Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Takanohana Diet

Today I learnt about the Takanohana Diet. First of all you are probably wondering what a "Takanohana" is. Well Takanohana is an ex-sumo wrestler. He used to look like this, but now looks like this. I think he lost about 80 kilos altogether. That's pretty impressive. If he can lose 80 sure I can lose 15. He has even written a book about it. 


Today I got the main points (yes I was watching TV again).
1) Don't count calories - no problems there
2) Don't worry too much about how much you eat - done!
3) don't eat after 9pm -Ok
4) Spend an hour eating dinner... I tried this, well actually I ate as slowly as possible. I could hardly finish my dinner. So far so good.
5) Eat about 10 kinds of dishes during the day...that sounds like a lot of cooking.
6) Do Sumo style squats...hmm.

Melomelo for caramel - an update

You might remember an earlier blog I wrote called: Japan is melomelo for caramel?
Well unfortunately Mr Flower Field Farm didn't read my blog and didn't send me any caramels to taste test. However, a friend of mine gave me some today to try so I thought I would update you all since you must be terribly interested.

I have seen these caramels a multitude of times on the TV (I know I need to get out more), but I was still surprised at exactly how TINY they were in real life.
I guess I'm just a big fat foreigner who thinks everything in Japan is small- but I thought I was over that.
Anyway.
These caramels are extremely soft and they are tastey. The two that I had went down very easily and it was almost like it never happend. I guess I wouldn't probably pay 800 yen for a box or go all the way to Hokkaido just to get some.
I am planning a trip to Tokyo in the next month or so, so I might just have to stop off at the pink ice cream store and try out the caramel sauce - I think that might be worth the effort.

Police on the hunt for bicycle thieves

Japan has a very low crime rate - this is well known. One of the biggest problems here is bicycle theft.
According to "The News -f" (that is the name of the news show, the "f" stands for Fukushima) police are informing people on how to avoid having their bike stolen. The culprits, and this is also well known, are often opportunistic high school students. High school students don't tend to live near their schools as high schools are divided by speciality and are ranked. Where I live everyone wants to go to I**** High School because that is where the smart kids go. You don't have to live in the school zone, you just have to pass the entrance test. So some students travel for up to an hour each way a day to get to their school. They arrive at the station and instead of walking to school decide to acquire a bike instead. Or they might be at a shopping mall and decide they don't want to walk back to the station. So if your bike is "stolen" it is more likely been temporarily acquired as a means of transportation and can probably be found at a nearby station or shopping mall.
Now most of the bikes that are stolen are stolen because the owner didn't bother to lock it...
Serves them right!
Where I come from, you need to lock every part of the bike together(wheels and frame), then lock it to a large object such as a power pole and take the seat with you or when you get back you might find only the frame left.
So as you can see the police in Japan really have their work cut out for them, informing stupid people to take care of their property. Personally I think their time would be better spent attending actual crimes in a timely fashion.
Did I tell you about my one encounter with the police here, which was when a little drunk old man was making a pest of himself outside the English school where I worked? He was yelling insults at us foreigners inside and was even so bold as to come into the school - if only briefly. This freaked out the poor Japanese staff who decided to call the police. It took more than 20 minutes for the police to walk the 200 metres from the police station to our school and they sent about 5 of them to deal with one little drunk old man who had gotten bored and buggered off by then. Other people I know have also commented on the distinct lack of speed of the police in Japan...I have a theory about this. I think that the police think, that if they take long enough, the actual perpetrator will have left the scene of the crime by then and they will be able to avoid one of the most dreaded things in Japanese society - a confrontation.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Golden Week

Golden Week is a group of national holidays that fall at the end of April and start of May in Japan. This year the most hard done by people will get 5 days off in a row - I think that includes my husband. So during these 5 days a large percentage of Japan will be on holiday.

My friend the TV has been preparing us for Golden Week for a good month now, providing all kinds of information about places to go and spend our money.
Prime minister Aso has brought in an economy stimulation idea: All you can drive for 1000 yen on weekends and holidays (US$10, EUR **, NZ$20).
One can not just drive onto the highway here, it costs money for the pleasure of driving at 100 kms per hour. Until recently it was quite expensive to use the highway. Recently with Aso's great idea, on the weekend you can go anywhere on the highway for 1000 yen one way.
Unfortunately the highway is now no longer a highway but a series of traffic jams that people are paying 1000 yen for the privileged of sitting in.

Golden Week, as with all national holidays means traffic jams and with the new 1000 yen system these traffic jams will be horrific. The authorities are predicting at least 56, 30 kilometre traffic jams during the GW period and even some more than 60 kms long.

Also with the reduction in fuel surcharges and a high yen, overseas travel is looking quite attractive now. A quick look at a travel web site shows that the price of a 3 day trip to Hong Kong triples over the peak travel time. So with all the traffic jams, crowds, over inflated prices - it makes me want to stay home!

So what are we doing for Golden week?
All going to plan our golf clubs will have arrived and so we will be heading to the driving range to practice (well I will be doing a lot of gin shots), to the hot springs to soak and to the seaside to stuff ourselves with fresh sashimi. Maybe not every one's idea of fun but in Japan there is nothing better than some raw fish and a hot bath!

The case of the poisoned curry

Yesterday there was big news here. All the channels were covering the court trial of Masumi Hayashi. Hayashi is accused of lacing a pot of curry with arsenic at a summer festival 10 years ago. Four people died from arsenic poisoning and another 63 people were seriously ill.
Hayashi was given the death penalty in 2002. She lost her appeal yesterday but still maintains her innocence. I won't go into the details of the case, they are very convoluted. But yesterday when I was watching the TV I was quite shocked to see the way that the Japanese media announced the result of the trial.
Picture this:
A court house with media waiting outside a good 50 metres from the front door. A lone microphone stands before the media. Suddenly the court house door flys open and a young reporter sprints, and I mean sprints like he's going to win the 100 metres gold medal(no doubt they had time trials to see who could run the fastest) and with a wild excited look on his face shouts "death sentence!", "death sentence!" into the microphone.
This seems to be the accepted way to report the handing down of a death sentence, I also got to see the 2002 "death sentence!", "death sentence!" announcement. Although this woman may have indeed killed and injured many people, I still find it a very distasteful way to report that someone is going to be hanged by the government.

The Japanese media must be on a par with the most malicious and intrusive in the world.
Footage taken of the media outside Hayashi's house harassing her when she hadn't even been arrested for the crime yet. At one point Hayashi gets out her garden hose, and proceeds to water the"garden"...which you can imagine is full of reporters. Another shot shows them practically charging inside her house! So much for innocent until proved guilty.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A bang in the night

As I mentioned in my last post, we are sleeping on an airbed until our furniture arrives next week. Three nights ago, about midnight, I was just drifting off to sleep when suddenly there was an almighty "BANG!". I of course, almost lept out of my skin. My husband only woke up after I shouted at him and shook him several times. His opinion was that whatever it was, it wasn't anything to worry about and promptly went back to sleep.
I on the other hand was perplexed and since my heart was still racing, tried to work out how our airbed could make an exploding sound but still retain all the air. Eventually I went back to sleep and the next morning noticed a large protrusion at the foot of our bed. The bang I heard was one of the internal seals, that help the bed to stay in shape, blowing out and so our beloved air bed looks kind of misshapen. Yesterday morning the problem has spread and the our airbed looked to be about 7 months pregnant in one place. Last night however, was a nightmare. Several more seals went before I could even get to sleep only to be woken every hour or so by more bangs. Now most of the bed has turned into a giant ball with only enough room for one person to sleep, but lying up hill.


Here is a picture of my husband "trying" to sleep at 6am this morning.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Can't sleep :(

I should be asleep at this hour, definitely past bed time. Can't sleep
and is own fault as had long nanna nap this afternoon. I'm sure I
could get to sleep if I could just get brain to stop functioning but
as that seems impossible right now I am typing this in the dark on
iPod touch so as not to wake "sleeping beauty" here next to me who is actually "snoring loudly".
So why can't I sleep? This is a question I would like to put to
geneticists everywhere as it seems this affliction has been passed
down through the generations of women in my family. In fact I'm sure
that half a world away my Mum is probably being kept awake by her
brain too. Tonight the source of my sleeplessness is furniture.
We have been back in Japan for almost 2 months and we are still
camping in our apartment. Our furniture must have been languishing on
the docks in Hamburg or Rotterdam or even temporarily held hostage by Somalian
pirates for it to take so long to get here. But according to moving
company aforementioned furniture will arrive on Monday next week -
only another 7 days of eating, sitting and sleeping on airbed and
having an entire room devoted to potatoes.
The potato room as I like to call it, will in a weeks time become our
bedroom but now sports a display of various types of potatoes we have
been given by husband's family. So in the next week must attempt to
devour several kilos of "long potatoes".
Along with future location of potato stockpile one must consider how to cram European size furnitureinto Japanese size apartment.
Our couch is almost as wide as our living room so one might have to scale couch to get access to other parts of apartment. Then there is kitchen problem. I have a total of 4
cupboards to store about 10 cupboards worth of stuff. Did I mention
that 2 of the 4 cupboards are so high on the wall that 90% of
population of japan (including self) would need stepladder to access
them. God only knows where I am going to put the stepladder. One thing
I am not worried about is my shoes. For some reason this tiny
apartment has a floor to ceiling shoe storage cupboard that even
Imelda M. Or Sarah J Parker could live with. I'm pretty sure we won't
have enough shoes to fill it so we might be able to stash some
potatoes there.
Here is a picture of the three kinds of potatoes.
The long one is called a "long potato", the funny shaped one is a new invention in the potato world called a "nebariko" potato - these two kinds are very soft inside but when grated produce a kind of paste that looks like, well, boogers/glue. It can be eaten raw but often people get itchy mouths from doing that. It can be cooked in its glue form with cabbage, egg and whatever else you like to make a dish called "just how you like it". It looks kind of like a giant cabbage omelet and tastes much better than it sounds.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Strange Pets

I learn so much from Japanese TV. This morning I learnt about keeping unusual pets.

Did you know it is quite possible to have your own otter?
You just need to make sure you give it a chance to swim every day otherwise the oil in its coat can get bad and they become sticky.

Ever thought about having your very own sloth?
Not a good choice if you like to cuddle your pet as they get stressed out thinking you might eat them. Other than that all you need to do is feed them some veges once a day and give them somewhere to hang from in a room kept at 25 degrees Celsius.

Tokyo has rules for different kinds of pets. The rules for keeping your own pet giraffe are something like:
-You have to pay about 50,000 yen to register it (that's 380 Euros, NZ$865 )
- I think they said you have to have a fenced area with the fence higher than 2.5 metres tall
- No taking it for walks.
So any wally can have a pet giraffe if they can get their hands on one.

Finally I saw how one woman keeps her Shetland pony in her house. The horse is quite well trained but has unfortunately learned how to open the refrigerator door and opens and slams it shut again til someone opens a can of beer for it...

The Obama family has "Bo" the Portuguese water dog that can't swim, Micky Rourke has his Chihuahua "Jaws", and even my sister has a cat. I want a pet of some kind - maybe I'll get a sloth...

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ryo Ryo Ryo: you are a dream boat

or so the women of Japan seem to think.

I'm refering to Ryo Ishikawa, a 17 year old golfer turned pro not long ago, who played in his first Masters last weekend.

I don't normally follow the golf, but even I have found myself watching it to see how Ryo was getting on.

Go to any golf shop in Japan and you will probably find the place where the clubs Ryo uses used to be - but they are sold out, along with the same type of ball markers and his characteristic sun visor and sunglasses.
He has also become a fashion leader on the golf scene in Japan. Now golfing fashion has in the past seemed a little odd to us non-golfers. Watching the players this weekend I noticed many golfers these days seem to follow the Tiger Woods style of pleated pants and polo shirt in maroon, navy or some other muted colour.

Ryo on the other hand likes tight pants, in any colour (red, fluorescent yellow, plaids and even pink etc), and matching polo shirt ensembles. Here is one example, ... this one is also interesting. There are websites where you can get a run down on what Ryo was wearing in his last tournament, where you can buy the same thing and how much it costs.
People can go to the hair dresser and ask for a "Ryo style" - the long spikes on top with a long fringe. Today I was horrified to discover that at the tender age of 17 he is the number 7 most popular "bachelor" in Japan!!!!

This is a lot of pressure for one so young, playing his first Masters with the big guns. Needles to say, he did not do as well as everyone was expecting, but when you are 17 you still have your whole life ahead of you right?

So Ryo, if your English teacher ever leaves you, give me a call, my calendar is pretty free these days.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Very exciting

Very exciting news people! I am now an official blogger for the Gaijinpot website. You can enjoy my first (very short) installment here. I am supposed to write 2 articles a month so I will keep y'all posted as to when I have something new up there.

Happy reading!

Friday, 10 April 2009

The food is more important than the flowers


In Japan there is a saying "Hana yori Dango", which means the food is more important than the flowers. It refers to the parties that people have under the cherry blossoms and the large amounts of amazing food that people take along. If you watch any party you will see a lot of eating going on and not so much looking at the flowers.

I often used to go to hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties with other foreigners who would turn up with a bag of chips and and a six pack, we would then use the plastic bag we brought the beer in to sit on...a quick look around at what the locals were doing showed that the standard choice of food was "out door buffet" and everyone had a big blue tarpaulin to sit on (just because it is a park don't think that there is necessarily any grass and if there was you certainly wouldn't be allowed to sit on it - think dirt), which was surrounded by neatly organised pairs of shoes. Even though you are outside, there is no reason to wear you shoes onto the tarpaulin where you are going to sit.

Getting a spot to put down your tarpaulin can be difficult as everyone wants to have a hanami party when the flowers are in full bloom. So you might go to a park and see a lot of unattended tarpaulins or one single young person (the office newbie) sitting there, bagsing the space until everyone else comes along for the party.

The TV has been preparing us housewives for hanami weeks now with copious amounts of recipes for food to cook for these parties. So I am feeling the pressure that I should make an effort and cook something spectacular.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Japan is melomelo* for caramel

In Japan some products are lucky enough to become "a hit", but then they usually disappear into oblivion with the other multitude of new products created here every year.
One hit product that just won't go away is Hanabatake Bokujyo, or in English, Flower Field Farm's(FFF) Soft Caramel

Big deal I hear you say, but soft caramel was unknown here until FFF started producing it in Hokkaido and it quickly became THE souvenir to bring back from a trip there.

Now, they can't produce the stuff fast enough and are routinely out of stock. One reason for this is because it is made by hand - people standing over boiling pans of milk and butter stirring with spatulas. A very time consuming process but one which enables FFF to charge 850 yen (USD 8.50, EUR 6.50, NZD 15.00!) a box.

This does not deter the punters though, I just checked their online store and they are sold out of everything until later on today when their next batch will come on sale. Have a look yourself:
http://www.hanabatakebokujo.com/store/ the characters 売り切りmean sold out.

So if you think you'd like to try this wonder caramel -tough luck, it needs to be kept refrigerated and must be consumed within 30 days, so no international sales...but if you are in Japan you might be lucky enough to get your hands on a box. Or you can visit their new ice cream store which seems to sells two things: vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce or chocolate ice cream with caramel sauce (1 scoop: 480 yen, USD 4.80, EUR 3.60, NZD 8.30!!) .

Just as an aside, I think the owner of FFF, Mr Yoshitake Tanaka is one of the hippest, funkiest farmers I've seen in a long time. Here he is in his new ice cream store that opend yesterday in Aoyama, Tokyo. Yes the entire store is indeed pink.

One question is why is this caramel soo popular? Mr Tanaka- if you are reading this, perhaps you would like to send me a box so I can try it myself as see why the whole of Japan is mad for your caramel.


* melomelo - to be in love with, weak kneed for, infatuated with (this is, as I understand it, the meaning though I may be wrong)

It's a hot cross bun... but not as you know it

I am mourning the lack of Easter this year - our first non-Easter back in Japan after being in Germany where Easter is much celebrated. Rather than mourning the passing of Jesus Christ, I am feeling the loss of the long weekend and all the food that one tends to consume at Easter - hot cross buns to be exact. Also cream eggs.
Then two days ago my mother suggested that I should MAKE THEM MYSELF!
Nobody makes homemade hot cross buns do they? They come in packs of 6 at the supermarket all ready to eat and always delicious.
After perusing a couple of recipes, my suspicions were confirmed - making HCBs is indeed quite time consuming and there is no guarantee they will be any good.
But given my recent success in the bread making area and there is the thing that I don't have anything else to do, I thought this wasn't an all together crazy idea...
Last night I baked my first batch (I only have a small oven and the recipe turns out to be enough for 24 of the damn things), I now know that my oven has mind of its own, and tends to burn things. See picture:So where are the crosses? After taste testing my creation, I decided not to waste any more ingredients or time on giving them crosses as they were as you can see burnt, hard and crusty not soft and fluffy at all.

Now my oven and I have come to an understanding I have since managed to produce these:Much more like it. Since making these I have read that HCBs are to be avoided as they are so full of calories. Doh.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

You know it's a recession when...


You know its a recession in Japan when sales of beer are down at Cherry Blossom viewing time and people are buying "Hapoushu" or "Fake Beer" instead. Hapoushu is beer but made from other ingredients such as rice and corn. This makes the beer immune from the high taxes which are levied on beer made with wheat and hops. Cherry Blossom viewing time is big business for beer companies. People hold parties under the trees and at night, things can get quite raucous when the company workers turn up ready to "let their hair down" so to speak. In the past, big beer companies have released special "Spring Beer" - that is special cans with cherry blossom decorations on them...I can't imagine many NZ guys wanting to be seen drinking a can of beer with pink flowers on it.
This year the pink flower cans are missing from the shops, and instead the variety of these fake beers is increasing. One of my favourite low calorie fake beers is called "off". Just "off". This is a shortening from the Japanese expression "Calorie Off" or low calorie. But the first thing that popped into my mind was that the beer "is off".
Have a look at this website if you want to confirm the existence "off" beer.

http://www.asahibeer.co.jp/off/

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Taking my housewifery to new heights


Today I made pretzels or as they say in Germany - Bretzeln
I found an excellent recipe on this website called Joy the Baker.
I think this website is FANTASTIC - I don't like cooking but just looking at this website makes you want to get in the kitchen and start baking straight away.

I have tried making bread a couple of times since I have been back in Japan, but so far I have only managed to produce bread rolls that resemble rocks. So today with much trepidation I decided to have a go at bretzels using the recipe I found on the wonderful baking site. Above is a picture of my dough, while I was waiting for it to rise. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of it after it had risen but lets just say it "doubled in size" magically just like the recipe said.


Then I managed to make some bretzel shaped bretzels - a bit funny looking.
The trick is that you boil them in water that has baking soda in it before you bake them. This makes the inside fluffy/chewy and the outside gets crunchy and crisp when it is baked.
I made two types- one plain and one with sesame seeds, but you could also put cheese or dip them in cinnamon sugar after they are baked to make them sweet.


Finally I tried two different ways of cooking them. The photo below shows two bretzels, the one on the right was cooked in the fish grill the one on the left was cooked in the oven. The fish grill one doesn't look as nice but it has a slightly chewy consistency that I like better than the oven baked one. So if you are having a craving for a carbohydrate loaded snack, have a crack at the recipe - just follow the link at the bottom.




http://www.joythebaker.com/blog/2008/08/soft-seasoned-pretzels/

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April 1st: A day for new starts in Japan

Today is the 1st of April. April Fools Day in many countries. In Japan April 1st is the start of a new year. It is not the official New Year(that's the 1st of January) but a new year in schools and companies.

So if you have just graduated university in Japan, chances are you start your first real job today. This involves an "Entrance ceremony" with you and all the other newbies to welcome you to the company. Nice huh.
For those who already have a job, it is a day for turmoil. You might be moved to a new section in your company - just because no-one stays in one section too long. This means you have to clear out your stuff and leave behind your hard won friends in your old section. It might even mean moving to a new town or overseas. So the weekend before April 1st is the busiest time of the year for moving companies.

If you are a school aged person, chances are that yesterday you went to school - even though its school holidays -to go to a farewell assembly and send off ceremony for the teachers who are being sent to a different school.
Why are they being sent to different schools? The local board of education is responsible for distributing teachers around the local schools, so a teacher is employed by the board and not the actual school. Perhaps they don't have enough work to do so spend their time mixing around the teachers.
I personally think this is to ensure that all schools get their fair share of good and bad teachers. And that all teachers get a chance to work at good and bad schools.
Today the new teachers arrive, where they spend the next year trying to figure the new school out. Tonight there will probably be a welcome party to encourage people to get to know each other. Students will start their new school year in the next week or so.

I asked my husband what was happening for him today at work. He said "nothing much". So not everyone is affected by April the 1st every year. Last April the 1st we got a nasty shock when we were told get ourselves organised to move back to Japan, so I'm grateful for the "nothing much" this year.