Friday, 15 January 2010

White strawberries and Supermarket Excitement

Today is January 15th which some bright spark figured out can be pronounced in Japanese the same as "Good Strawberry" so today is Strawberry day. I only know this useless piece of info because I happened to turn on the TV at lunch time when one of the lunch time shows for us housewives was doing a Strawberry Extravaganza. One type of strawberry was the "White Strawberry", which was, in fact, white. Of course these strawberries are rare and expensive, about 1,000 yen for one strawberry. Just because they are white, does that mean it tastes better than the regular red ones? I prefer green asparagus to white asparagus so maybe I wouldn't be a fan of the white strawberry.

Today is also a big day for housewives all over my city. Our local supermarket was having a lucky draw. We have been collecting our supermarket receipts for the last 2 months that are on special pink paper. Today I took in all my receipts and was told that I was eligable for 4 turns of the lucky ball box thingee. When you turn it out pops a ball. The colour indicates if you win anything or not. I got three white and one blue. So I was lucky enough to walk away with 3 packets of pocket tissues (which people give away on just about every street corner as promotional material) and a 100 yen coupon to spend in the supermarket, thats like US$1 or NZ$2 (roughly). If I had been super lucky I could have won a 3,000 yen coupon. Oh well. Maybe next time.




Thursday, 14 January 2010

This week's Ikebana

The new year has started for Ikebana. Today we studied a newish kind of style I like to call "branch dangling over water"style.
The arrangement is quite cheerful and reminds me that spring is only a few months away as I sit here with my teeth chattering.
Here is what I made:




Here is what my classmate made:



We had a lovely fluffy cheesecake for afternoon tea with hot lemon drink. Just right for a freezing cold day like today.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Stinky Story

Today I have been reorganising the kitchen. I was quite proud of myself at having gotten it ALL done and not given up half way through. Since my kitchen consists of a measly couple of cupboards, one has to be rather innovative with coming up with ways to store food, crockery and all the other stuff one needs in a kitchen (you know octopus ball making machines, electric hotpot/hot plates and what not). One of my trusty Ikea book shelves has been upended and is now sporting an array of food items rather than showing off my book collection (that is languishing in some boxes, all carefully squeezed into the bottom of my closet and probably getting moldy as I type).


Today is one of the windiest days we have had this year...come to think of it, every day is a blimmin windy day here in ShufuinJapanland. But like a good housewife I am thoroughly stoked to have a sunny day where one can hang washing outside, even though there is a chance it might be two cities away by the time I go to take it in. In any case it's only K's stuff today so if it does blow away there are plenty more undies, socks and t-shirts one can buy at UNIQLO. My underwear is another matter entirely.


The good news is that I am back to Ikebana tomorrow after a few weeks holiday. So you can all look forward to lots of interesting posts coming up soon!

And I will finish today with a story that I wanted to tell you all but kept forgetting.
The other day I had a student come for a lesson at school. He is a lovely high school student who is trying really hard to improve his spoken English.
So I walk into the classroom and there is this stench in there. I thought something had been perhaps rotting in the classroom during NYs break.
Then I thought, maybe it was the student, which would be weird as he usually seems clean enough and he is certainly not on my list of regularly stinky students.

For 40 minutes or so I honestly wanted to gag and or shout: What is that stench?!?!?! But I was terrified it was my student's toe jams that were the cause and not some other non-personal hygiene problem.

Finally the lesson ended. After the student left I raced back in to the class with a spray bottle of odor neutraliser. But the smell was gone. Thank fully!

Later when I was regailing my husband with my tale of the stench and hardly being able to breath etc, I remembered that this kid is in the kendo club. So he most likely had his kendo gloves with him because he told me he had been practicing every day....so that was my answer. One of my good friends who does kendo always complains about how stinky the gloves get and my husband who also used to do kendo confirmed that kendo gloves could definitely be the source of a smell so bad you thought you might vomit. I was so relieved that was definitely the answer and if it happens again, I'll just ask him if he has his gloves with him and then shut them in a cupboard/air tight chamber during our lesson.

Being an English teacher certainly does have its excitement!




Friday, 8 January 2010

Tis the season to get your gear off

That's right it is "Almost completely naked festival" time in Japan again. No better time to do it than in the middle of winter when it is snowing and freezing cold, just to make it that much more unpleasant.


Yesterday there was one in Yanaizu. The aim is to wear only a fundoshi (traditional underwear), and if you are old enough, an alcohol induced warm haze. Yanaizu's festival involves going to the local shrine and climbing a rope up into the rafters, whilst being cheered on by other similarly naked men and onlookers who are not naked, but rugged up against the cold. A little boy who was interviewed on the news tonight said he did it because he wants to be able to go to a national competition for Sumo this year.


I have seen various other naked festivals on TV. Forgive me if all the details are not correct or clear but they were something like:


In Iwate prefecture, males who are of an unlucky age (not sure which ones that would be) are supposed to take part in the festival which involves stripping down to their traditional underwear getting tanked up and then climbing on top of a 3 metre high pyre whilst its on fire. The last one left on at the end is the winner/the bravest etc. After that there is more dangerous behaviour involving fire including bashing a huge burning stick on the outside of a (wooden) shrine.
Then if that wasn't enough rampant macho behaviour there is a game of "grab the bag" where they all fight to get hold of a particular bag. The one left holding it in the end (it can go on for 4 hours or so) is the winner and men who performed well can be chosen for husbands. Lucky them. But I guess back in the old days, it was the only way to see what you were getting if you like.


Here in my own town we have something similar that is along the lines of a mid winter swim wearing only your traditional underwear again.


As you will see from the photos on the two sites I linked, women do go in for the whole naked festival thing.


Here is another page with a collection of naked festival page links.


Sunday, 3 January 2010

New Year's Wishes

In Japan on New Year's day (preferably just after midnight), many people crowd shrines around the country, in the bitter cold, to pray for happiness, health and what not for the new year.
This involves going to a shrine, ringing the bell, throwing in a coin, clapping, bowing and praying, more bowing - finished. It only takes about 20 seconds all up, very economical time wise to get your good luck for the new year in order.


It is our first new year in our own town as we usually go to K's family's house or I go to NZ. So on NY's day I mentioned that we hadn't done "hatsumode" yet - the first shrine visit for the year. K said: But where should we go? I said: Why not to that shrine over the back? (like literaly less than 100m from our apartment).
K: You want to go there?!?!?!
Me: Why not?
As you will see from the following pictures our local shrine is of the small and crappy variety. It does have a nice shiny tori gate and some people had obviously taken pains to appeal to the gods by bringing them mochi (like the stuff I used to make that pizza the other day). Also note the flock of crows going wild over something which was very ominous (thankfully this was today not NYs day)



So we went there and made our wishes for the new year.
Personally I don't think our local shrine is on the main trunk line to the gods unlike this shrine:

That's my lucky shrine Heianjingu in Kyoto.

But I also think that the god residing at our local shrine would have been pleased that we stopped by.

UPDATED: What to do with all that Mochi

Scroll to end for picture of actual Mochi Pizza!

Today is the last day of 2009 and housewives around Japan will be gearing up for the big feast tomorrow on New Years day. According to K, a family will usually get together for a brunch style feast of Osechi which is special New Years food that I am not a fan of.


We received several zip lock bags of home made mochi (glutenous rice that has been pulverised into a tough kind of paste and then dried hard) from my MIL the other day, so K is determined to have have mochi for breakfast tomorrow. It took me a while to start liking mochi. The whole gluey sticky consistency of it when you cook it was a little tough to get used to. But my MIL showed us how to make one of her mochi recipes that is the only way we will eat it now.


It's Mochi Pizza!!!


Get a couple of blocks of mochi and cut it into cubes, about 2cm across is enough. Arrange cubes on a piece of baking paper in a pizza shape. They can be nestled snuggly against each other. Then smear on some pizza sauce, add your toppings, like mushrooms, bacon or whatever you like and then put cheese on top. Then I microwave it for a few minutes until the mochi is soft and starts to puff up.  I imagine a toaster oven would also do a really great job.



Then eat. That can be a bit tricky as it kind of turns into a big sticky mess but it tastes good. Don't let any mochi dry onto the chopsticks, its tricky to get off without soaking.