asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Farmlog 11th~26th September 2011 5 November, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 3:23 pm
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It might still feel like Summer here in Nagoya on this warm November day, but this record is already going back two months, and Winter will be on us in no time. Anyway…

The first weekend (4th & 5th) we stayed in Nagoya because Daihachi Ryodan had one of our increasingly infrequent gigs, this time in a converted warehouse at a traditional sake brewery where they were putting on what turned out to be a pretty enjoyable event, with market stalls and lots of little kids running around, along with the music. People seemed to enjoy our stuff too, which is always encouraging.

The next day T and I went to a “beer garden” – a sort of Summer tradition here to hit these places, usually on the roof of a building so you get a bit of breeze, decorated with plastic lanterns and full of middle-aged ladies making sure they get their money’s worth of the all-you-can-eat deal usually on offer. It was OK, but run by the wholesale fish market and we expected better things in the food section. Of course beer is beer, and a few mugfulls of well-chilled lager always go down well in the Nagoya humidity.

11th~12th

  • A muggy Sunday, but there are already hints of the coming Autumn. The rice is yellow, many fields have already been cut and there is smoke in the air from the burnt leftovers.
  • Lots of picnickers by the river.
  • A gang of aging bikers – must all be over 50, maybe 60. You don’t hear the “bosozoku” urban bikers so much any more – the roar of dozens of unsilenced exhausts used to be a feature of Summer evenings – but these guys are different, on a tour of the countryside in a sort of Easy Rider thing. Quite quiet and completely unthreatening.
  • No typhoon damage out in Gifu, unlike Mie where number 12 hung about for days and dropped huge amounts of water. The hot chillies – habaneros and little “ishigakis” – are doing well this year, but the larger, less hot general-purpose red ones from Malaysia aren’t looking all that lively for some reason. Plenty of goya, and myoga too.
  • A nice cool evening with an insect chorus and an almost full moon (the “chu shu no meigetsu”) intermittently visible.
  • A beautiful fresh Monday morning gradually warms up as the day moves on.
  • Monday evening is equally beautiful – a magnificent harvest moon sees us home, accompanied by crickets.
  • Min temp 11°C max 30°C

18th~19th

  • Two typhoons bringing up the usual massive amounts of warm moist air from the South… with the usual result of sweaty sticky humidity up here.
  • In the supermarket car-park the sun hits you like a hammer. Lettuces are ¥298 each! (over $3) All vegetables are expensive in fact – could it be because of the rain?
  • Listening to wonderful Ghanaian Highlife music in the car, I suddenly realise what a privilege it is to be able to enjoy this, which was made by people in another continent, maybe more than 30 years ago.
  • Have an early night for once and get up at 8 am to be rewarded with a perfect clear morning. Later it clouded over with more of that humid heat we’ve long come to know and love.
  • A bumper habanero harvest. A small brown snake among the plants. There’s only one poisonous species here, and that wasn’t it.
  • A thunder shower about 3 pm.
  • On the way home the “higanbana” are out – right on time as usual.
  • Min temp 19°C max 28°C

25th~26th

  • Beautiful Sunday morning, although it clouded over a bit later. Typhoon 15 blew away the Summer and suddenly it’s cool. What a difference a week makes! From sweltering to shivering in a few days. Last Sunday evening a T-shirt was comfortable, but now outside with a long-sleeved shirt and pullover (sweater to you Americans) I was still huddling near the fire.
  • There are still a few goya left, but we’re coming to the end of the season. There are lots more habaneros – with any luck the chillies will hold out through October and give us some kind of harvest.
  • A visit from the local builder. We want our rotten tatami matting replaced with a wooden floor. Tatami’s very ethnic and cool, but ours was way too old, and full of mould and biting insects. They cost more than 10,000 yen each, and in this house which is only opened up for two days a week new ones would soon go mouldy again, so we figured wood would just be more pleasant. A lot of the supporting timbers under the floor are in bad shape too so a fair amount of work is involved.
  • The max. and min. thermometer is broken: the min. marker falls back to the mercury. I’ll try just laying it on its side.
  • Min temp ~15°C (guess) max 25°C

 

Cold Sake 7 June, 2011

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

 

 

Body chemistry or something 20 April, 2011

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

 

Sushi for Christmas 10 January, 2011

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

 

Summer 22 September, 2010

Filed under: customs,seasons — johnraff @ 2:14 pm
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Finally it’s over – sort of. That sultry sticky sweltering sweaty squishy soggy humidity has dropped way down as the dry Autumn air from the continent takes over. Although we’re going over 30°C today and you wouldn’t call it cool exactly, the mornings and evenings are really pleasant and there’s a nice breeze even now, at 2 in the afternoon. It’s been a record-breaking long hot Summer this year – more than 500 people are reported to have died from heatstroke and the electricity companies are expecting to make record profits from all the carbon they burnt to keep our air conditioners running. (How are we going to escape this situation where the only way to make life tolerable is to contribute to making it worse? I’m reminded of the old, old Kevin Ayers song “Why are we sleeping?“) A lot of my friends teach at universities, get long Summer vacations and head right out of here for the month of August. Conversely, for old friends in Europe, August is the obvious holiday season and that is when they want to come over here to visit. I try to talk them out of it, explaining that they’ll likely find the heat intolerable, but they don’t really get it …till they arrive.

Even so, Summer in Japan is a special time. For a month or two we share the same air mass as Southeast Asia (apparently Hong Kong has Japan beaten for humidity) and it’s as if the whole country has taken off southwards. You don’t need more clothes than a T-shirt and pair of shorts, and even when working there’s a sort of holiday atmosphere. (I guess the suit-wearing salarymen might see it a bit differently…) The kids are all off school and along with the cicadas the heavy air carries the sounds of High School Baseball from a thousand open windows. And the evenings can be magical. The warmth just envelops you so that there’s no distinction between indoors and outdoors. Just take a walk around your neighbourhood, follow the smoke pouring out of a local yakitoriya for an ice-cold beer and some grilled chicken, or maybe even head to a beer garden… These are a different story really – while eating outside, maybe on the roof of a tall building, has an appeal, you’re usually obliged to go along with some kind of “all you can eat and drink” sort of deal, usually with a time limit. The foods not that great, there are hundreds of people and the effect is a bit like feeding time at the zoo.

Much better are the Summer festivals, especially out in the countryside. There’s dancing, more of that indispensible ice-cold beer and young people come back from the cities to revisit relatives. The young girls look really cute in their Summer kimonos and there are quite often fireworks too. Japanese fireworks are some of the best in the world, and the big displays draw millions of people. All this is really based on the “Obon” festival, when the spirits of dead ancestors return to their families and have to be entertained with Bon odori – traditional dancing. Fires are lit to help them find their way home, and later to send them off again. ( Could that be where the fireworks come from? )

This is also the time for ghost stories – some say it’s because they give you a delicious chill, but maybe it’s just that Obon connection again. There are some real ghosts too. Among the spirits who return for consolation are the nearly three million who died in World War 2. The anniversaries of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Pacific war come in quick succession at the beginning of August, and the ringing of temple bells joins the cicadas and baseball.

So it’s not all festivals and fun, and the Autumn just coming can be really beautiful, as can Spring, but I’d still say Summer is my favourite season.

 

Fast Booze 29 August, 2010

Filed under: city,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:55 am
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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 4th April 2010 7 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:43 pm
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  • This time the sakura were out in force. Every year it’s a surprise to see just how many cherry trees there are hiding around the country – both in gardens and growing wild in the mountains – waiting for their few days of glory. Everywhere you look it’s sakura, sakura, most of them in full bloom!
  • We stopped off in our usual supermarket and picked up a bottle of their house wine – a white made from the Chardonnay grape (imported juice I think) so might not be too bad, though you can get a fair Chilean white for the same price of ¥498. It turned out to be awful. Just not nice to drink at all. Even at this low price you can do much better with a something from Chile, Spain or Italy. I’m amazed they expect people to buy that stuff.
  • Spent an hour or so taking down the barbed wire round the chilli field. It wasn’t doing any good at all – just getting in my way, and tangling up in the net that turned out to be the only thing that would keep the deer out.
  • On the way back to Nagoya we took a different route, and saw even more sakura…
  • Coming into Nagoya at dusk, a lone bat flying around a crossroads. In the summer there’ll be lots of them – small creatures about the size of sparrows, picking up the insects drawn to the traffic lights.

Min temp -2°C. max 15°C

Cherry blossom in the Japanese countryside.

Riverbanks seem to be a popular place to plant cherries.

 

 
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