Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Body chemistry or something 20 April, 2011

Filed under: food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:54 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve just got back from three weeks in the UK. It’s the place where I was born and grew up and I love it; the buildings that were intended – in contrast with earthquake-prone Japan – to last for years and years, the green green grass everywhere even in winter, the TV, the humour, the relaxed mixture of cultures you now enjoy, the warm beer, and, yes, even the food.

All that said, I’ve now been living in Japan for 35 years – more than half my life – and my body must have adapted in some way. Maybe it’s the air, maybe the water: I don’t know but this morning my breakfast – the same fruit + yogurt + muesli + pot of tea I was having while in Britain – just tasted so good.


Farmlog 1st January ~ 21st February 2011 24 February, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:27 am
Tags: , , , , ,

1st ~ 5th January

  • A cold start to the year, with dire weather forecasts of blizzards that made us put off for a day our departure for a little New Year break in the country. The 1st of January was cold enought to be sure, but it didn’t snow so we made it out OK.
  • Arrived to find the deer had broken down the fence round our vegetable field again, and left droppings everywhere, though there’s nothing left there for them to eat. I didn’t bother fixing the fence this time.
  • A cute little field mouse had been caught in our trap. I hate using that, but we really don’t want these creatures running round our kitchen.
  • Didn’t see any rabbits though. Are they all away on official engagements? 2011 is their year.
  • Anyway we’ve been having a cold spell since Christmas, with clear starry nights when what little warmth you pick up in the daytime soon evaporates off. Time to sit in the kotatsu, eat mikan and watch TV – except that there’s no TV out here so it’s the radio instead, with reports of 40Km traffic jams everywhere. Chuckle and peel another mikan.
  • Managed to get in a bit of tree pruning – the tea bushes have to be clipped or they grow into big trees, taller than me. Spending a couple of hours in some repetitious physical work, the brain is left to its own devices, and tends to reel off some music from the past. This time it started with Sgt. Pepper, which wasn’t so bad, but Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds led into something called Judy in Disguise with Glasses by John Fred and his Playboy Band. Hmm… Remember that?
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 10°C

23rd ~ 24th January

  • We missed last week because of the snow, which did come eventually and made it not really worth the effort of driving out. It’s now largely melted, but it’s still quite cold enough, thank you.
  • Still, Sunday was nice and sunny and the speed police were enjoying a day’s fine-gathering. We passed three different people who’d been caught.
  • Another mouse in the ChuToruMan.
  • That evening we had yose-nabe – “leftovers pot”? Nabe is always good on a cold winter evening anyway, and we also had one of my favourite salads – sashimi tuna with avocado, in a soy sauce and wasabi dressing.
  • Unfortunately I could hardly taste it because of a nasty cold. All January has been cold and dry – perfect for viruses apparently – and there’s a lot of influenza around so I should be glad to get off with a cold I suppose.
  • There were more fresh deer droppings on the snow, then on Monday afternoon more snow. We got out of there and headed back to the city.
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 4°C

6th ~ 7th February

  • It’s milder this week, but cloudy, and the snow is half-melted. Sometimes a big chunk suddenly falls off the roof. Further north, where they get several metres of snow at a time, this is serious, and people have already been killed by snow falling off their roofs.
  • The well is almost empty – it hasn’t rained much lately – and after filling up the bath the taps start to make spluttering sounds as the pump gets air mixed in.
  • Nabe again – no complaints there, and this time it’s crab. “Watari gani” would be blue swimmer crabs I suppose? Anyway I think it’s one of the tastiest crabs – fiddly to eat with not all that much meat, but excellent crab flavour for stewpots and curries. Crab curry’s pretty good! Mackeral sashimi along with our nabe, also good. Mackeral’s not the first fish that springs to mind for sashimi but in the Autumn and Winter it’s oily and tasty. Often pickled in vinegar like pickled herring – that’s good too. The only thing to watch is the most expensive fresh-caught variety, which can have a nasty parasitic worm in it. Squid get them too. Freezing kills the worm, so the cheaper frozen fish is a better bet here. Raffles standard white wine (from Chilli) went well with all this.
  • No mice in the trap this week, but plenty of deer footprints and droppings, and a big hole which must have been dug by wild boar. Shouldn’t they be hibernating now?
  • Min. temp. -7°C max. 7°C

13th ~ 14th February

  • More Winter. Just cold.
  • No deer this week.
  • Sat in the kotatsu getting the papers ready for our yearly tax return. The tax man has no terror for us, as we aren’t making any money to tax…
  • More snow on Monday, but the days are getting longer – Spring won’t be long.
  • Min. temp. -4°C max. 7°C

20th ~ 21st February

  • Sunday is quite mild, but strangely hazy. It must be very high cloud because we could still see big distant snow-covered mountains in several directions from each bridge we crossed, including Mount Ontake.
  • In the supermarket on the way, everything is going up – vegetables especially.
  • Round the corner after the fish and meat sections is a whole shelf of different kinds of natto, then a kimchee area. I can eat, and enjoy, almost any food (had half a sheep’s head, including the eyeball, while waiting for a bus in Turkey) but natto is one of the few things I don’t relish. It’s soy beans which, after cooking, have been wrapped in straw and left to go all slimy and disgusting. Very good for you apparently. The other day on TV they were showing an Inuit delecacy of baby seagulls which had been left to rot (sorry, ferment) in a pit for a few months. I might pass on that too, in case you were planning to invite me for dinner. Also those big Witchety Grubs they eat in Australia. Leaving such things aside, I’ll enjoy any variety of raw sea creatures or whatever else turns up on a table in Japan. Except natto.
  • Kimchee on the other hand is great. This is a Korean import: Chinese Cabbage fermented with chilli powder, garlic, chives, carrot, apple, some kind of fishy flavour… It’s much better than it sounds.
  • A few years ago there was a little boom for tempe. That’s maybe Indonesia’s answer to natto, but much nicer. It’s also fermented by a mould, but it’s firm and dry – not slimy at all. Good fried with chillies and Indonesian sweet soy sauce. For a while you could buy it anywhere, but there’s no sign of it now.
  • After a coffee there was time for a little pottering around outside before it got dark at six. (The days are getting longer!) Finally fixed that deer net, and burnt some old papers.
  • Although there’s still a chilly wind, Monday was nice and sunny and I clipped some more tea bushes. There are still quite a few left though.
  • Min. temp.-5°C max. 12°C

Sushi for Christmas 10 January, 2011

Filed under: city,food & drink — johnraff @ 7:29 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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!


Fast Booze 29 August, 2010

Filed under: city,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:55 am
Tags: , , , ,

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?


Farmlog 10th May 2010 10 July, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 12:01 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday was one of those soft hazy Spring days as we set off out of town, stopping off at the bank to make sure there was enough in the account to pay next week’s bills. Just as I came out, there was a loud bang and something flew over our car onto the pavement. There are people who just throw empty coffee cans, or lit cigarettes, out of their car windows, but when I had a better look it turned out to be our offside door mirror! A passing car had ripped it right off. I had no time to see which car it was, let alone get the number, and T hardly knew what had happened. Sitting in the driving seat it must have been quite a noise, and we can only be thankful she didn’t have her elbow out of the window at the time…

A detour to the nearest police station to report the incident; there’s no hope of catching the idiots who did it and making them pay for a new mirror – $500!. On our way a good hour late. What a relief to enter the parallel universe in the hills and check out this week’s bird sounds. Every week there seem to be a couple of new ones. There had been a bit of rain and more bamboo shoots coming up – I wonder what the wild boar have been up to this year? They don’t seem to have been round our way at all, or there’d be a mess of ripped-up bamboo everywhere. They love that stuff, but so do we, and we’ve done OK for bamboo shoot this year.

That evening it was still to cold to eat outside, so we had sansai tempura in the kotatsu. Dinner under the stars is a treat yet to come, but soon! The insects aren’t in biting mood just yet, but I saw the first leech! Ugh.

Min temp 6°C, max 21°C


Farmlog 12th April 2010 28 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

On our way out of town on Sunday, listening to the radio – this time a discussion of Japanese food. No, not some exquisitely refined product of Kyoto culture, nor the raw contents of a trawler net off Madagascar… but the kind of thing most Japanese eat most of the time: teishoku, yakitori, okonomiyaki… Which sauce is best with pork cutlet, whether you get free raw cabbage with it or not… there are big regional variations here, and a general East/West split, with the dividing line coming right through us, in Nagoya. It’s a bit as if the fish and chips in Blackpool and Brighton were made differently. (Maybe they are.) Japanese Low Cuisine is not bad at all in fact. Another thing that came up was the different attitudes of men and women to eating out. Apparently women want something quite different from the everyday – an Exotic Experience with unexpected flavours, decor and bgm, while men are more looking for an extension of their normal mealtime – just a bit more delicious than usual maybe. This would certainly account for why our South-east Asian restaurant has more female customers. It’s OK, but sometimes they seem to want a place to talk more than anything else; men order more food and drink in a shorter time, which makes better business sense, so maybe we need to be a bit less exotic…

On the way back to Nagoya we stopped off at a Brazilian shop in Kani to buy some beef. Early in the 20th century there was a lot of Japanese emmigration to South America, especially to Brazil and Peru, and when Japan’s economy took off in the 80’s the only “guest workers” allowed in in any numbers were those who could show some Japanese ancestry, so a lot of second and third generation Japanese-Brazilians arrived to work mostly in factories – the usual gastarbeiter sort of deal. Kani city has one of the biggest Brazilian populations in the country, and though the way things are now a lot have decided they’d be better off back in Brazil there are still a lot of shops run mostly by and for Brazilian immigrants. We drop in sometimes because for some reason the beef is cheaper and better than in the Japanese supermarkets – maybe they’ve found a crack in space-time that links back to Brazil somewhere. They seem amused that I don’t speak Portuguese despite my European appearance and we have to use Japanese as our lingua franca. Fair enough – this is Japan after all.

And what about the farm?

OK min. temp. 1°C, max 19°C


Beef Wars 9 April, 2010

Filed under: food & drink,news — johnraff @ 10:44 am
Tags: , , , ,

In the paper and on the radio yesterday, now on TV today: the “beef bowl” chain Yoshinoya have cut their main standard bowl from ¥380 to ¥270 for a limited period, and the two other big chains, Matsuya and Sukiya, are taking it down to ¥250. ( All these “something-ya”… “ya” means “shop”, also in Nagoya. ) Cooked beef on rice is qite tasty really, much better than a Mac in my humble opinion, and was already quite cheap anyway.

Yoshinoya has been around for years – I would drop in sometimes after drinking beer till 3:00 back in the days… (They’re open all night.) The other two are newer, but I wonder if there’ll be a limit on how low prices can go around here?

We’ve got deflation, folks.


Farmlog 8th March 2010 20 March, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 2:19 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Another cold, windy and cloudy weekend. Sunday evening we had “kasu jiru” – a warming stew, based on “saka gasu” which is what you have left over after fermenting rice and squeezing out the sake. I wonder if Marmite is something similar from yeast after making beer? Anyway the brewery whose sake we stock in Raffles, Takagi Shuzo, also sell sakagasu and it’s better than what you’d buy in the supermarket – comes in a firm but pliable lump and apart from using it in soups and stews you can make a sort of sweet dessert or flatten it out a bit, grill it and nibble it with sake (or beer, but maybe not wine?). I think it would go with cheese too but haven’t tried that yet. Kasu Jiru’s pretty good – apart from the sakagasu base, you put in chunks of salmon, carrot, leeks, “konnyaku”, soy sauce… a very nice winter dish.

A bit nearer Nagoya the “ume” (plum?) blossoms are out already, but up here our trees only have one or two so far. One year our ume were so late they came out together with the cherry blossom, which is usually several weeks later. Even so, Spring is on its way, sort of.

Finished digging up the chilli field, which I should have done last Autumn of course, so the frost could break up the soil and kill the pests. Now it’s time to put the indoor greenhouse together in Nagoya so I can plant the seeds. Chillis need 25°C or so to germinate, which they wouldn’t get till the end of April normally, so to give them a long enough growing season they need some artificial heat to get them started.

Min temp -0.5°C, max 16°C (!)


Farmlog 21st February 2010 1 March, 2010

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 4:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
  • When Spring comes the air will get hazy, but although it’s warmed up nicely, it’s still clear and we had more beautiful views of snowy mountains on the way out from Nagoya.
  • In the Summer the farmers’ stalls will be full of fresh vegetables, all for ¥100 a bag. Maybe the cucumbers aren’t of the regulation shape the supermarket buyers demand, but everything’s been picked that morning. Right now, however, there’s not all that much on offer – some dried “shiitake” mushrooms, and some greens called “wasabina” because they’re a little bit hot, like wasabi, or Japanese Horseradish. They can be stir-fried, but are also good in a salad, especially with beef.
  • That evening there was a sudden sort of thump, as if someone had hit the house from below, just once. An earthquake? Usually a bump is followed by some kind of shaking, but not this time…
  • Digging can be a kind of meditation maybe.
  • Next week we stay in Nagoya because there’s a Daihachi Ryodan concert, so maybe next time we come it’ll be Spring…

Min temp-3°C, max 8.5°C


Whale Meat Again 20 January, 2010

Filed under: food & drink,news,politics — johnraff @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

The whaling season got off to a good start with a collision between the Japanese ship and the Sea Shepherd hi-tech speedboat that sank the pirates. The Japanese media refer to the protesters as something like terrorists, and can’t seem to understand why the Australians, and most of the rest of the world, should have any objection to this lawful “research” culling of several hundred whales every year.

On paper they’re right of course, but the ironical thing is that most Japanese people wouldn’t care at all if they never ate whalemeat again. Many have probably never tried it, and it’s certainly not a prized delicacy like “toro” tuna belly for example. Whalemeat is more like what it was in Britain: something people had to eat when times were hard just after the war. There seems to be a mountain of the stuff in a big freezer somewhere which they’re doing their best to sell off with TV advertising. You still don’t see it in the supermarket though, or anywhere else for that matter.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why don’t they just quietly pack it in? The only thing I can think of is just plain stubbornness – noone like to be ordered around and the Japanese are no exception. The more they’re told to stop the more they’ll carry on… unless there’s some hidden vested interest here which I’m not aware of…


%d bloggers like this: