Friday, June 26, 2009

Rainy Season

Rice field and farmhouse (plus typical tiny Japanese car) near to our apartment.

Recently, Yamaguchi has been alternating between hot & humid and very rainy. Our plants have been happy, and I took the opportunity recently to snap a few photographs of our neighborhood.

The river near our house is now flush with grasses (as you can see here) and wild flowers.

I found this little guy blending into the weeds right outside our backdoor.

Mia's favorite things about rainy season:
  • Watching the egrets hunt in the rice paddies
  • Hearing the "sploosh" of frogs jumping into the paddies as your car drives by at night
  • Poking little tadpoles and watching them squirm away
  • Driving by a rice paddy and having the perfect one-second view at that particular angle of the rows lining up perfectly

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

That Heat

It's like a Michael Jackson song

In our normal weekend quest to find something new, we went to Tokiwa Park in Ube to enjoy some sun and sights. There's a large pond/small lake with many many wild swans (white, black, and everything in between), pelicans, and ducks.

We named him Kenji. Oh, and I cut my hair.

One big swan even came out of the water and hung out with us for a while, probably hoping we had some popcorn to share. Unfortunately for him we didn't and wouldn't have shared anyway. Butter is no good for swan tummies!!

In another week or so the pond will be covered in red lilies!

A large summer draw is the big iris and hydrangea (ajisai) garden which is stunning. The Boy took lots of beautiful pictures and will probably do a whole post on that later. [I posted pictures on Flickr, here, and on Facebook, here. - Brian]

I left the park nearly in tears though because of the depressing monkey exhibit across the road that looked like it was built 30 years ago with nothing but concrete and metal. No trees, no grass, no plants, but plenty of people willing to feed them disgusting potato chips and other processed snacks. I glared angrily at some of the people, and they hesitated for a moment but went right ahead and kept feeding the monkeys anyway.

It was really hard to get Boy to cooperate with this picture!

On a totally different note, it's hard to find genuinely hot peppers in the stores here. We lucked out a few days ago in finding an ornamental pepper plant for only 200 yen ($2) with a crop of yellow, orange and red inch-long, capsaicin-packing beauties. Not sure of how spicy they were, I tried a tiny piece and man, oh, man was I sorry. It burned my lips and finger for a good 20 minutes after the fact. Four peppers were sacrificed for our delicious Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Curry, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking. It's one of our favorites, so check out the link to my other blog and enjoy!

おはよ う ござ います。

Which is Japanese Hiragana for "Good Morning".

It sounds like: "Oh ha yo go za ee maas."

We're learning to read Hiragana, which is used for phonetic spelling of Japanese words that either don't have Kanji characters, or are intended for beginners such as ourselves. :D

We'll also learn the very similar set of Katakana characters at some point. These are mostly used for phonetically spelling foreign words.

Among other things, there are no "L" or "V" sounds in these sets, so you quickly understand the difficulty that the Japanese have in pronouncing English words.

According to Wikipedia: "In Japanese, the R sound is pronounced as an alveolar lateral flap (ɺ), articulated with the tongue flapped against the hard palate behind the front teeth, so that it sounds like a Spanish soft R. Because the Japanese language does not have a separate equivalent for the English L, native Japanese speakers not fluent in English are often unable to distinguish between the R and L sounds.[1]"

so there you have it. we'll post pictures of this weekend's trip to Tokiwa Park in Ube shortly!

take care!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ungainly Angry Gangly Ganglion

I like Japanese doctors so far. If you know me, that's a really big statement.

But here things have been pretty good! And the health care is great! We have Japanese national health insurance, which pays 70% of all medical expenses (at least on our plan... I'm not sure if there are different ones), and our monthly rate is incredibly low because it's based on salary you earned the previous year. In our case, we earned nothing last year in Japan, so we have the lowest rate possible. Next year will be more, unfortunately.

We went to Dr. Oka yesterday, a nice doctor who speaks excellent English and has his own clinic just a short bike ride from our place. You simply walk in, no appointment necessary, and he saw me in 10 minutes. He instantly recognized the bump on my wrist as a ganglion cyst. It's an icky little stinker that I've had for 6 months, but it started hurting in the last 2 weeks and that's no bueno.

We had it removed right then and there. You can either drain it with a needle or surgically remove it. We chose the former because it's fast, easy, relatively painless, and cheap. If it comes back, I'll opt for the surgery, but sincerely hope in the meantime that it never happens.

Note the cute smiling needle. Only in Japan!

He applied a topical anesthetic, waited 5 minutes, sterilized the area, inserted the empty needle, and pulled out quite a bit of strange jelly stuff. Brian and I were talking excitedly about how gross it was, so the doc squirted it out onto a metal tray so we could get a better look. It was perfectly clear with some little bubbles (probably from going in and out of the needle), had no odor, and really just looked like a marble-sized blob of aloe vera gel that you might use after a bad sunburn. I can't believe there was that much in my wrist.

It's a little sore now, but already feels much better and has no evidence that it ever existed except for a tiny little red dot where the needle was inserted. Fun!

*Note: 3 weeks later and it's almost fully back, and the little red dot where the needle was inserted still has a scab. It hurts again too from the pressure on my wrist joint. Not sure if I want to drain it again, get surgery or leave it alone.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Akiyoshido & Akiyoshidai

Quickie post! We neglected to post our photos from our trip to Akiyoshido & Akiyoshidai (back on April 18 or 19th), so here I am making up for it.

New pictures from our trip to Akiyoshido (cave) where we went on purpose....

...and Akiyoshidai (mountain with rolling hills of stones, it's actually rather difficult to explain until you see it), where we went by accident. We were driving towards the signs that said Akiyoshidai, and then decided to take a left and BAM!

How? Panorama Assist Mode on our little Nikon S550, and then loading the photos into Photoshop using the Photomerge Automation.

we found this huge open landscape that took our breath away!

The actual photo size after the panorama merge was nearly 50mb, so i've only posted much smaller versions online.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

So Eggziting!

1. Cutest Japanesey Thing Ever!

With practice, they should turn out better.

I've been wanting these ever since I saw them. They're molds for your hard boiled eggs. Today, after months of looking, the bunny/bear set was found sitting innocuously in the hyakuen ($1) shop. Maybe a bit too eggzitedly, I rushed home and boiled some eggs. Peel the shells as soon as you can possibly stand to do so and gently close them in the mold. Stick em in the fridge for 10 minutes (or more if you're paranoid) and voila! Bunny and Bear shaped hard boiled eggs. A certain favorite brother of mine is getting a set of these in our soon-to-come care-package from Japan.

2. New name!

Stuck on the wall hanging we made two weeks ago.

Yawnie the parakeet has temporarily been given a new name: Chawan Mushi. Chawanmushi is a Japanese dish, and the name literally means cooked-in-a-covered-ricebowl. Bad translation, but it is essentially correct. You steam a beaten egg mixture with bits of meat, mushrooms, shrimp and ginko nuts in a small cup or bowl. Yum. It's soft, yellow and a bit salty, just like our bird.

3. Iron Chef Yamaguchi Style

The tamagoyaki is hiding in the makizushi!

B and I are taking a cooking class courtesy of one of my students. Today was our second class and we learned how to make rye buns, banana okara cupcakes, flounder simmered in a brown sauce, sunomono (similar to that cucumber vinegar salad you get with Thai food), and maki rolls including tamagoyaki, or sweet-egg-omelettes. The bamboo mats for rolling sushi were sitting right next to the bunny/bear molds at the hyakuen shop, so we got those too. You'd better believe we're going to be experimenting with all sorts of maki fillings now!

4. Bonus picture of B being a kitchen ninja in our apartment

Don't mess with this guy when the bandana is on.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shinto Shrines - Daijingu

Although Daijingu is most commonly visited on New Years Eve, B and I couldn't help stopping in. We were riding our bikes aimlessly around Yamaguchi when we spotted the large torii, automatically identifying the area as a Shinto shrine. It was on three levels seperated by a flight (at least) of stairs. Each level also had it's own place for purification. You wash each hand with some water from the ladle, wash your mouth (which no one really does, and we don't do either), and finally the handle of the ladle itself. Even though no one was watching, we did it out of respect for the place we were visiting.

Temizu is the act of washing hands and Temizuya is the basin filled with water

The first was a shrine dedicated to Inari, god/goddess of agriculture, made clear by the 30 or so kitsune, fox, statues everywhere. It also had a series of red torii leading to a little path behind the shrine.

Pretty, eh?

The next level had several small shrines, a taiko drum, ropes and bells, and multiple places where you could pay a little money for either an omikuji (fortune telling piece of paper) or ema (wooden plaque). The omikuji is cheaper and contains a prewritten fortune (like fortune cookies!), good or bad. The bad ones are left tied to strings in front of the shrines and good ones are taken home or kept in your wallet. The ema are wooden plaques that are more expensive but much prettier on which you write wishes for the deities to grant and leave in front of the shrines. I desperately wanted to take home an ema with a beautiful bamboo/gohei/red-stamp pattern, but couldn't figure out where to pay for it. Oh well.

I wanted a blank version of the middle ema

We couldn't figure out the next level which had two newer "shrines" (actually, three gold-gilded buildings on stilts surrounded by a fence), a large roped off area that looked like the foundations of one of these three-part "shrine" structures, and a large flat rock covered in moss also sectioned off with rope.

The best part however was the random path up the mountain. Wild raspberries, caterpillars, and little white flowers that smelled almost like jasmine kept us company. We climbed at least 30 minutes before getting tired and going back down. The path was starting to get pretty rough and narrow. But we did get this awesome picture with Yamaguchi City in the background!

Sweaty and happy near the height of our climb