Friday, 19 November 2010

Our House/School (All the Bells and Whistles)

Japan is full of noise. So full in fact that I find it necessary to wear earphones while shopping because I get an instant headache in Japanese shopping malls and grocery stores. The store with the cheap meat is difficult because the meat is cheap but when you step into the meat section you set off about half a dozen sensors that scream Japanese meat ads to you. Our house is a little quieter but there is no lack of noise: If the co-op or delivery truck isn't going by (affectionately called "the cat truck" because it has a cat with kittens on it) blaring advertisements through a megaphone...... the "we'll take your old things people" are going slowly around the neighbourhood with the truck announcing.... " air con, moto baiku, computo, Terebi ...." Our house buzzes and whistles to tell me things are done or turned on or off. It took me months to figure out which melody was connected to which appliance but now with a month left to go; I can tell the "cat truck" from the garbage truck and the bath is warm song from the your laundry is done song. My head is chalked full of melodies that I hope I will never have to discern again.

So here is out house/school with all its bells and whistles:

Our Washitsu (traditional Japanese room) our formal classroom and guest room this is where the people who visited us stayed. And the Japanese Maple Bonsai I just had to have which is going to be given as a present to one of our favourite student's mother.

Only one ding here for the heater/air conditioner.

The upstairs washroom, notice the top of the toilet, this is genius the water that will refill the toilet after you flush is first the sink to wash your hands in.

Our bed room and balcony for laundry hanging.

The table room, the second classroom in the upstairs of the house. I have recently redocorated. This classroom is used for adult classes who do not want to sit on the floor in the washitsu and older children and and teenage classes.

The view from the upstairs.

The picture we bought to add some dimension to this huge space. Doesn't it remind you of something that should be hanging in a 1970s Canadian lodge?

Our living room and fish tank. The table has a heater underneath (a cotatsu) you turn it on and sit under the blanket.

Our living room and waiting room for the school. Plus fireplace. On the wall is the camera door bell that ding dongs then I can view who is outside. Pretty handy.

The mud room that leads out to the garden.

This is our kitchen, the kettle goes "pop" the rice cooker goes "rrrrrrr" the oven behind the blue curtain goes "dododo dodo dododo dodo do" and the washing machine behind the white curtain goes "ping pong ping pong"

This is our house/school's entrance way.

Believe it or not our downstairs washroom is three rooms. You enter into this sink room.

This console that controls the washroom... The blue button turns on the water heat, the pinky red button fills the bath and the orange button reheats the bath. When the the bath is ready it plays "dididi didi dodo" and says some stuff in Japanese.

This is the bath the most fabulous part of the house/school.

Behind the sink room is the toilet with another sink, you plug it in the seat warms your bum it is also a bidet..... not that I have use such a creepy contraption.

The console above the toliet paper controls the toilet .... no joke.

This is our office/slash clothes closet. Notice with all the high tech stuff here we (for some reason) have a manual feed single sheet photocopier. This I feel, tipifies the Japanese love/hate issue with technology.

The office from the opposing view.

This is the cutest room in our house. Affectionately called the "kid's room" this is where we teach small children's classes and overflow classes.

All the drawings on the wall are Josh's and the kids just love the stuffies. Especially the walrus for some reason.

This is our teaching material closet. It took me two days to organize it but it rocks now. And my rainbow, I really thought we needed a rainbow.

This is our House/School we hope you enjoyed the blog tour.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hot as Hades Japan is.

Now that the weather has completely cooled off and I can sleep without air conditioning and with a blanket I thought I would tell you all about our summer here in Japan. Japan is a very hot summer climate country, although this summer was apparently the hottest in recorded Japanese history. The temperature barely changed from day to night (we experienced a stretch of 48 days where night temps did not go below 25 degrees) floating around 37.5 degrees on a daily basis. It was an excruciating time to be living in Western Japan. According to the news 132 people died from heatstroke and around 40,000 were hospitalized for the condition. Needless to say this ruined much of the summer for us as it was just too hot to do much. Classic activities like Hiking, fishing, going to the store felt like a journey through the Congolese savanna.
Not to be a moaner here but this summer was the worst thing I have ever experienced, just too hot to do much of anything. The heat here in Kansai Japan was made worse by the fact that Japanese houses are foolishly uninsulated, only have single pane windows, lack a centralized air system and are drafty as a screen. This meant that without pumping our air conditioning in the bedroom we were living in a sauna. I never really realized how vital insulation and double paned windows were until living in this sieve of a house in 40 degree temperatures. The garden fared terribly with most plants bolting or wilting or just altogether producing poorly. Fishing sucked in general, fish were avoiding lures and being very lazy both in the sea and lakes.
What this summer has done for us was to give us a good lesson in using traditional Japanese clothing. They have these great light summer outfits made of a loose weave cotton called a jinbe which does fabulous for allowing any breeze to help cut the heat. Also wearing a towel on your head or a long thin towel around your head like a ninja did marvelous at keeping the noggin dry and cool. We became really inventive and found ways around the heat but still sufferred greatly. All in all the ordeal, and I do not use the word lightly, has really made us look forward to and cherish that cool climate of home. So now that I am sure things have cooled off we can explore more of Japan than we did in the summer, and I promise to never moan about a hot day again after living through Japan's summer inferno.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ridiculous Foods in Japan

Here in Japan there are quite a few strange foods. Not that there are not strange foods in my home country, I am thinking of prairie oysters, seal flipper pie and head cheese, but Japan takes the cake for food in the strange vein. If you are sensitive to seeing weird foods for whatever reason then I suggest averting your eyes on this post. Do not worry we have not eaten many of these foods, and the few we have has been only a strange test, not exactly dinner, but try guessing which if you can bear it.

Ikizukuri-Sashimi cut fish layed on the still living body of the fish. Imagine eating something that is watching you eat it, too much to bear but this dish is really desired and expensive here in Japan

You can have it in Mackarel...
Red Snapper.....Rock Shrimp and a host of other horrified seafoods. Basil Seed Drink-Yes hydrated jellylike basil seeds floating in your juice, not exactly a children's delight. Basil on pizza, fruit in drinks, and never the twain shall they meet has always been my feeling here. Cod roe sacks-They look awful but on new years Jackie mistook one as fruit at our host's house and swallowed it with chagrin as everyone was watching her, I mean who eats this kind of thing for breakfast? Collon Cream Snack-Yes this snack just has a horrible name, I mean I am not even going to stoop into analyzing and joking about the name but this is a product that belongs on the pharmacy shelves not at the reach of snacking children.Dolphin Meat-What more can I say? Flipper on your platter anyone? Check out the film "the Cove" for a great exposee on Japan's Dolphin slaughter and the direct ties to marine parks.Dried Squid-A popular snack for kids or people in transit. Dip it in mayo and this leathery snack becomes a pliable low fat fishy jerky. I am familiar with it from Korea but I still cannot get over the grotesque form.Tamago Kake Gohan-Raw egg on rice, please cook your eggs, salmonella is not fun.Shiokara-A mess of fermented shrimp, fish and seaweed. What on earth would you want to eat this for never mind come accross producing it? Did someone find this mess in the cold storage, starving and desperate stoop down and eat it......then eureka shiokara!Natto- This is everyone's favourite breakfast food, a slimy mess of fermented soy beans. The stuff smells like old shoes, has the texture of mucous and tastes like both. Why do people eat this? Well they say it is the most healthy thing to eat. Well then I will just die early happilly eating grapefruit, bacon, eggs and toast.Fugu-Ahhhhh the deadly poisonous blowfish. The fish's skin, innards, eggs and mucous are highly paralytic and fatal, though a skilled chef can remove it and give you a delectable sushi dinner if you are brave or dumb enough to trust your chef. I have eaten this one, as the meat is just fine, though have a skilled hand do the dirty work. Hachinokodomo-Bee and wasp larvae. Apparently a great source of protein, a little nutty and sweet, if you can get over their looks and the idea that they are like a maggot.Ma zushi-Horse sashimi, yes that is raw horse meat. Japanese people have a lot of affinity for horse meat. I know it is done in France as well but the English ways about me do not allow me to consume a horse, especially when he is so close o his formerly living state. Basashi Ice Cream-Yeah so if you eat raw horse why not try turning it into ice cream? It tastes like the idea sounds, I mean just think horse meat and ice cream two things that should never meet in one. This one I am holding has fried horse meat croquettes and soy sauce drizzled over it. This dish makes it clear how little contact that Japanese have had with the western dessert rules. Tako Ice-While on the subject of gross ice cream (so what if this is a big judgment call) lets try some tasty Octopus Icecream. This is one that should have never left the drafting board, how the stuff got into production is a complete mystery.Inago no tsukudani- Students of mine have eaten this and it is a popular dish up in Nagano, fried grasshoppers done over in a sweet soy glaze. The looks really put me off but this is one I would be willing to try, I mean it could be good, but the looks....
Hachi no Senbei-Every town in Japan sells it variant of the sweet rice cracker snack for tourists coming through, some have chosen strange things to draw attention, squid, wasabi, fish eggs but wasps in crackers? This is just a bad idea, considering that wasps have stingers and children like go figure. Konnyakku-A wierd diet food here in Japan looks like rubber smells like fish and tastes like nothing. It wiggles and squeaks, why do people eat it considering it apparently contains no calories or major nutritional value is confounding to me, it does not even look appealing. Mozuku-This dish looks like a wad of shower clot, smells like it too. Apparently it is a type of seaweed that boosts your immune system. The taste and looks are masked by a splash of vinegar, the favourite wierdness concealer of foods in Japan, to put you off the trail that what you are eating looks less like food than it does like algae. Niboshi-dried little anchovies that added to almost any dish. The sneaky little things are to be eaten whole, nothing spices up a soup or a bowl of rice like crunchy fish heads. Placenta 10000-Jelly drink, hmmm sounds suspicious. Here in Japan jelly drinks are popular, they are juices with floating bits and chinks of Jelly, usually fruit. This one is what the label says it is. Apparently pig placenta tastes like peach, I am never going near to finding out about this one.
Shirako-The semen sacs from fish, a long tube of fish semen is a common snack at izakayas and sushi bars. You can get almost any fish's sperm here to munch on and I want nothing to do with it. Shirouo no Odorigui-Living dancing icefish that are eaten while still squirming. They are about as easy to get down as the name is to pronounce, not to mention really strange and possibly cruel. Candied whole crabs-when you catch crabs that are too small should you release them? No no no, deep fry and candy those little snappers. Apparently a popular accompaniment with beer, and maybe some wasp crackers. Kujira Sashimi-The Japanese consider the whale to be a fish, ridiculous right? Well bite on this, all whaling of the Japanese fleet is done as a "scientific research project" not as a commercial enterprise. It certainly seems like a commercial enterprise as I can buy this meat at the grocery store rather than the local lab. In Canada people whale in the north but for their own community and on a small scale low impact basis. Japan has commercial fleets still playing moby dick to get at this unethical sashimi. Zazamushi-Another widely available product in Japan, both canned and in restaurants, is zazamushi, the name for aquatic insects inhabiting gravel beds in rivers. Zazamushi is not a single variety of insect, but is a catch-all name applied to the larvae of insects that live at the bottom of rivers. Unappealing looking to say the least. So can you guess which ones we have indulged in? which would you try?