Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

A Panda is Born 10 July, 2012

Filed under: news — johnraff @ 2:15 pm
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“We interrupt this programme”, they said the other afternoon, as I was listening to the radio in Raffles’ kitchen, “to bring you a news bulletin.” The Important News was that a baby panda had been born in Ueno Zoo. The next day the street in front of the zoo was full of TV cameras, and since then there have been queues of people lining up in case they might get a glimpse of the 100 gramme scrap of panda-flesh being nursed by its mother. The talk is of a boost to the economy of over 100 million dollars as sales of Panda Goods take off. Panda cakes, panda bread, panda knickknacks…

OK it’s somewhat unusual for pandas to be born in captivity so no doubt the people at Ueno were feeling pleased with themselves but it does all seem a bit over the top. The pandas all belong to China anyway. I doubt they’d make this much fuss if a new member of the Imperial Household was born. A plot to take people’s minds off the less interesting things that are being foisted on them by the establishment? …sigh…


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.


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…



A story 23 October, 2010

Filed under: incidents — johnraff @ 2:38 pm
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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 29th August 2010 31 August, 2010

Filed under: countryside,incidents — johnraff @ 2:24 pm
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  • 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

Farmlog 10th May 2010 10 July, 2010

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


Queuing for Doughnuts 4 April, 2010

Filed under: city,news — johnraff @ 2:23 am
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If you live in the US you presumably know all about Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but here in Japan they’re an exotic import, like sushi over there perhaps. I’ve never tried one but apparently it’s the crispy sugar glaze over the soft doughnut inside that does it. When KK opened a shop in Tokyo they had some 500 people queued up for 5 hours on the opening day to be among the first to sample this delicacy, so when the first Nagoya branch opened the other week they were well prepared for something almost as big here (Nagoya is about a fifth the size of Tokyo).

As it turned out, they had some 900 people waiting for eight hours for their first taste of a Krispy Kreme Doughnut.

Nagoyans like to queue apparently.


Aso’s sayonara present 24 October, 2009

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:39 pm
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Yesterday I finally went and picked up my 12,000 yen. This has been in the works since last Autumn. The current LDP government wanted an economic boost that would appeal to the electorate, and proposed a tax cut. Their partners the Komeito party said it wouldn’t help those too poor to pay income tax, and insisted on a cash handout instead. Twelve thousand yen – just over a hundred dollars. It’s nothing to get that excited about; I thought it would be better spent tackling youth unemployment or helping the homeless, and opinion polls showed most people didn’t want it! If it had come in December as was originally planned it might have worked a bit – I would probably have gone out for a couple of drinks – but bureaucracy meant it would take a bit longer…

People in smaller towns got theirs in the Spring but here in Nagoya the local government said there was no way they could organise a cash handout for 2 million people before August or so, and so it proved. First I got an envelope with a couple of forms and several leaflets explaining how to send off your application. Hardly anything in English of course. I think they were trying to make it as complicated as possible so some people would just not bother. I sent mine off and eventually got another paper-stuffed envelope telling me exactly where and when to show up to collect this money.

Waiting at the reception area was a security guard and a lady who checked my name and gave me a plastic token to hand in when a processing desk was free. There were 20 or so seats in the waiting area and 3 or 4 desks with a couple of clerks at each. I was the only person waiting so right away they checked my papers, got me to sign at the bottom and gave me a slip to hand in at another counter round the corner with 2 more people. There I finally got an envelope with my name on it and the money inside. The whole thing took 10 minutes maybe, but at least 10 people were employed dealing with this complicated transaction. Along with all that paper, I wonder how much the administration added to the cost of giving away 12,000 yen?

The ironic thing is if this does boost the economy a little the credit will go to the current DPJ government!


Incident at the airport 6 November, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 2:07 am
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There was a little spot of bother at Chubu Airport this morning. Someone forgot to plug in one of the 7 metal detectors people have to walk theough on their way to the departure lounge so, for the 5 minutes it took to notice it, some 20 people got through unchecked. Once they were in the departure area there was no way of telling which passengers were the ones who had slipped through so everyone had to be checked again. Some people had already boarded their plane which was starting to taxi out for takeoff, so they had to be brought back for a metal-check too. Some flights were delayed by 2 1/2 hours, but in the interests of anti-terrorism…

Just a minute – what actually would be the probability of a terrorist being among those 20 people, given that they would have been expecting to be metal-checked? Pretty close to zero,I’d have thought. On the other hand, maybe the person who left the plug out was in league with the evil-doers and told them about their window of opportunity. In that case, once they were in the departure lounge they could have hidden the knife, or whatever, under a seat or somewhere. The same goes for the people on the plane. Once a weapon has got past the check barrier it’s going to be pretty much impossible to find, so all that re-checking was quite meaningless.

Don’t think this is another of those “Japanese are brainless automatons” postings. I’m sure nonsense like this goes on all over the globe.



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