Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Cold Sake 7 June, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink,incidents — johnraff @ 1:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This is probably one for the “kids, don’t try this at home” department.

While beer and I have had a long, and generally happy, relationship and I’ve made other friends like wine, awamori and shochu more recently, the Japanese national drink Sake and I don’t get on, at least not cold. Sake can be quite a nice drink to sip warmed up on a cold winter evening, preferably with some traditional Japanese food – some seafood maybe, which is also good when the seawater’s cold. However, take my word for it, Cold Sake is something to be very cautious with. The alcohol in the warmed-up variety seems to enter your bloodstream quickly so you soon feel the effects and can regulate your intake accordingly. When it’s cold though, it’s easy for a beer-drinker like me to just keep glugging it down till it’s too late to ward off the extreme drunkenness to follow. I’ve only drunk cold sake in any quantity three times or so, and each occasion has been one much to regret…

This particular incident happened a year ago at about this time but for whatever reason my notes stayed somewhere in the computer and never got written up. Maybe it was just too embarrassing…

“taruzake” is sake that’s been kept in a cedar barrel so the aroma of the wood permeates it. The effect is something like Greek “retsina” wine, though not as fiercely resinous, – quite nice in fact. We were given a “sho” (1.8 litres) of it at T’s nephew’s wedding the other week, and arranged to take it round to Yamada san’s so he could help us drink it. Yamada san lives just down the road from our country place, where he deals in timber. Business hasn’t been too good in recent years and he does a bit of forestry work for the local co-operative to boost his income a bit. In fact young people aren’t interested in that kind of work, so with little competition the money’s not that bad, he says. We suggested he try selling his timber via the internet, as there ought to be a market with people who still want to build traditional Japanese houses, but he says he’d rather be outside listening to the wind than typing at a keyboard. Fair enough.

We found him in the little room attached to his timber yard where he usually passes weekend evenings with friends and a beer or two. A wood stove keeps the place nice and warm all year round with timber offcuts and the like. Yes, even in the hot Japanese Summer! He says the cast iron would rust if it wasn’t kept hot all the time, but he certainly had that room a bit warmer than I would have. Ah well, the conversation flowed and the sake was quite nice in fact. After a while I felt like cooling off a bit and went to sit in an old office chair just outside the door. I must have fallen asleep at that point, because most of what followed I had to learn from T afterwards…

Apparently I fell off the chair and caught my elbow on something, so got quite a nasty gash on it. Yamada san poured some “shochu” on so the alcohol would disinfect the wound. It must have worked, because in a week or so it was well on the way to healing up. I had no idea of any of this at the time though – all I remember is suddenly being very DRUNK, much drunker than I wanted to be, and not happy at all.

T got me home somehow, and the next day I learned where the blood on my pillow and sheets had come from. Ah well it could have been worse – the hangover wasn’t as bad as I deserved, and my elbow got no nasty infection – even so, the evening could have been much more enjoyable than it turned out to be.

The other times? Don’t even ask. My other encounters with Cold Sake were worse than this…



More stories 26 March, 2011

Filed under: incidents,news — johnraff @ 2:55 am
Tags: , , , ,

It’s already two weeks now and the world media’s attention has moved on, to Libya, Bahrain… but stories are still coming out of the earthquake tragedy. Every day the totals of confirmed dead and missing both go up, and it looks as if we’ll be passing 30,000 soon. Whole families have been wiped out, with no-one left to report the loss, so it will take a long time to get the full figures. By comparison, while close to 20,000 people are now being searched for, at this same time after the Kobe earthquake the figure was about 55.

So three stories that were on the radio and TV here, out of the thousands there must be. The saddest one first.

A small town built a brand new evacuation centre about two years ago, at a cost of some 5 million dollars. A two-storey building on an elevated site that would survive a substantial tsunami. Local people were trained to head there in the event of an earthquake, with regular drills, so that when the 3/11 quake hit everyone knew what to do. Before the tsunami arrived they had taken shelter on the second floor. The wave was 10 metres high, swamped the building and all 60 of the mostly elderly people there were killed. Only one younger person survived by clinging to a curtain rail.

At another town, the designated refuge for the children at the elementary and middle schools was an old peoples’ home. The middle school children had been taught to collect the little kids from the elementary school and help them escape, which they did indeed do perfectly. However, someone in the group thought the old peoples’ home didn’t look high enough to escape the wave, which was already only a couple of minutes away, and at the last moment decided to take everyone to an even higher spot. The old peoples’ home was overwhelmed, but the children survived.

Now I’m not trying to draw an “authorities are worthless” sort of moral here. They did the best they could, but people are fallible and no-one expected a tsunami of the size that hit the Tohoku region this time. Well over 10 metres in many places. Can you imagine it? Well, you’ve probably had some help from the videos on You-Tube, but it’s still hard to take in.

The last story is of a 16 year old boy and his grandmother, who were found in the ruins of a house some ten days after the earthquake. They had been in the kitchen on the second floor. The room was bent out of shape, but was still a space in which they could survive, taking things out of the fridge in the next room. However, there was no way out, until the boy was finally able to break a hole in the wall, climb onto what used to be the roof and call for help. The day after the quake he had called his parents with his cellphone and they had come to search for the two of them, but the house had been moved a hundred metres by the tsunami, smashed into fragments and mixed in with the wreckage of the neighbours’ houses so they were unable to find it. Both of them are OK.


Story 18 March, 2011

Filed under: incidents — johnraff @ 7:29 pm
Tags: , , , ,

You always get Heartwarming Stories after something like this, but anyway this is what I heard on the radio today. A boy of 8 or 9 or so was queueing up in a supermarket in Tokyo, maybe, carrying bags of potato crisps, sweets and snacks. He finally got to the cash register, muttered “やっぱり、やめる” (“I’ve changed my mind”) and took everything back to the shelves. Then he took the ¥1000 note he had out of his pocket and put it in the collection box. The adults around looked sort of embarrassed.


Earthquake! 12 March, 2011

Filed under: incidents,news — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

That was a big one.

The biggest since they started keeping records some time in the Meiji era in fact. The first we knew of it was when the radio made that beeping noise that means an earhquake warning. They brought this system in a couple of years ago – it picks up the P-waves that arrive first and gives you a few seconds to get under a desk before the slower, but more destructive, S-waves arrive. However they said it was coming to the north of the country so here in Nagoya we didn’t worry too much. Maybe half a minute later the people in the Tokyo studio started to talk about being severely shaken, you could hear shouting in the background, and the sound was getting a bit fractured. Still nothing in Nagoya, though.

It took about a minute for the waves to reach us – long, slow, swaying too and fro, like being on the deck of a ship. A feeling that makes you doubt your senses – solid ground is not supposed to move like that. I don’t usually get seasick, but after what seemed like ten minutes (probably less) of this both T and I were feeling a bit queasy with landsickness. Eventually it came to an end. “Is it over?” You can’t be really sure if the ground has stopped moving or not. Thankfully, no damage had been done to our 2-storey building, or anywhere in Nagoya. Those slow waves can be very destructive to high-rise buildings apparently, but in this case most of the damage was done by the tsunamis which followed shortly after, in the Tohoku region mostly.

There have been several smaller earthquakes lately and I think people now take tsunami warnings somewhat seriously, so most of the inhabitants of the towns and villages that got wiped out had managed to get away to higher ground. At the moment they’re talking about maybe 1,500 people killed or missing which, while high of course, still seems small in the context of the devastation which took place. (Have a look round YouTube.) Tsunamis are still being recorded now, a day later, and the latest news is of molten caesium leaking from a nuclear power station…

Thankfully, everything’s OK here, but they have a lot of clearing up to do in the north of the country.


Questions 26 October, 2010

Filed under: incidents — johnraff @ 1:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s quite natural to be curious about visitors from other countries – when I was in India many years ago people would often strike up a conversation and ask where I was from, what my religion was… Generally enjoyable, and if their English was up to it I’d be able to get in some questions of my own. The inquisitorial approach reached a peak one day on a local train in South India when some high school (or university?) students were in the same compartment, curious about me but couldn’t figure out how to ask what they wanted to know. Discussions followed, and eventually I was given a piece of paper with… a form to fill in! Name… Occupation… Address… I suppose they’d seen foreigners being made to fill in forms everywhere and thought that was the proper procedure.

So when I got to Japan and a young salary man came up on a train and asked if he could talk for a while I was really disappointed when after the standard “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” had been answered it was “Thank you very much.” and off he went! No actual conversation at all, just some questions he had learnt somewhere. I don’t know if he even understood my answers. I soon came to recognize this as a pretty normal encounter. These days many peoples’ English ability – and, I like to think, my Japanese – is quite up to a real exchange of ideas, but that kind of formalized interaction is still the norm I suppose.

A young student came into Raffles the other day, and because the place was pretty quiet at the time we got chatting. Turned out he’d spent 3 months in Manchester and because his English was pretty good we switched languages. Then comes “May I ask you a question?”. Expected “Can you use chopsticks?” or something but got “What is the purpose of your life?”.


A story 23 October, 2010

Filed under: incidents — johnraff @ 2:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

An old friend K was in Raffles the other day, and told us this story about a friend of hers. It dates back to 1976 (about the time I got here) but it’s true, and so ridiculous I thought I’d pass it on.

OK, K’s friend – let’s call her Jill – got back to her apartment somewhat late after a few drinks with friends; it’s a Japanese-style wooden apartment with rickety doors and primitive locks, as was the norm then. Gets into her futon, and…, and…, there’s this guy in it!! Of course she freaks out and starts screaming, like “What the f@$k’s going on!! Who are you?!! What are you doing in my futon?! Get the f&#k out of here!!” and presumably other stuff on similar lines…

So, the guy’s answer: “Speak more slowly please”.


Farmlog 5th September 2010 10 September, 2010

Filed under: countryside,incidents — johnraff @ 2:23 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
  • The Heat Goes On. This is a long, hot, sticky, sweaty, sweltering Summer and the weather forecast people say we’re good for another week of it at least.
  • The chilli plants enjoy heat though, and seem to be doing well although there’s been no rain for two weeks. The field they’re in this year is close to the stream that runs in front of our house, and you only have to dig down a metre or so to hit groundwater, so their roots seem to be finding water OK. Lots of hot sun makes the chillies hot too – the habaneros might be dangerous this year…
  • You sometimes hear strange voices out here at night. About a month ago, T was already asleep and I was just paying a last visit to our outside toilet when I heard a single squawk/squeal/scream from the other side of the road. Just one, like a banshee trying her voice out, but loud enough to echo round our small valley. I didn’t like it much, but there was no more, so I went to bed. The deer’s scream in the mating season in Autumn can be eerie too, but usually lasts a bit longer. Then this Sunday earlier in the evening, again alone because T was in the bath, there was a strange hissy growling sort of sound, again from the other side of the road. Went out to the road and realized it was echoing from the slope and the real sound seemed to be behind the house. Sort of like a very large angry cat, or anextremely large snake or something. Again, loud enough to echo from the hills… Went in to grab a torch and see if I could find anything but by then it had stopped. The next day there were no suspicious droppings or clawmarks so I’ve no idea what it was.
  • Min temp 20°C max 35°C
  • A quick bath before heading back to Nagoya, and came out to dry off when there was a stabbing pain in my foot. Looked down to see a big centipede scuttling off to hide in my clothes. The pain gets worse and worse, and insect bit ointment has no effect at all. Meanwhile I need to get dressed, but my shorts still seem to have that centipede in, and there’s no easy way for it out of that little dressing room, so picked them up with a big pair of tongs and took them outside. Hung on a clothesline, beaten with the tongs (shorts that is) and then, get this, T puts her hand in the pockets to check there’s no centipede in there… No, she didn’t get bitten (she wouldn’t have liked it at all) and reported the shorts centipede-free. I was still in something approaching agony and had no intention of checking what a second bite might be like, so had a careful look myself. While I was doing that the thing fell out onto the road, so it was in there somewhere! I shudder to imagine if T had found it, and I’d just rather not imagine putting those shorts on with the centipede still inside… We called in at a local doctor’s on our way back to Nagoya and got an injection and some painkillers. All the way back to town my foot hurt, but after a few beers that evening the pain had subsided enough that I could sleep. The next day it was fine. 🙂 Just try not to get bitten by a centipede, especially the big ones with black bodies and red legs.

Farmlog 29th August 2010 31 August, 2010

Filed under: countryside,incidents — johnraff @ 2:24 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
  • This heat is getting to people. Tempers are getting short. We stopped off at the bank again on the way out because it’s a handy location and saves making a special trip. While I was inside there was an angry car horn – I looked out to see a car pulling out of the sideroad that ours was partially blocking. This guy had smashed our door mirror and snatched the ignition key. Found the key on the pavement but T was a bit upset as you can imagine. No, she shouldn’t have parked like that, and if the radio had been turned down a bit she’d have heard the horn, but still… It was a middle-aged guy apparently, not the young idiot you’d imagine. Maybe that bank just has bad karma, for our mirror anyway.
  • It’s starting to look like Autumn. The angle of the sun is getting longer, and the insect chorus is getting more and more colourful. Different crickets and grasshoppers join in as the day moves from afternoon to evening. There’s a bit of a breeze sometimes, and at night it was almost cool. That doesn’t stop the daytime from being swelteringly hot though.
  • Drove back on Monday on a beautiful late Summer afternoon, with hordes of little red dragonflies flying over the ricefields where the harvest is just starting to be taken in.
  • min temp 19°C max 32°C

%d bloggers like this: