in China or SEAsia rather than domestically.
- Many food stuffs are now being imported from other parts of Asia
- Clothing manufacture has moved to mass production and large chain store sales reducing the cost
- Chain operators now dominate cheaper restaurants - their ingredients are sourced from overseas and they employ few full time staff.
- the population is falling - fewer people, less demand.
- the population is aging rapidly - people in their 80s and 90s are low consumers of most thing aside from healthcare and medicine.
- interest rates are less than one percent - no scope for interest reduction to stimulate the economy.
- banks are leery of lending money to anyone that could be a risk - partly due to banks making such poor lending decisions in the past.
- Japanese propensity to save rather than spend. (credit card use is quite minimal here - the other day I was at H&M and of the six people ahead of me buying clothes, all 6 paid in cash (and me made 7).
- Japanese propensity to save with an emphasis on low risk - a non yielding bank account rather than stocks etc  (currency trading has been popular recently, though it seems a lot of people have been burned)
- cut price chains moving into bloated industries eg funeral industry which is traditionally obscenely expensive (partly because most temples operate as businesses rather than as non profit organisations).

Last night's news showed a meeting of retired JAL staff who are having their pension entitlements, which were presumably set during the bubble economy and when JAL was massively profitable, cut.  The retirement pension amount will still be about 70% higher than the now average salary.
This story was followed by the surge in loan sharking on people falling behind in rent payments.

I will need to ponder a bit longer to come up with any constructive suggestions, but some constructive suggestions are sorely needed.   The future of a Japan that appreciates cheapness at the expense of skill or beauty or workmanship is rather grim.

Vending machine with  50Y oshiruko, 80Y corn soup, 100 coffee.
Blue background behind the price shows it is cold, a red background shows that it is a hot drink.
Usually these drinks sell for 120Y.


There are some very scenic places in Japan.
Over the weekend we went to Fukushima - about 200kms north of Tokyo.It was beautiful but soooo cold that the vending machines selling hot chips almost became attractive.  (almost).  A couple of times in the mountains of Fukushima and Tochigi we were riding through falling snow.  Very cold but also potentially treacherous on a motor bike....
We stayed at a minshuku (Japanese style B&B) in Kaneyama machi which had very tasty local food for breakfast and dinner. I was a bit of a whimp though and my horse meat sashimi went into my pork hotpot for some cooking...  Hiro did the same after a very bad experience with food poisoning at a minshuku we stayed at in Nagano several years ago.
I'd like to go back to Fukushima: it tends to be off the Tokyo radar - too far to be convenient and too close to be exotic, and  the concentration of nuclear power reactors probably doesn't help its image either.  Next time we go it will be when it's warmer!

The pictures above and below are taken near the
Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Museum.

A giant Kannon (godess of mercy statue near Aizu).
It is relatively recently built and forms part of Aizu mura - a sightseeing attraction.

The end of autumn leaves with  newly fallen snow

Monday, 23 November 2009

thanks to the workers day

Today is kinro kansha day, a public holiday to recognise and appreciate the workers.   The timing just about coincides with American thanksgiving, and although the day was instituted during American occupation (in 1948).  The origins are apparently in much older a festival, Niiname-sai, which marked the end of the rice harvest.

We have spent the day endeavouring to be appreciative.  It is much more uplifting  than dwelling on the irony of a day set aside to appreciate workers while on the remaining 355 days workers are discouraged from taking holidays, sick days, where full time work with attached benefits is a pipe dream for many young people, and where the Japanese lexicon has a word, karoshi, which means death from overwork.

Long live genuine appreciation!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

supermarkets and sensors

I was thinking last night about the sticking episode, and my neurotic reaction to it.  Many things, most things perhaps I can adjust to, but not the sticking and not movement sensor recordings in the supermarket.  The local supermarket used to have sensors that shouted at you 'HON JITSU, HON JITSU KAGIRI.....'   (TODAY, TODAY OOONLY ..... ).  They were so closely positioned that you could sometimes hear three at the same time.  At quiet times in the supermarket they had a way of jerking you out of the meditative glazed over feeling you get wandering the aisles wondering where the yeast could possibly be.... 
They also made me neurotic.  I used to dart from machine to machine turning them around, unplugging them, turning them upside down - anything short of breaking them that would silence them.
Hiro used to roll his eyes.... 'why do you shop here then!!!!!'
Fair point but it's the nearest supermarket....

Happily I can report that the era has come to an end.  No more having the senses accosted by recorded messages.  Peace in the supermarket.  Hiro thinks they have a sensor to detect mad gaijin (foreigners) that come into the supermarket and they quickly pack away the offending machines when one approaches.

Me however, I feel relief and vindication :)

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A grumpy foreigner: BYOB (bring your own bag)

Tonight I went to the local D2 - it's kind of the cleaning, petfood, stationery, storage and hardware section of a supermarket. (No food except chewing gum.)  I bought quite a few things - new brake pads for the bike, detergent, shampoo, futon clips, garbage bin deoderizer, canisters of gas and other such household basics - about 20 items in all.   In the interests of being socially aware and environmental, I took my own bag.

At the cash register the woman began sticking D2 tape on one representative of each item to 'prove' they were not shoplifted.  I said to her it's ok, I have the receipt. I didn't need 20 pieces of tape.... She kept sticking.... I shoved them quickly into my bag before she got to them.  I tersely said 'if I have the receipt it's ok'.  Perhaps it was not the right way to say it.... she printed out a tax receipt for me.... and looked for more items to stick.  I said thank-you but I don't need them. And left.
I know it is the store policy... but.... the policy is completely illogical.  Why is their bag OK and my bag isn't?????
I will keep taking my own bag and practice saying  'no thanks' more successfully.
Stuck by D2
(As a contrast the supermarket up the hill from there charges 8 yen or so for each bag and there is no tape happening there.)

I don't bow, therefore I am...

American conservative media, and not such conservative media too, are in a big flap at the moment, expressing outrage and disgust with President Obama's snivelling syncophancy, accusing him of demonstrating his inferiority, and thereby the inferiority of the US, in bowing to the Japanese emperor.

Some quotes
In Japan, the bow is seen as a sign of deep respect and deference to a superior. Basically, Obama acknowledged that he - and possibly the United States - is inferior to Japan and the Japanese Emperor.   A picture of Cheney with the Emperor shows how Americans would have rather seen the interaction take place. Cheney stood upright and tall. Neither Cheney - as the VICE PRESIDENT- or the Emperor - bowed. This showed that they seen each other as equals.

"We don't defer to emperors. We don't defer to kings or emperors. The president of the United States -- this coupled with so many apologies from the United States -- is just another thing," Bill Bennett. CNN

TOKYO, Japan – Upon arriving at the Imperial Palace yesterday for a private lunch, President Obama shook the hand of Emperor Akihito and gave a bow. The emperor did not return a bow.
followed by feedback such as
Anyone who makes excuses for Obama bowing to a defeated enemy is not an American. end of story.

It's problematic and rather vexing to read some sections of American media making political mileage out of a custom that they don't understand.  For one thing, bowing is the way people greet and acknowledge other people in Japan - and Obama was in Japan.  It's incredibly arrogant to presume the superiority of one's culture; I am American, I don't bow.   The commentators in question would probably also have no qualms about ordering a Big Mac in Hindu ashram or demanding a McPork burger and can of beer in Riyhad....  If it were put in an American context and a Japanese leader thought it beneath him/her to shake hands I doubt it would be considered acceptable.

Secondly the emperor did bow, but he is of much smaller stature than Obama.  Also the emperor is much older than Obama.   
Obama did look a bit clunky in the photo - but bowing isn't natural to most westerners.

I mentioned the controversy to Hiro this morning.  He was quite puzzled - what's the fuss. It's just nice manners in Japan.   I suspect most Japanese feel similarly - it didn't make the Japanese papers - though the controversy presumably will.   From here, Obama didn't look like social inferior, it's a pity the US media aren't a bit more open to broader understanding...

An email arrived in my inbox today with a link to an article in the examiner (US newspaper) that quotes from Japanese websites the bowing.   They speak volumes about the perception gap.

'What a bow!”
“Such a deep bow from Obama, what a fine guy.”
“I’m surprised he bowed. He’s really trying hard to meet the Japanese way!”
“President Obama is a top-class person, isn’t he? Amazing!”
“The Emperor is giving a nice smile!'
“Is the Japanese Emperor really that special?”
“The Emperor or the Pope, the President or the Prime Minister, whoever is greater is not something that I think can be decided objectively.”
“I laughed because it was a much better bow than I had imagined.”
“Obama’s huge!”
“Obama has more of a true Japanese heart than most Japanese do.”

There is irony in the  US taking bowing protocol much more seriously than the Japanese...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Niigata 3 - a scholarly gentleman

While I was up in Niigata, Lily arranged for me to meet one of her ex-students from when she was in Niigata 7 years ago, Kazuo san. Kazuo-san is a retired high school Japanese (kokugo) teacher who began learning English after he retired, his fluent command of the language gives me hope.... however as a Zen practitioner, I have little doubt his self discipline (and aura of gentleness and calm) far exceeds any self disclipine that I am likely to attain....

It's a rare treat to meet an English speaking kokugo teacher. Good kokugo teachers are often knowledgable not only about Japanese literature but also Japanese history. Kazuo san was very patient with my barrage of questions that followed no particularly methodical thought process - POW camps, Tokugawa era open ports, architecture of Niigata, changes in Japanese land ownership etc etc :)  He is very energetic with a keen interest in photography and hiking; the sort of person you could do a series of interviews with and make a book.

He said in his home town, Joetsu, in the south of Niigata prefecture there was a WWII POW labour camp which held mostly Australian soldiers, but some British too, who  were transported from Indonesia.   I didn't think to  ask what year they were transported - I imagine 1942 or 1943.  Apparently the labour camp was one where agricultural chemicals were being produced.  It surprised me as I had imagined, especially after reading Nobi a book written by Shohei Oka a surviving soldier of WWII which bleakly describes the misery and starvation endured by Japanese occupying troops in the Philippines,  that ammunition and armaments production would have taken priority over food production.

Kazuo-san took us to an old house owned by the Itoh family, the primary landholders of Niigata and and one stage the largest landowning family in Japan (in part as a result of over-taxing local farmers and seizing their land).    It was an impressive house with a serene garden. A new restaurant has been built there, which is in keeping with the atmosphere of the surroundings. 

I have included some pictures of the place - I didn't take many because there was a tour group there at the same time as us.  I have also included some photos that Reo took there - the world through the eyes of a two year old. ;)

Something I should also mention with Kazuo san, he was extremely knowledgeable, but if he didn't know something he had no hesitation in saying so and then giving an answer based on his educated guess.  I really respect that.  From my historians point of view, a person becomes so much more credible as a source of information if he or she doesn't make up answers when they don't know something.  From a personal point of view, I really appreciate the sincerity and humility, and the love of learning that is contained in simply saying 'I'm not sure' and then giving an opinion.

I will be sure to seek him out next time I go to Niigata.

Lily most likely will put more interesting pictures on her blog once H1N1 abates in their household:

Back in the big smoke - Books and Niigata (2)

The last post was getting too long so this is part two.

Niigata and books

A definite upside of Japan is the wider exposure to a variety of literature.  Here foreigners here swap books with much greater fervour than I've experienced anywhere else. Happily, Lily and I have compatible tastes in books.   I took some books up that I  was done with, and brought a swag back with me - reading books, reference books and studying books.  Recently I have read  a biography of  C.S. Lewis' wife Joy  (very factual), Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore (enthralling, very different),  the Manchurian Candidate (aggressive, confronting, disturbing),   Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, (a moving collection of short stories of relationships of mostly newly arrived subcontinental couples in the US), Tom Keneally's  The Tyrant's Novel, (interesting but depressing).  While up at Lily's she lent me  Yoko Ogawa's The housekeeper and the prefessor to readI really recommend it. It's a deceptively simple story about a woman that keeps house for a mathematics professor who, after a car accident, has a short term memory of 80 minutes.  Despite the fact that she has to re-introduce herself to him every morning, the housekeeper and her 10 year old son forge a deep bond with the professor through maths and baseball.  The book contains lots of mathematical curiousities; the professor was still found joy in doing and teaching complex maths.

Speaking of memory and books, sometimes I wonder why I read at all since it doesn't take me long to forget what I have read.....

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Back in the big smoke - Niigata 1

I arrived back in Tokyo from Niigata last night.  Through a little planning and a lot of luck Hiro, who was returning from Okinawa, and I  managed to arrive 2 minutes apart at the local train station.   Hiro enjoyed Okinawa,  the hot humid summer like temperatures were  a sharp contrast to Tokyo where the slide into winter has begun. It seems like the conference went well and what ever was supposed to be achieved was.

Niigata was fun.  I went to see Lily a Canadian friend living in Niigata. I met Lily and her husband Masahiko 5 years ago or so during the New Year holidays when they were living in Kazuno, a smalll, deeply recessed, ex mining town in the mountains of northern Akita not far from where Hiro's parents live.  When they moved to Yokohama area 3 years ago we used to meet up from time to time. We're a similar age, our Japanese is at a similar level (we're both studying for Level  2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test), and our outlook on life is similar.  Two years ago in March, I went to Hiroshima and Miyajima with Lily and her boys Tomoya (3, almost 4 at the time) and Reo (who was not yet one). The boys were a delight. Funny, charming, and very bright and so easy to take around.  I was amazed at the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima that Tomoya could take in the information in English  - (there was no way either Lily or I could explain the events in Japanese)  - but in the evening could relate it back to Masahiko on the telephone in Japanese.   I've kept in touch with occasional postcards and in the time I have been away Masahiko - who works in the energy industry - has been transferred again to Niigata, and in August baby Sora arrived.

Time in Niigata was refreshing.  It was really good to see Lily. Tomoya and Reo are as delightful - happy, lively and engaging as ever  - and so affectionate to Sora.  It was also interesting to see how a different household operates.  Lily and Masahiko are quite remarkable.  Masahiko has been transferred from Niigata to Kazuno to Tokyo (living near Yokohama) back to Niigata.... Japanese companies have little compunction about transfering employees to different cities (or countries) with little regard for the situation of the whole family.  Some families adjust by moving the family unit, in many cases though the father moves independently of the family to the place of work and returns only occasionally. The phenomena of solo appointments where the family unit is separated on account of work has a specific word, tanshin funin, and is very common - driven mainly by not wanting to interupt the education of the children.  There is an interesting article about  Japanese household called Absent Fathers, Feminized Sons, Selfish Mothers and Disobedient Daughters: Revisiting The Japanese Ie Household if anyone feels interested enough to read in depth about the phenomenom in a broader context with analysis of related problems.

With each move a family makes usually the onus is on the mother to make it work - find suitable kindergartens, schools, doctors, activities, make friends and perhaps find a job as well.  It would be tough for anyone, but without full competence in the language it's really tough.  I marvel at Lily's ability to make it work so well.  Her positive attitude and adaptablity explain much of it. Masahiko's flexibility and participation make a huge difference as well.   In Australia I guess people take it as a given that in a two parent household both parents contribute to the household and child rasising.  In Japan it is much less like that with many fathers having negligible input into their children's upbringing.

It's fascinating to watch language dynamics in a bilingual household. The ease with which Tomoya and Reo switch between speaking Japanese to Masahiko and  English to Lily and me is quite remarkable. Occasionally I used a word that Tomoya didn't know and couldn't reasonably guess from the context. He was very quick to ask 'is that English or Japanese'. Sometimes it was neither, - ta da da da - someitmes the misunderstanding came from my imperfect Japanese pronciation.  Whatever the reason he slotted in the information, stored away for another day.   I looked up 'scatterbrain' on a English Japanese translation website.  It gave two words, one of which I was unsure about. I asked Tomoya what it meant and he could explain to me how the word was used in Japanese and gave an example sentence.   For 5 years old I thought that was quite incredible.
Sometimes there are Japanese words that are better than an English equivilent.  Oishii = tastes very good.  Oishii is much more expressive, and hence tends to be used - even by Lily and me.  The word for pick me up and carry me in Japanese is simply dakko.  Unsuprisingly Reo will use dakko when he wants to be carried.  But if he finds himself in a pickle the English 'Help' or  'I'm stuck' flow more easily than the Japanese equivilents. If I read a Japanese book on shapes in Japanese Reo would use Japanese to describe the shapes.  If I made up the words and used English, he would use English. At almost two and a half he can  already counts to ten and recognises the numbers for each in English.  (he evidently enjoys going up and down in the lift ;) )  In Japanese he counts the numbers but has yet to associate the shapes with the numbers, which for me was intriguing - I had never thought about the association being independent. (But actually thinking about it, it makes sense I can count to 8 in Mandarin but might need to count from one to work out the meaning of some of the numbers.)

Eating someone else's cooking was also a treat.  Cooking is not very interesting for me - Hiro gets home so late that we rarely eat together at night time. Although he calls to say whether he wants dinner it's often not until 8pm or so.  Breakfast we eat together but it needs to be quick. I am very guilty of making excess and having left overs to eat the next day or freeze.... I was impressed that Lily could conjur up something completely different each night with seemingly little effort.  I've come home with new recipe ideas -
* okayu with chicken stock, meat and lots of veges
* pie made meat and vegies using mirin and soy and worstershire sauce for flavour
* lotus root grated with flour  and a little miso added, kneaded till bread dough consistency and then pan fried. (I made these last night and added chopped green onions.)
*chapati with daikon grated into it and cooked on hotplate.

I was amazed that Tomoyo and Reo happily munch on raw broccoli and carrots for afternoon tea - in preference to cake.... I asked Reo what he wanted for dinner - he answered 'carrots'..... lol.  Enviable eating preferences....

I will continue this later.

BTW Lily's blog is at

Monday, 9 November 2009

you take the high road

This morning was spent with household mundanities; the afternoon was more interesting. I took a trip to Higashi Ojima, in a flat reclaimed land area east of Tokyo where much of Tokyo's Indian community resides.   There is an Indian ingredient shop, Namaste,  tucked under the railway line there that's run by a Japanese man who speaks not only Japanese and English but Hindi as well.   Many of the ingredients available there are not generally available in Tokyo - fenugreek, cardamom, fennel seeds, asafoetida among others.  I bought a few bits and pieces for myself but also some for a Canadian friend of Punjabi extraction who I am going to visit tomorrow in Niigata, a place where such ingredients are unlikely to be found at all. 

I am taking the opportunity to go to Niigata, on the Japan Sea side about two hours from Tokyo on the Shinkansen,  since Hiro is off on a business trip to Okinawa from tomorrow till Friday. (Okinawa is a group of far south islands that are probably closer to Taiwan than Japan - not far from where the Battle of Iojima / Iwojima took place), Despite the temptation to go with him and wear sleeveless shirts for a few days,   I am not.   Hiro's company are in the unenviable situation of being very closely scrutinised by the govt. audit agency.  If I were to go, even though I would be paying my own way, it could be misinterpreted as Hiro traveling at govt. expense for personal benefit. He is not allowed to stay for the weekend, even though meetings finish on Friday afternoon...  It's a bit silly really but I guess it is the pendulum swinging back sharply.
The policy extends to frequent flier points as well.  Individuals aren't allowed to accumulate  points for tickets spent with govt money.  (A policy in line with the Aus. govt. policy AFAIK but not inline with the US govt policy.)  However they don't actually use the points to fund other in company trips - the points just get  'lost'.... I guess it's probably the govts way of giving JAL and ANA  WTO permissible subsidies....

So Hiro is off to Okinawa and I am off to Niigata.
And no doubt I will have more fun.
I have put Hiro on notice not to eat any good sea food incase it looks too suspiciously like he is enjoying himself....

Friday, 6 November 2009

sweet potato pudding

Hiro's temporary filling was just that... it fell out yesterday fortunately he has an appointment at the dentist tomorrow and also fortunately I have come by a sweet potato pudding recipe that enables pain free nutrition.
Oimo or Kabocha Purin (Sweet potato or pumpkin - I think Japanese pumpkin is better for this recipe than Qld blue)

Boil 400g sweet potato or pumpkin and push through a sieve.
Lightly whip 200cc cream in a blender, add 250cc milk and blend in a mixer with the sweet potato.
Put into saucepan and heat on low, adding 100g sugar.
Cool slightly and then add 4 eggs. Put through sieve again.
Pour in rest of mixture.
Scoop into containers (I used individual pudding serves but a cake tin, lasagne or quiche dish would also be ok mine were probably 5cm deep)
Fill oven tray with water and heat oven to 160C.
Steam bake in oven for 40-50mins

I served them refrigerated, maybe hot is ok too?

You can make a light caramel sauce - as for creme brulee -  to go in the bottom before the mix goes in. I didn't.  

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Umi hotaru

The winter is fast approaching, which means the end of the biking season is also approaching - at least for me anyway. Sunday we took advantage of the sunshine and decided on a trip to  'umi hotaru' 海ホタル.  Umi hotaru  - or firefly sea - is an artificial island in the middle of Tokyo bay, located at the point where the tunnel from the Kawasaki side meets the bridge from the Kisarazu, Chiba side.  The aim of the 'Aqualine' is to enable traffic to by-pass Tokyo by connecting the two sides of the bay - at a distance of 14kms.  Umi hotaru itself is a somewhat tacky collection of eateries, souvenir shops and statues designed for people to pose next to for photos.  The air was less clear down there and the shoreline was not as visible as it would be some days.  Nonetheless, it was worth the trip.

We had brunch at a fish shop on the Chiba shore where we have eaten at several times and always has very good fish before taking a look at some of the southern shoreline and returning home before the forecast evening rain.

Looking towards Chiba

Fish drying at a market near Hota

More fish drying
Chiba coastline
Chiba coastline

culture day

Yesterday was Culture day, which brings to mind the Goering quote - 'when I hear the word culture I reach for my Browning (revolver)'.

There was no mention of Goering's words of wisdom in the mass media, at least as far as I noticed.

We celebrated Culture day by cycling to Rikugien park in Komagome, not far from here. It's an old park, built in the early 1700s. Despite it being too early for kouyou (leaf changing season) and a chilly 13 degrees the garden was rather busy. There seems to be a sizeable part of the Japanese population that enjoy 'hitogomi'  人込み - being in places crowded with people .... (it's only been a recent realization that the gomi (込み)of hito (people)gomi  means 'crowded' not 'rubbish' 塵 - same pronunciation、different character.  I long marvelled at the aptness of 'human rubbish' in crowded places.... hmmm...

Rikugien was also celebrating Culture Day by inviting in traditional puppeteers.  The marionettes had more than 20 strings... even though, Hiro was more impressed by the Vietnamese water puppets in Hanoi (which Madeline and I mostly slept through  - first night in Hanoi after a very long flight via HK - so I'm not in a good position to compare.)

To celebrate the new cultural diversity in Japan, we opted for Indian (run by Nepalese) for lunch, rating it acceptable but too sweet (modified for Japanese tastes) and not nearly as nice as a Nepalese place we ate at a fortnight ago.

While tangentally connected to Goering,   there are two other quotes of his that seem rather apt at the moment.  Though I admit it is disturbing to be quoting Goering as proof of anything....

1.  “Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

and, more pertinent to my daily life

2. “Guns will make us powerful; butter will only make us fat.”

Monday, 2 November 2009

The winter generals

The winter generals are on the march.
After yesterday's balmy 25 degrees today is 16.
Japan, a land where most things can have a spirit and anything can (and is personified, experiences a radical weather shift when the warm typhoon winds stop blowing from the south and the cold winds from Siberia start to blow across from Korea: the winter generals (or fuyu shogun) are marching and the weather reports show just that.    I don't have the technology set up to take an image from the TV news and put it here, so I've pinched one from another (Japanese) website.

The weather reports here tend to be cheerfully helpful.  In the much the same way that Sydney or Newcastle weather reports might tell you tomorrow is a great day for heading down to the beach,  the swells are ideal for surfers or to make sure that you smother yourself in factor 30,   weather reports here remind you to take an umbrella, tell you it's a good day for hanging out your  futon or that the weather is perfect for doing the washing.
The heater is out though, and the winter generals are likely to be here until Feb or March when the date of the first winds from the south are meticulously recorded by the Japanese Meteorological Agency.