Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A day without classes but not without studying

It's four minutes until it's time to go home from school/work and it's safe to say I've had the laziest of days. I've been sitting at my desk so much my bum's rather uncomfortable. Must not get fat. (Bridget Jones thought of the day)

I've been studying Japanese a little and I even got to practice a bit which is never a bad thing. One of the tasks in the exercise book Japanese from Zero Book 2 was to write a conversation using the language I had learnt so far (where is the ...., it's over there, next to the ..... Which .... is it next to? That. ... etc) It's coming together quite well. I find composing it pretty quick/easy (perhaps that's a little too strong a word, but it's not difficult anyway at this stage) but what is difficult is the remembering it and the reproducing. I find reading it outloud slow too. I've got to practice bymyself more because though it's nice asking the teachers and a very good way to learn, I can only ask them so many times and once I've used up all their patience, work won't be so fun.

It's time to leave, but I just want to finish a little story or two. Today I tested one of the teachers on her Welsh. I've been intermittently teaching her a phrase or two. Her pronunciation is great, it's just remembering it that she finds difficult. So the same as me with Japanese, except I don't have the pronunciation... She, unfortunately only remembered "Dwy'n" (I'm) of the sentence "Dwy'n athrawes Siapanieg" (I'm a Japanese teacher" Oh balls, I should have illicited "Saesneg" (English) not "Siapanieg" (Japanese) as that's what she teaches. Doh. I wondered where she was going with what she was struggling to say. Maybe that was where!

Oh well, learners are forgiving of teachers mistakes, right?!

I hope so, because I make ample and so does everyone else apparently.

Last quick story. Rambles on over time.
I turned around, as I often do, at the sound of the staff room (shokuin shitsu) being slid noisily open, and looked at the person coming in. Then looked back at my desk, back to my browsing of the starcraft pages I expect or was I writing an email? Either way, then I snapped back. It was one of the important teachers from one of my other schools. I was quick taken aback seeing him out of place. And, it seemed, so was he. Normally comfortable and content, he looked oddly sheepish and hesitant. He wondered in, greeted everyone but made a beeline for me. He's a nice teacher, he gave me a lift to my house in order for me to go to the drinking party at the start of term. And in his slightly out of place state, he clung to me. It was so strange. Normally I'm the one out of place, but for once it wasn't me at all. He spied my laptop and asked what it was I was working on and looked quite desperate to be occupied while he waited to be summoned for the meeting he said he was here for. It was lovely. Shiota, I remembered his name. Shiota sensei. He's the biology teacher according to Miki sensei (biology teacher in today's school). Well that's that, time to head off, I'm seven minutes overdue!
It's been so long since I've posted, how do I end these things? God speed?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Under a Korean Umbrella

On Monday, I got back from a little trip. (click here or there to see the full video)

Monday: It started the Monday before, well I suppose it started earlier with buying tickets and frantic printing of train times and the uncertain and awkward packing of underwear and clothes (someone may have miscounted on this front). The first place I went to was Osaka.

One night there, a very fun night indeed, then onto Hiroshima.

Tuesday: First I took the streetcar, which was nice and easy to navigate, with an abundance of English and clear cut instructions, to the Atomic Bomb Dome:

The building was haunting, but nowhere near as harrowing as my next stop, the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The first floor of the Museum started off factual and historical detailing changes in the port city leading up to the second world war and the events leading up to the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in war time, but then upstairs, things took a darker turn as the museum went into depth about the 6th of August 1945's bombing of Hiroshima. The museum was incredibly moving, my eyes watered and though the room was full of people reading the exhibits, it was almost completely silent.

An overwhelming message of peace filled the museum. Another beautiful message of peace was visible in the millions and millions of paper cranes donated to the Children's Peace Memorial. The inspiration for using the paper crane as a symbol for peace comes from the story of a girl called Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukaemia, ten years after the atomic bomb fell. She had believed that folding paper cranes (she managed to fold far more than the lucky thousand) would make her better.

For the night, I found a traditional Japanese style hotel to stay in. A small place, with a lovely lady at reception. Here, at this humble inn, a small miracle happened. (No, no virgin births) I managed to book the room and even discuss the city's speciality, Okonomoyaki (cabbage and other vegetables in batter with egg, pork and squid and noodles all mixed in with a delicious rich sauce on top with the option of melted cheese or mayonnaise as well), entirely in Japanese with less than a handful of English words thrown in on either side. She was a lovely lady and recommended a place I go to eat that evening. Eating out alone was something I wasn't hugely familiar with in the UK, but it's a lot more common here and it's quite enjoyable, especially for Udon or Okonomoyaki, which they cooked in front of me on a massive hot plate. With continual refills of water given, I watched the cooking. The dish was delicious and in true Japanese fashion the three men beside me who'd each ordered a variant of Okonomoyaki took their cameras out in sync and took snaps of their supper. Who was I to break the trend?

I loved it, though next time I'll probably not opt for mayo as it was a little much.

In the evening I met up with Gavin, a friend I'd met in training, and had a few drinks in the park, discussing our experiences in Japan so far.

Wednesday: The next day, I got the Shinkansen (I've come to be quite fond of the lady's voice when she announces: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Shinkansen" (bullet train)) to Fukuoka, which is where 5 months ago, I arrived in this beautiful country (and yet I still for some stupid reason was surprised to see planes landing, "oh there must be an airport here" I said.) I met up with another friend from training, Anthony and his friend Matt, and then Barrett, my to be travel partner.

We wandered around the city (mostly the station, which in fairness is huge and has a lovely roof garden) a little bit and then headed (chased by imminent rain) into the Shooting Bar, where for a price you can shoot BB guns at targets and drink and eat. The BB gun idea really didn't appeal to me at first. Oh but when I fired the first one, I wanted more and by the second (an automatic machine gun!) I was a huge fan. All the while thunder and lightning roared outside.

Then came the eating of "live" squid. As to whether it was actually alive, I'm not sure. It had reflexes, but don't headless chickens too? It definitely acted like it was alive, but it had no internal organs, including brain, which does sound like it was medically dead to me. It was tasty, albeit strange and a little disturbing. There was a lot of horror at me eating it (on Facebook) but as my friend Manisha puts it "out of context it sounds cruel/strange/horrible, but in context, Japan, a culture that loves to eat raw fish, it's not bad." (paraphrasing). There are photos of the squid in question, but for the sensitively dispositioned, I will omit it (though it features in the video above, warning/spoiler)

Thursday: After a night in the small town Barrett lives in, we headed back to Fukuoka, ready to embark for South Korea (or as it is often called in Japan (when speaking English): Korea) We caught a bus Matt helped us find and checked in at the ferry port. The journey started off calm and relaxing but ended with us being told to stay in our seats and to keep hold of sick bags just in case. A storm had rolled in and it had heavy winds, heavy rain and high waves.

In Busan, our first few minutes were sketchy, we had arrived, easily enough, but finding our hotel proved to be a bit tricky. We took a taxi and ended up a little lost in heavy rain. In hindsight it's rather amusing. We found our hotel in the end, taking the underground and it was soon clear it was both in a great location and most likely a Love Hotel with a double bed for two of us. (also amusing in hindsight,)  We found a Korean BBQ place as soon as we stepped out the door and unlike the Yakiniku of Japan, the waiter not only delivers the raw meat to us on a plate, but also cooks it for us. It was delicious, it is quite easily my favourite food in Japan (though it's Korean). Pig skin was surprisingly the winner in taste and after saying how lovely it was, the waiter gave us a complimentary extra plateful, which when dipped in the nut powder provided is incredibly tasty.

Then we passed several places to drink, one called Thursday Party, which looked nice enough and hey guess what it was a Thursday? So we went there. There was beer pong and beer and beer pong and Korean people and beer. 

Friday: The next day, slightly later in the day than we had intended, but we did go drinking the night before, we headed to Busan's Aquarium, which features a lot in the video at the top of this blog, so I won't mention it too much, but it was amazing. The tunnel underneath the tanks was particularly cool. 

Then Barrett napped and I went further up into the city, seeking to see more of Busan's Haeundae region. I passed lots of little carts stacked with vegetables for sale and open air food places, selling strange things I'd never seen before. There was a particularly fish-tank-containing street of stalls, which I loved, they stocked, eels, crabs, fish, squid, and I almost got splattered by a woman as she gutted a squid. I walked up hill, hoping I'd know my way home and found a temple overlooking the rest of the city. There, a Buddhist monk spoke to me, asking where I was from and what religion I was, he didn't seem to abashed by my lack of a religion, which was nice. A sweet man, who also hinted at the tensions going on between Japan and Korea over the resource rich islands

On the way back down the slopes, after taking much too many photos, I saw a hairdressers and went for it. I got a haircut in Korea, not knowing a single word of Korean (though by the end I could just about say thank you  감사합니다 (gamsahabnida)) and the hairdresser was efficient and good and his English wasn't too bad either, well he did stare at me several times in utter confusion, but fluent English speakers do that too.

Friday night: well it wasn't a Thursday but we went to the Thursday Party place again, there were lots of foreigners there, lots of drinkers, we were at home :) That night I may possibly have been a little sick... Not sure how as I drank a lot less, but it wasn't pretty.

Saturday : we spent most of the day in the hotel, hungover (well I did anyway) and then we headed to the beach as the sun had decided to come out. The beach was packed, so so so many people and Koreans like to wear clothes on the beach, closefitting ones, but clothes all the same, even in the sea. The waves were amazing, huge and really warm. There's definitely a build difference in Koreans though, the men are a lot buffer and broader than their Japanese counterparts. In the evening, we met up with Katy, my old workmate from ICWS, and had italian food and headed out for some drinks. Her friends were lovely though there may possibly have been far too many jokes about slavery...

Sunday: Back to Fukuoka, Shinkansen to Fukuyama, where I met Anthony and hung out with him again. He has a nice place, I'm jealous, he has tatami flooring.

Monday: Home to the lovely, the glorious, the beautiful, Shodoshima.

Ta da. Under a Korean Umbrella:

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Things to do

I’ve done a fair few new things lately.

I’ve eaten, made and essentially become part sushi.
I’ve sea kayaked, climbed a mountain or two, driven in a typhoon, seen and killed things I didn’t even know existed before this month.

And it’s got me thinking, what sort of things would I like to do before I bid this place farewell (and I’m not talking Japan or Asia here)
I had a nice little idea the other day. It came to me as I was walking back to the teachers' room from the photocopier room in Tonoshou High School. It was a gusty day and I was carrying a bundle of freshly copied papers. A what if… moment occurred.
The papers slip out of my hands, hundreds of them, separating instantly and momentarily blotching out the sky before dispersing in an instant… but then what if it wasn’t some sunny and dusty playground they were scattering in and it wasn’t faded white sheets, but the edge of a cliff, above a roaring ocean, with a thousand different coloured sheets of paper, all yearning to paint rainbows in the sky and the sea and everywhere they can get to. So that’s what I want to do. One little thing. It would certainly make a good photo and boy would it be fun, but could it be fun AND a good photo? Sure, as long as I do it twice, once through the lens and once through my own eyes.

What else?

Write a story with someone else? Well I’ve hardly written my own yet, so not sure I’m ready for that, but yea, one day. Not exactly profound or exciting though is it? (well the result could be)
Have an asian baby. Yea okay, who knows, but boy are they cute.
What else can I do? Teach English in an Asian country, check.
Paint the same beach ten times, check.
Beat a Japanese man at Japanese chess, check mate.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Brian’s misadventures in Japan

He was sitting at his desk, the little twitch in his eyebrow back. No-one was talking to him and he certainly wasn’t going to speak to them first. They could hardly understand a word he said. He couldn’t understand why, he spoke the Queen’s English and nothing but. They were probably just stupid.
Today it was the drumming outside that was making his eyebrow play up. It was beginning to give his face a sinister twisted look and he was about to ask Siri what the word for “Shut up” was in Japanese when it stopped.
“Oh thank god,” he muttered. It hadn’t taken him long to begin muttering to himself. He hadn’t noticed mind, he still thought he was being his usual subtle self. However one of the other teachers had noticed.
It was half an hour until lunch time and he wasn’t looking forward to it. Last time there’d been something slimy which had gotten stuck in his teeth and every time he’d breathed it had slapped the roof of his mouth. The muttering had been particularly audible at that moment. Brian had thought the food ridiculously impractical and clearly no-one could eat such things. 
Just as he made to mark another of the hundred letters he’d been written by students (“They are just gibberish. They make no sense at all!” Brian had muttered to himself several times in his somewhat nasal voice,) a pair of teachers he didn’t recognise came over smiling.
He never liked it when they smiled.  It made his stomach churn with unease. It usually meant they would offer him something horrible or take him somewhere nasty. He liked it as his desk, where he could pretend he was back home.  He glanced at the framed photo of the Queen on his desk. It always made his chest slacken and his nerves calm, just looking at it.
These two teachers had given him a tour of the school at the start of the year and they’d even given Brian a little sweet each as a welcome gift. He scowled at them, whoever they were.
“What?” he uttered, “What is it?” he added, remembering his manners and ever so slightly softening his tone.
He hoped they weren’t going to offer another cup of green tea. The teachers always seemed to offer it. He’d accepted the first one, because it was important to try new things and be polite. He was quite adventurous and always polite after all. It had been so bitter though. With some effort, he’d managed to swallow it, but his cheeks had turned a little red. Subtlety being his strength, he’d told them it wasn’t his cup of tea. He couldn’t understand why anyone would like it. It was horrible.
The two teachers gestured for him to stand up and follow them. He hated it when they gestured. He had ears and wasn’t an animal.
Soon he was halfway down an unfamiliar corridor and there were loud noises coming from up ahead. He could feel his bladder clenching. The two teachers were nodding, smiling and whispering instructions into his ears, but he wasn’t listening. There was no point. He was certain that their English was too poor to understand.
The noises up ahead became clearer. Clapping and cheering. A crowd. Brian began to sweat. They’d reached a curtained door and the teachers were standing on either side, gesturing for him to enter.
“Oh god.” He hissed, but his words were lost in the folds of fabric as the teachers pushed him through.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

8 new words

I'm studying Japanese (Nihongo o benkyou shiteimasu)
and I've reached a point where there are 8 brand new words that I can spell with the letters I've learnt.
There's something in me which has me lacing them together into a story, which Freud would judge, harshly.

  1. ぬぐ (nugu) to undress
  2. にっき (nikki) diary
  3. ねじ (neji) screw
  4. ねあげ (neage) a rise in price
  5. かね (kane) steel
  6. にく (niku) meat
  7. ねぎ (negi) green onion
  8. なつかしい (natsukashii) longed for, dear

Let your minds wander and I wonder if your story resembles mine in any way shape or form

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Words about Her

Haruka closed her eyes. She knew her way without looking. Her hands followed the walls of the narrow passage. They slid along the cool rocks as she went further into the darkness. This month’s sacrifice was fat and strong. Haruka had tied one end of a rope around her waist and the other around the fat offering. She didn’t want him running away and telling everyone about her. He kept digging in his heels, resisting. She bit her tongue with impatience. He was proving the biggest challenge yet.
She knew she’d bruised the sacrifice, getting him through the narrow entrance and making him follow her, but the Gods would be forgiving. They always forgave her. Of course they did. She was a good, loyal subject, after all.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mountains and Monkeys

Today was pretty awesome and awesomely pretty.

The view from my house, containing Otouzan

It started early and by pressing the snooze button. In the town where I live and visible from my window, there's a large twin peaked mountain. Its name is Otouzan. Today, with seven others, I climbed it. I left my house at 8.15am, no skin exposed, sunglasses and a hat donned, as instructed by Kinoshita San, a local government man from my Eikaiwa. After meeting outside the town office and leaving our cars there, we headed into a part of the town I'd only driven past. It was, like every part of this country thus far seen, beautifully idyllic and utilitarian at the same time.

I knew very few of the details of what was planned, I'd mentioned climbing the mountain, kind of in passing, almost casually, but now I was on my way to do it and there were new faces all around me. I'd thought it was going to be just the two of us, but there were 6 men and a woman and they were all around 50 give or take a few decades. They were lovely, their English was quite minimal but Kinoshita San did his best to translate and he did a great job, it was nice seeing him use lots of English as he is perhaps a little shy in class. I was handed a box and a pair of chopsticks, a bottle of green tea and I smiled and arigatou gozaimasued my way through until my gratitude was appropriately conveyed. We first drove around behind the mountain, passing into really unfamiliar territory, which I should really go back to explore again, bamboo forests (Taki? or Take in Nihongo?) and the road was not one I'd like my car to go up, very very narrow and steep, over grown in places, to the extent that a window had to be wound down and a branch pushed aside.
We unloaded and headed up a watery track (which was apparently drivable too, REALLY not where I'd take my car) through bamboo and up into the mountain. The path was intermittently crossed with cobwebs which the leader often walked into (spiders and all. Quite big spiders too.)

the group of us that climbed the mountain
We reached a vantage point and for some mysterious reason the lady's umbrella (a black one with frilly edges) ended up in my hands and I was posing for a photo on the ledge with it. No idea how that happened. There were quite a few of these photos and all the men shouted "Kawaii" at me when I held it (which means cute) and they took a lot of photos of me, sometimes covertly, sometimes failing covertly, very overtly.
one of so many umbrella photos

We ate lunch (the bento box given to me, so nice!)

the ridiculously lovely Bento

 on the next stop, another lovely view and oddly enough took more umbrella edge photos. It was a really nice day, I tried my best to mime and nod and probably mangled my Japanese and my English into a big fat mwsh.
a pretty lost sign

Then came art class, which was fun as always.

Then the Guam party. I want to go into detail, but I don't want to write an essay. There were songs, sweet letters read to Host families, dancing, songs in Guam's language Chamorro and Japanese. It was really nicely done, if only I spoke more Japanese! Well there's one way to fix that... eat chocolate... okay perhaps not. (this is unrelated but yesterday was the day Guam students came to visit Tonoshou HS and there was origami, caligraphy, badminton, table tennis and a tea drinking ceremony oh and also in between all that there was Shogi (Japanese chess) which I so beat a Japanese national at :P) There was also a lot of food, very delicious Guam food. A lot of which is now in my fridge as there were amazing amounts of leftovers. I spent quite a bit of time trying to explain Sarcasm to a Japanese person, failing somewhat miserably. 

All in all, a lovely weekend (and week) and it's not even over yet!

And in fact, let's add to it:

After a busy Saturday, Sunday started with a nice lie in, but soon sped up. There were ribbons, farewells, monkeys, peacocks, deer, panoramas and the most wonderful of gifts. Let's have a photo summary:
these beauties are noisier than I expected

some of those dastardly monkeys

ahh and so the panorama photos begin

these were endlessly fun

and remarkably side splitting/cloning.

inspired by Manisha (and the photo above)

from art class

a lovely gift. Japan really does gifts well.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Three months

I'm approaching three months away from the UK, away from my friends and family. And away from Starcraft II. Does this count as three months "sober"? Should I get a little counter which says 3 months on it. Okay, I slipped off the bandwagon a few times, but nothing serious, just a few games online with randoms, no-one I knew. Nothing dangerous. I haven't played with William or anything. I think it's OK. The dreams have stopped, but the cravings are still there.

Oh the dreams. Maybe I'll play later.

Inspiration in a typhoon

As her mother closed the storm shutters, Haruka new now was the perfect time. She snuck out the back door and grabbed her bike. She needed to be quick and careful. Bikes and typhoons didn’t mix well, but she needed to find a boy and take him to them. It had been too long to wait just because of a silly storm. How dangerous could it be?

On the edge

As the rain starts to get heavier and heavier, I stare out of the window reflecting on my earlier decision to leave the umbrella in the car. Not my wisest move. The air's thick, well it's pretty thick in general with all the humidity (if it gets to 100% are we swimming not walking when we pass through it?) with a buzz of excitement.

There was definitely something off when I drove into school this morning. It was raining lightly, but it's rainy season. The man on the radio said lots of things I didn't understand, but one I did stood out. Typhoon.

Was I late? early? Something was amiss. There was only one kid and no sign of cars. It didn't click right away. (No, they hadn't all been blown away)

School wasn't cancelled for me, but for the students it was.

This was all explained in the morning announcement, none of which I understood. I didn't even notice the word Typhoon this time, but the English teachers explained to me afterwards which was nice. So it's on its way. A Typhoon. The school needs to be storm proofed and checked for already present storm damage.
There isn't any.

Phones keep ringing and teachers in their composed and calm way keep making other phone calls. There are no pupils yet they're all so busy. What they're doing's quite a mystery to me. There's a little excitement in it. That sadistic appreciation of scary weather. The inner storm chaser in us all is awake and ready to chase.

The storm will be over us around midnight. Will the room shake? The windows rattle? At least it should mean no mosquitoes.

The teacher beside me tells me all about the strength of winds, 50m/s, and I look a little hazy eyed. That's pretty fast. 111mph. On an island where the max speed limit is 31mph, that's going to feel a tad on the speedy side.

The rains still going, the baseball field looks sad all sodden.

I hear it'll be time to record the listening test for the san nensei (third years) later, and I can't help but imagine doing that in a really strong and fatal storm. Would be an interesting way to go.

Friday, 15 June 2012

summery summary

As a great writer once said: 

"the thing about having a blog is that you start to get very good at writings recaps" 

So here's mine (haiku poets forgive me)

Sushi, kayaking
Flowers and ribboned farewells
in Japan with spoons

Tongue twisters stupid
superstitions stupid sup-
erstitions stupid

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Henro Experience

The Henro Experience

Japan is beautiful. Very few people I've met here would contest that with anything but modesty. The Henro Experience reveals something beyond the beauty, which is, yes, you've guessed it, beautiful too.

The weekend trip started with rushing, as all my journeys seem to. Having overslept to the extreme, my friend Stephanie and I cycled to Takamatsu station and caught a train to Zentsuji. Well, actually, I'm not going to be hugely helpful on the directions or the locations of where most of this trip took place, but those are details, I'm giving you an impression. Like my paintings, I focus on the colour, not the lines (or at least that's my excuse for it looking a bit blurry). There were other Henroers (as they shall hence forth be known) on the train too and we sat near them, though they were both bald (or lacking in hair) so naturally I kept my distance (this is my humour, I know, I know, it needs some work)

At Zentsuji (I think) station, we grabbed some food and met the rest of the Henroers, including the lovely organisers/leaders/people-who-later-translated-a-lot Lindsey and Chris.
Then we hopped onto a bus and caught it to the top of a mountain, where there was a reconstructed ancient burial tomb, where a pair were buried. It's not known as to whether the pair were a couple or a mother and son or a leader and their second in command or...
The views were spectacular and the weather was perfect for seeing our next destination a hill/mountain away (does Japan really have hills? or are they all mountains?)
We caught the bus back and had a little history lesson in a very elaborate building, which resembled a state home in Europe. (I wish I had my notes at hand, but I unfortunately don't, so the name and history shall be a mystery to you, one worth exploring perhaps with a Henro Experience)
Then we were given our outfits. The tradional pilgrimage attire. Something I'd been looking forward to quite a bit. Everything was novel and fun, the hats (my favourite bit) the sticks, the white gown-like tops, the bells and the little purple sash. They've all beautiful Japanese names, which we were told and given handouts about, so for those that wanted to, there was plenty of opportunity to learn each garment's name, but I was too busy wanting to get into the spirit of things and march off into the distance, all dressed up.

We visited many temples, trekking between them, just far enough to feel you've done some work, but not so far as to feel exhausted (well, maybe a little exhausted). Their names and their histories were beautiful and I'm glad I was given handouts about them as well as the oral translations from our guide as my memory is like a sieve. There was a museum full of ridiculously old treasures, all beautifully encased in glass, viewable for free.

We stayed the night, the Henroers (about thirty of us, give or take) in the temple, Zentsuji. There was a lovely Onsen, a really elaborate meal, with about 12 separate dishes used (I would not want to be doing the washing up afterwards) all vegetarian and meant to purify the soul/body. The Onsen was incredibly relaxing and refreshing. The evening was a chance to unwind after all the walking and to get to know the other internationals on the Henro, which was lovely as I made quite a few friends and a heck of a lot of laughs. Then we went to our dorms and slept, at nine. Uncharacteristically early. Because we had to be up at 5am for the Sūtra readings. It was hard to wake up that early, but it was worth it. That morning was probably the highlight of it for me. It's hard to compare such a variety of good experiences, but chanting with Buddhist monks at 5.30am is not something you get to do often and it was very relaxing and moving. There was definitely something in it that lifted the spirit.  Then came the best experience of all.

It was terrifying and it was strange. It made me giggle and it made me shudder. We were led under the temple into the underground tunnels beneath. There the two at the front were told, and then told everyone else, to put their left hands on the wall and to follow it, into the darkness. The tunnel wall was hard and smooth and soon vanished from sight as the darkness wrapped around us. I shuffled my feet along, nervous,  but excited. It was amazing. Something so simple and yet so delightful. I cannot recommend it enough.

Also, as a little end note, Japanese people are incredibly generous, especially to those who are on a Henro. We received a lovely little statue of a monk with (perhaps) a prayer inside and also a beautiful cloth that can be hung like a tapestry (and mine is doing just that, over the archway of my door and looking brilliantly Japanese). We had a chance to light incense in one of the last temples as well. Stephanie and I also received a gift from two ladies at a stall in a market we visited. Charcoal bamboo shoots, good for uneasy stomachs and fertilising plants. I may use some for the tomatoes and courgettes I'm trying to grow.

Here's my poor attempt at a Haiku to capture the feeling of listening to the monks and joining in on the chanting (sorry it's a bit feeble):

Zentsuji sutra
Words settle like sakura
Petals in our hearts

and another

Under Zentsuji
Left hands stroke dark ancient walls
Close your eyes and walk

and one final one, a little cryptically about a game some of the Henroers played at the temple:

Games in Zentsuji
Lynching and lying are rife
Try to save your life

Thank you.

Gosh my life is full of beautiful verbs

Haruka and Henro

I’ve started writing again and boy do I have a lot to write about now. I actually feel a bit guilty for how long it’s been since I wrote in my blog (in, on, for, a?!)

It’s been so long since I’ve mentioned what I’ve been up to. Here’s a list of things I've done, in no particular order, perhaps I will elaborate on each, or, as is more likely knowing me, I’ll pick one that’s not on the list and go off on a tangent that ends me up in some god forsaken place (Hmm sounds like my driving. Oh here we go…) :

  • Temples, shrines, temples shrines, templesshrines,templeshrines, templrines,temrines,trines,TRIES!

  • Onsen – which included one comically timed personal question and some inappropriate use of a hairdryer (not by myself of course)

  • Maffia x 3. Narrating is SO fun, especially as I essentially narrate my life every day with all these blogs and journals I’ve got flying around.

  • Welsh cakes and cooking class in a temple. Maybe next time it'll be lasagne I'm giving the recipe to...

  • Shodoshima grown strawberry jam and homemade dessert, such a lovely gift. A more poetic man would describe their gratitude more eloquently.

  • A postcard from my hairdresser with such a nice note on it.  "thank you for your comming a store!
    Moreover, lets's speak variously"

  • Aforementioned haircut and prior refusal for a haircut, due to...?

  • Haruka’s fleshing out nicely, soon she’ll be ready to manifest. After watching Chronicle last night, I feel like she’s a bit like the main character Andrew in that, but perhaps she is redeemable. Perhaps.

  • Reversing a long way along a narrow road, up hill. Doh. Which made me late for the first time to work. Eeks.

  • Hysterical questions about what happens if you pass wind in a class and the children hear – avec Liz and Lorianne.

  • Three observations of other teachers – all very different styles, all very interesting to watch.

  • The internet is looming closer, actual internet. Diablo 3 playable internet.

  • Waking up at 5am for sutra readings, chanting, a sort of rite of passage through a dark tunnel under the temple, one hand on the wall, the other half praying the darkness isn’t holding any sharp objects and slowly realising the wall is shifting around a corner. A dark, unseeable corner.

  • The realisation that when living alone, tidying’s more of a chore than you’d expect, but cooking is an indulgence worth pushing out the boat for.

  • A mental to do list which primarily consists of getting to bed by an early hour and being creative with my every waking hour. Read. Write. Paint. Pastel. Bake. Teach. Gosh my life is full of beautiful verbs.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Baking A little Wales into Japan

So previously I made Lemon Meringue Pie and just this second I've finished making Welshcakes.

And it wasn't a disaster. Woohoo. Something worthy of celebrating with a glass of wine and maybe a cake... a welsh cake even.

So there was lots of preparation but it went smoothly, but I deviated from the recipe on quite a few fronts.

Here is the original recipe. I've not tried it before, but I left my recipe book at home so I was in need of a recipe and bbcgoodfood's usually fair to its namesake. I omitted the baking powder and the mixed spice as I have neither and finding the flour was hard enough, not to mention the sugar and the first thing I bought thinking it was margarine... well that's another story, which relates very much to an earlier blog.

I also added a large number of mixed nuts (which included almonds, macadamia and walnuts and a few msyterious ones)

Firstly I only started taking photos when I'd already made the dough, but that bits easy.

There was mixing.

And then my Umeshu Bottle was used to roll out the dough. Shame the lid wasn't entirely on, but, hey, a little plum wine can never ruin a cake.

Pretty cutters aka upside down glasses.

YES, Welsh cakes are fried.

That definitely isn't caster sugar, but it tastes like sugar (always a plus) and it went into the mix without turning green or exploding (unlike what Neville Longbottom would manage in Potions, aka Cooking for magical folk)

The final result, a box of sugared welsh cakes. I've already had four. Well that's my evenings sorted for a month, a stone a day I say.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mouth - the start of a story

As Haruka tiptoed further into the tunnel, tiny bones crunched underfoot. The sound made her smile, there was something oddly satisfying about it, but she tried not to let it distract her from her goal.  She still had a way to go yet.

She was already shivering, not because of the cold, but because she was excited and nervous.

This place, like no other, made her feel at home. Like a home, she knew it well. She knew when to stoop as the ceiling closed in and she recognised the dank smell that told her when to feel for the crack in the wall to slip through. She also knew not to wear a belt, not after the first time when it had gotten her stuck for about an hour. And like a home, she knew when something was amiss. From all around, the rhythmic dripping, as rapid as her heartbeat, could not soothe her unease as she traced her fingers around another bend in the rock. There were grazes along the tunnel wall; it had been damaged. Others had been here.

She could smell them and taste their sweat in the air. It made her gag. They would have to be punished for intruding, but not now.

She glanced down at her watch, doing her best to hold her quarry still, and pressed the light. She pre-emptively squinted, but was still dazzled by the bright digits. It was half one. She only had ten minutes left.
Haruka had never really thought much about the gods. She had written tiny prayers with hearts and kisses on New Year’s Day and posted them in the walls of temples, hung them on the branches of sacred trees and scattered them in the holy flames, but she had never really thought about who she was writing to. Now, as she hurried through the dark cave, doing her best not to fall and praying she had enough time, she knew exactly to who she was praying. They were expecting her and she knew they would not forgive her if she was late. She wouldn’t forgive herself either. So, clutching the boy’s hand, she dragged her quarry onward. She would tear his hand off him if it ensured they made it.

She should have found him sooner, the bait should have been chosen more wisely. 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Japanese Baking Numero 1

Inspired by Mr Mattox's baking blogs, here's my own zesty zany zumbunkious attempt. Yes they are words. Now at least.

I've discovered (the word discovered makes it sound like I did it, I can be misleading like that) that my (also misleading) microwave oven is able to be an actual oven, when it feels like it, from time to time. A nifty trick I'd say. So I'm going to bake. Oh god the microwave just made a really weird noise, does that mean the food's done or I've only got a few seconds left to run before it explodes? (I'm having Lasagne before I start, I've forgotten eggs anyway so this isn't going to be an early successful baking experience, more like a slaving until the early hours and then giving up sort of thing I expect. (Little did I know...)) The tune the micro oven (as it shall hence forth be known) makes is so merry, tis adorable.

Okay, let's do lots of photos like the pros do (Mattox

The new utensils needed to make this, each one was 105円 which felt like a bargain especially for the measuring scales and the glass lemon squeezer thingymabob:

The ingredients (sadly not so cheap. The cornflower was about 300円):


First I added the flour to the margarine and a pinch of salt and made them into bread crumbs.

So far so good.

Slowly but surely I added cooled water to the mix until a dough formed and then used an Umeshu (recall: 梅酒) bottle to roll out the pastry. It was remarkably neat and not as messy as feared and the pastry was perfect almost straight away. Oh little did I know how things would soon take a turn for the worse.

While the pastry was in the oven, baking blind, though I didn't have any baking beans sadly, I could have tried using rice, but I was feeling lazy and I don't think it would have saved my pie, I went about making the filling, which involved lemons and their zest. When grating lemons try not to grate your thumb, it's easier done than said.

and juice

Then it came to adding the cornflour, sugar and zest to a pan and mixing, while off the heat. Then the lemon juice was added and stirring commenced.

Oh and there was a secret ingredient:

Stir until sauce thickens.... then add the butter

There was a slight disaster when it came to add the butter to the filling only to find I didn't have enough. I needed 85g, but only had about 60g. Well it wasn't as liquidy (or fatty!) as it should have been, but I ploughed on, stirring away then leaving it to cool while I split the eggs, which is a beautifully messy task. I even split the yolk of one with my fingers, that trick they always show on cooking programs with Deliah and the delectable Nigella, letting the white slip between your fingers while the yolk dances around, trying to get away as it is de-robed... that sound a little disgusting to anyone?

and thickens...

Then one urine sample look alike was taken and stirred indefinitely until both arms ached: Oh the optical illusion of that tatami place mat's not fun.

There was also the matter of the failure to rise of the meringue. 

Well it rose, 

but once the sugar was added the whole thing flopped and became a glooplike consistency. Not ideal. So I tried to make another batch of it, after already having added the failed meringue to the top. I thought maybe using the granulated sugar was wrong (which it was) but I still don't know what the other type of sugar is. Its a lot less flowy than the other one that's for sure. When I opened this one, it clung to the bag, whereas the granulated slid down the moment the air pressure changed from opening it and then rolled around like dry grains of sand. The mysterious sugar was almost sticky. I did have a terrifying moment with the filling when I was adding the aforementioned sugar when I thought it might be icing sugar, but I'm PRETTY sure it's not. Not entirely mind.

Irrespective of obsticles faced, I persevered and put the pie in the oven, setting it for the recommended 18 minutes (well 20 but figuring out 18 was a little too much and based on how little the base seemed to bake I had a feeling the times would have to be stretched a bit and sure enough they did)

 My microwave oven seems to have its own little national anthem at the end of each task, it plays the tune proudly and triumphantly like a dog smiling and wagging its tail when it returns a stick you threw. Poor dumb dog.

Here's the final result. Well it's not pretty and it was a bit chewy and it didn't taste all too great either but..., wait shouldn't there be a silver lining? I had fun? No, don't think that was really fun, it was tiring and an effort, but not wholly fun, ahh it wasn't unfun!

Dean certainly has a lot of patience writing all the details down. And boy did it not taste good or turn out that well! Next time I'm looking for a recipe that is aimed for microwave ovens or just microwaves!