asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

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 😉 ).

 

2012! 4 January, 2012

Filed under: countryside,customs,food & drink — johnraff @ 7:15 pm
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Happy New Year everyone! There are still some things I wanted to post about in 2011, along with the farm records for November and December, but since it’s now 2011 let’s start off more or less in real time…

T’s nephew and his wife now live here in Nagoya; their new baby is still too small to make the shinkansen journey to Tokyo so T’s sister came here, along with her daughter. Not a bad family gathering, considering we have no kids of our own, and a table to match, with contributions from all concerned. New Year here is just like Christmas in that respect, though the traditional fare is a bit exotic for us Westerners maybe. Personally, a roasted bird with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding would be quite OK, but we had “kazunoko” (salted herring roe), “kamaboko” (fish cake) and “kobumaki” (seaweed rolls). The kobumaki’s not bad, but I can pass on the kazunoko and kamaboko to be honest. There wasn’t any “mochi” (pounded glutinous rice cakes, another New year favourite) but things get better after that: delicious tuna sashimi, and the super-rich “toro” as well, “ikura” salmon roe, tender grilled yellowtail, prawns simmered in a light stock, crab and mushrooms steamed in citrus peel, some Japanese style vegetables, thai style octopus salad, roast beef with horseradish, deep fried water chestnuts with parmesan cheese…  Wow, but when there was a bit of space on the table some sushi appeared, followed by something T made: “anago” eel, snapper, ginko nuts and lily roots covered with a foam of grated young turnips and egg white and steamed for 20 minutes or so. Excellent.

The next day after a slow breakfast we headed out to the country, loaded up with leftovers to see us through a couple of days. Yes, it’s pretty cold. Fire up the oil fan heater for a few hours and eventually the floor and walls are no longer ice-cold to the touch. On the third I got a certain amount of work done, disposing of compostable rubbish and pruning a maple tree just in front of the house which had grown much too big. Knowing nothing about it except to do it in the Winter I sawed off a number of big branches, and spent the next couple of hours burning them down to a little pile of ash. Now I’ve just done a google search and found out that maples don’t like having their branches cut too much… I hope it survives.

On the 4th T woke me up at 9:00. It had started snowing quite steadily and if we didn’t get out soon we might get stuck there, or at least have to put on the tyre chains, which is a horrible job. Quick breakfast, hurried packing and on the road by 10:30. It’s a cold 0°C in the hills, but back in tropical Nagoya a much more tolerable 7°C or so. Safe! (But back to work tomorrow.)

In the country, last week,
Min temp -6°C max 6°C

 

Kippers and Custard 16 November, 2011

Filed under: customs,food & drink,music — johnraff @ 2:08 pm
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It’s probably another of those “you’ve been in Japan too long when…” things when you start liking enka. Let’s face it – there’s plenty not to like. The melodies all sound the same, there are usually only two or three chords, the singers get hyper-emotional and the lyrics are mostly about broken love affairs. Still, when you think about it, all that could be said about the Blues, one of my favourite kinds of music since Clapton was reading the Beano on the cover of that John Mayall album. Enka’s another of those hybrid music forms (like reggae, rai, bhangra…), a sort of crossing of Japanese folk tunes with Western instruments, usually lots of keyboards, drums, an orchestra somewhere and a screaming lead guitar in the distance. The singers use the same kind of vocal embellishments you hear in min’yo folk, and some of them are actually quite good, once you get used to the sticky sentimentality of it all.

There’s even an American enka singer called Jero. I think his grandmother’s Japanese, but he’s a real native-English-speaking American, backwards baseball cap and everything. Really good singer though, in perfect Japanese. Now, what I’m getting to is: the other day on the car radio someone put on an enka song sung in English – not by Jero as it turned out, but by a Japanese singer. It’s on Youtube if you want a listen. It’s horrible. Doesn’t work at all. OK there might be some problems with the English translation itself, or possibly with the guy’s pronunciation, though it doesn’t sound that bad, but the basic issue is that enka just sounds wrong in English. Doesn’t work.

It’s the same with food. There are many kinds of soy sauce made all over Asia – Thai light soy and Indonesian sweet kecap manis are delicious, for example – but if you want to eat sashimi, raw fish, then nothing but Japanese soy sauce will work. It will just taste wrong dipped in anything else. Now, I have to agree that Koreans also have good raw fish, eaten with garlic and chilli paste as well as soy sauce, but if you regard that as a separate dish then my case still stands. Also for location. Now that sushi (different from sashimi btw) is popular worldwide there are “sushi restaurants” everywhere. The other week on TV there was a restaurant somewhere in Europe maybe, dark wood panelling, customer sitting at a small marble table being brought sushi on a tray by a dark-suited waiter… NO! NO! That’s ridiculous. You have to eat sushi sitting at a counter in a small place where the man who makes it is standing opposite you choosing the choicest morsels of fish from the glass case between you. Preferably while sipping sake, though beer might be grudgingly permitted.

João Gilberto once said that bossa nova had to be sung in Portuguese. Some things just don’t go.

 

Fireworks 29 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,customs — johnraff @ 2:17 pm
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Fireworks are a feature of the Japanese summer and the town nearest our country house has a display every year in mid-August. This year it happened to be a Saturday so we took an extra day off, gave ourselves a three-day weekend, and went into town for the summer festival. There are big displays in other places, which draw hundreds of thousands of people, and our local fireworks don’t compare in scale, but they’re very enjoyable. The location is a fork in the river which runs through the town centre; the fireworks are set off from a spit of land between the two branches, and you can watch from the banks, so you get quite a close-up view, while the sounds echo off the hills around. The impact is, if anything, superior to that of a monster display viewed hundreds of metres away over a sea of people. A lot of young folk come back from their city jobs for this (fewer yukatas and more short-shorts this year) but there’s room for everyone to find a place to sit down with a view and a generally relaxed atmosphere. The finale was an incredible barrage of explosions. Was there enough air left to carry all that sound?

So the fireworks were good as usual (see the slide show below) but hardly anyone stayed for the Bon-dancing afterwards. The tunes are all from another town (the famous Gujo Hachiman) anyway. We were planning on some sushi, but they were closed, so it’s “ramen” noodles. The owner of the ramen shop seems to know everyone in town. A full moon sees us home and we have a final beer outside. There’s supposed to be a meteor shower due, but we didn’t see any.

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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.

 

The end of Sumo? 4 February, 2011

Filed under: customs,news — johnraff @ 2:56 pm
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…could be. The TV news yesterday was full of revelations about what police investigating illegal gambling had found on sumo wrestlers cell phone records. Very incriminating stuff suggesting bout-fixing was rife. This comes after a series of scandals over the last couple of years – dope-smoking Russians, the Bad Boy Asashoryu from Mongolia, a baseball betting ring and a young trainee beaten to death – very serious and after the baseball thing last year NHK dropped their live broadcast for a season. This, however, could be the worst yet, in terms of the future of this quintessentially Japanese “sport”.

Is it a sport or a rite? It takes place under an awning like a shrine, and starts and finishes with a lot of ceremony indicating its probable origins. Whatever, these days it still has a lot of fans who expect not to know the outcome of a bout until it’s over, and hold their breath to see who’ll end up the champion this time. Will it be Hakoho yet again? That could be all over. Now it looks as if a lot of results could well have been arranged in advance, wht’s the point of watching? The TV companies will probably agree, and the Ministry of Culture might well cancel sumo’s status as a public body with tax exemptions…

What’s more, there was a lot of money moving around behind the scenes here: so who stood to gain from knowing the sumo results in advance? Presumably betting was going on, with unsuspecting punters being taken for a ride by yakuza, probably. It all looks a horrible mess, and really could be the end of the sport, at least for a while till they get things straightened out, if ever.

Yesterday was also Setsubun. “Out, demons out!”

 

Calendar shortage 15 December, 2010

Filed under: customs,seasons — johnraff @ 1:17 pm
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Calendars aren’t something you go out and buy – you get given them, usually by companies you have some dealing with and who’d like to have their name on your wall through the next year. Unfortunately, along with cutting “entertainment” expenses, calendar budgets have been trimmed too and there’s a nationwide calendar deficit apparently.

 

 
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