Friday, February 20, 2009

On Okonomiyaki and Other Bits

Okonomiyaki is a kind of savory pancake that usually has cabbage and many goodies mixed into the batter. "Okonomi" means "however you like it" and "yaki" means "grilled," so when you go to an okonomiyaki restaurant you choose from a menu of toppings and ingredients to have mixed into your pancake.
You order your ingredients and either your server dishes it up for you on a grill at your table or you dish it up for yourself and do all the grilling. The ingredients offered vary depending on what region you are in, but mostly consist of different sea foods, meats and vegetables and green onion that all get mixed together into a grill-up. We ordered the local Kagoshima black pork on top of ours and when the pancake was flipped all the juices sizzled into the batter and it was mouthwateringly delicious.
Our server took care of us, flipping at the right times, removing grease and putting up with me high fiving him in excess.
When they are done you slather various sauces on them and cut portions off to eat in a smaller dish. Mmmm!
Its hard to see what's going on in this picture... but in my office there is this tooth-brushing cabinet that you can open and make use of whenever the tooth-brushing mood strikes you. People brush their teeth a lot here... which should mean that everyone has really good teeth, but in fact it is the exact opposite. Japanese people have THE worst teeth I have ever seen. Literally, rotting away, huge holes and murderous breath. It's still very shocking to me because everyone seems to meticulous about their phsyical appearance but for this one (very important) area...
This is also hard to get a look at, but one of my teachers wears these removable arm sleaves when he works to protect his shirt from getting dirty while he pushes paper. These Japanese folk, so fastidious!
Characters on the tram.
Album cover/ dreaming of some California psychedelia.
Ladies lunching.
Album Cover Part II/ A recent visit to an open air art museum. Quite a drive into the hills there is an outdoor sculpture garden where sculptures made by various international artists are places on lawns and in woods and you can wander around exploring them. A good place for a picnic!
Iron tunnel to nowhere.
Outdoor sculpture.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Middle of February

First, look at this map of where I live! To the left is Kagoshima city, my city, and to the right is Sakurajima volcano, an active volcano that has recently been sending a decent amount of ash in our direction. Ok, now check out the circumference of this volcano-island. The road that runs around its coast is about 36km ( approx 22.36 miles!).
Take a break from that geography lesson and check out today's funny use of English spotting! Haha, both of those toilet paper names are brilliant. I love the idea of wiping away the sweet memory of meals past with a toilet paper to remind me of their "sweet memory." As well as wiping with a toilet paper called "Fine Lady," because you know, there has got to be a toilet paper for fine ladies.
Why is the circumference of that volcano-island important? Because along with a hundred or so high school students, I ran around it! We started off at nearly dawn and what an oddessy it was! Despite the fact that I was Sporty Spice in a 1997 taping of the Spice Girl's "Wannabe" performed by Jennifer Good, Emily Burger, Serena Handley and myself, surprisingly, I have never quite lived up to any kind of "sporty" persona. However, I did my best to put on some kind of funny version of a "sporty" outfit and ran around that volcano in about 4.5 hours!
It was a gruelling march of many many hills, but the momentum of the downhill is what saved us.
Taking a rest near some giant daikon.
And they're off!
Running up that hill.
There were beautiful views!
This daikon (Japanese raddish) is the largest raddish in the world, weighing in at over 30 kgs! Also, there was lots of volcanic rock for sale which I would have purchased had I not had to carry it for the next four hours (though I suppose it was really light). When you are coming in the harbor the volcano-island you often can see lots of these floating rocks riding the waves.
I ran and ran, and looked at these oranges in little bags.
And some really nice dry grass in the sun.

I completed the run, ate a sandwich in a parking lot at the finish line and passed out on a sunny sidewalk, only to wake up with many of my students hovering around me, anxious and mocking looks on all their faces.

For the next two days I hobbled around like an old lady and had zero inclination to do anything vaguely sporty.
Yesterday, there was a trip into the Kirishima mountains to the north of me. Winding mountain roads that everyone drives impossibly slow on (excepting us of course) and fields of tea. The volcano was blowing ash in our direction creating a never-ending twilight effect that gave the day's adventure an epic golden-hour feel.
Catching a shot of Mt. Takachiho. In Japan it's acceptable to pull over and stop anywhere as long as you have your hazard lights on (or not). I often see a car stopped in the middle of the road because some lady has left it there to run in and grab a bakery treat.
There were many waterfalls, some with hotsprings gushing out of them, and some with fallen trees to traverse. It was wonderfully warm, that perfect weather for exploring unknown roads and listening to a good song.
Another day, after school, waiting for the bus.
There is a steep hill on the other side of the road and my students love to take each others' bags and throw them down the hill to pass the time waiting for the bus.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nagasaki

 The trip to Nagasaki began with my first ride on the Shinkansen.
And a strawberry, cheese and honey sandwich made by a Welshman. 
Nagasaki is a beautiful, hilly city, vaguely reminiscent of SF and trying its best (for the sake of tourism) to cling on to its heritage of having had contact with foreigners while the rest of Japan was under government regulated contact with the outside world for a couple hundred years. 
There was wine to be had in a funny tower overlooking the city.

Sky cable cars to ride up the hill to the lookout tower and the wine.

The Glover Gardens.  Some sort of historic (historic because its association with Nagasaki's foreign trading community) house and garden owned by some Dutch?Scottish? trader from the mid 19th century.  We started seeing lots of people dressed in funny versions of 19th century garb and found that for $5 you could be dressed in period attire and walk around the gardens for half an hour.  And why not, right?
So don't worry, this isn't me turning into some kind of Ren Fair looney in a Japan-induced mental breakdown.  Haha, why do I always find myself in situations where I am drawing even more attention to myself as a foreigner when I already get enough?!  This strapping sailor and I strolled the gardens and found out that that if there is one thing that Japanese people love more than dressing up in funny costumes, it is seeing foreigners dressed up in funny costumes and we became instantly famous.
These two girls who absolutely crying with delight at seeing two foreigners dressed in these odd semblances of period outfits.  Having Japanese girls scream over us at every turn of the garden, it really was a moment of, "ah, so this is what the Beatles must have felt like."  Ate it up with a spoon and many celebrity style photographs.

Garden-goers.
And in true Japanese form, there were escalators to ease your journey on the steep ascent up the hill.

Shrines on a hill!
High school kids run up and down the stairs of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
The atomic bomb epicenter memorial.
Epicenter of the bomb explosion + monolith.
Our trip coincided with Nagasaki's Lantern Festival, a big celebration of Chinese New Year.  So there were parades, and lots of lanterns everywhere and we wandered the streets following the lanterns and feeling very much like it should have been a summer night. 
Steam buns! Delicious, delicious steam buns!
People were wild for them!

In a Chinese temple: I have no idea what this was about.  Apparently pig decapitation is a felicitous way to ring in the New Year.