Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Streamers in Shinjuku Chuo Koen

 The other day on an afternoon wander I had the good fortune to stumble across streamers hung through Shinjuku Chuo Park. They were hung to co-incide with a jazz festival / beer garden held through the summer.  Fortunately for the jazz festival, dengue fever was found in the park after the event had finished.

Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Building
Shinjuku Chuo Koen looking towards the Cocoon & the station

Thursday, 18 September 2014

I'm not prejudiced but...

cheese does not belong in ramen!
Ramen shop in Iidabashi

Monday, 15 September 2014

Happy Respect for the Aged Day

Google Japan is celebrating with their picture of the day. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Kyoto continued: The Mimizuka:

In the late 1600s  Japan was united in a series of battles led first by Oda Nobunaga and then by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  On balance, Toyotomi is remembered well by Japanese history. Despite his humble beginnings he was able to rise to become the leader of Japan (though not shogun because he didn't have a bloodline that tied him to the Minamoto or the Taira clans) and continue Nobunaga's goal of uniting the country.
Hideyoshi has less illustrious parts to his legacy in particular the persecution of Christians (which to be fair to Hideyoshi, they could reasonably have been seen as a threat to domestic unity) and his invasions of Korea.   The Christian sites of Nagasaki are now under consideration for World Heritage status, however in Japan (in contrast to Korea) there is little contemporary thought given to Hideyoshi's Korean invasions.

Hideyoshi had grand plans for his invasions: Korea was a stepping stone to his greater goals of conquering China and India. The Korean king turned down Hideyoshi's overtures which gave Hideyoshi reason to attack.  A combination of unexpected guerilla warfare, Chinese assistance to Korea, and a formidable naval Admirable Yi Sun-sin resulted in Japanese defeat in the 1592 incursion.

A bit of a a tangent, but Yi Sun-Sin invariably tops surveys of the greatest Korean of all time.  The link below shows the battle, from the Korean point of view. (Most Japanese haven't heard of him.)

The Japanese were defeated, but Hideyoshi was not to be deterred from further expanding territory under his control. After diplomatic engagements with Ming China failed to secure territory for Japan on the Korean peninsula, Hideyoshi declared war for a second time.  The second war was particularly brutal with Hideyoshi giving an order for the noses of Koreans killed to be cut off, and sent to Japan.  According to the Cambridge History of Japan more than 50,000 Koreans were captured and sent to Japan.

The connection to Kyoto?

In Kyoto, near the city centre is a shrine to Hideyoshi - Hokoku jinja 豊国 (also pronounced as Toyokuni ).  It's a pretty minor shrine, or at least not a famous shrine for most people,  though there are a few impressive pieces in the small museum in the shrine precinct.   Outside the front gate of the shrine is the mimizuka   a funeral mound for the noses of Koreans that were shipped to Japan.  It's sad and simple. There's no English sign and unless you knew what it was you probably wouldn't look twice at it.  It's looked after by volunteers, though I don't know anything about the history of who the volunteers are or how they became volunteers.

It's not an illustrious part of Japanese history, but Japan is far from unique in having black parts of history.  At the same time as Japan has historical amnesia and lacks the ability to look at history honestly, Korea has a tendency to derive national legitimacy from feeling persecuted by old injustices.  Both exacerbate the other.  In reality as the perpetrator, the onus is on Japan.  In Gunma this year a prefectural order has been given to remove a memorial for the Korean forced labourers from World War Two as it might incite ill feeling.  If only Japan could realize that looking at the past and not blinking at it could be very empowering.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

The Mimizuka

Explanation in Japanese and Korean
It's rather similar to a kofun burial mound that
was common in the past.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The end of summer and hiyashi chuka recipe.

The last two nights in Akita we needed kakebuton (top futon). It was cold, and I lamented being shortchanged a week of summer... 
Back to Kanto and I started to make hiyashi chuka   (cold Chinese noodles literally, however I don't think I ever saw anything like it in China.)  with a vengeance.  It didn't work, and the the summer slipped away more quickly than you can say aki aji.  (autumn taste).


Hiyashi chuku - ramen type noodles, with cucumber,
grilled chicken, brocoli, tomatoes, green onions and
hiyashi chuka dressing poured over the top.

60ml water 
3tbsp rice vinegar
2tbspn soy
2 tbspn sugar
2 tbspn ponzu  (if no ponzu - bought easily in the shops here -  adding lemon juice would probably work if you didn't want to go to the effort of making your own)
1 tbspn sesame oil.

Mix and pour over noodles.
Aki aji beer

A trip to Kansai

 I had the good fortune to be offered a 5 day teaching job Kansai that also gave me a little time for sight-seeing.
Biwa ko. Absolutely perfect temperature for swimming.
Very fortunate to have extremely good food provided.

Out and about in Kyoto

A sign at Fushimi Inari proudly announcing its status
as Trip Advisor's number one travel destination in Japan.
It is certainly impressive, but I wonder whether it will
retain its no. 1. position if it becomes more popular.
It's wonderful place, but it involves a longer walk
than expected up a  bigger hill than expected.
A map - that should have emblazoned across it.


Fox ema - these were very cool.  I was very disappointed the
window selling them had shut for the evening....

More torii

And a price list in case you want to buy one with your name on it.

I've only had ramen in Kyoto twice,
but both times it was memorably good.
Maybe I was particularly hungry both times and
anything would have tasted good... 

Up in Akita: Hanaoka, Yuze Gorge, Goshogake

The summer in Akita was rather sedately spent. I did go somewhere new a short walk along Yuze Gorge but for the most part we went to places I know reasonably well.  Lots of grave visiting... 3 graves in Odate and 4 in Kita Akita city.  It takes up the best part of a day. Other than that we took Hiro's nieces to Hanaoka to the Peace museum - it seemed apt considering the end of the war anniversary.  We also took Hiro's aunt from Tochigi to Goshogake and Yuze.
Next year Dakigaeri Gorge, which I haven't been to, and Kosaka, which I haven't been to for years are on my to do list.

Yaki-kit kats - kit kats designed to be cooked!
It followed the great yaki-niku cook off.
Hiro, who has Japanese, Aus, and perhaps US meat grading
qualificications,  likes putting on a taste test to compare
various types of meat. I didn't take a picture of the meat...

The Hanaoka Peace Memorial

A shrine near Yuze gorge

Hiro's aunt drinking water from the spring near the gorge

Beware Bears and Bees...
In this area, I'd take take a bear sign seriously.

The walking path marked with fireflies.

Walking to Hachimantai station -
a short and very easy walk

Yuze Gorge and the Yoneshiro River which
runs through Hiro's uncle's rice farm much further downstream
... stunningly beautiful, though there are a few houses around.

Goshogake.  We went last year as well, but I love it.
Hiro's aunt from Tochigi was up & hadn't been there for

Appreciating Goshogake

Saturday, 6 September 2014


The Hayabusa and Komachi about to go their separate ways at Morioka.
A farmers' market in Odate
It's pretty small scale

Decorations for Obon graves.
They are threaded fruit (can't remember the name) that
look like Juzu (buddist prayer beads) and in this
part of Akita are commonly
put on graves at Obon.  Soy beans on the right.

A quiet day at the monthly markets.
Buckets of flowers, lucky there are so many graves...

Pumpkins, sweet potato, garlic, zenmai, and mushrooms as well.

Myoga and Warabi

Things were busier in JA Odate

Despite it being mid August, hydrangeas were still out.
It's a very different climate zone...

Odate's 大舘 daimonji burning on the hill outside the city.
 The idea comes from Kyoto,
but it suits Odate because the  character大 is the first character of  Odate. 

The summer

The summer holidays are going very quickly; the summer has already gone.  The first part of August was spend moving house - from a bourgeois part of a non-bourgeois neighbourhood to a very non-bourgeois part of a slightly more bourgeouise neighborhood.

No sooner had we moved than were were off to  Akita for Obon, and then to Biwa ko for a week of summer intensive classes.  Back in Tokyo it's time to get better acquainted with the new local area.

The new neighbourhood has smaller, fewer and more expensive supermarkets, oddities such as a rabbit salon, and the second hand shop here markets itself as vintage rather than the hodge-podge of old smelling clothes, aged florescent lights and  plastic drawers that characterized the old place.

It's quite a bit noisier here, and no closer to the station,  but so far we can open the windows and get a cross draft without aircon in front blasting hot air straight at us.  In this respect a definite improvement.
A rabbit clinic????

A designated area... I guess that means smoking on the street is less acceptable.