December 26, 2007

The 'Rents: Part Ichi

My folks came out a week ago and it's been a whirlwind of eating, toasting and sightseeing. We strolled down the street for awesome ramen and beer their first night in town. They opted for the chashumen, (pork and fried noodles,) and Matt and I had gomokuramen which is a ton of different meats and veggies with fried noodles. (Zushi, Japan)

The Best Birthday Yet!

We spent the night at our friends' restaurant in Kamakura. They are some of the nicest people we know and the shop always has good food, nice customers and great atmosphere. We ate and drank all night and they even had a beautiful cake with "happy birthday jessica chan" written on an edible white chocolate card! It was a great night and truly special. THANKS:) (Kamakura)

Pears Skate?

Temple in Kanazawa Hakeii

Yakiniku: DIY Dining

I'm pretty sure this has caught on already in the USA: You sit down to a table with a gas grill embedded in the middle controlled by a knob on the side of the table. Food comes at you raw, in bite-sized portions and you cook it and eat it right off the grill. We had all kinds of meat and veggies last night including this cut of chicken. It's a sliver of cartilage with some tasty white bits of meat. With only a little salt, it's moist, crunchy and DELICIOUS! (Kanazawa Hakeii)
Much, much more photos coming soon...

December 11, 2007

Chawamushi: Yep, It's Got Gin Nan in it!!!
This was taken at the Ashida family's new restaurant, (the couple with the turtle.) They moved a few months ago and still have delicious food featuring seasonal, local ingredients albeit a bit further down the road from the train station.
Chawamushi, usually served in a small cup, varies in ingredients but I think the foundation is consistent: Hon dashi (bonito fish) stock and egg. Their's features local mushrooms, green stems, plum leaf (?) and of course, ginko nuts (just one--kinda like the prize in a cracker jack box.) The first time we had Chawamushi was in Osaka with my parents' friend, Takabe San. I remember being fascinated by the layers of egg in this small bowl with a different ingredient combination in each layer. (Ashida's restaurant in Yokosuka, Japan)

I'd Like to Introduce You to...Mochi

I know the food is hard to see, but it's mochi, pounded rice that becomes a mushy mass. It's used in desserts, candy, crackers and even dried and cut into little squares that are grilled before eating like Yumi's mom is presenting above. These dense squares were toasted on the yakitori grill then drizzled with soy sauce and topped with chopped seaweed. Very, very good! The flavors are simple, the food is filling and it's comforting during the winter. Pounding rice into mochi is a New Year's tradition in Japan. If anybody wants to invite us to mochi pounding on the first...ahem....we're available. (Hideyoshi Yakitori Shop, Kamakura Japan)

December 8, 2007

Yamanashi & Kita Kamakura Photos are Uploaded:

December 2, 2007

Yamanashi Prefecture Two-Day Getaway

This is the home of the famous Samurai, Takeda, and family. It was truly one of the best temples I've ever been to. Plus, we got to walk around most of the house which is very rare. This is the backyard. I can't imagine that it's more beautiful any other season.
Here's a glimpse of the gorgeous colors that Yumi and I saw all over the prefecture. There were many red and yellow maple trees plus splashes of color on the only three trees bearing fruit: Quince, Apple and Persimmon.

This place was my favorite thing that we saw in two days. This temple was amazing. The garden was laid out perfectly. Despite the season, it was still gorgeous.

I always think these things are so cool and mean to take photos of them to share with you guys. Anyway, this is a "drain" that guides the rain water from the roof to the ground. It's really pretty to watch the water trickle down and I wonder why traditional homes opt for this instead of an ugly pipe...
Finally! A true Japanese breakfast! I enjoyed: sweet potato, baby okra, lotus root, two types of seaweed, various root vegetables, nato (fermented beans,) salted cabbage, miso soup, sweet red bean, white rice and green tea for my breakfast at the resort.
Last night, we soaked in a mineral bath on the balcony overlooking the valley. It was really, really cool and liberating. I felt like a Japanese lady in a woodblock work of art.

This is the view from the door of our room. To the left is the bathroom, to the right, the shoe rack and straight ahead the living area. It's full tatami or straw matt floors. We slept on futons, and hung out and went to the onsen (community baths,) in our yukata (informal kimonos.) Thee only thing in the room was a low coffee table, a few cushions and a tv. We watched some Angelina Jolie (the only thing in English so I could comprehend,) movie before passing out after a French-inspired meal that burst our guts.

Seriously. Beautiful. And this is November folks, NOVEMBER!

All over were strings of "kaki," or persimmon as we Americans call it. According to Yumi (we'll have to believe what she says for we have no alternative,) there are several types of persimmon: while some are delicious off the branch, these are bitter. So, locals dry them and then they are enjoyed later when they are get a bit sweeter. We sampled some and although I didn't like them as a child, they are quite yummy to me now.

Did you think there wouldn't be a photo of me and sake?!?! Ha!
This sake holds the symbol (crest) of the Takeda family, one of the most famous samurai in Japanese history. So you see, I'm doing it for culture's sake...drinking the sake I mean.

"Houtou" This is the dish that the area is known for. It's a wonderful flour noodle hot-pot with veggies and meats including a local "cabocha" vegetable that I think is like our acorn squash. Anyway, the squash, noodles, carrots, several Japanese mushrooms and green onion are cooked together with some chicken or pork plus the chubby, white udon noodles. You simply use a wooden ladle and chopsticks to dish some into a small bowl and then slurp and munch down.
So, so, SO GOOD!!!!
(Yamanashi Prefecture, Can't be More Specific Because Yumi Was in Charge and I Was Just Along for the Ride...)

Kita Kamakura

Faded writing on a torii gate

At the "divorce temple," a place where women could escape bad marriages and become nuns in a time where divorce was not allowed.

Steps leading to a mausoleum. Most were lost in fires or a flood but a few remained in this old temple.

There are a few trees that blossom in the winter. This one (peach I think,) is a little early. The rest of tree appeared dead but there were a few early petals determined to open.

November 25, 2007

Colas, Teas (fruit, bean, leaf, barley), Coffees, Ice Cream,
Soups, Juice, Sports Drinks, Liquid Vitamins...

These are just a few of the things you can find at this line of vending machines! I often read the cliche about vending machines as a reflection of the Japanese and value of convenience and instant gratification. I won't take credit for coming up with it but I will agree. I haven't seen the machines with undergarments yet but I'm looking... (Kamakura, Japan)

Gin Nan: My Current Obsession
On Veteran's Day (Nov 12) I went to Kita Kamakura, a less visited section of Kamakura. At the "divorce temple," as I call it, I leaned over an antique water pump that nuns used to pump water to bathe. Months after the ginkgo trees in this region had dropped their fruit, the old, giant tree above the well had a few left to spare. This temple is situated between two large hills and lots of foliage which is maybe why it lagged in bearing fruit. Yumi's uncle just aquired six lbs of ginko nuts for me and I'm eating about twenty a week. I'm totally obsessed and fear that I'll never touch them again after my obsession subsides! (Rest of photos can be viewed here)

November 13, 2007

Japan: Where Everything is Small Except the Insects...
When discussing godzilla-sized spiders, SciFi centipedes or houseflies that could crack a windshield, I always make a joke about how small the country, the cars, the streets, the Japanese themselves--everything!--is except for the insects. It's true! Take this moth for instance. It was sitting on a wall outside our bathroom window (not where one tinkles, but where one bathes/showers but that's a whole 'nother post,) probably a good nine feet from where we were, and yet we could see it. The thing was at least seven inches wide. I was too chicken to look at it but Matt got his eyes a few inches away and said that those circles were like reflectors with layers of color. Warning: The next insect post will definitely be the infamous huntsman spider and the "to kill or not to kill" debate. Stay tuned.

October 15, 2007

Limeys Sell Out Too!

I took these photos on my cell phone on low resolution while I suffered through the worst allergy attack of my life in the middle of the Japanese version of Walmart. So enjoy my brief post and fuzzy photos then forgive me and move on.
That's Keira Knightly, some emaciated chick from the terrible Pirates of the Caribbean flix. They Photoshopped in some flesh and hair then tacked on a mermaid tail so she could push that Lux shampoo that J Lo was pushing awhile back. On a standee display near the checkout area was Orlando Bloom hawking some kind of hair wax. I think they found the only angle where this guy doesn't look like a douche. Sorry if I'm in a foul mood. Matt's gone so I'm back on my diet of 7-11 katsudon and chuhais.
Oh...and if Walmarts across America added surreal second floors full of trendy showcase rooms where the cheapest coffee table was three hundred dollars and yet the bottom floor was still the linoleum and fluorescent discount mecca as usual....that would be Homes, a.k.a. Japanese Walmart.

October 6, 2007

The Tale of the Ginkgo Nut, or"Why I Sorted Through Rotting Fruitthat Smelled of Dog Feces on My Only Day Off"

Squished orange splotches along the road alerted me to the annual falling of the ginkgo fruit this year. It's a hoot to drive around Yokosuka and spot the occasional American stepping around the horrifically smelling fruit. Some check their shoe for dog poo; others curiously stare wondering if it's a weird Japanese kumquat or badly decomposed cherry. Me? Well, I had anticipated this, literally, all year long remembering how I missed out last year. Stick with me on this long post as I take you through the ginkgo nut harvest and the wonderful pay off in the end...
This photo is the second round of ginnan, or ginkgo nuts, that I gathered in a week. This tree's fruit were a tad bigger than a cherry; the other tree's fruit were the size of chocolate covered peanuts. So, this photo was the score! I suppose the fruit only begins to smell after it falls from the tree where it quickly begins to ripen and rot. The smell is like baby poop, dog poop and vomit scrambled together and left in the hot sun. I'm not exaggerating. II suppose many people pop the nut out there on the spot but being the novice that I am, I took the bags home where they stunk up my car, turned my garage into a stench hole and made my kitchen reek for days.

After the most grueling task of removing the flesh from the fruit, (forget double bagging-try eight!) I then rubbed the nuts together in my hands under running water. This only took a few minutes. I then spread the nuts out on a towel to let them dry and turn white. I followed some foodie blog's instructions by the way. At this point, they resemble pistachios.
Now the second most tedious part: shelling. It's not like I own a teeny tiny nutcracker for situations like this so I had to use my molars. (Thanks mom for stressing dental hygiene my entire youth,) If you bite too hard, you instantly break the gentle nut... They are now a nice off-white, bordering yellow color with think husks.
I've only had them two ways: in a stir fry made by a Japanese lady and on a stick grilled yakitory-style. I decided to toss them in a hot cast iron skillet with a few drops of olive oil and a dusting of salt. In about a minute, they change from an off-white to a light yellow and gradually become a beautiful jade green. As they become less opaque and start to look almost glassy, you know they're done.
And that's the story of the ginkgo nut. The next time you're in the pharmacy isle of your local supermarket or drugstore, you'll know why a ginkgo supplement costs so damn much.

September 6, 2007

You Say Hurricane; We Say "Typhoon"
This is only the second typhoon I've had to deal with since our move to Japan a year and a half ago. Matt has to leave when one is coming near which means (joy!) I get to move everything indoors and buckle down on my own. The eye is supposed to hit about 30-50 miles from us which means this should be more exciting, wet and windy than the last one. I did get the day off work though...

Click the image below to see a larger version. There are two red dots: one being the eye of the typhoon and the other, our town.

Rather than fill up the tub with water, I filled up the fridge with beer. Instead of canned goods, I opted for Japanese potato chips and ramen (not pictured.) The pups are good too with plenty of rawhide chews and dog food. I did get my lighters, bottled water and candles stockpiled...just in case.

September 3, 2007

Gifu & Itadori Trip
Click the image to view the Itadori/Gifu Album:

Ukai Fishing in Twelve Seconds

Pissing Off P.E.T.A.(again)

Last weekend, we went to Gifu, (A few hours west of Tokyo,) an hour outside Itadori, a rustic town filled with rivers that sits in pine tree coated mountains. Our purpose for the journey was to see the World Bike Trials Championships in Itadori, a sport that Matt is passionate about. (Click here to see the photos from the event.) The closest hotels were in Gifu and since I wasn't about to camp in 90+ degree weather, we stayed in the city. The first night, we lucked out and got reservations on a boat trip to watch cormorant, or "ukai" fishing, a method of fishing for delicious ayu that's over 1300 years old. This lantern shot was taken on our flat bottomed boat but also decorated many small shops and restaurants in the area, the ukai being a symbol of the city.

Attached to strings linked to the choker around their neck, the ukai dive into the shallow water to catch the shy ayu. Full moons and swollen lakes mean the fishing is canceled. The fishing master watches the birds carefully and quickly begins to untangle the many strings in his hand to pull a bird toward the boat if it has a fish. It looks a bit rough, but he then forces the fish from the throat and pushes the bird back to the water where it quickly starts fishing again. They claim the birds are very spoiled, live longer than the ones without careers in tourism and eat very well after they finish working.
We got to paddle down the river next to this boat for a good five minutes. It was pitch black except for the blazing cluster of pine wood at the front of each boat, a near-full moon, the lit castle perched atop the mountain along the river and the glowing paper lanterns on each boat. There was some spooky, japanese banjo and flute music filtering down from the castle and oddly, I could only hear the music, the quiet splashing of the cormorants and the cooing noises that the boat master was calling to them. I felt like I was back in time a few hundred years and the entire boat of people behind me didn't exist. I was surprised when I played the video I took and heard all the chatter that I'd tuned out while I floated along next to the fishing boat.

Here's the standard method to cook the small sweetfish: bamboo skewered, heavily salted and grilled over super-hot charcoal. The fish is truly delicious and needs nothing more than the salt. We had it again later that night at an izakaya near the hotel. (Gifu, Japan)

August 15, 2007

A Whale of a Lunch Break

Yesterday, my boss took his admin staff out to a rotating sushi bar not too far down the peninsula. Above is whale sushi. When I asked my coworker what part of the whale, she raised her arm and pointed to the area directly below her armpit. So, I guess it's rib meat or lower-pit...take your pick! It was yummy!

Here's our table with the sushi belt behind my colleague, Makiko. In front of the menu/sign is an intercom. No need to wait for a server to happen by your table--just buzz and command your order and the kitchen will handle the rest. It's Magic! It's Instant! It's Japan!

Here are a few more cellphone snaps of what I ate. The tuna belly was of course--delish--and the minced Salmon was a new one for me and equally oishi. (Rotating Sushi Bar in Uraga, Japan)

August 12, 2007

What the Hell IS This?

Yes of course I know what it is! I ate it! But when Yumi put this down in front of Matt and I and with a devilish grin said "it's gift from my father--please eat," well, I was scared.
So, just to mess with you guys, I'm not going to tell you what it is. Feel free to leave a comment with your guess. When I leave another post in a few days, I'll end the suspense......or not.
(Hideyoshi Yakitori, Kamakura)

"You Ate WHAT?" Poll Results
Here are the poll results from 14 unique voters:
Sushi, (the kind with raw fish) 50%
Snails, Snakes or Something Slimy 50%
Horse Meat 21%
Something Else 21%
Something that Was Still Alive 14%
Some Insect 7%
Kangaroo 7%
Dog Meat (Chinese Food Doesn't Count) 0%
I know one reader has had dog for certain; I'm guessing she didn't take test? (Mom???)

How The Japanese Poop

I posted this photo for two reasons: one, it illustrates a significant cultural difference between us and the Japanese--poop. Yup, we draw poop in a Mr. Hankie sense, a long or short log, usually brown in color. The Japanese illustrate poop as a pile similar to soft-serve ice cream. I've seen "unchie" drawn all colors of the rainbow, usually light brown or pink though. Also, toy machines, cartoons and stuffed toys also feature cute piles of poop, usually with arms and hands.
The second reason is that I, like this sign outside a bar in Yokosuka, am busy. I've been working hard at the new job and volunteering with this event:
I'll have some new photos and experiences posted soon...try to control your anticipation. :)
(Chuhai Bar, Yokosuka)

July 25, 2007

Don't Tell PETA
If you are one of those types that couldn't vote in the last poll because the strangest thing you've had to eat was Chinese buffet...well brace yourself. Matt and I had raw horse meat last weekend. Although it was difficult to eat, (figuratively, not literally,) we repressed everything our culture taught us and swallowed it down. It was rich, sweet, and overall pretty tasty but I will never, ever eat it again. Watching the look on Matt's face made it really hard to enjoy... (Hideyoshi Yakitori, Kamakura)

July 14, 2007

You Ate What?

There's a new survey to the right in which I've turned the tables and want to know what you've had to eat? You can vote for multiple things so click each one if you've tried it... If you've consumed something creepy that isn't listed, comment on this post and tell me! I'd say there's a prize for the gnarliest food mentioned but I'd be lying.

Oh yeah, this photo was taken in Paris two years ago on my final night there. I'd been looking for escargo, (snails,) the entire duration of my trip! I'd had snails before in our hometown, el Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, but in a tomato-based sauce. In Paris they were in an oil and butter sauce with some pureed herbs. Exactly how I like them. Zey were screaming delicious. Like chewy mushrooms. . . .chewy mushrooms that used to crawl around.

July 6, 2007

Tanabata: Star Crossed Lovers Meet in the Sky
The most popular Tanabata festival kicked off last night in Hiratsuka, about a half hour from here. The festival features elaborate decorations and of course, the usual festival food booths and carnival-type game booths. See all the photos here.
Yumi and I had a blast eating our way through the streets and enjoying the beautiful "yukata," or summer kimonos. (Hiratsuka, Japan)

Matsuri no Gomi: (Festival Trash)
Yumi: (With a strange look and laugh,) Why are you taking a picture of garbage????
Jessica: Because it's cool! It's Japanese garbage!
Yumi: Why is it cool and Japanese???
Jessica: You've got a Japanese melon, some Asahi beer cups, a kaki-kori (Japanese shaved ice) container and the skeleton of an uchiwa (summer fan.) That's totally Japan!
Yumi: Oh. I see....

July 2, 2007

This One's For Christine

This is a common sight in Japan--pups being toted around on wheels, dressed to the nines, visiting temples with thier owners. Yesterday alone, several dogs visited the Yakitori shop, most in tee shirts and some in little carts like these cuties. (Kamakura, Japan)