Posted by stupot at 11:23 AM Tuesday 30 Aug
101 uses for the soy bean
the soy bean is used almost as much as rice in japanese cooking, from the bean itself (edamame) to tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, miso paste, natto (fermented beans - see june), and of course, soy sauce.
if you are allergic to milk - Japan is a great place to be.
it's an amazingly versatile thing and fermenting it allows for longer life expectancy for human and bean. allegedly miso paste evolved from battle: when a clan was under seige a tactic used by attackers was to starve them out - until someone spotted a horse eating fermenting beans and the original natto or miso was born.
I've included the picture above to prove the point as well as show that some stereotypes are kinda true. of course most japanese, especially young things, eat a french breakfast consisting of a coffee and a 2 inch, or 50mm wedge of pan (yes, the japanese decided to use the french word for bread) slathered with butter. Actually we generally only get around to having a traditional breakfast if we have the day off - just like we'd only have a 'full' breakfast in scotland at the weekend.
here we have then, 4 types of soy in a traditional breakfast - luxurious rice with wheat/whole beans topped with fermented natto and a bowl of miso shiru with spinach and tofu pieces.
it almost rivals porridge as a start to the day.
Posted by stupot at 11:22 AM Tuesday 30 Aug
Posted by stupot at 11:12 PM Monday 29 Aug
having your fortune told in japan is a pretty big deal - alot of people believe in that stuff. I've seen this old guy a few times on a street corner in kyoto who has a queue of people waiting for their futures to be told. the picture above, however, is of some 'Omikuji' at our local shrine in Sumiyoshi - a long strip of paper you can randomly pull from a box at temples or shrines. you then attach it to a tree hoping that bad luck will pass you by or good fortune will come true. (these are different from 'Ema' which are the small wooden tablets that are also hung but with written wishes instead of the lottery that is Omikuji)
I believe this generally happens at new year, as contrary to popular belief, the Japanese are not the religious devotees the west seems to think. unless you rank louis vuitton as a god (close, but I don't think it's official yet). it's a bit like saying just because scotland has a plethora of churches, the people are all religious. not so - the scottish kirk is now being knocked down to make way for petrol stations and apartment buildings. or being dismantled and sent to japan to host weddings.
it seems that in the 21st century people don't need religion anymore, just a nice place to get married and get some good news from time to time.
Posted by stupot at 11:11 PM Monday 29 Aug
Posted by stupot at 01:10 AM Sunday 28 Aug
fashion and how to avoid it
I'm pretty sure that japanese carpenters baggy trousers will be the next big thing on the catwalks. for me it's just down to function, but they look pretty cool to say the least - and I mean that in both senses of the word. I could be wrong though - for one, i was wrong about 'plus fours' about 8 years ago, and yuka has given me all the warning signs of leaving me if I go to the local builders merchant to prove my point.
they come in differing shapes but they kinda look like they were designed by hitlers tailor on acid. in any case - they're very baggy and as they're tight at the ankle there is no chance of getting too dirty. you know how clean everyone is here. its just function.
but you've got to admit - even nike, a few years ago, copied tabi shoes (with the independent big toe) and toe socks are a very functional idea, if difficult to pass by the western fashion police. I'm reminded of a site visit I did a few years ago in glasgow - a typical winters day and I turn up as usual on my bike. all the builders are in having a brew and as I take off my cycling shoes (embarrasing enough) to change to steel caps, I remember I'm wearing my toe socks.
it doesn't go unnoticed and so the verbal abuse ensued. and I didn't live that one down.
anyway - you heard it here first. maybe.
Posted by stupot at 01:07 AM Sunday 28 Aug
Posted by stupot at 08:22 PM Thursday 25 Aug
as the elections in Japan grow slowly closer, the loudspeakers-atop-vans and dodgy communist-esque posters have started to litter the streets. here we have the unnaturally posed candidates with mouths and fists clenched conveying feelings of strength, reliabilty and power. I see a kind of constipated determination or maybe that they've just got an answer right in a pub quiz: "ya beauty".
anyway - after the failed post office privitisation vote (which led us to these elections), koizumi's got his hands full battling all his deserters. fortunately for the fonz, he has enlisted a crack squad of fresh faced celebrities and females (already coined as 'Koizumis assassins') to dampen the flames and while it shouldn't be strange that women are appearing on the ballot papers, it is somewhat in contrast to their (lack of) power in government and society in general.
Horie's at it as well - the entrepeneur who failed to buy out a broadcasting company and baseball team in quick succession earlier this year is another new face and rebel who will be fighting against the traditional stance - there is a 36 year age difference between his opponent and him which probably says alot about both of them.
in any case - I'm voting for the guy on the left - he looks much more commited.
Posted by stupot at 09:23 PM Wednesday 24 Aug
Posted by stupot at 11:54 PM Tuesday 23 Aug
the future's slight
TU-KA, a japanese mobile phone company, has a range of mobiles which is marketed at senior citizens. it makes a lot of sense - firstly because it's a market with a lot of potential and secondly because mobile phones, especially in japan, are increasingly complicated interfaces. as a result, TU-KA have designed a phone which mimicks the looks of a portable house phone. no screen, no gps, no email, just 10 numbers, a green on button and a red off button. I might sign up........
Posted by stupot at 11:54 PM Tuesday 23 Aug
it only seems like yesterday when I was blogging about cool biz - the new look for keeping down the A/C in summer and trying to help meet the kyoto protocol. I can't say I've seen that much evidence of it having been a success but then I've not been inside every office in japan. my company laughed at the suggestion and another guy I met proudly showed off his new cool biz styled shirt that he put on after he finished work! jeez.
anyway, summer might end and for when it does, the government has formally introduced the idea of warm biz for the autumn and winter. effectively layering up, koizumi is keen to keep up chat about being green. they had this guy on the news last night who was an editor for a mens fashion magazine - he looked like Pete Postlethwaite with stubble. in a suit with open shirt, the guy looked pretty stylish, but when he put on the woollen zip-up top and cravate he just looked like a jakey (tramp/bum).
I think there's two chances of this taking off.
Posted by stupot at 02:33 PM Tuesday 23 Aug
just when when you thought you were making headway
as difficult as the next stage of learning will be, it will be made all the more easy by throwing my rough-guide phrase book firmly in the bin. it has been little if no help. my new pocket sized friend is the equivalent of 'the patter' - a glaswegian dictionary of sorts but essential reading if you want to know what the hell is going on around you. I've also started reading some manga on suggestion from an english guy I work with who is progressing at lightning speed with his japanese. I opted for some doraemon - you know, the cute blue cat thing with the magic pouch. I could use some magic.......
Posted by stupot at 01:21 AM Tuesday 23 Aug
Posted by stupot at 12:51 AM Tuesday 23 Aug
it's an oddity in japan. on most streets in my neighbourhood there are garages or utility rooms that have been converted - with varying degrees of success - into shop units. some sell takoyaki, some sell kids (used) toys, some bags, some clothes, some rice. some are bonafide business', some are like the picture above. in many cases it's kinda like a car-boot-sale, but more permanent - I'm presuming that its evolved from bored housewives filling their time but I could be wrong.
it gives a little bit of life to the street scene though, and as houses in the UK and US are more and more protected, it sums up the relaxed and trusting nature of neighbourhoods in Japan. people live so close together thats their isn't much choice.
I am reminded of plucking a holly tree bare as a child when my neighbours and I made some pre-christmas business on the pavement outside their house selling 'natural cake decorations'.
Posted by stupot at 12:50 AM Tuesday 23 Aug
a wee blether
I was sitting in 'afternoon tea' this afternoon having my afternoon tea when I looked up from my book and realised that as the place reached capacity very gradually the noise level hit an uncomfortable high. I looked around and I was surrounded by 50 pairs of young women cackling about boyfriends, cute stuff and things that were very surprising. it sounded more like a pub in glasgow at 6 o'clock on friday. it was louder than the support at the last ceresso game for sure. as it levelled out my headache became more numb than an ache. I suddenly wondered if all the single, silent, glum looking people 'for sale' in the starbucks window maybe knew something I didn't.
I believe the kanji for noisy (or immoral) is the woman character in triplicate. my guess would be that a man designed that.
Posted by stupot at 05:47 PM Monday 22 Aug
doctor! doctor! I'm a hypochondriac
during the summer you spend a lot of time in the buff, or certainly with less clothes on. you see a lot more of your body. so I'm lying on my futon the other night and as I breathe in deeply I can see a kind of bump in the middle of my chest. it's a little concerning, especially if you've read the lance armstrong story. so anyway - a few days go by, I'm thinking about little else - I show it to yuka, we're not sure, so I go to the doc.
being my first time at this clinic I have to pee in a jar, which is just adding to the tension and possible seriousness of the whole situation. eventually I get summoned and the doctor, with nurse in tow, asks me to show him the problem. his alert face suddenly drops and he looks around for something as I contemplate my future treatment. then, pulling out a diagram of the body he points and says to me - "it's your sternum". and points to the door.
Posted by stupot at 12:26 AM Saturday 20 Aug
Posted by stupot at 02:09 AM Wednesday 17 Aug
its been so long that I forgot it only takes 13 minutes on the shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto so I arrived shortly after my bum hit the seat. the pride of japan was doing its best to look like british rail with people sleeping in between carriages, lots of smoking and kids being told to be quiet, but we still arrived on time.
the sun was again beating down with no sympathy so I walked to the nice shaded burn running along side the main river which was cooling and peaceful. it's great to be able to find quiet in such a busy city and with Kyoto it's relatively easy 'cause it's all lanes and alleys.
heading towards the centre I happened upon this bloke with a laptop and a speaker. there were a few of them creating feedback in a busy, if minor street. it was quite a surreal sound and kind of created a tense soundtrack to a relatively quiet place. I tried telling him that the laptop was too close to the speaker but he couldn't hear me. and the neighbours just looked pissed off. wait till the election hustings start.
I got the bus to Arashiyama, a beautiful suburb to the west of the city, and camped out with beer and riceball to watch the big fires that are lit on the mountain slopes (Daimonji) to help lead back the dead for the festival of Obon. I went to Arashiyama because they also have thousands of lanterns floating down the river (Shoryo-Okuri Manto Nagashi) which is kind of like a runway for the returning souls. turns out that this is also the place that that cormorant fishing happens (Arashiyama Ukai) - the one you always see in the guide books. you can see some pics of the lanterns in my flickr images to the right.
the lanterns were really good to watch and the distant sound of the cormorants with the flames licking all around them was quite spooky. all in all it was a nice departure from the boom boom boom of hanabi and the feedback of downtown.
Posted by stupot at 02:07 AM Wednesday 17 Aug
Posted by stupot at 12:31 AM Tuesday 16 Aug
dragon flies and graves
I was going to 'do' rokkosan today (the mountain between kobe and osaka) but again opted for a different route which didn't involve trains. I wasn't dissapointed though - in the end I rode the skyline road which runs along the eastern mountain range, the length of Osaka from north to south. the sun was away and there had been heavy, heavy rain this morning. it reminded me of riding in scotland when you have so many dillemas about what to take with you - waterproof? arm protectors? sunglasses? over shoes? anyway - at the last moment I opted for the slightly bulky waterproof in the back pocket. needless to say the sun came out about 15 minutes later.
the idle along the riverbank is a nice warm up before climbing and I think this is very typically japanese. anyway, after about 5 minutes of leaving the congestion you're surrounded by vinyards, gorges and dragonflies that are more like dragons than flies. this experience is also very typical of here - the contrast is very much japan. living on such a raped little plain its always nice to remember what the rest of japan is like - and it's easy to find. (see continue reading - below)
the ridge is by and large a quiet area with campsites, wee resevoirs - natural and otherwise - with old men fishing and being a quiet 'b'-road in the mountians, there was the occaisional discarded television and porno mag at the side. funny how modern life is the same everywhere, eh?
at a viewing point I met a family including three generations of women, and while we exchanged a little banter I did a good job of hiding my poor japanese - its amazing what confidence can do. when the wind whipped up the muggy morning humidity the 'mother' described it as tasty - which I appreciated, and agreed with. I wish I'd said peko-peko, a phrase I learnt last week which means 'I'm starving'.
after the view point was a big cemetery, and being Obon just now (ancestors day), there were perhaps a few more cars than usual but not enough to disrupt a nice run.
so the ridge road was good - if a little hot. I look like I've fallen asleep on the beach again. I'm going to get a dvd - so I'll gauge my colour on how many shocked expressions I see.
Posted by stupot at 10:35 PM Friday 12 Aug
and I'm not talking about the hair cut which is 'sweeping' the nation.
this was on the reverse of a 2 litre bottle of suntory tea. there's a nice alternative on the 500ml bottle too - I think it's a seat. anyway, it's nice to see a major company trying something different. I'm not sure what the laws are in Japan vs the UK but if I was a graphic designer I'd be pretty pissed off that I had to put one of these on a sleeve. I'm pretty sure Japans laws will be more relaxed - if other areas are anything to go by.
I've been waiting on somebody messing around with bar codes for a long time now - it was a sight for sore eyes. It must have been done many times before though?
Posted by stupot at 10:34 PM Friday 12 Aug
Posted by stupot at 09:51 PM Thursday 11 Aug
there's a roundabout near our flat which really astonished me the first time I saw it - I thought I'd share it with you. it's really small and at dusk the l.e.d.s come alive and swirl around the clear plastic disc. and thats about it. it's a proper little disco when it gets dark. apart from the music.
the road is pretty quiet. I'm guessing there was probably an accident here a few years ago, or april was approaching and the council had to spend their budget. or maybe it's an underground civilization spying on us. either way, full points for use of space and technology - and capturing the imagination of foreigners.
Posted by stupot at 09:50 PM Thursday 11 Aug
Posted by stupot at 12:56 AM Wednesday 10 Aug
full colonic or just an ear massage?
Japan has been many things to me but when it comes to cleanliness i have certainly been taught a thing or two. and to anybody from Edinburgh, no, thats not cause I'm from Glasgow.
I sometimes remember, waking up in a cold sweat, the first time I used a Japanese washlette (automatic toilet) - it was my first visit back in 1997 and I thought I should try out the bidet function just to say I had. being a man and not a boy I turned it up full and my eyes went from sedated to fully open (I think my mouth too) but couldn't understand enough kanji to turn it off. I also couldn't walk away because it would have sprayed the whole room but eventually Yuka came to the rescue. I think she heard the shreik. anyway - washlettes are magic and now I'm accustomed to them it's a nice luxury when we visit rich people.
another sensation is hand driers in public toilets that work. hand driers in the UK are crap. you end up using your sweater or t-shirt to finish the job. here they have harnessed the energy from last years typhoons and managed to store these winds inside driers the length and breadth of Japan. all you do is place your hand into a void (almost the same action as dipping your hands in water which is nice) and within a few seconds you are dry. a bloody good reason to wash your hands for all those soap-dodgers out there.
finally for the time being, I must mention the mimikaki - which roughly translates as ear sex. and the mimikaki is not just a great name - it cleans your ears with such satisfaction it becomes a habit. it's a bit odd at first - sticking a thin bit of metal or bamboo into your ear - but soon the pleasure is obvious, initially perhaps with a table-tennis sized ball of wax thumping onto the table. the best experience is returning from holiday having forgotten to take one with you. thats the best feeling. the traditional ones have famous characters attached to the ends - and now you can choose between traditional or electric. mmmmmmmm. electric.
also known in the west as a coke spoon.
Posted by stupot at 07:52 PM Monday 8 Aug
needle in a haystack
I'm guessing another reason why japan is so difficult to conquer, and one of the very alien aspects, is the address system. I've heard that the seemingly completely random layout of houses and address' extends partly from a function - to confuse any potential threat - like visiting warriors. as a visiting warrior I can vouch that the system is successful - and that's with a pretty good sense of direction. I wonder if nature has a part to play as well - building around mountains and rivers, with space being at such a premium. whatever the reason, if a time-served taxi driver has to ask directions of you, it's a pretty difficult state of affairs.
so GPS or 'Navi' as its known in japan, is crucial, and not just for foriegners. japanese friends use it on a regular basis to find their way around town or find, for example, a restaurant with a parking lot. on the phone it can be priceless: I had to use it after we moved to our new neighbourhood for the first time, when I got confused by which railway line I'd just passed and took a wrong turning. it was slightly frightening. like being back in the shops with your mum, aged 4, looking around and not seeing anything familiar. I also got lost on the bike when I went over the mountains to a neighbouring county and got 'stuck' in a new suburban housing development. it was all over the place, but, remaining calm I whipped out the ketai and soon I was on my way: although the kanji is by and large unreadable for me, main roads and railways usually suffice as landmarks.
but it's strange, choto-hen, that I simply live near 'LIFE' (supermarket) or in Sumiyoshiku (with a population of around 175,000). all very ambiguous. In the UK people usually say "gardner street" or an equivalent, which can usually narrow people down to a handful of houses - but then our cities aren't on this scale. another strange thing, I suppose, would be that people tend to be able to store alot of street names in their head but not street numbers as is the case in Japan. there are no street names: a typical address being 5-11-23. easy to remember like a telephone number but difficult to connect to the jigsaw puzzle that is osaka.
so whats this 5-11-23 business anyway?
the last number, the 'twenty-three', corresponds with the lot the building is on and this can have several buildings on it. in japan this means anything from a factory or golf-driving range side by side with an apartment building (thus the conception that urban japan can be ugly). the numbers work their way around the block in a 'circle' - which brings us to the 'eleven'. this is the block itself: the 'banchi' and these really vary in shape and size like you wouldn't believe. just have a look at the map above and also note the seemingly random numbers.
the 'five' is then the neighbourhood or 'chome' as it is called - the chome being made up usually of several blocks. they in turn create a ward, village, town or city - in japan these are called ku, mura, machi, cho or shi respectively. these then make up a prefecture or county as would be the case in the UK.
on one hand it seems odd that such a technologically advanced country has such a chaotic system of living. on the other though with only 30 odd percent of the country's land habitable it seems natural that over time people have just developed what they could get there hands on. plots of land changing hands and the short life expectancy of buildings means that continual development has happened and presumably the ordered (apparent) chaos that we see today.
I suppose like so many things in japan, it's not silly but just different. it does seem to be difficult for most people though, although of course now-a-days you can simply send GPS coordinates to any visitors via your mobile.
it has to be said that everything feels a bit more like a treasure hunt when you have no street names to go by. which is fine provided you aren't in a hurry..........
Posted by stupot at 07:42 PM Monday 8 Aug
electricity - our one source of energy
we had another heavy duty electrical storm tonight.
we had been considering the fireworks up at the castle but this was lightning better than any fireworks - spreading across the sky like ink in water and turning night into day. for a number of hours the rumbling of thunder was interspersed with firecrackers in the park which couldn't compete. I'd watched as all the girls shuffled around the stations in their yukatas and geta earlier this evening before jumping on my final local train and watching a 70 year old do pull ups on the rings.
but no rain came. there were some spots but nothing you could call rain and now the rumbling has been replaced with a few frogs and the firecrackers still occaisionally try to break the humidity that the thunder and lightning couldn't. there's also smells of the sea and burning oil and wet wood - it must be a westerly. it's funny how your memory works: I'm suddenly on the isle of cumbrae, 14 years old and about to go camping.
there has been a lot of smell-memory-joggers of late - funny how that works. it's a very pure feeling, sometimes like experiencing things for the first time again. in some cases that has been the case and it's certainly very invigorating.
just like a good thunder storm.
Posted by stupot at 11:38 PM Saturday 6 Aug
thermal underwear and gloves
I went to buy some sunglasses today. I can't explain how a shop sells a bike for 12,000 yen (£60) and a pair of sunglasses for 24,000 yen (£120). I bought some winter clothes in the sale.
Posted by stupot at 12:27 AM Wednesday 3 Aug
Posted by stupot at 01:38 AM Tuesday 2 Aug
hanabi was one of the first japanese words I learned. whilst walking to the GFT in glasgow to see the new takeshi kitano film a few years back yuka translated and it got me started on thinking about how lovely the language can be. 'fire-flower' and 'fireworks' are very different words.
anyway, to cut to the chase, we are now in the height of summer festivities - hanabi being an integral part - trying their hardest to make everybody forget about the heat.
if you consider 5-10,000 fireworks at an average display is a large amount, then the 120,000 we saw at Perfect Liberty (religious order - see June) in tondabayashi in south Osaka tonight was immense. infact - allegedly - the largest in the world. it's quite a sight, an hour and a half of fireworks, and really brings in the crowds. I don't know how many dogs die in the area, but the ricochet was also incredible - standing near a building really adds volume to the already dramatic show. tonight was odd though - one of the hottest yet and even at 12 midnight it's 28 degrees (82) (with humidity too). nasty stuff. anyway - there was also no wind which meant that the smoke didn't lift at all - just sat high above the ground smothering many of the subsequent fireworks but illuminating the sky like a cloud hyperactive with lightening. still very beautiful. the vibrations were something else - I thought windows would implode - certainly car alarms were going off all around, along with the babies and dogs.
and then it was over. the train home was like rush hour except the drab grey suits and frowns were replaced with colourful yukatas and smiles. life is art as PL would say. couldn't agree more. happy summer!