A Night In Miyajima

   
    
    
    
    
 
Renting out a cabin for an overnight stay in Miyajima proved to be quite the inspiration. This is what you get when a group of friends, all writers, decide to go on a cross country road trip: a lot of D&D, novel idea bouncing, and great life choices that involve last minute bookings to holy islands. 

My first time on Miyajima was three years ago as a young and uncultured university student. The program at Waseda wasn’t just an academic experience, it also gave me a healthy dose of real life experience. Now as a shakaijin (working adult) and freshly licensed driver, I find myself revisiting my favorite places with fresh eyes. 

Miyajima and its floating shrine are a world heritage site, fully accessible by ferry that can take people and cars across at 15 minute intervals. The place was crawling with foreigners of every nationality just about year round: Americans, Europeans, Middle-Easterners, south East Asians… You name it and chances are a person of that country or nationality was represented on te island that day. 

What makes Miyajima particularly inspiring? So inspiring g that one would be willing to shell out a man in yen for a single night? Despite being close to the mainland, despite the heavy tourism… You still have parts of the island that are far enough away from it all that it feels as if you actually have escaped from reality. You can almost imagine kappa inhabiting its rivers and ponds or forest spirits hiding amongst mossy, vine covered trees.

Hiroshima by comparison cannot escape the scars of history. For ¥50, admission to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum will recreate the day of August 6, 1945 and the subsequent decades. 

Kim had never been to th museum before and unfortunately we had the bad luck to arrive at a time when a large group decided to visit. I say bad luck because I have never before been so absolutely revolted by humanity and for once it wasn’t a giant group of Americans but Europeans who should have been old enough to realize that cracking war jokes about firing at will and loudly boasting about how much booze they had consumed the night before (or how much more they were about to consume that same night) was not appropriate behavior. 

It’s unfortunate that apart from the clear lack of respect for the deceased and the victims of war, they also blocked the majority of exhibits while talking about the least relevant subjects.

In any case, we left Nagoya a couple hours ago and are no headed to Tokyo.

Wish us luck ;D

 

 

 

Advertisements

Adventures in Shimane Prefecture

   
    
    
    
    
    
 

Yesterday. Shimane in one day. No rest for the adventurous……

Edit: okay now that I’ve had time to sleep and process everything, time for some explanations.

Shimane Prefecture is known for Izumo Taisha, a grand shrine dedicated to the god Okuninushi and is the seat of the gods’ meeting for one month of the year. 

According to legend, Okuninushi is the deity of good relationships and marriage, a status he achieved after helping out an adorable white bunny with a bad skin condition and winning the hand of the princess of Inaba.

The castle is well worth a visit as it is one of the twelve original castles that have gone through little renovations or alterations. 

And lastly, the tree trunk. It saw 320 years of history before being chopped down in 2007. 

   
    
   

Zao Fox Village

   
    
    
    
    
    

 An hour south of Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture is a village of foxes of all colors and shapes and sizes. Zao Fox Village is a haven where most of its resident foxes can roam freely on the grounds; once revered as gods of rice growing, foxes are now considered Vernon by most of suburban society. Finding them in the wild is rare so while I normally do not willingly go to zoos or places where the animals are kept caged for long hours of the day, Zao Fox Village deserves some attention for attempting to keep the fox population from going the way of the native Japanese wolf (by which I mean extinct).

Babies and the sick are kept in separate cages, but the adults who are still fit to walk around have the run of the place.

For ¥1,000 plus ¥100 per feeding bag, you gain entry to the main adult enclosure. To hold baby foxes or baby rabbits/guinea pigs, you’ll pay an extra ¥300, but it’s well worth the experience and is sure to keep human kids entertained for the day.

And of course, I finally learned what the fox says…

They sound like mewling cats ;D

Summer Chicken, Turnip, and Broccoli Soup

 

::INGREDIENTS::

1/2 to 1 chicken breast, cubed

1/2 to 1 turnip

1/4 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

Broccoli

Rubbed sage

Tarragon

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Dash of red chili pepper

1 1/4 tsp Better Than Bouillon Vegetarian No Chicken Base (or bouillon of your choosing)

Olive Oil

Lemon (optional)

::DIRECTIONS::

1. Heat onion and garlic (until transparent) with olive oil in a deep stir fry pan or in the pot you intend to use for soup.

2. Add chicken breast cubes. Add salt, pepper, red chili pepper, and rubbed sage to your liking. Because the bouillon is quite salty, I try to keep the salt down to the merest pinch or 1/4 tsp. Once the chicken is just about cooked through (test with knife or fork occasionally), add turnip and broccoli.

3. Add tarragon to the vegetables and an extra dash of rubbed sage for flavoring. Sage is mouth-wateringly aromatic and gives chicken a nice, earthy flavor boost. However, if it’s your first time using rubbed sage, start with a quarter tsp or 1/2 tsp depending on how much chicken to use. You can always add more to the broth later. Stir fry vegetables and finish cooking the chicken.

4. With the vegetables almost completely cooked through, take the stir fry pan or pot off the stove and add just enough water to cover veggies and chicken pieces. Place back on fire and lower heat to just below medium. Allow the soup to come to a boil, stir occasionally, and serve either warm or cold. Squeeze fresh lemon into soup for a bit of zest.

So, why chicken soup? Why broccoli? Why vegetarian bouillon if it’s chicken soup?!

I’m not a certified nutrition specialist but I’ll do my best to explain the wherefores for this recipe choice, which came to me in the midst of a craving attack for all of the above food groups. Summer is a time of ice cream, seasonal jams, watermelon, and eating out. It’s a time when cooking at home is about as appealing as sticking your face into the oven at full blast. But home cookery is just as necessary in the summer months to keep you at your best, physically and mentally; after months of new resolutions and getting beach ready, one may as well continue into the summer months. Also, cold cream based summer soups are high in calories unless you substitute the cream for soy milk, but then it loses the creamy texture. In any case, the fewer calories you can pack into the punch and the more vitamins and amino acids you can include in your foods, the better. Call it getting a foot ahead of the holidays and the new year to come 😉

All of the vegetables above are low in calories, high in vitamins (particularly Vitamin C), and are sufficiently filling to keep you running all day. They can be served cold or hot, their taste not being compromised by the temperature at which they served. Turnips (boasting an impressive 28 calories per 100g), are an especially nutritious alternative to potatoes which are starchy and have as much as 87 calories per 100g when boiled. It’s also relatively quick to pull together, requiring minimal supervision.

The vegetarian bouillon was a Christmas gift from a vegetarian friend; the taste amazing of home, of other soups made by beloved Shelly. Otherwise chicken stock should do just as well if not better.

The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

theenglishmenu

“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.