It's here!!!

Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | 2 comments

  That's right, the much-awaited Maneki Neko Duck has arrived! Ok, I'll admit, sometimes things get a little slow around here during the week, what can I say. But this little toy is pretty cool, aside from the fact that it keeps Wasabi amused and therefore away from the keyboard.
 We thought that we'd be getting something a bit larger from Aflac after Yuki convinced them to send us two ducks (cats?), but these little guys are about the size of maybe 2 golf balls put together, possibly a bit smaller. I just measured one with our handy metric ruler, and it says they're 7 cm. (2.8 inches; thank you online conversion calculator). Which means that they're...the perfect size to be batted around and generally beaten to death!

Plus, they're designed to be attached to cell phones, so when Wasabi gets tired of pummeling the duck, we can fasten around her neck for more endless hours of fun. Click on Wasabi's Maneki Neko Duck Dance for an example!
  The final Maneki Neko Duck attribute that we discovered after Yuki read the package insert is that it sings the famous song when you squeeze it.
 Here are the song lyrics:
 'Neko to Ahiru ga
 Chikara o awasete
 Minna no shiawase ooooo....
 Maneki neko doku!'
Followed by: 'Nyaflac!....Aflac!'

Basically, it says 'Cat and Duck working together to bring about everyone's happiness....Maneki Neko Duck!' The 'Nyaflac....Aflac!' is a reference to the fact that cats are said to say 'nyao' here instead of 'meow'. In the Aflac commerical, the little cat says 'Nyaflac' and is corrected by the duck.
  Finally, I've got to put in a very large word of praise for my husband. As far as I know, the man has procured just about everything I've ever asked for, even if it was some randomly mentioned desire such as this. Peanut butter, Wasabi (the cat, not food for once), you name it...I honestly never expected that I'd get a Maneki Neko Duck when I told him I wanted one, but as usual he's come through. Maybe next I'll bring up that trip to Italy....just joking! Kind of....

Name Change...and, How Many Cops Does It Take To Wrestle a Handicapped Man?

Posted on Monday, September 28, 2009 | 0 comments

    You may or may not have noticed that I've changed the title of the blog. As much as I like tofu (and bunnies, particularly dirty ones), I can't say that I was ever really loving the overly-cutesy name, but I couldn't think of anything else at the time I set the page up and have been too lazy to bother changing it.   But, after typing however many posts and realizing that I tend to talk about food and travel a lot, inspiration struck around midnight last night. 'Jinja' is Japanese for shrine, and 'shoga' means 'ginger'. After over 2 years of studying Japanese, I still confuse the two, due to the fact that 'ginger' sounds a lot like 'jinja'. There are countless times that I've talked about wanting to visit a certain 'shoga', when I really should just be adding it to my ama-zake. More on ama-zake in another post. So, Jinja and Shoga it shall be.
  And, in other news. Today, I was tiredly returning from a visit with my overly cheerful and sadistic tutor, when I came around the corner near our apartment and saw....a street full of policemen, neighbors, and police cars. Now, obviously this would be a bit disconcerting no matter where you live, but keep in mind that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, and Shizuoka is likely one of the more peaceful cities in Japan. There were at least 4 police cars, plus a bunch of police mopeds, and more policemen than I could count, but a good guess would be maybe 12 or so cops. And, they were all mostly in front of our apartment, even more disturbing. Finally, pretty much everyone in the neighborhood was outside except for Yuki, who'd taken the day off to study for his upcoming exam. Not exactly a pleasant welcome-home scene.
  I saw my landlady outside talking to one of the policemen, so I charged up and asked her what was going on and was Yuki ok (probably rather rudely, since I forgot to use keigo as usual---keigo is the polite form of Japanese----and I also interrupted her) . She didn't seem to care luckily, and told me to go inside and ask Yuki what had happened. If I could've exclaimed 'He's alive!!' in Japanese, I would have. Sometimes an over-active imagination is a curse.
  What happened? Turns out that a traffic cop had pulled over a mildy mentally-handicapped delivery man for running a stop sign. Next thing everyone knew, the delivery man started freaking out about potentially losing his job due to getting a ticket, and he was throwing a fit in the street, screaming for at least 20 minutes and punching a brick wall repeatedly. The police didn't want to hurt him, so it took longer than it could have to get him into a police car.
  Yuki told me that he'd gone down and tried to help grab the guy before the other cops arrived, but he and the policeman had quite the time of it before the cop finally broke down and pulled some judo moves.
 Apparently I arrived at the tail-end of everything, as the police were wrapping up and taking statements from all the neighbors, who'd been outside just watching the whole thing unfold. In their defense, it's mostly elderly people at home during the day, so I can see why they would hesitate to jump in.
All in all, it was probably the most excitement this neighborhood has seen in a long while! Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

I count 8 cops in this pic, but there were at least 4 or more across the street, too!

Meet Mirei Kuwabara

Posted on Saturday, September 26, 2009 | 1 comments

Here are some pics of my beautiful new niece!!! Congrats again, Takuma and Yuko!

The proud parents and Uncle Yuki

Mirei's kanji (Chinese characters) are a combination of 'beautiful' and 'smart'

Exciting News and Oyakodon

Posted on Saturday, September 26, 2009 | 0 comments

We've had a new addition to the Kuwabara family! Mirei Kuwabara, born Thursday September 24th at 7:42 pm, weighing 3302 grams (or 7 and something lbs). Yuki and I got to meet her for the first time today, and she is absolutely perfect!! I would love to post some pics but have promised to let her proud daddy have the honors, of course. So as soon as he posts shots of his pride and joy, I'll add some photos here.
....After visiting the maternity clinic, tonight we had a special version of oyakodon. 'Okayo' means 'parent and child' and 'don' refers to 'donburi', or rice bowl. Typically, this means a mixture of chicken (the parent) and egg (the child) over rice. Tonight, however, we had rice bowls topped with freshly-prepared ikura (salmon eggs) with salmon, with the added bonus of some scallops. (ありがとう ございました おとうさん!!). Needless to say, it was an amazing dinner. Ikura season is in the fall and only lasts about a month here, so salmon oyakodon is a once- or twice-a-year treat!



Sesame Chicken...or, Chicken Fingers in Disguise

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2009 | 0 comments

I decided to try a new recipe out on Monday, since I was actually able to cook dinner on a weeknight for once. I opted for a recipe from Whole Foods, since they're usually pretty reliable in terms of healthiness and overall quality of recipes. I was also going for something Asian-related, because I didn't feel like running down to the grocery store yet again after having gone that morning and completely forgetting to buy anything for dinner. So I already knew that it was going to be something Asian, and something with chicken breasts, the only protein we had in the freezer besides some edamame.
Lo and behold, there appeared 'Sesame Chicken' on the Whole Foods website recipe list! It had pretty good reviews, I was able to substitute sesame oil for the butter, and....doh. Paprika. I swear, we had pretty much every single spice possible, except for paprika. After making the very trip back to the grocery store that I'd been hoping to avoid, I started in on the chicken. The recipe was indeed easy and fast to make; basically just mix up the breading and spices, dip the chicken in oil and then in said breading mixture, then pop it into the oven.
However, it was only as Yuki and I started eating the Sesame Chicken that I realized I'd made...Chicken Fingers! Not that I have anything against chicken fingers, but it really wasn't what I had in mind when I started cooking. Pretty good chicken fingers, and definitely healthier than the store-bought ground-up-random-bird-pieces kind, but chicken fingers nonetheless. Still, if you like chicken fingers or are looking for a healthier option to feed your child, click here.
I substitured panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and used sesame oil instead of the butter, but otherwise everything else was the same as the recipe. My picture also includes hijiki on the side. Hijiki is a type of seaweed that's pretty common here. It tastes great but probably looks incredibly unappealing to Westerners! I myself will admit to at least once thinking we had a bug on the table when I was clearing up after dinner and came across a piece that'd escaped from a plate.

Side note on hijiki: while it's high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, I've started to severely limit how much I eat due to other studies that show it's also high in arsenic. There's still some controversy on this issue, but I'd really rather not be a guinea pig and find out for myself!

Fall Festivals

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | 0 comments

I went to two festivals within a 20-hour period, although my attendance at the second festival was rather inadvertent. The planned festival experience was on Sunday night---our neighborhood has an annual festival at the nearby shrine that we try to go to if we're in town. I really have no idea as to the theme or reason behind the festival, had actually never thought about it until a friend asked me. I still don't know, but figure that there doesn't always need to be a reason for a celebration, does there? Anyway, we walked down there after dinner, in time to meet up with some expat friends and see the fireworks display. One of the women knows a local farmer with some land in the area who lets us all camp out there during the festivities--apparently he sells honey, which is how she met him. So he's become known (to me, at least) as 'The drunk honey man'. He's always in a great mood, very cheerful and friendly, although I'm not sure how much of this is due to the alcohol factor. He's also quite generous: last year he plied us with beer and snacks, and this year was no exception. No sooner had we sat down than he popped over with a few cans of beer that he insisted we accept. A few minutes later, he returned with some very fresh stalks of ginger and a bowl of miso to spread on top. He was pretty excited to have yet another foreigner try it (ginger is quite hot, if you didn't already know) and seemed disappointed that I didn't have a problem with the intensity of it. I guess most people immediately make a grab for their beer after taking a bite. Apparently nobody had told him about my love of wasabi! Later, he came over one more time with some milder snacks, and he kept checking that everyone had enough food, etc. A wonderful host, especially considering that most of us really don't know him! Finally, when we were leaving, Honey man pressed a banana-creme cookie into Yuki's hand as we said good-bye. I guess that the wrapper had been opened, but Yuki just assumed that there'd been 2 cookies and only one was left. As we were walking back, however, Yuki discovered that not only had the package been opened, the remaining cookie had a perfect bite-mark out of it! ABC banana-creme cookie. Thanks, but we both decided to pass! ************************************************************************************* The day-time photos are from yesterday's street festival downtown. I think it was to celebrate the autumnal equinox, but again I'm not really sure. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasant surprise (neither I nor the friend I was with had any idea it was going on) and made my afternoon shopping a lot more memorable. The main focus of this festival seemed to be the various groups of street dancers, although there were of course some food stalls and a couple of music stages, too. The costumes aren't really representative of a traditional festival (Can't say I've ever seen a French maid out and about before), but it was a fun time. East meets West

We didn't have the best parade-viewing spot for filming, but this guy was pretty cool...

Hozumi Shrine Hike

Posted on Sunday, September 20, 2009 | 0 comments

This morning we decided on a change of venue for our usual walk and went hiking in the nearby mountains (foothills?) instead. We discovered a beautiful little shrine up there a while back and had been wanting to explore the hiking trail that led up the mountain above it.

The sign at the trailhead stated that it would take about 45 minutes up to the top of Mt. Yakushidake. The good news was, it was a pretty quick hike....but the 'top' was little more than a small shrine at a point on the trail, nothing of note really. Still, it was a peaceful trip with some nice views of Mt. Fuji!

On the drive back, we took an alternate road and were able to see lots of fishermen out in the river. I'm not sure what they were fishing for, seeing as my usual experiences with fish just involve eating chunks of them in sushi bars.

The red flowers in the photos are called 'higanbana' in Japanese, and 'red spider lily' in English. The direct translation of 'higan' can be interpreted as 'equinoctial week' or 'one's dearest wish', at least from what I found. I'm going to go with the first definition, since today is the fall equinox, and these only bloom in autumn. (FYI 'hana', or 'bana' in this case, means 'flower').

More Kit Kats

Posted on Friday, September 18, 2009 | 2 comments

This country has a huge love of all things 1. new and 2. Kit Kat-related. 3. Ok, Wasabi just typed the number '3', not sure what she wants to add but I'd better hit post before she deletes everything again! 2222222222qqqqqqqqqqqqq2222222222222222 Thank you, Wasa-monster! 222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222

Cookie-Plus Kit Kats...they were supposed to be crunchier than the original ones? Neither Yuki nor I could tell the difference between these and the regular Kit Kats, though...score of 2 out of 10, if I wanted a plain Kit Kat I wouldn't have paid extra for it!

Kit Kats with actual manju (sweet bean paste) and mochi (really sticky rice product) inside. Score: 4 out of 10. Couldn't detect any mochi, mild bean paste flavor. I'd rather just buy a daifuku (sweet mochi with manju inside).

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 1 comments

Wasabi is not exactly getting calmer over time as we were hoping. I'm still praying that it's just because she's not yet 4 months, but I really don't remember any of my previous kittens waking me up in the middle of the night by attempting to rip my hair out by the roots. Imagine waking up slowly to a really nice head massage (this as she nuzzles in down deep to get a good hold), and then...YANK! You're jerked into consciousness. Thanks, cat! Yuki took this pic while I was sleeping around 1 am. See her going in for the kill? I'm told that my response, although I remember none of it, was 'Why in the hell is she out of her cage??' My subconscious gets grumpy, what can I say.

...We're also trying to domesticate her enough to wear a collar...still no luck in that area, either! See for yourself. That little nipper is lucky that we love her so much!
The Collar, Take 2
PS We took the collar off right after this video. As funny as it was, I'm not into torturing my cat in any way.

Lunch in Kamakura

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 0 comments

We drove to Kamakura on Sunday and had lunch there after visiting the family burial plot. I wish I could remember the name of the temple where the cemetery is located, but it's escaping me right now. It isn't one of the major temples in the area, but the grounds are incredibly serene and beautiful. ***Update: the temple's name is Zuisen-ji; Click here for the Wiki link

The oldest graves in the cemetery are in this little cave

Marinated eggplant, a potato-like vegetable carved into a leaf, greens, mushrooms, and another sounds a lot better in Japanese

Roasted eel, edamame, fish cake, small omelette, boiled chestnut still in its shell...the pinkish stick is ginger


Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 0 comments

We had to go downtown last Saturday since Yuki needed new contacts, so it was the perfect excuse to do some shopping and have lunch by the station.
I have to say, when we first got into the waiting area at the eye center, I thought we'd be there for hours. It was the biggest, busiest optometry office I've ever seen--the whole floor of a large building. But of course I didn't count on Japanese efficiency, and we were quickly herded from one station to another after signing in. All in all, I think it took us maybe a half hour to 40 minutes from start to finish. Not bad for a year's supply of contacts, plus free shipping.

After the eye exam, we had lunch in a little Nagoya-style udon (noodle) shop under the station. (FYI-the levels under the station are usually chock full of shops and restaurants, etc, so it's not like we were eating in the ghetto). I'm not too sure what 'Nagoya-style' means other than really, REALLY salty. Usually the saltiness is due to the high miso content of the dish, but my udon didn't have any miso in the broth, and it was still probably about 20 times over my daily recommended allotment. I honestly don't know how everyone in Nagoya doesn't have problems with high blood pressure. I was thirsty for a few hours after lunch, and I didn't even drink the broth. Yuki ordered the miso udon for himself, but one taste was more than enough for me. Miso thirsty! Ahahaha.

We spent the rest of the afternoon mostly window-shopping and stalking girls with pacifiers, but I did get a straight iron finally. Unfortunately not the one with the cool writing on the box, but I figured that I've had more than enough life changes in the past few years, thanks. 'Don't be shy. You surely have a 'seed' to be beautiful. Wash up and style yourself. Soon your life will be changed.'

I was also impressed by wide variety of sushi USB sticks, but seeing as the price was more than a few couple of mid-grade sushi dinners would cost, we decided to pass and have the real thing for dinner instead, along with a (real) sweet potato apple pie that we bought on the way home. Mmm, pie!

Some interesting souvenirs

Posted on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 0 comments

I still need to post about our weekend in Yokohama, but seeing as Wasabi is on an active campaign to keep me away from the computer (if I type for more than 2 minutes at a time, she body-slams the keyboard), for now here are some pictures from a rest area that we stopped at on the way there. I'm not too sure why the clerks felt the need to advertise that the product was 'fish guts', or why they thought that English-speakers couldn't figure out what a vending machine was, but hey, it's the thought that counts, right??0a3322222222 Oops Wasabi says that's all for now!

Britney Spears in Yokohama!!

Posted on Saturday, September 12, 2009 | 0 comments

Ok, so it obviously wasn't really Britney herself....but the shaved head did attract my attention at first, since you don't tend to see girls wandering around Japan with a GI Jane 'do, no matter how oddly they may be dressed. However, what held my attention was not the lack of hair but....yes, sir, that is indeed a pacifier that you're looking at! This girl managed to outdo Ms. Spears in terms of shock value, not an easy feat when you think about it!
I wish that the picture was a little better, but I've unfortunately (or fortunately) realized that I am not cut out for a career as a paparazzo. This was as close as I dared to get without embarrassing the poor girl or myself...or being attacked by the paci-toting Britney Spears impersonator. I figure that if you're ok with actively sucking a pacifier in public, there's probably not much else that you'd think twice about doing, and I didn't want to put that theory to the test!
...Earlier in the day, we had also seen a very tall foreigner walking full speed through the shopping area underneath the station...wearing sunglasses (in the basement, did I mention?) and loudly playing a harmonica as he himself, of course. I wish I could've handcuffed him to Britney so at least they wouldn't be alone!

Moving On

Posted on Friday, September 11, 2009 | 0 comments

I had my hair done this morning. Now, I'm sure that sounds like a rather typical thing to do, getting hair cut and highlighted, right? But being a foreigner in Japan, admittedly a rather vain foreigner at that, at least in terms of my hair color, this morning was more like taking my life into my own hands.
See, I've gone and broken it off with my wonderful Tokyo stylist. For over 2 years I've been faithful to him, making the long trip for a little 3 hour rendezvous. But...he went and changed. So much for that saying 'It's not you, it's me'. It was definitely all him! First off, he went and got his own salon. Great, right? Expanding, acquiring a little real estate. I love a man with ambition. But...then he upped his rates, too. I just couldn't force myself to pay $75 for a haircut, that on top of travel expenses. Even if he is a salon director now. I guess he's just out of my league. (Sniff, sniff). I know he'd take me back if I came crawling with a hunk of cash, but I've got more pride than that!
So...I gathered myself together, forced myself to move on. And luckily, I had happened to hear about a new guy, one right here in town who used to do hair in California and speaks pretty decent English. What had I got to lose? Certainly not my old stylist; he's already long gone!
I have to admit that I was decidedly iffy when I walked into his salon, and probably would've never set foot in the door if he hadn't come highly recommended. He's got a one-man show; his salon is just screaming for a cleaning woman; that and maybe an update from the early 70s. It made me think of one of those old-school salons where old ladies come in and rinse their hair blue or get poodle perms. And indeed, one purple-haired little old lady made an appearance while I was there. But at least all of his products and tools are spanking new.
And...his English was pretty good, and his hair styling skills even better! I think I'm sold. He imports his dyes from England or the US, since, as he told me today, Japanese law doesn't allow for as much peroxide in bleaches as the US laws do. Who knew. So perhaps that's why my hair has a tendenceny towards 'BURNT ORANGE' here!
Finally...he's more than affordable! While I will dearly miss the calming atmosphere of the salon in Tokyo, the mini massages, the iced tea and chocolates, and my very hip stylist, I think I've found my new man....


Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 0 comments

My landlady brought over some nimono tonight after I got home from work. Actually, she was outside putting cans into the recycling bin, which led to a long and detailed (and therefore wasted, since my Japanese is still pretty limited) discussion about which days of the month were can collection days. I've gotten pretty good at saying 'Unh unh' (yes, yes) and nodding at the correct times, at least. Anyway, after this long talk, she suddenly said that she was cooking nimono and would bring me some when it was done. Sure enough, a half hour later, the doorbell rang. My landlady is a great cook in addition to being a great talker, so I was more than happy to receive her gift!
Nimono a combination of the word niru, meaning 'to boil', and mono, meaning 'thing' or 'things'. Japanese doesn't really have any plurals per se, so you usually have to infer if a word is singular or not via context. In this case, it's definitely plural and refers to the vegetables in this dish. Nimono usually varys according to household preference, so there are countless recipes for it. I managed to learn that tonight she'd made it with canned squid for flavoring, instead of using katsuo bushi, dried fish flakes, like she usually does. She'd removed the squid but ran back to her house and brought me some when I mentioned that I liked it. That was a mistake on my part---canned squid is definitely best used only for dashi (flavoring), as the remaining bit is rather bitter and full do I put this nicely...guts.
Once I'd picked out the squid, though, it tasted great. The other ingredients were: carrots; potatoes; konnyaku (a basically calorie-free spongy root-thing): gobo aka burdock root; daikon, Japanese radish, but if you need any in the US, just go to my mom's backyard (a long story involving bringing seeds through customs once, and now daikon has taken over Ridgeland Avenue as punishment for my sins); and lotus root, which is called renkon here. The pictures probably don't look the most appealing (especially the squid-included one), but it's really a great tasting vegetable dish. If I ever get around to making my own version, I'll be sure to post a recipe for it.