asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Here it comes 6 May, 2011

Filed under: city,customs,seasons — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
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Last Friday it was officially announced that Okinawa had “entered the Rainy Season”. They’re about a month ahead of us, so the monsoon which comes up from India via SE Asia will reach us in early June. Although it’s quintessentially Japanese somehow, the “tsuyu” is the season I find hardest to cope with: humid, mouldy, sticky, damp… sure the new leaves hit new heights of green lushness but for me if it’s going to be humid and tropical I’d rather have some heat with it, and do it properly. Of course, that will come in due course, late July or so.

Meanwhile, here in Nagoya over the last few days the weather has been fantastic. Sunny skies with a fresh breeze – the kind of day when you want to eat an ice cream in the park. Lucky for all the people who have this week off: it’s Golden Week, something like a British bank holiday weekend when public holidays line up so if you take a couple of extra days off you can have a week’s break, so everybody piles into their cars, a train or plane and goes somewhere. Here at Raffles, though, we’re working through as normal. At least we don’t have to deal with the 75Km traffic jams.

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Sushi for Christmas 10 January, 2011

Filed under: city,food & drink — johnraff @ 7:29 pm
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This goes back thirty years or so, but a couple of minutes from the English school I used to teach at was a little sushi shop in the corner of a local market. The owner was a friendly guy who made good sushi and every day he had a lunchtime special for ¥380 that used whatever was in season at the fish market that day and made a great lunch. I used to drop in quite often. At that time there were little privately owned sushi shops everywhere, just like izakaya and yakitori places, but gradually the big companies moved in; they can buy in bulk and prepare stuff in big food factories so, as our local sushi lunch guy complained one day, there was no way that people like him could compete. A lot of places went out of business, but his solution was to move up, up-market. He bought the best fish at the market every day, however much it cost, and charged prices to match. Although he was still in the corner of this scruffy little market it was now hard to leave there without spending ¥10,000 or more, and the only people who could afford to eat there were yakuza.

And that’s how things are now – there are cheap, cheap chain sushi places where you can take the kids, and really expensive places. Having tasted decent sushi you don’t feel like MacSushi, and really can’t afford to go to the good places any more… what a drag. However, the other day when we were thinking of going out for dinner at Christmas and all the French restaurants were either too expensive or booked up T found a sushi shop via the internet that didn’t look too bad, and was just a short bike ride away from our house. In fact it was really OK – one of a “chain” of two, occupying a previous coffee shop and completely lacking the sterile gleam of those shiny new chain places, and not expensive at all. Not everything was fantastic, but most of the sushi was pretty good, and the two of us ate our fill, along with drinks (beer, sake and shochu), for about ¥7,000 total which seemed quite reasonable. So those corner sushi shops haven’t completely died out after all!

 

Our Mayor – continued 17 December, 2010

Filed under: city,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:32 pm
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Takashi Kawamura - mayor of Nagoya

Maybe you remember this guy? The mayor of Nagoya I wrote about last March. His attempt to force the city councillors to cut their numbers and pay by half has been simmering on since then, but recently it got more exciting. The collection of signatures for a petition went ahead in November and, after a slow start, they eventually got some 400 + thousand within the couple of weeks allowed. It was tight, but they made a big push in the last week and ended up with more than the 360,000 (1/5 of the electorate) needed to call a popular vote on dissolving the council. BUT – the Nagoya electoral commission ruled about 110,000 signatures invalid, taking the total below what was needed. Oddly enough, most of the members of that commission are ex-councillors…

It didn’t end there though. There was a chorus of complaints, and people who checked their names on the petition found they had been invalidated for some pretty poor reasons: a single mistake in the address or phone number, smudge on the paper, illegible signature… Kawamura’s supporters put in complaints on sme 35,000 of them, maybe the ones they thought had the strongest case of getting through, and after more checks – all of this costing a fortune in taxpayers’ money – eventually got another 12,000 valid signatures, enough to get over the quota!

So now there will be a popular vote here in Nagoya on whether to dissolve the council, and hold another election. It looks as if the vote will succeed, and there’s a good chance that the new council will have enought sympathetic members to pass Kawamura’s motions to cut their pay by half. They’ll still get 8 million yen (~$95,000) which is enough to get by, I’d have thought…

 

Farmlog 17th October 2010 21 October, 2010

Filed under: city,countryside — johnraff @ 2:22 am
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  • A late start out of Nagoya because I took in a tap dance (!) performance in the afternoon. Came out into the last red glow of a city twilight – quite poetic with run-down showa-era bars and noodle shops, acres of neon lights taking over and lots of small bats harvesting the insects attracted to the street lights.
  • Sushi for dinner. Mackeral pickled in vinegar is good just now – in the Autumn as the sea gets colder the fish get oilier, and tastier. They used to be a real bargain at ¥100 each or so for a big fish; these days it’s more like ¥400 but still one is enough for two people.
  • Final trip out to the outhouse at 2am and the crickets are still going strong – a last fling before the cold sets in…
  • Next morning a nervous inspection of the deer net round our chillies, and this week it’s OK 🙂 Have they finally given up?
  • Picked a basketful of the hot “Ishigaki” chillies. They’ve done quite well in this year’s hot Summer although I should have planted them earlier. Growing’s not so hard, but it takes an hour or so to pick a kilo because they’re so small. Hardly a commercial proposition.
  • An endless procession of concrete mixers pass the house on their way to connect two small villages up the road with an 8-lane highway.
  • There’s something about the air on Autumn evenings that carries smells long distances so there always seems to be a hint of woodsmoke. The other day closing up Raffles I was sure I could smell the yeast of a brewery, though the local one closed up several years ago…
  • Min temp. 8°C max 23°C
 

Fast Booze 29 August, 2010

Filed under: city,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:55 am
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In contrast with the binge-drinking youth of Britain I’ve been reading about, young Japanese have been leaving beer and cars behind lately, much to the dispair of Kirin and Toyota among others. I don’t know what they’re spending their money on – the fact is they haven’t really got any money these days, with only crummy dead-end type jobs on offer when they graduate… When Japanese youngsters do go out for a drink these days it’s often sweet alco-pop things they drink, not the bitter ice-cold golden nectar that goes so well with the Summer heat here, and they’ll be drinking it in the cheapest places they can find.

Just lately there’s been an outbreak of chain establishments where everything is ¥280. Food, drinks, everything. Maybe with the yen at the ridiculous current rate of 85 or so to the US dollar that doesn’t sound too cheap to you but usually a beer is around ¥500 ( ¥550 at Raffles’ ) so ¥280 for a jug of draught beer (not happoshu ) is pretty good for a start. The food’s not disgusting either – food processing technology has been got down to a fine art – though nothing to write home about and not huge portions. With profit margins cut right down, they have to sell a lot of stuff to make the business viable so need to keep people coming in at a fast rate. The branch near us is usually pretty full, and pretty noisy.

More recently a rival has started up where everything is ¥250 – they cut their costs even further by having customers come to the counter to collect everything. The overall effect is pretty much like McDonalds, but if that’s your idea of an evening out…

Fast Booze – you saw it here first OK?

 

Bulbuls 22 July, 2010

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:58 pm
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Yesterday was a big day in our Nagoya garden, excited bulbuls flying around chirping, or screeching, at some bemused chicks. Yes, it was Nest Leaving Day. I think they’re bulbuls of some kind – a kind of scraggly-looking bird that reminds me of the starlings that used to hang around our garden in England, with a long tail and sort of curved beak, and a somewhat untuneful call. T says they’re called “hiyodori” which translates as “Brown-eared Bulbul”.

The garden in front of Raffles isn’t that big, but there’s a tree just in front of our second-floor living room window that’s grown almost as high as the house. A couple of years ago the same – well, maybe not the exact same birds, but the same kind of birds – did it the honour of building a nest just outside our window where we had a view of the construction process. They made good use of locally-available materials: twigs, leaves, discarded plastic twine, shopping bags… laid some eggs but maybe they finally decided the position was just too overlooked or something and abandoned the nest. Later that Autumn it fell out of the tree with three eggs still inside.

This year’s bulbuls had a bigger tree to work on though, and the nest they built was above the window, not below, and things seemed to go better. We tried not to be too obtrusive and the birds ( did they take turns? ) spent several weeks incubating the eggs till an excited mother bird told us they’d hatched a week or two ago. Then the hardest part must have been scouring the neighbourhood for insects to keep them fed, but suddenly yesterday the nest was empty, and the birds were being really noisy.

I wondered if they’d been got by a crow, but that night when I collected the blackboard from outside Raffles to close up, there was a dazed-looking chick clinging to it! Not knowing what to do I just left it at the bottom of the tree, but the next morning it had made its way out to the road. This was no good, so using a plastic bowl a stick and some sticky tape I made a sort of scoop and managed to drop it off back in the nest from our 2nd floor window. No, in an hour or so it was gone again, and the parent birds were flying around this creature on the ground below, trying to persuade it to fly. Didn’t seem to be working, but today that chick is gone. The bulbuls still come back to the garden, and the parents are still feeding insects to the other two, bigger, chicks, but I don’t know what happened to the little one. Hope the cats didn’t get it…

 

Queuing for Doughnuts 4 April, 2010

Filed under: city,news — johnraff @ 2:23 am
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If you live in the US you presumably know all about Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but here in Japan they’re an exotic import, like sushi over there perhaps. I’ve never tried one but apparently it’s the crispy sugar glaze over the soft doughnut inside that does it. When KK opened a shop in Tokyo they had some 500 people queued up for 5 hours on the opening day to be among the first to sample this delicacy, so when the first Nagoya branch opened the other week they were well prepared for something almost as big here (Nagoya is about a fifth the size of Tokyo).

As it turned out, they had some 900 people waiting for eight hours for their first taste of a Krispy Kreme Doughnut.

Nagoyans like to queue apparently.

 

 
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