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:

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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.

 

Kyoto again 16 October, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:10 pm
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On the 14th of last April – rapidly fading into the mists of prehistory – Daihachi Ryodan made another excursion to Kyoto, this time to play at a live house called Negaposi, in the centre of town near Marutamachi station. It turned out to be a pretty good place – the acoustics are just right and the owner, who clearly loves music, has got the PA system set up nicely and mixes the sound with care. The atmosphere is friendly too, and the audience were appreciative – a good time was had by all. We’ll be playing there again in January so if you’re in the Kyoto area please drop in! There’ll be some info on the Daihachi Ryodan website as we get a bit closer.

Spending most of my time in Nagoya, I get a feeling of foreignness visiting another of Japan’s major cities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but in Kyoto you’re in Kansai and looking out of the car window something is a bit different somehow. Tokyo is different again, almost like going abroad. Of course one of the great features of Kansai culture is the food – before the gig we munch some kushi age. This is all kinds of things, battered, breadcrumbed and deep-fried. Quite tasty and even things like shrimp and steak are still only ¥80 a stick or so. (I think they make their profit on the beer, which, while not that expensive, comes in smallish mugs.) After the concert we drop in at an okonomiyaki place. It’s excellent, and inexpensive, just as we hoped. Finally crash out at about 3:00 in a business hotel, and make our leisurely way back to Nagoya the next day.

Inspired, the following week I looked up how to make okonomiyaki and was surprised to find that for the authentic taste the main ingredient should not be flour but grated yam, along with egg, shredded cabbage, dried shrimps, pickled ginger, tempura scraps etc, with just a little flour to help bind it all together. That weekend I had a go and it turned out not too bad, though obviously the professionals still have an edge…

 

The Goto Islands 15 March, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 3:13 pm
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At new year we took a 6-day trip to the Goto Islands, just off Kyushu. These are a bit off the regular tourist routes, but quite interesting historically, having been on the way in to Japan from the Asian continent, and also for the Christian population who fled there escaping persecution in the Edo era. As a result there are many churches, some of them quite beautiful, though not so old. The scenery is also stunning in places, especially the north. Anyway I’ll leave you to Google “Goto Islands” if you want to learn more, and just add a few notes from our own visit, and some photos.The ferry leaves quite early.

It’s a three-hour ferry ride from Nagasaki to the island of Fukue in the south. (The hydrofoil’s faster but more expensive.) It leaves in the morning so we fly to Nagasaki the evening before and stop at a business hotel.

It’s cold (January, remember) – don’t expect balmy sub-tropical Okinawa. We’re fairly north here and Korea’s not far away, though the Kuroshio current does warm the sea a bit. On the first of January it snowed in Fukue and there was still some on the ground in patches when we arrived on the 2nd. On the 3rd we had a bitter cold wind. Generally it was cloudy  with occasional sun which did warm things up if you were out of the wind. They get a lot of wind here. Occasional gaps in the clouds which let through dramatic rays of sun also seem a feature which fits in nicely with the Spiritual imagery. (Most visitors come in summer.)

typical dramatic lightPublic money has been spent here: there are many bridges and tunnels, and the ferry terminals are warm, spacious, shiny and super-clean. (Use the toilet there while you have the chance.) The northern Kami-Goto area has its own smart airport which now looks out of use. Still, off the nice new main roads you have these narrow twisty lanes with many hairpin bends that lead to tiny fishing villages with even narrower streets. There are buses, but you’ll probably need a car to get around so make sure you rent a little one, especially away from Fukue island. The islands are bigger than you might think. You’d need a couple of weeks to cycle around so a car is pretty much essential – rent is around ¥4500 a day.

Many shops, museums etc. are closed till 4th January – be careful travelling at new year. Fukue has seen better days. Arakawa hot spring (where we stayed two nights) obviously used to jump – there are many bars and ryokan now closed, leaving just two ryokan and two minshuku, all pretty run-down looking. It was the whaling apparently, and the fact that Arakawa was a refuge for fishing boats when the weather was bad, so the sailors would drop some of their (relatively good) pay there. This all ended some 30 years ago. Our ryokan is in an 80-year-old wooden building which is full of character but in need of repair in many places. The dinner is pretty good though, with an abundance of locally caught fish.

Many Group Homes for the elderly – there seems to be another one on every corner. At first we thought it was good service by the local government, but later heard they’re all privately run. The aging population must mean there’s a good market.clouds, sea, islands...

Moving north to Kami-Goto for three more nights – these islands are very mountainous and incredibly complicated with oddly shaped inlets and peninsulas (check Google Maps). You get amazing scenic views at every corner. It must be gorgeous – verging on breathtaking – in summer. The water is crystal clear, so you can see right down to the bottom, just like Okinawa. Somehow I like the atmosphere here in the North more than Fukue –  it seems a bit livelier.

Our minshuku here “Katayama” is in a little fishing village like dozens of others we pass on our first day, though maybe a bit scruffier than some. Old fishing nets used as fences. Katayama is at the end of a decrepid wharf but the house itself is a typical Japanese wooden farmhouse, ie rather nice, and the lady who runs the place (Mrs. Katayama?) keeps it very clean and pleasant, decorated with flowers and her own patchwork. A very friendly, positive, person who clearly takes a personal interest in her guests. Katayama's ownerShe cooks good food too, mostly based on vegetables she grows herself and fish from the port down the road. For example, dinner on Saturday night was buri teriyaki, tofu, oden with delicious daikon, carrot and home-made konnyaku, four kinds of sashimi followed by freshly made tempura then rice, pickles and soup with sea bream head. I may have forgotten something. Everything was good.

There are camelias everywhere, especially on the northern Nakadori island. The oil used to be an important local product but now apart from tourist souvenirs it seems to be mostly used in the rather special local noodles “Goto udon”. They are slimmer than standard Japanese udon noodles with a pleasant smooth texture and come in a broth made from dried flying fish, called “ago dashi”. Quite good actually.

The crime rate is obviously low. Our rented car is waiting at the ferry terminal in Nakadori, unlocked, with the key in the ignition! “Come to the office to pay any time you like” they said.The camelia flower is a recurring theme.

There really are a lot of churches here, especially in the North, often standing above a tiny village at the end of one of those twisty back roads. I think the current overall Christian population of the Goto islands is around 20%, but in some of the outlying villages it’s more like 95%, which is certainly unusual for Japan. None of the churches are much more than 100 years old, because Christianity was strictly forbidden, and very cruelly repressed, during the Edo period. Some are quite modern, but most are very simple in design, often plain white, with equally simple interiors that feel more Protestant than Catholic. Much more than when visiting temples or shrines, I feel as if I might be intruding in someone’s private space.

When we switch on the car ignition a little panel on the dashboard reads “Hello Happy” and when we open the door to get out it says “See you, good-by.”

We drive up to the top of Nakadori Island, via numerous churches, up a narrow neck of land that’s more like a submerged mountain chain, to the lookout point at Tsuwazaki, where you can look out over a stretch of sea studded with dozens more islands. I can see smoke coming from behind a hill on one of them. That evening the TV news mentioned a fire in the area…

The next day, to Hinojima, over a couple of big bridges, way over to the west. There’s a little village there, now half-deserted, with a beautiful 100-year-old school building that’s now used, if at all, for summer camps or something. With a couple of broken windows, it definitely needs some care and attention, which it won’t necessarily be getting… Just behind are a rather nice temple and shrine. The temple, Genju-in (源寿院) has a Buddha image, several hundred years old, which is only displayed every 33 years. It was originally pulled from the sea in a fishing net!! Could it have drifted over from Korea?

Dejima wharfBack in Nagasaki with a couple of hours before we have to head to the airport, we sip a glass of wine on Dejima wharf and enjoy the lights of the harbour as the day draws to an end. While it’s not exactly warm, it is (just) feasible to sit outside, which is not at all the case in Nagoya at the moment. What I like about eating in Japan – even in touristy spots like this there’s no service charge, no added tax, and no tipping. Four drinks at 500 yen each, one pizza at 1050 yen, total 3050 yen. That’s it. (Nagasaki‘s a very nice place, and well worth a visit in itself in warmer seasons.)

I took a lot of photos. You’ll soon get the somewhat grey atmosphere, but even in winter weather it was a good trip.

 

Farmlog November & December 2012 6 March, 2013

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 1:52 pm
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4th~5th

It turned pretty cold a couple of days ago, but Sunday is a beautiful autumn day with feathery clouds and vapour trails across the deep blue sky. The sun manages to bring the mid-day temperature up to 19°C in Nagoya, which isn’t bad going. Views of holy Mount Ontake magnificent in new snow.

As we get out of the car at the other end the air has a sharp bite. A flock of tits tries to cheer us up over our cup of tea. There’s just time to pick a last batch of chillies before it gets dark at 5:30 and my fingers are frozen. We won’t be coming up next week, and by the 18th the plants will probably have been killed by the frost.

We have dinner at a friend’s down the road. Almost everyone, driving or not, is drinking non-alcoholic beer, which I find deeply depressing.

Monday is cloudy and chilly, though when the sun peers through it warms things up a bit. Rain is due later. The tits are still around, and we have a brief visit from some goldcrests(?) and other small greenish-brown birds. The autumn colours are well under way, but we’ll miss the best, which will probably be next week.

Min. temp. 2°C, max. 19°C (max from last week?)


11th~12th

We stay in Nagoya. On Monday, visit Tanigumi.


18th~19th

We leave town a bit late because Saturday night at Raffles was busy. Sunday is a nice early winter’s day with an almost clear blue sky. Passing through Inuyama we pause to check out Saito Ham’s sausages and see a sign to “Jakko-in” – a Zen temple nearby famous for its maple trees, which might just now be at their peak so we decide to have a look as we’re running late anyway. About half the population of the Tokai area have decided to do the same, and the narrow road is totally jammed. We give up and escape up a side road only to happen upon a secret car park, so we stop after all and walk 5min. to Jakko-in. It is rather nice but loses out to Tanigumi maybe. (pics below)

It’s dark by the time we reach our house and it’s my turn to make dinner – Chinese-style chicken breast stir-fry with peppers, hot sour soup and tomato salad, with a simple (ie cheap) red wine from the South of France. It turns out OK.

Sunday night drops to 0°C but the chillies are just hanging on to life. I pick a few but we’ve got more-or-less all we need now. Cut some thorny citrus branches to help keep the cats off our garden in Nagoya. The mid-day sunshine is pleasantly warm but at 3:00 the sun goes behind the hill opposite and by 4:00 the BIg Chill has its teeth in us and my fingers are numb. A warm bath helps a lot, then back to Nagoya in the dark.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 15°C


25th~26th

Sunday is another beautiful day – sunny with no wind – perfect for viewing the autumn colours and plenty of people must be doing just that, as the roads are quite crowded. Once out of town, the scenery is indeed impressive with red, brown and yellow leaves against a deep blue sky with distant white mountains to set it off. However, the weather is unsettled and the radio promises rain tomorrow.

Big “daikon” radishes are in season and cheap everywhere.

There’s another mouse in the trap (last week too) and the deer (probably) have knocked down the net round the chilli plants, but the chillies have died from the frost anyway.

Wake to the sound of rain as promised, and it looks set to continue all day…

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 11°C


December 16th~17th

We’ve missed two weekends! Two weeks ago there was a private party at Raffles and last week there was just too much snow to make the trip enjoyable. What’s more, next week we’ll be busy getting ready for Xmas and the week after getting ready for our trip to the Goto Islands, so this will be our only visit in December.

It’s a beautiful Sunday with magnificent views of snowy Ontake again.

Oshogatsu stuff is starting to appear in the supermarket. T buys mochi to decorate the farmhouse.

I make “miso nabe” for dinner – it’s OK.

Monday is wet again – this seems to be a regular pattern this autumn. Cut some more cat-thorns, dispose of the organic refuse and head back to Nagoya for an evening of blues at Otis’.

Min. temp. -5°C, max. 10°C

Jakko-in Photos:

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Kongoshoji 28 February, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:44 am
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A day trip we took last September – drove down from Nagoya to Morozaki at the end of the Chita peninsula, then took the car ferry to Irago on the Atsumi peninsula, and another one from there to Toba in Mie. The sea was OK (weather semi-clouded), Toba was OK (we found a nice cheap sushi place for lunch) and from there we drove to Ise Shrine, but somehow what made the greatest impression was the temple, Kongoshoji, about half way along the Ise Skyline road, near the top of Mount Asama.

It had a very special atmosphere, a wonderful collection of Jizo statues, beautiful buildings and a forest of wooden posts… T said there was a belief that the spirits of those who had passed away returned to the woods around the temple and the posts were erected to comfort them. Some of these posts were very new, so this is still a living tradition. Somehow, I felt as if I was in South America. Anyway, some pictures:

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Tanigumi via the Tarumi line 16 November, 2012

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 2:34 pm
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A great one-day outing last weekend – we took the Tarumi line from Ogaki and got off at Tanigumi Guchi. A 10-minute bus ride away is the Buddhist temple at Tanigumi. If you stay on the Tanigumi line it winds through some amazingly picturesque scenery to the historic Usuzumi cherry tree at Tarumi, according to T who went there last spring with some of her friends, but that trip will wait for another time… Today we’re headed for the autumn colours around Tanigumi, and it turns out to be a good choice.

From Ogaki you spend the first 30 min. or so going through a plain of persimmon trees – for which Ogaki is famous – then suddenly turn a corner, cross a bridge and you’re in a narrow gorge pushing through a forest, through a short tunnel and too soon you’re at Tanigumi Guchi. I was tempted to stay on the train for the scenery coming up, but T says no, today let’s see Tanigumi. OK out of the train and immediately you’re hit by the different smell – taste – of the fresh air. There’s a local bus waiting for us – the only passengers – and soon we’re at Tanigumi.

While T is looking around one of the dozens of shops on the street up to the temple’s main gate I’m standing outside in a sort of daze, just feeling happy to be there… This, apart from T’s wonderful existence, is why I’ve been in Japan all these years I feel, and that feeling is confirmed later in the temple itself. I’m not the only one to get these vibes from Tanigumi – this lady felt similarly in 2008, and a Japanese blog I happened upon today referred to it as a “power spot”. (Power Spots are another current boom that might be worth a mention one day.) Amazingly – to me anyway – is that I’d never heard of this place before today. Plenty of others have though – the big car parks with room for rows of tour buses tell of the crowds that must have come on Sunday. The “mon zen machi” street is lined with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, even a couple of “ryokan” hotels, and lots of stalls selling those Ogaki persimmons. Anyway, this Monday is nice and peaceful with just a handful of people.

The temple is gorgeous, even without the beautiful red maples and yellow ginkgo trees. Every direction you look you’re rewarded with beauty. There’s that special Japanese blurring of the boundary between the man-made structures and the natural world outside, so every fern and vine seems to be a part of the temple. We’re distracted by a sign that says “to the inner shrine”, so set out on a hike up to what looks like sunlit hillsides just above us. It turns out to be something like a one-hour trek, about 2Km at ~30° (it feels), and the inner sanctum isn’t that spectacular, nor are there any panoramic views. Ah well – it was good exercise. Get back around dusk, in time for almost the last bus back, pausing to buy some of those persimmons and a pile of mandarin oranges.

If you live in Nagoya this trip is still a good option for this weekend – the autumn colours should be even better if anything. Just watch the train timetable – the Tarumi line trains run only once an hour or so, so you want to time your arrival at Ogaki so you don’t have to wait over an hour as we did! Here’s the Tarumi line website and timetable. The JR service from Nagoya to Ogaki is pretty fast and frequent. Even if you miss the maples, the Tarumi line looks worth checking out some day. (Here’s the Tanigumi tourist website, in Japanese.)

Some pictures:

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