December 31, 2008

Make Your Money Double at Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine!!!
Look Ma! No Hands!
This out-of-the-way shrine is well worth the short walk from Kamakura station! It's very picturesque with the main area being carved into a large rock/mountain/whatever with many colorful tori gates and carvings near a pond full of colorful carp. My camera crapped out after the first power up, so all I have is the first part of our visit:(
I put all of my yen and dollars into my basket including the coins I had on me. Silly? Maybe. But I fancy myself good with money and what do you want to know--I did come into extra, unexpected money in December and a bit more than "double" what I washed!!!
These eggs and jar of sake were sitting outside the main shrine in the area. We asked a monk who explained that the godess was a snake form and she ate eggs. (Did I get that right Yumi?)
After we prayed, we headed over to a really cool little snack shack that sold sake, beer, soft drinks and small munchies. We enjoyed tea and a few boiled eggs before hiking up to see an old house and garden.
Yumi might kill me for posting these. You can see how tired she is after working late the night before. But what a pal--she got her rear out of bed early (for a change) to take me on a hike through the Kamakura hills including a stop at Zeniarai Benten Shrine. Here's a map of Kamakura if you want to find your own temple adventure and here's more info on this shrine.
Kamakura, Japan

December 29, 2008

Grillin & Chillin
This weekend was gorgeous! Saturday and Sunday were sunny, clear and warm, so naturally we were at the beach both days--Saturday, to hike to a great Fuji viewing spot that we know of and Sunday to meet up with Enamoto San's family. They picked up local seafood and we brought plenty of microbrewed beer, veggies and chili. The highlights were definitely the Red Hook Beer (his wife couldn't get enough of it,) and the giant scallops and clams. All of the seafood was cooked right over coals on the beach with Fuji in the background. Everything was cooked as-is or with one simple seasoning; the clams were given a gentle dose of beer to "get them drunk" and the scallops a little pat of butter to simmer in.
After a pickup game of baseball and a few strolls, we nibbled on dried stingray fins and tuna steaks. Who knew dried stingray with a little Kewpie mayo and Shichimi (spicy seasoning) was so killer?! I could liver here half my life, (and I literally almost have,) and still learn something new every time we get together with our Japanese friends.
Secret Spot, Secret City, Japan

December 18, 2008

The Gal Who Mistreated Her Camera
It should be a fairy tale for children with expensive toys...I'm on hiatus because I've abused my best friend of three years, my digital camera. It's been dropped on cement floors at concerts, knocked around a backpack on hikes and absorbed countless splashes of liquid at restaurants but it was a slippery rock, a very ungraceful photographer and a tiny tide pool that finally did her in. Until I get it fixed/replaced, I'll be relying on Yumi's generous lending of her camera during our outings and the occasional crapp- quality mobile phone photo. Speaking of which, here's Santa Lucifer wishing all of you a very Happy Holidays!

October 31, 2008

Let's Come Together to Celebrate...Tuna!!!

I spent Sunday, October 26 at Misaki Port--a few kilometers from my childhood stomping grounds--in a fish market turned festival. From what I understand, this is the first year that Misaki city has held a Tuna Fest but it was an awesome one! There were contests, sponsors, vendors and local entertainment that made for a fun, tuna-ingesting, day!

I ate several things including: tuna pizza (no joke,) raw tuna (sashimi,) tuna soup, tuna pot stickers (gyoza,) tuna sushi rolls (tekamaki,) and tuna fries!

Guess the weight! I submitted 252 kilos but this soon-to-be-a-piece-of-sushi was actually 312 kilos!
In addition to tuna, lots of other seafood was on sale including these squid which were being sold as-is or grilled and eaten on a stick.

I won a slab of tuna!!!
For 500 yen ($5) you got to pull one of a bunch of strings that ran through a pvc pipe. from the other end, the strings were attached to various prizes (box of sweet potatoes, dried aji fish, slab of salmon, mochi (pounded and dried rice blocks) wearing tee shirts, etc. The big prize was a valuable slab of maguro. I couldn't make up my mind and I had enamoto's son help me. Minamo picked the tuna which is chillin in my freezer until Matt comes home to cook it!
Misaki Port, Misaki Shi, Japan

October 20, 2008

Yokosuka Mikoshi (Portable Shrine) Parade
Wow! I'm glad I finally dragged myself to Yokosuka Naval Base to see it! I've been to neighborhood matsuris where at most-I saw three mikoshi portable shrines accompanied by a few taiko drummers. But this is totally different! All the neighborhoods in Yokosuka city are invited to parade together beginning around the Yokosuka Chuo train station, down the main street before entering the base's smaller gate and continuing to where the festivities are, next to the Bowling Center.
There's a lot of noise, food booths on and off base and a truly fun crowd interested in experiencing and sharing each others' foreign culture. It gave me happy vibes as me and my friends, Tomo and Masumi, wandered around eating hamburgers and interacting with base visitors. One leader even grabbed me and tossed me into the line of people carrying the mikoshi. After a few bumpy minutes, I thanked him and resumed spectating, (I already did my mikoshi duties last year for three grueling city blocks, thanks!) I was also really stoked to see a lot of Americans. I'm guessing many are newbies that were wondering what the heck a mikoshi was because I answered a few curious gaijin's questions.
74 mikoshis in all were spiritfully carried before ending up in a parking lot. Behind me there are dozens of them still beating drums while in front of us, the parade continued for hours. Here's a video that captures the mayhem:

Yokosuka Naval Base, Yokosuka, Japan

September 2, 2008

Little Edo
The Kitain Temple Pagoda. I just found out that pagodas are where they store the temple's Buddha! Or used to anyway...
Unagi, One of the foods (along with Sweet Potato) that Kawagoe is famous for. Above is Grilled Eel basted with a sweet soy sauce over rice, Oshinko (pickled veggies,) and an Eel Broth and Soy Soup with bits of the eel guts. Japanese enjoy eel in the summer because they feel that it supplies them with extra energy to combat the extreme humidity and heat.
Here's a shot of the "main drag" in this small town that captures one of the kurazukuri , fireproof merchant buildings, clustered on this street with the famous belltower in the background. These retro buildings are one of the reasons that this small town is nicknamed "Little Edo," because it has little alleys where you can feel like you're drawn back into a previous Japan.
The 500+ Royan are the five hundred plus statues of "Buddha's disciples" that are in a fenced in area next to the only remains of Edo Castle relocated to the Kitain Temple grounds. No two statues are alike and supposedly, if you visit the grounds at night and feel the heads, one statue will be warm while the others are cold. You should remember its location and visit the next day because that is the statue that best reflects your personality. Anyway, it's a cool place to visit and had a lot of history as well as picturesque spots.
A funny looking Rakan....I think he's had too much sake:)

Funny "engrish" always cracks me up. Thanks to the foot model, Yumi!
The only remaining piece of the Edo Castle. A view from a room to the garden. Taken illegaly I might add!

Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, Japan

September 1, 2008

It Only Makes Sense...
...that I'd actually break my back and labor on Labor Day Weekend! With typhoon season announcing its arrival with four days of thunder and lightening, I decided it was time to get off my ass and tackle the twenty new bamboo trees that were taking over the backyard and probably pissing off my landlord--some of which had surpassed my second story bedroom window. Pretty? Yes. A nuisance during typhoon season? Yes. Not to mention that they destroy foundation and pipes (just ask the guys that had to come by when our bathroom toilet backed up--yummy!) and could come right through your floor!
I took this after three hours of cutting down and chopping up bamboo. This was the last of the big boys, so I thought I'd take this photo to show you how tall they can get and how quick! The foreground bamboo are about eight or nine feet tall and they last of the big boys is as tall as my roof.
My Jungle, Zushi

Live Forever or Die Trying

Last year it was the Ginnan or ginko nut, this year it's Goya, a bitter melon that supposedly, is the secret to why Okinawaens (Okinawa being the southernmost island in Japan,) outlive all Japanese and the rest of the world. I was first turned on to this scary looking thing by Dave, of Dave Snaps fame two years ago but recently, Yumi's mom made something that was so delcious (no offense, Dave,) that it actually compelled me to cook! Above is my fourth go at getting the bitterness out of the Goya (thanks to a tip from a cook that I work with=squeeze and rinse...squeeze and rinse.) I figure it can't hurt to try to counter all of the chuhais and yakitori that I've consumed...
FYI: Ingredients include: Onion, Pork, Goya, Tofu, Eggs, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Sesame Oil and enjoyed best over a bowl of rice but equally delicious eaten alone while waiting for your rice to cook!)
My Kitchen, Zushi

August 31, 2008

Billy Pot Pie
Eh. I usually don't put personal stuff on here. This site has always been a fun way to keep my friends abreast of the fun things we're doing while overseas in Japan. But almost two weeks ago, our dog Billy died suddenly from organ failure, presumably due to complications resulting from undiagnosed diabetes. We adopted her back in 2003 from a shelter in Spain after she was rescued from an air strip, full of heartworms, suffering from a hernia and some flesh wounds. She bounced from home to home until we picked her up.
Her death was especially tough becuase I didn't completely understand what was happening. With Matt sailing around the world and the Vet speaking broken English, I was robotic and perhaps naiive, under the impression that I'd be picking up Billy a few days later after she was nourished through an IV. That's one of the things about living overseas, our Vet clinic is only Mon-Fri until 4:30pm. I had no choice but to go to somebody that I didn't know and whom didn't speak the best English. I'm not a faithful nor trusting person but I had no choice but to hand my baby over to this guy and hope that him and his staff were competent. I have to believe that they were.
In the end, our friends the Takahashis were the best. They organized Billy's Buddhist ceremony and picked me up the day after she passed. It was an amazing cultural experience in itself but more importantly, helped me quickly start to start to heal. I love them. Thank you guys:)

Before I go back to blogging about food, drink and other stuff, I had first to mention why I've been away for awhile and also just to share how special Billy was to us. There are dogs and then there are "dogs." I'd like to give a shout out to the only dog we knew who could fly; to the dog who never barked; the dog who hated to wear a sweater but loved the snow; and to to the dog who didn't ask for more than a bowl of food and a daily belly scratch--thank you.

Billy Doing What She Does Best...Relaxing

Billy, Luci and A (My Sister) in March

Billy Van Vicious
? - August 18, 2008

July 19, 2008

Day One: Ueno Park/AmeYoko Shopping Street

We got into Tokyo mid-morning last Friday for a last hoo-ra before Matt left for a looooooooooooong trip. After checking in, we had only a few hours before our dinner plans so we decided to knock out Ueno Park, basically the area of Japan with a cluster of museums. Our afternoon began here, at the National Museum of Western Art. There were a few Rodin sculptures in the courtyard, and a few lesser-known pieces by some Impressionists inside. We couldn've easily skipped this museum. The only notables were a few Monet's. It's fun just to stroll around the park. It's pretty big and has lots of sights for adults and kids.

The two photos above are of a Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Park. It featured a gazillion bronze and stone lanterns (including the third largest one in Japan nick-named "Monster Lantern," donated by warlords or something like that. There's a nice peace monument here with a flame that was carried from either Nagasaki or Hiroshima plus lots of moss covered, crumbling structures.

This famous street started up as a blackmarket American goods area after WWII. That's the JR train line that runs above. Ueno station is nearby. It's spread out considerably since the 50's but you can see still remnants of its past. The name Ameyoko comes from "ame" for sweets and "yoko" for alley. There are still shops that sell all sorts of traditional Japanese treats but there are a lot of cheap clothing and fish markets here too. This is a great place to stock up on omiyage, or souvenirs to bring back to your colleagues and friends.

Day Two:
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market was pretty dead when we arrived. It was upper eighties, extremely humid and I instantly regretted making the trek across Tokyo to get here. Stepping over fish blood and guts and dodging the occasional mini-truck hauling sealife carcuses, we breezed through and found ourselves by a demonstration of close to one thousand people. Apprently, there is talk of moving the market location which they oppose. Above is a traditional curtain advertising what the shop inside has for sale. And holy crap! Check out the size of those muscles!!!! Being total idiots, we stuffed ourselves with lunch before we got to Tsukiji, so we couldn't take advantage of the fresh restaurants steps from the market. I'm a foodie, but I think this place is for hard-core tourists...

Senkakuji Temple
The above picture was the most powerful thing I saw at the temple. This temple is so full of history but it's very modest, sorta modestly located in a neighborhood area near Shinagawa station that you could easily walk past it. But the story of "the 47 Ronin" whom are buried here is what draws people to visit. Every morning, incense is put at each gravesite and visitors do the same all day, every day. Here's a link to a short version of the story and I recommend you read it if you aren't familiar. Above is the well (covered with a metal net) in which the loyal Ronin washed Kira's head before presenting it on their master's grave. This gentleman has a great page with lots of photos including the festival on the same day that the Ronin avenged their master's death, December 14. Enough with the history, it's time for beer!!!

Ebisu Garden Place & Beer Museum
This place is pretty cool. Named after a quality beer made by Sapporo, the Ebisu Garden Place is a open-air mall-type structure with a few restaruants, shops, Sapporo Beer Headquarters and a Beer Museum. In the museum, you can see some cool vintage labels and retro factory fixtures, (seafoam green anyone?) and sample Sapporo beers for inexpensive prices.
Vintage ads were on display from 1910-2008. Of course I bought a print! I can't to frame our 1920's era ad of three women in kimonos clinking glasses of beer!
They had some vintage signs from when the Beer Museum was a beer factory. Also, there were some great Occupation photos of a beer hall where service members were sitting around drinking beer, probably right near this sign! Unfortunately, the cool retro photos were in a "no photography zone," so I didn't snap 'em.

Now, back the air conditioned hotel please.....

Tokyo, Japan

Vintage Suntory
This old drink machine was in front of somebody's house in Yamanashi prefecture. It looks early eighties to me. We don't see to many canned drinks like that Pocari Sweat can in the middle, but when I grew up here, all drinks came in skinny, tall cans. If you haven't been, there are great sites in this beautiful prefecture. Enzan City is a great place to explore but it might be listed as Koshu on newer maps. If you're a samurai buff--you gotta go!
Enzan, Koshu City, Japan

July 10, 2008

In America, he's Godzilla, but in Japan, he's:
(this one's for my dad)
Kurihama, Yokosuka City, Japan

Enoshima Island Haiku:
Land of tourist traps,
Kitschy sites, souvenir shops
Mosquitos and cats

We spent Tuesday trekking to Enoshima, an island located in the Sagami Bay which is the same bay our city of Zushi located on. I heard from a few people that this is a fun day trip. The ride on the quirky Enoden train line and the views from Enoshima were nice. The touristy crap wasn't so cool but it made for a nice hike. There's a really good rotating sushi bar on the second floor of the building located at the entrance to the island, just on the right.
Enoshima, Japan

July 9, 2008

Scenes from a Matsuri:
The Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival

On Monday, we went to Hiratsuka City for one of the largest Tanabata festivals. The highlight of this four-day festival are the beautiful decorations, (many that light up with moving parts or sounds,) the dozens of groups of dancers that parade the streets and of course-the matsuri tents with carnie food!!!

Hiratsuka City, Japan

June 18, 2008

I Will Have Nightmares Tonight

This morning, I saw this giant spider as I was washing my hair. Our bath sorta juts out into a garden area and the glass is next to the wall of our living room. This spider found her happy zone there. It's warm, flat, protected and she can see any prey/predators coming from below. I thought she killed a bug and was wrapping it up for later but after googling up a storm I learned the truth.

She's got babies! Those are Matt's sausage palms to show you how big the spider is but I think it's a bad angle. Honestly, this spider is at LEAST six inches in diameter! She's got a flat disc of 200 little babies wrapped up in there. Yuck! I hate spiders that have long legs and especially ones that are big enough that I can make out details like hair, spots, feelers, EYES--freaking gross!
If you are interested in the topic, here are some nice links. They made me gag and vomit but hey--go for it: Wikipedia's Page and Another Scary Photo
Oh, and in case you're wondering: she's been there for at least 16 hours now. I guess she'll be there until she has her babies.
~for Brandon!~

UPDATE: Matt heroically got the mama spider into a cooler and transported her to a hill near our house. Safe at last...

June 10, 2008

"Nice" Pachinko Ruins
Nirasaki, Yamanashi Prefecture
I had to Photoshop this photo (equalizer to bring out the foreground) since I use a digital camera and no knowledge of how to use it. I love taking photos but I'm a lazy photographer. My enjoyment comes from the experience of wandering around alone and blogging. One of these days, I'll buy an expensive camera and learn to take the photos that I know I have inside me.

This is the foyer of the Pachinko parlor. Unfortunately, the place was locked up tight:( There were rows of pachinko machines inside and this cool, pink retro phone too!
This giant parking lot overlooks a statue store and not much else...
A bunch of local birds have turned this small shack into their home. It sat in the back of the parking lot so I'm guessing it's either for cashing in your pachinko balls or getting your parking validated. Translation anyone??? Dave? Yumi? Can you comment if you know?