Archive for November, 2006

Tongue Twister

Thursday, November 30th, 2006 by Steph

How best to celebrate your newfound understanding of left vs. right than with a spirited (and homemade!) game of Twister™? Featured here are my 6th grade girls and boys. Everyone took a very linear approach to the game, and refused to stray from their line of colored dots.

Something even more exciting than twister happened today… we had our first snow of the season, and some of it even stuck. Let the hibernation begin.  Wake me up in April.

Ghanaian Feats

Monday, November 27th, 2006 by Steph

On my first day of school, way back when, I was interviewed for the local paper. In this interview, I mentioned that my great love is African drumming and dance, specifically, the music from Ghana. Shortly thereafter, a Noshiro internationalization organization read this interview, and asked my boss if I would prepare an hour-long lecture on Ghana to present in November.

Allow me to shed light on the murky process of creating a JSL (Japanese as a second language) speech. Now there is no way I can write an hour long speech in Japanese, or even competently read Japanese aloud for five minutes. So I wrote my speech in English, and planned to flesh out the presentation with pictures, video, props, you know, the works. I then waited for a month for the community center to contact me to figure out the nitty-gritty logistics. A week before the presentation we met, and they took my speech to a translator. The result of which was a speech in kanji and kana, which I pretty much can’t read with any facility. I mean, sure, a quick sign or menu item, yeah, fine, but not a whole speech with 3 days notice. So this Japanese is then translated again into roomaji, so that I can read it at something approaching a speaking pace.

However, some of the Japanese is really complicated, and speaking in Japanese for an hour would pretty much fry my brain and frustrate my audience. Enter life-saver Yumeko, my eikaiwa partner-in-crime. This wonderful woman came over to my house and she listened to me go on and on about Ghana. She translated extra tidbits into Japanese, and she basically ended up reciting over half my speech for the presentation last weekend. To boot, she is an exceedingly good sport, and even though the weather is getting wintery, she let me dress her up in my Ghanaian up and down for the speech.

Amazingly enough, the speech went off without a hitch. Chris came along to give instrumental and AV aid. The room was full mostly of old ladies, with a few English teachers sprinkled in for moral support. I got to make up catchy Japanese teaching aids (Migi! Hidari! Migi, hidari, owari!) And that’s when my lifelong dream came true: an entire room full of Japanese people trying earnestly to do Ghanaian dance. I can now say that my purpose in life has been fulfilled. I even got my very serious boss to come up and dance.

Shazam!

American Meats

Saturday, November 25th, 2006 by Steph

I’ve never really been a big holiday person. They’re fun, sure, but my preparation is forever lacking. I always leave my Halloween costume until the last minute, and end up wearing something lame. Valentine’s day has never been a big deal. We keep our anniversaries mellow. So I expected Thanksgiving to pass this year without much fanfare. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with a respectable feast.

One of the ALTs in the next town over has made it her personal challenge to bring Thanksgiving to Akita for the past 3 years. She coordinated the efforts of all of the American teachers in the northern half of the state (for logistical reasons, we couldn’t include any more people) to celebrate pot-luck style. I was proud to introduce the group to Grandma’s Delectable Coffee Cake. It’s so cool having a recipe that actually came from my grandmother, passed down from generation to generation, a recipe I watched her make over and over in her kitchen.  I wonder where she got it from? Probably the back of a buttermilk carton.

Anyway, the real trick is coming up with a turkey. Sure, back in the States, free Butterballs practically fall from the sky. But no one here eats the stuff. Turns out you can get these things delivered to your door in Japan with a month’s notice. The other trick is how to cook the bird, as the typical Japanese kitchen doesn’t seem to come equipped with an oven. I did my baking the night before at the community center during the mexi-kaiwa, but not everyone has that option. Even if you do find an oven, it’s about twice as big as your average smallish microwave, so you have to order super small turkeys to make sure they fit.

Water was also an issue, which was certainly a shock, since we get like 70 inches of precipitation here a year. Why we chose to hold the festivities at a house with an inconsistent water supply, I’m not sure. We all met in the town Futatsui, which means “Two Wells”. Apparently, they need three, because the water ran out/was shut off well before Chris and I even arrived. This made cooking and washing dishes a challenge. Restroom runs to the local supermarket were also an important addition to the evening’s events.

In the end, our feast included turkey, stove top stuffing, some kind of green bean-cream of mushroom-fried onion casserole, sweet potato casserole topped w/ marshmallows, pumpkin pie, homemade mashed potatoes, and coffee cake.

The most amazing thing wasn’t the presence of all this food, but rather that it was so genuinely familiar. For the first time since moving to Japan, I thought to myself “I’ve eaten this before, and it’s familiar and good”. Opportunities abound to eat meals inspired by food from India or Italy or wherever, but deep down, you can always tell it’s made in Japan. But for that one night, my taste buds were in America, even if I was eating my mash with chopsticks and watching sumo instead of football.

Which was an awesome addition to Thanksgiving by the way. Highly recommended.

Mexican Treats

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006 by Steph

This week’s eikaiwa was great because:

1. No new lesson plan was necessary because

2. I got a room full of people to cook me dinner. Woo-hoo!

Yes, this week’s “English” lesson was how to cook real San Diego food, which means… tacos, baby! Chris came along to help out with the cooking and delegating. First, he taught everyone how to make a flour tortilla. I think everyone was initially freaked out by the lack of an official recipe (flour, oil, and water? You just mix them til it feels right? But HOW MUCH?? AAAAAACK!), but then the class really got into it, and became a tortilla making machine. We mixed up some authentic smelling taco spices at home, made some fresh guac, and broke out the cheddar cheese Chris schlepped from Tokyo and BAM. Tastiness.

We had 2 whole hours to cook and eat, so the second hour we made s’mores (by request… someone had seen it done on TV), and whipped up some mexican hot chocolate, to round out the culinary theme. I daresay this is the first time any of my students have tried chili powder in hot chocolate. They’re probably thinking, “dude, what is it with these Americans wanting to put spices in all of their beverages? What the heck?” I shared with everyone the context of s’mores; how, to do it right, you need to be like 12 years old and at camp, sitting around a summer campfire, singing goofy songs and telling ghost stories. Everyone was all “this is a summer food?”, until I explained that most of America isn’t nearly as humid as Japan in the summer, and that many camps are in the mountains, so the evenings can be quite cool and conducive to campfiring.

All in all, it was a wildly successful evening of social eating, and the perfect prelude to Thanksgiving.

Japanese Eats

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006 by Steph

Way way back in October, several of the English teachers in town threw a sweets party and invited some Japanese friends. Well, small seeds plant wonderful things, because last weekend, we were all invited to the Japanese equivalent: a Kiritanpo party! Kiritanpo is basically the chicken soup of Akita, and it’s one of the foods Noshiro is famous for. It makes a nice communal experience if you make a whole huge pot of it that everyone can dip into. There’s also the gimmick factor, as a major component of the experience is pounding rice onto these sticks, which then get toasted and eaten with the soup. Kind of like a Japanese crouton, if you will.

It was a rather large gathering, with perhaps 15 or so in attendance, including my predecessor, who I haven’t seen or heard from for months. After the eats, we all played parlor games (!), and passed a very nice afternoon indeed. Chris even picked up a side job… he is now an English tutor for the very kind hostess of our party. She is taking the highest level English proficiency exam in a month or so, and has to memorize countless idioms of questionable utility. Unfortunately, she’s moving to Tokyo in March, but it’s always good to have friends in Tokyo, eh?

Sushi – The Japanese Tradition

Thursday, November 16th, 2006 by Chris

A year or two ago, my good friend Nik forwarded me this utterly hilarious video about that most Japanese of foods. The other day I discovered it’s on YouTube, friend of blogs everywhere. It’s a somewhat satirical (and spot-on) etiquette guide on how to behave in a sushi shop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8c2fMDatoU

These guys are the Rahmens, a well-known comedy duo in Japan, and I re-discovered them this week because they are starring in the Japanese versions of the latest round of Apple TV ads.

Naan? Nani?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 by Steph

I am so happy, I could cry. Somewhy, somehow, we were served Indian food for lunch at my podunk Junior High School. We don’t even have any Indian food in town. I think the closest is like an hour’s drive away. Perhaps it was supposed to balance out the uber-Japanese meal we had yesterday: seaweed sauce on rice, sanma, miso soup with every Japanese vegetable I can’t name in it, and shredded salad of the same. But today! Oh gloriousness! There were lentils! Indian curry (kind of!) and Naan! Which was great not only gastronomically, but also comically, as anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese can attest to:

Kore wa nan desu ka? (what is this?)
Kore wa naan desu. (this is naan)
Kore wa naan desu? (this is naan?)
So. (you betcha)

And then we all laughed for days. Nothing like a good language joke to really bring everyone together, you know?

She is Very Bark

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006 by Steph

For those of you who wonder what I am up to, here’s what I do every day. I couldn’t resist transcribing this latest essay that I’m editing (Jr. high)

My Dog

I’m doing a report on my wife. Her name is Bell. She is 2 years old. She is good at “Ote, Okawari, Fuse, touch”. She is very bark. becouse very bon’t be noisy. But very important. She is fun to me. I love her very much.

Hey, it has a strong ending. :)
If anyone has any light to shed on “Ote, Okawari, or fuse” please let me know.

More Food for Thought

Monday, November 13th, 2006 by Steph

Winter is finally here, and how do I know? Because the fall foliage has been mercilessly ripped off all the trees by the wind in all but a few spots, and little white things are falling from the sky. It wasn’t snow, and I don’t think it was hail. Maybe ice pellets or snow grains? Or graupel perhaps? The weather was so violent last night, so unrelenting in its pelting of our tin roof with liquid and solid forms of water, that neither Chris or I could sleep successfully. Whatever magical substance fell from the sky, it was gone by morning. But it’s out there. And it’s coming. As my supervisor cautioned this morning: “Get your snow tires. And soon.”

Last Friday was our monthly meeting with the Guys from the Block. They asked us last month what our favorite Japanese food was, and delivered a breathtaking spread of sushi and tempura. And it was damn good. Pictorial evidence is here.

They asked us about “traditional” American food, a question for which I always at a loss. Um, food from everywhere else? Either that or McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, and who wants that as their culinary claim to fame? Before you can say “cheetos”, we are now preparing the vittles for next month. We’re either making mac n’cheese, or burgers. Or Thai noodles. Or grilled cheese w/ tomato soup. Or hamburgers. Or Mexican food. Or pizza. Or… ?

The question is, do we make them something we know they’ll like, or do we make them something totally strange they’d never eat in a million years? (hello, sun dried tomatoes with pesto and artichoke hearts. Yessss!!) I’ve had to eat enough funky stuff during my tenure here. I say turn about is fair play. Besides, our concoctions couldn’t possibly hold a disgusting candle to naka.

We’ve been making progress on the food front. Mexican food is notoriously absent in Japan, but thanks to our friend Britt who’s done this whole JET thing before, we made something approximating a tortilla. Accompanied with the suspiciously ripe and inexpensive avocados from Mexico that our grocery store somehow carries, we had tacos last night. Woo hoo! 100 yen for an avocado… isn’t that like 80 cents? I couldn’t get avocados that cheap when I was living next to Avocado Central. What the heck? My guess is it’s a simple supply-demand-Japanese people don’t really like avocados all that much-kind-of-deal.

The local bakery has also just started producing something called a “bagel”, which is similar in shape and function (but not quite taste or density) to the same lovable item back at home. Well slap cream cheese on it and call me Philly, it tastes good enough for me.

70kg ho!

Monday, November 13th, 2006 by Chris

Just a short note today that I have now officially lost 15 pounds since moving to Japan. About 2/3 of that happened within the first month, to my amazement. It’s amazing what small food portions and walking/biking all over town will do for you.

We’ll see what winter does in this department… it’ll be a lot harder to just jump on the bike when there’s a foot of snow outside.

If I cut my hair I’d probably lose another couple of pounds:

Lumberjack Sushi