Thursday, November 29, 2007
Last Tuesday was progressing in a typical fashion (i.e. nothing much was happening) when my friend Hi-Kun called me up to see if I wanted to get some dinner. We drove around a bit, deciding what to have, and settled on a sushiya owned by one of Hi's friends. Takezushi is a small restuarant, though average by Japanese standards, with two tatami tables and and bar with stools for eight. The bar seats are the most coveted as you can pick your fish from the glass case in front of you and watch as it is prepared. Being a tuesday, it was slow and we sat at the bar. Gen-San, the sushi chef, was a very friendly guy and spoke very enthusiastically about everything whether in English, which he doesn't speak, or in Japanese which, in his enthusiasm was mostly too fast to pick up. Luckily I had Hi to translate and head up the ordering.
We were given a starter plate with various, perhaps experimental, rolls, one of which was described by Gen as Japanese fois gras. They were all delicious and we ordered some sake to accompany the meal. The sake was served in traditional fashion which means the glass is set inside a bamboo box and filled to overflowing. After you finish the spirits in your glass you tilt the square container to your mouth and finish the rest.
We had a perfectly fried tempura set with local mushrooms, fish, shrimp, and some delicate and pretty leaves-Japanese cuisine fully utilizes the array of flora found in Japan. After the Tempura Hi-kun ordered lamb. I was wary of this as I have never before enjoyed lamb, in fact, all previous experience I had with it involved some level of repulsion on my part. This, however, was ridiculously good. It arrived on a small plate, thinly sliced and raw, followed closely by a porous black stone beneath which a steady flame burned. We cooked each piece seperately, enjoying the hiss of the cooking meat. Like tiny steaks, we left the centers raw, while quickly charring either side. The delicate meat seemed to dissolve in my mouth and the taste was not strong like I remembered but flavorful, almost sweet. We had perfect, fresh maguro and salmon. We had another round of sake. Half-way through my glass I made the mistake of asking about some of the more mysterious items behind the transpicuous case. My questioning reached a stopping point when a particularly curious looking fish-part could not be adequately explained. Hi-Kun, seizing the moment, ordered me some before I could find out what it was. The nori served as a mere bowl for a collection of white organic undulations that, if it could produce sound, would surely have been making something of a "gluurg, glurrg" noise. I had to ask Gen-San whether I was expected to eat the whole thing at once as it was quite large but upon hearing his affirmation I went for it. It was not good. It was like cottage cheese though more slippery and less textured and much more unsettling. I finished it off and smiled, "oishi desu yo." I then made Hi-Kun eat the other one. After doing some reasearch later we found that Shirako, which is what the curious fish-part was callled in Japanese, is cod milt*.
After dinner we wandered around kakegawa a bit and met up with some friends for a beer later. Turned out to be pretty nice day, for a tuesday.
*milt is fish sperm.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
So, here is some advice for anyone who ever runs more than 5 miles at a time: If your toes start feeling numb, look at them after you finish running; don't keep running for the next few days while wondering what the hell is wrong with your feet. It's good to take a careful look because you could be bleeding profusely into your sock like I was and it is most likely best to fix the situation.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Japan is a country that, while embracing modern western culture like a long-parted lover, still emanates a deep reverence for tradition and ceremony. The mere act of meeting a friend for a cup of tea can be, in Japan, a delicately orchestrated endeavor with more rules than sips, having more in common with a Freemason's meeting than the consumption of a beverage with company. In another remarkable complicating of a reasonably simple act, the actual dressing oneself (or another) in a kimono requires such refined skill that many Japanese women study it for years. Even the public waste disposal system leaves many an expat perplexed. It is, thus, unsurprising that dismantling one's tray after school lunch is, while simple compared to many activities (juggling and taxes come to mind), quite intense when weighed against the same chore elsewhere. It goes something like this: First set aside your straw and its accompanying wrapper. Then, reverse-engineer your milk carton until it is just a flat sheet no longer able to nobly contain liquids. Take the former-carton and rinse it thoroughly in the sink. When it has been cleansed of dairy, place it neatly atop the others in the gray Tupperware box. Next, empty any remaining food into the several, shining metal containers in which it was delivered, being careful to keep the various foods separate: salad with salad, fish with fish. If a spoon was necessary for the meal, rinse it and slide it onto the spoon rack. Place all plates and bowls in their corresponding slots-keeping the rice bowls separate though they are the same as the soup bowl. If there was a dessert (perhaps a small paper cup of yogurt or frozen jelly), make sure to separate all of the following: paper spoon, cup, cup lid, and paper wrapper from paper spoon. Place each in its designated plastic bag. Then, regardless of what your experiences may lead you to believe, take your straw and its wrapper and through them away. Now brush your teeth with the rest of the staff.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I drove to school wednesday morning thinking only typical wednesday morning thoughts: "Weird, you'd think I'd be more tired. Why do they need so many old men in neon, reflective vests to supervise a single four-way stop? Do I have time to stop for an egg Mcmuffin? Damn, it's recyling day for milk cartons...now I have to wait till next month." So engrossed was I with nothing that I completely forgot what day it was. In my defense, the japanese don't seem to fancy halloween as much other western holidays like say, Christmas, and hence there is nothing to stir my memory. No skeletons hanging from doorsteps, no bats or cobwebs, no obnoxious talking witches, not even sales on candy. (I never thought I'd miss that candy corn stuff but I feel oddly melancholy without it) Excuses aside, when I walked into the teacher's room I was ready for a normal day's work and was just about to start staring blankly at my notebook when I was persuaded into the hallway by a gang of three of my 7th grade students. As soon as I stepped into the hallway-It took a minute because, though I have been here a while know, I still always forget that the japanese hand gesture for "come here" is what we use for "please go away"-I was accosted by three miniature voices chiming out "trick or treat!" One of them, Mizuho, even went so far as to make a jack-o-lantern mask. Needless to say, it was ridiculously cute and I felt like an idiot for not having any candy-especially after my attempt to convince them that we usually give out high-fives failed.