asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Our New Neighbourhood 30 October, 2014

Filed under: city,places — johnraff @ 4:57 pm
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It’s been quite a while since anything was written here. You probably thought the blog had been abandoned – it happens a lot. Actually this year has been a bit hectic for us with various things, many of them connected with the process of closing down Raffles, handing over the premises to our successors and moving to our new home. I’m sorry if you were getting bored, but all the while I was making notes for the Farmlog, which has now got more than a year behind! I’m going to get down and try to catch up a bit, even if it means shorter entries.

Meanwhile, we’re now living in an apartment in a different part of town, Kakuozan, and to be honest I like it a lot. In Olden Days this was the eastern limit of Nagoya and being on a bit of a hill it might have been a bit of a resort for the richer merchants from the town centre to cool off in the heat of the summer, though these days the streets have plenty of young people too. Anyway, there are lots of opulent houses and expensive-looking apartment buildings in the area. Even our own place is in a building which must have been quite snazzy in its day, now 38 years ago however, and the shine is wearing off here and there. Still, we’re on the 4th floor (no lift!), nice and light with plenty of windows and a huge balcony, where we can sit outside in the summer and enjoy the breeze and the view.

There’s also plenty of history. For a start, the big Nittaiji temple, which houses a relic of the Buddha given to Japan by the king of Thailand! Every month on the 21st there’s a big market in front, and some interesting smaller temples in the area are open on that day. Also a huge garden that used to belong to the owner of the Matsuzakaya department store, an interesting tower that belongs to a university, another tower that holds a historic water tank, a shrine Maruyama Jinja that also has a market every five days, a whole collection of smaller temples just to the east… plenty of photo opportunities.

One thing we haven’t found so far is the perfect place to drop in for a drink and a bite to eat without paying a fortune. Just down the road in Ikeshita there are some cheap, but uninteresting, places but here in Kakuozan there’s a little French bistrot round every corner and that’s about it. There are precious few places like Kitemiteya anyway, and luckily it’s still within cycle range, so Inachan you haven’t got rid of us yet!

I’m hoping to post some photos of different places round here before too long, but here’s a brief selection of Scenes of Kakuozan to be going on with:

 

Chikaramachi Church 30 December, 2013

Filed under: city,places — johnraff @ 11:52 pm
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Last May an old friend passed away. Bob was a very special person, in many ways. His lifelong ambition had been to visit every country on the planet and, the last time I asked him, he had got the remaining list down to what could be counted on two hands. His last year had involved some travelling so I have to ask his wife to find out if he finally ticked them all off or not.

The funeral was held on the kind of beautiful spring day that made you truly thankful to be alive, in a beautiful old church that I didn’t know about. The Chikaramachi Church is over 100 years old, built soon after Christianity was permitted, in a similar style to the older churches we had seen on the Goto Islands. The next day I went back and took some photographs.

 

Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
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This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

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Setsubun 4 February, 2012

Filed under: city,customs — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
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Osu’s one of my favourite places in Nagoya and I had to be in the area anyway, so went down to Osu Kannon for the bean-throwing. Nice sunny day (though freezing cold) and the place was looking colourful and exotic with people wandering around in devil masks, a couple of ladies in full geisha attire and white makeup and some more weird costumes I couldn’t figure out at all – maybe advertising something? All thoroughly photogenic, but my camera told me to recharge the battery, and shut itself down. Ah well…

Instead I went up to the balcony where good-luck beans were being thrown and managed to catch a few in my hat. I was quite pleased with myself, but later T complained it wasn’t nearly enough. You’re supposed to eat as many beans as your age to get the full effect, but it would have meant hanging around for an hour or so to collect that many! Went in to pay my respects to Kannon-sama. The Goddess of Mercy is a boddhisatva in Buddhist terms, but also a goddess in Shinto, with connections to China and probably the Indian Avalokitesvara. There are many Kannon temples in Japan – a famous one is Asakusa Kannon in Tokyo which, like Osu in Nagoya, is in the middle of a bustling downtown sort of area; Osu has markets, second hand clothes shops, computer stores, Brazilian and Turkish restaurants, a place for traditional medicines like dried snakes, and another exotic little temple called Banshoji right in the middle of the arcades. It’s a great place to wander around.

Oh yes, bean-throwing? Setsubun comes just before the traditional lunar New Year, the name (節分) suggests changing seasons and it’s about driving out bad luck and letting the good fortune in. The beans are supposed to scare the devils away. There’s also something about eating a big sushi roll while facing in the lucky feng shui direction (this year it’s NNW). Originally just a local custom somewhere, it’s being pushed recently by the sushi roll makers, maybe taking a hint from Valentine’s day. Someone invented a “tradition” of girls giving chocolate to boyfriends, friends or even office superiors on Feb. 14th, and now that day accounts for 50% (was it?) of chocolate sales in Japan!

More about Osu here and some photos here (not as good as what I would have taken of course 😉 ).

 

Town Birds 2 September, 2011

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:47 pm
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We had another visit by the bulbuls yesterday – they drop in every now and then. Only one this time and he just flitted around our tree a couple of minutes, said a few words and went on his way. The grand project to concrete over this planet has meant less and less room for other creatures, and even in my lifetime things have changed quite a bit. Twenty five years ago or so, here in Nagoya you could hear the uguisu‘s warble in the spring for a few days till he went on to the hills, but no more. There were swallows who built their nest under the eaves of a restaurant right on the corner of a busy crossroads near here, but they gave up when the place was done over a couple of years ago. Even so, there are still a few birds who come round to our small garden quite regularly. The bulbuls have been regular visitors this summer, turning up once a week or so, but they aren’t the only ones.

The sparrow is supposed to be disappearing from cities worldwide, but they’re pretty common round here, drinking the water from the dishes under our plants on the balcony and checking out the plants for insects, seeds or whatever it is that sparrows eat. Pigeons quite often come round in the spring to coo from a top branch of our tree. They are not T’s favourite bird, they leave big splashes of droppings on our entrance path and she doesn’t like the cooing either. Last year they tried to take over the bulbuls’ nest after they were finished with it, and this year built one of their own. Usually if you give the tree a good shake it will scare the birds out of it, and repeated a few times seemed to get rid of them last year, but this time they were more determined to stay put. Eventually I got a long bamboo pole and was just able to knock the nest down from our upstairs window. There were already two eggs in it, which got broken of course. This was why the pigeon in the nest had been so obstinate. I felt quite bad about it, and the pigeon looked heartbroken, sitting on a nearby power line for a while. They haven’t been back since, so I suppose they finally got the message.

Top of the food chain are the urban terrorists, the crows. Even we humans give them some respect – apart from being big, with long sharp beaks, they’re pretty intelligent. In the cities they’ve taken over, it’s pretty easy to make a living so they have free time to get up to all kinds of mischief. A while ago they were making more noise than usual and I found a whole load of them sitting on the power lines opposite our place, having a major conference or something. Then I looked down and saw a dead one on the road just below the electricity pole. Did it get electrocuted? Were they holding a funeral? Anyway, when you see them close up they’re big – getting on for the size of a chicken! They are really ravens rather than crows, I suppose.

Our favourites, though, would have to be the bulbuls. They’re not pretty or anything, and their voice isn’t what you’d call mellifluous, but they seem sort of friendly, and have taken to building their nest in our tree for the last few years. Apparently they prefer to build near human beings because it helps to keep the crows away. This year they took ages about it, but eventually a couple of chicks were hatched and left the nest at the end of June. A bit early, we thought, they still looked a bit small sitting in the tree branches and that evening there was an enormous downpour. The next morning T saw the parent birds flying anxiously around the gap between our place and next door. We feared the worst: did the rain wash the chicks down? Did one of the local cats get them? That seemed to be it.

However, a week later there were a couple of bulbuls sitting on a low branch of our “basho” tree, looking at me with their heads on one side and saying something. I don’t speak bulbul unfortunately. They looked a bit small to be the parents, so maybe the chicks survived after all? The same birds (I’m presuming they’re the same) have been back at irregular intervals throughout the summer, just for a couple of minutes, then off again. Is it the same pair who build that nest every year? Is it the same family? Has our tree just been marked as an OK place for bulbuls in general?

 

…the heat goes on… 13 July, 2011

Filed under: city,news,seasons — johnraff @ 2:56 pm
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…and is likely to for quite a while. It’s still only the start of July, the peak will probably be around the end of the month and the first cool breeze of autumn doesn’t usually arrive till some time in September. Had to water the garden this morning for the first time this year.

The TV news was telling us that some three times as many people had died of heatstroke as at the same time last year. Meanwhile with several nuclear power stations either shut down or destroyed by tidal waves electric power supplies are on the edge. Here in the Nagoya area it’s not as bad as in Tokyo, but still every evening along with the weather forecast there’s a power forecast: whether the generators are likely to hold up or not. Today the percentage of available power likely to be used was 89% – considered “stable” apparently. They don’t want any more old people and children to die from the heat, so along with the appeals to economise on electricity are reminders not to overdo it. Quite tricky.

 

Heat 9 July, 2011

Filed under: city,food & drink,seasons — johnraff @ 2:18 pm
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Yes, it’s hot. We’re now out of the Rainy Season and into the summer a good week earlier than usual, and quite as hot and humid as you could want, thank you.

One small consolation, for us at Raffles anyway, is that the heat seems to increase peoples’ desire for a foaming mugfull of well chilled lager (quite understandable) and for some spicy Asian food. The spicy food goes with the beer, and also seems to suit the heat, somehow. The result has been that we’ve been a bit busy the last 2 or 3 weeks and I’ve been quite slack about posting up all the fascinating stuff that’s been going on.

I’ll try a bit harder to keep up but it’s not easy to focus on a sticky afternoon with the temperature approaching 35°C and 60% humidity…

 

 
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