asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

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…

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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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Kitemiteya きてみてや 29 April, 2012

Filed under: city,food & drink,places — johnraff @ 1:40 am
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This is the kind of place that Japan excels at. Just a counter with room for 6~7 people, and a bit of tatami at the back with a couple more tables. One guy, Ina-chan, runs the whole place – serving drinks (though beers from the fridge are self-service) and the snacks that are obligatory when drinking in Japan – squid with spinach, noodle salad, mackerel stewed in soy sauce… and because Ina-chan’s from near Osaka you can also get good Kansai style okonomi-yaki (the negi-yaki’s especially good) and yaki-soba which will fill you up if you’re hungry. In Britain you’re lucky to get a couple of crisps or peanuts but here you can easily have your whole evening meal down at the pub if you want. There’s a kind of fuzzy area between eating out and drinking out which I thoroughly enjoy exploring.

Here at Kitemiteya anybody’s welcome, but most of the people at the counter are regulars, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know somebody. Lately he’s taken to putting the TV on more often, to show off the shiny new wide-screen digital picture, and because he’s a Hanshin Tigers (baseball) fan, but Ina-chan’s got a music background and the sounds he puts on tend to be choice – usually some Japanese artist you’ve never heard of because they’re outside the music industry machine. Prices are really cheap too, especially the food which is generally in the ¥300~¥400 region. Add to all that the fact that it’s just a two-minute walk from where we live and you’ll see why Kitemiteya’s been our regular place for some years.

Musicians tend to drop in quite often, and the other day this guy we know brought in a friend who’d just finished playing a concert. He had this instrument case with him and asked if we’d like to hear a bit – well, sure, we said and he takes out this Mongolian horse-head fiddle thing and starts playing it. It sounds pretty good, and then he gets into this Mongolian “throat singing”. Gosh. I don’t know if you’ve heard any, but it’s very strange, a bit like playing a Jew’s harp with your voice. Till then I’d only heard it on CDs or the radio but at a distance of 1 metre it’s very impressive. I was ready for more, but it was getting late and we had to leave. I don’t know how often you’d get to hear Mongolian Throat Singing down at the local back in the UK.

When I came to Japan 36 years ago you’d be able to call Kitemiteya a typical Japanese bar, but it’s really not easy to make any sort of living doing this these days. People can no longer afford the sort of prices an owner would have to charge to make a proper living from it, and drink instead at chain pubs with food that comes out of factories. These little street-corner drinking places are becoming quite scarce, along with the local sushi-shops. Inachan just seems to get by somehow… anyway, long may he continue!

A few pics:

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Japanese Junk food 31 March, 2012

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 1:31 am
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…is coming to a street corner somewhere near you, at least if you live in Asia. Yoshinoya beef bowl, Mos Burger, conveyor-belt sushi, Coco Ichi Ban curry and who knows what other shiny flourescent-lit plastic-panelled purveyors of inedible monosodium glutamate mixtures are all planning a major invasion of nearby Asian markets to make up for the dwindling enthusiasm among Japanese consumers for their factory-produced “food”. The irony is that while here this is stuff you scarf down quickly in your lunch half-hour, holding your nose, in Shanghai and Bangkok these are stylish places where the pampered daughters of the newly rich go to show off their new Louis Vuitton handbags. Not put off by prices four or five times higher than the much tastier local food, they go for the shiny shiny decor, squeaky cleanliness, obsequious manual-trained service and the exotic taste of the Japanese take on Junk Food.

The Japanese curry apparently came originally from Britain, so I feel some responsibility for the blandness and wheat-flour gloppiness, but when it got here they threw things like soy sauce and “kombu” stock into the mix, reduced the spices and meat content still further, and made it a favourite among elementary school children (they soon move on to grilled Kobe beef and the more expensive sushi). This stuff is now selling like hot cakes in Thailand of all places! If you’ve been there, or even if you haven’t, you’ll know they’ve got great curries in Thailand, redolent with all kinds of herbs and spices and spoon-meltingly hot, but those who can afford the ridiculous prices are now eating this Japanese imitation of English curry… (sigh)

While I’m all for Japanese companies making some money, so our customers can afford to come back, it’s hard to feel happy about all this. Ah well, maybe it’ll turn out to be a fad and an Asian version of the Slow Food movement will throw out the invaders. As the owner of an Asian Food restaurant I’m probably biased, but I think there’s some of the best food in the world in Southeast Asia, and certainly hope it survives.

 

A certain style… 15 February, 2012

Filed under: people — johnraff @ 2:09 am
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A singer being interviewed on TV this afternoon. She had some hits here back in the 70’s – not bad actually, sort of light Latin-flavoured songs that she wrote herself. When it came up that she’d been living in the USA for the last 25 years, it struck me that you could see it in her face right away. She looked like a Japanese-who-lives-in-America. Something different. What was it?

Now middle-aged, she’s still nice-looking and attractive but there’s a certain hardness. Not cute. There’s no trace left of kawaii.

Take that how you will.

 

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.

 

Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:50 am
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7th~8th

  • A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
  • But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
  • This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
  • It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
  • I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
  • On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
  • Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
  • A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

13th~15th

  • We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
  • A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
  • Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
  • The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
  • Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
  • Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
  • The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
  • Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
  • Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
  • On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
  • The insect voices are slightly different every day.
  • T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
  • A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
  • Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

21st~22nd

  • Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
  • The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
  • That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
  • Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
  • Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
  • Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C

28th~29th

  • We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
  • The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
  • The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
  • Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
  • A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
  • T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
  • Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
  • Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
 

 
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