Happy Halloween!

Posted on Sunday, October 31, 2010 | 1 comments

                             Wasabi and Sushi are very thankful that Halloween only occurs once a year....

World Tea Festival in Shizuoka, 2010

Posted on Saturday, October 30, 2010 | 0 comments

    We decided to brave the typhoon passing through today and venture out to the World Tea Festival being held this weekend here in Shizuoka. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that it's held here every year, but this is the first time I've actually gone.
  Basically, it's a big exhibition-style venture, with tons of booths from various tea companies throughout Japan and around the world. (Who knew they made Ceylon Banana tea??) I also had no idea that it would be quite so crowded there! Whether that was due to the typhoon and people having nothing else to do, or if it's that way every year, I'm not sure. My guess is that it's usually pretty busy though, since the vendors give out free tea samples, sweets, etc, and there's nothing that draws a crowd around here more than a free sample does! We made out pretty well in the loot department: 2 clear file holders, a bunch of tea-infused candies, 3 or 4 samples of green tea, and 2 tea strainers. Not bad for a rainy afternoon!
     Besides the exhibition booths, there was a main stage with tea-related skits being performed, and on another floor, a bunch of tea ceremonies using various teas from around the world (China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, to name a few), but we didn't attend one of those since they required advance payment. I did like seeing the awards for new tea-related products, however: green tea cream cheese, a pen-type device that you could use to make powdered green tea portable, tea sold in a wine bottle (??), and green tea cream soup, to name a few. Too bad they didn't have samples for any of those!


                                            Sign outside the Granship hall   

                                           One of many displays

                                  Fresh Japanese sweets rolled in powdered tea

                          Tea being sold in wine bottles...for that price, I think I'd opt for the wine!

                        Green tea cream soup sign (sadly, there was none of the actual product in sight)

                                Green tea cream cheese

                             Pen-type devices for holding single-servings of powdered green tea

                                                A tea ceremony in action

                                 Some of the exhibitions

                                The vendors' floor

                                    Green tea sweets for sale

                                         Biggest bottle of 'Oy-ocha' (Hey! Tea!) ever

The loot: tea samples, tea-infused candy, a tea strainer, etc 

39 Weeks!

Posted on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | 0 comments

      1 week until my due date...and we're still really hoping that Sigourney decides to show herself some time around this weekend. We'll see how things are progressing (or not progressing) at Friday's weekly check-up, though. Last Saturday, she was just shy of 7 lbs. I told her that she had to be at least 7 lbs, so by now she's free to come out whenever she'd like!
     In other news, I have finally packed my bags for the birthing center. Yes, I realize how late it is. And yes, I also realize that I would've been totally unprepared had this kid decided to suddenly pop out earlier. But seeing as I HATE packing and therefore always leave it until a day or two beforehand, getting it done a week before my due date is honestly a miracle. Especially since Sushi and Wasabi 'helped' by sleeping on my list every time I'd pull it out and try to get some work done. Thanks, girls!

                                    Belly pic

          My little helpers (the list is hard to make out, but it's protruding from under Sushi, on the right)

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha

Posted on Sunday, October 24, 2010 | 0 comments

          Last Sunday, we took a drive over to Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, in Fujinomiya city. It's only about an hour's drive from Shizuoka, so it made for a nice afternoon getaway.
  This shrine is the head shrine of the 1300 or so Sengen/Asama shrines throughout the country. (FYI: The whole top of Mt. Fuji, from the 8th stage upwards, is also considered to be part of the shrine grounds). I haven't had the time to look up a lot more information on this shrine, but I'll include a picture below showing a sign detailing some of the history. Feel free to click on and enlarge it if you'd like more details.

                                          History of the shrine

                                        Shrine gates

                                        The main shrine

                                                Empty sake barrels


           I really wasn't stalking this girl! (It's not actually the same girl, either)

                                 What shrine is complete without...chickens??

9 1/2 Months!

Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 | 0 comments

               2 weeks until my due date! At this point, I'm hoping that Sigourney pops out a bit early, but we'll see. At the check-up on Saturday, she weighed in at 6.3 lbs and was still head down, good baby! We really can't tell if she's dropped yet or not, but perhaps she has: last week I was able to trim my own toenails again. I think that everyone in the house was pleased with that development!
   Meanwhile, most people are still convinced that this baby is a boy, since I'm carrying everything in the front. I've been told by numerous people that they can't even tell I'm pregnant from behind (which would explain why all my maternity pants are really saggy in the back). Besides that, I'm still having a hard time keeping weight on...maybe now's the time to start eating dessert every night!

                                   Belly pic

                              Wasabi waiting for Sigourney to pop out

                                           Excuse the bedhead

Gundam, Bikkuri Donkey, and Bacon Chocolate

Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 | 0 comments

    We finally went to see Gundam! For those of you who don't know what Gundam is, let me explain a bit. And let me also clarify that I knew absolutely nothing about Gundam before he appeared here in Shizouka, lest you think that I have any interest in comic books or model robots. No offense of course to those you who really love reading those 'graphic novels', as you like to call them!
   This particular Gundam is a fictional gigantic combat robot statue that stands 18 meters tall. He was erected and on display previously in Odaiba, a waterfront district of Tokyo. Bandai, a model toy company here, started making Gundam and other robot models (Gunpla---Gundam plastic models) 30 years ago, so they started the giant 'life-size' Gundam project in order to commemorate the anniversary. Shizouka was chosen as the display site since Bandai has a main factory here.
  Gundam is free to visit, although parking is 500 yen and seriously about a 10 to 15 minute walk from Gundam. It's much better to take the train to Higashi-Shizouka station and get off right at Gundam.  You can get your picture taken with Gundam for free, too, as long as you bring your own camera and don't bother to buy the professional print the photographers try to sell you.
     After visiting Gundam, we had dinner at Bikkuri Donkey. Bikkuri Donkey is a chain 'hamburger steak' restaurant that originated in Tokyo. It offers a variety of hamburger patties topped with items such as egg, cheese, curry, etc. The company claims to add no artificial food additives or preservatives to its meat, and a lot of the other ingredients are made at the parent company's plant. Still, hamburger is hamburger in my opinion....so, seeing as I'm not a huge fan of minced meat, it was a day of firsts: Gundam, and then Donkey.
  By the time we ordered, I was so hungry that I almost got a huge cheese-filled patty, but at the last second opted for a tofu patty with veggies instead. Honestly, it was one of the best tofu burgers I've ever eaten! Probably because it wasn't actually vegetarian (in Japan, tofu does not equal meat-free) and contained some minced meat, too. Go Donkey!
  Finally, to finish the day off with some more meat products, we tasted some bacon-infused chocolate, courtesy of our lovely friend visiting from Chicago. She hadn't tried it before but thought I might want to, being pregnant and all. (Oddly enough, she had no idea that I'd craved bacon throughout my first trimester). Sadly, I think that her words sum it up best: 'Adding bacon to chocolate seems like a big waste of bacon'. It was ok for chocolate, but there wasn't much bacon taste overall, just a hint of salt. My advice to Vosages chocolate company: if you're going to add bacon to something, at least throw in some big chunks of it!


                                     My tofu patty

                            Yuki's massive cheese-topped hamburger patty

                                    The disappointing bacon-chocolate bar

Lake Motosu (Motosuko) and Shiraito no Taki (Shiraito Falls)

Posted on Sunday, October 17, 2010 | 0 comments

   After eating houtou last Monday, we continued our trip around the Mt. Fuji area by visiting Lake Motosu and then Shiraito Falls.
  Motosuko is the western-most of Fuji's 5 lakes, and it's also featured on the back of the 1000 yen bill. It was formed in the 9th century, when lava flowing from an eruption by Mt. Fuji separated a larger lake into 3: Motosuko, Saiko, and Shojiko. These three lakes are still connected by underground waterways. This was my first time to see Motosuko, but it was immediately obvious as to why it's pictured on Japanese currency: the lake water itself is remarkably clear, while the view of Mt. Fuji is spectacular. I'm sure that on certain days, the reflection of Mt. Fuji in the water makes for some great photo opportunities.
  After leaving Motosuko, we headed toward Shiraito no taki, a beautiful waterfall that's protected as a Japanese Natural Monument. No matter how many times I visit this site, it never fails to impress. It's definitely worth seeing if you happen to be in the Mt. Fuji area.

                                    View of Mt. Fuji from Motosuko

                                                  Shiraito no taki

37 Weeks: We are FULL TERM!

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 0 comments

Second post of the day, more to follow tomorrow or Friday about the rest of our day trip around Mt. Fuji....

               3 weeks until my due date, but today we are officially full term! Meaning that little Sigourney Weaver would likely be fine if she were to be born today. Not that she seems to have any intention of making her entrance in the next couple of days...she celebrated turning 37 weeks by managing to somehow turn from my right to left side overnight. So much for my weekly pregnancy email, today's mentioning that the baby has much less space now, causing movements to start to slow down!

Basahi, Houtou, and Yamanakako

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 0 comments

                Some of Yuki's work associates from the US are in town this week, so on Monday (it was a national holiday) we took them sightseeing around Mt. Fuji and the 5 Lakes. Our first stop was for houtou, a regional dish that originated in Yamanashi prefecture. I may have mentioned it before, but it's a kind of udon: in this case, the noodles are quite large and flat. The dish also contains a lot of vegetables, all stewed in a thick miso broth. Optional ingredients at the restaurant we ate at included: pork, duck, extra mushrooms, and bear. Yep, bear could be had for the mere price of 4000 yen. The guys all opted for pork however, while I stuck with the basic vegetable dish.
  Also on the menu was raw horse meat. It's something of a delicacy in the mountain areas here, either offered as a sakura-don (horse meat over rice), or basashi, which is basically raw horse meat served sashimi style: thinly sliced and garnished with items such as Japanese radish, seaweed, and ginger. Basashi is usually dipped in soy sauce, in the same manner as regular fish sashimi.
  The temptation to try raw horse meat proved to be stronger than our guests' doubts about the idea, so they ordered a serving of it. And...they both really liked it! It is apparently very soft and not at all chewy, although I'm taking at their word on that one. The idea of eating a horse still really bothers me, even though I eat pork and beef occasionally so am admittedly being hypocritical about the concept. Still...poor horse!

                               Lake Yamanaka (Yamanakako)