Monday, February 27, 2006

fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads...

This weekend was utterly fabulous. Robyn, my Canadian friend who I met when we lived in Lancaster, was visiting from Seoul, where she teaches English as well. Her aunt and uncle live just outside of Kobe in a little town called Obayashi. They had a great little place, and live on the campus of a private Catholic girls school. They were great and made me feel like family.

Saturday afternoon, Robs and I headed for Osaka. We needed to expose her to Japan, and I think we were pretty thorough. First, there was general wandering. We located a few restaurants we we intrigued by, and of course, a British pub! I taught Robs about the true heart of no public drinking regulations, and we drank our conbini Asahi whilst walking the streets. We went to a great little temple that had beautiful lanterns, and a very unique stamp for my shuin book.

After that, we trotted back to the English pub and threw back a couple happy hour cocktails. Then it was off to the rotating sushi bar. This place had the best wasabi I have had so far in Japan. The texture of it was soft, and it was STRONG. There was no maguro, but we still managed to gorge ourselves. Next, introduction to pocky and chu-hi.

We sat and people-watched. Very relaxing. We fumbled around in a purikura booth and managed to get some good shots. I wanted to hit up Pachinko, but wasn’t sure about etiquette etc, in there, so I figured I better not embarrass both of us. After a lot more wandering and photos near the river, we headed back to Obayashi.

Sunday morning, we headed to Himeji.

Himeji is known primarily for its castle, Dai-tenshu. It was built in the early 17th century, and represents the highest achievement in Japanese castle architecture. The white heron castle (named so because it is covered in white plaster, and its eaves resemble a white heron in flight) is the most famous in all of Japan. It was enormous, and the interior was all wood and gorgeous. It was simple, with some glass cases with armor, scrolls, sculptures, etc on display. There was a small indoor shrine located at the very top of the castle, and a wacky old dude screaming out the window to his friends on the bottom level. Very serene, dude.

Here is a shot of the pathway made up partly of old tiles from the castle roof.

We got a joint ticket to the Himeji Castle Nishioyashikiato Garden Koken. It was built on the site where the Himeji Lord and his men's samurai houses existed in the Edo Period. There are 9 gardens, but we didn’t have enough time to walk through more than 3. We were appreciating beautiful nature as quickly as possible (sadly ironic, I know!).

There was time to stop in the Soju-an (teahouse) so Robyn could have some macha and sweets. The ladies inside were ridiculously attentive and adorable. The head mistress tried to explain something about kocha (which apparently means black tea, and therefore makes NO sense in the following context) to me for about 10 minutes. I offer you this poorl translated version, (iow) what I got out of it...

"You eat the sweet first, then drink the tea. do you speak much Japanese? Where are you from? Missouri? Misery? giggle. Oh, a teacher in Toyama-ken. Kocha... Oh, you do not understand kocha... oh you can read hiragana! please wait a moment. (at this point she goes to get a paper for me to read, which is half kanji, half hiragana.) oh, you cannot read kanji (she goes away again and gets her reading glasses, she proceeds to read me the entire paper, as I sit in confusion). Kocha, kocha...Japan has 4 seasons that you can appreciate in this garden. Green, green... nani nani... how did you hurt your arm? Oh, that is unfortunate. Anyways, (counts seasons on her fingers) spring, summer, autumn, winter. Different plants and flowers bloom in different seasons. green... beautiful... castle...."
That's about it. But damned if she wasn't convinced I could understand her. Then she went into the backroom and I heard a little girl asking how to say, “does it hurt?” in English, so she could ask about my arm (awww!). She brought out her two little apprentices. They were about 6 or 7 years old, and were so cute! They asked if we would like more tea, and brought it out, bowed, the whole 9 yards. We took this photo with them.

I also give you my second drained macha cup. I will keep track of these on here, for my own amusement.

After a great weekend of drinking, catching up, and tanuki hunting, Robs and I parted ways in Sannonomiya, and I managed to return to Takaoka in one piece. I will end this by settling a dispute between J and myself...

this is trout!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kanazawa 21st Century Museum

The trees reflected in the stream and pebbles at Kenrokuen Gardens

Yesterday, I was graced with daikyuu, or as I like to say, "screwed out of having a 3 day weekend." Anyways, it was a beautiful day and Ellie and Angelo joined me on my art mission. I have been to the museum once before, for the infamous Matthew Barney "Drawing Restraint" show.

I love the museum, the space is inviting, some of the works are interactive, some structural aspects are simulaneously permanent pieces in the collection, and they have a good sized area of the gallery devoted to touring shows and/or collections, as opposed to throwing the same pieces that they paid an exorbantant amount of money on in your face again and again like other museums. This show was entitled, "Alternative Paradise."

Upon walking in, I was greeted by Hiroto Kitagawa's study of "futuristic human beings." They looked like giant clay manga characters, but painted with acrylic paint to add depth and the artist's touch. I like ultramarine as much as the next painter, but I think these were a bit glorified. Beautiful, yes, overrated, in my opinion... also yes. Sorry, no picture. Moving on.

Here we have Tetsuya Nakamura.

He apparently does fascinating things with fiberglass, etc. The "fast" objects were very shiny and sleek. I felt dismay upon walking into this gallery, because it looked like a 4 year old's dreamland. Life-sized race cars straight out of a video game. The museum explained that Nakamura paints and molds these vehicles using "new" techniques, but doesn't elaborate beyond that. The concept was very perplexing. Something about making speed visible. Perhaps it was just translated badly on the museum wall.

Canan Dagdelen's work (similar to, but not the one displayed above) left me feeling like a part of my soul had been sucked out. The space was horribly underutilized (perhaps the gallery's fault) and the work was very recently re-appropriated. I have seen this method of hanging multiple objects to create a new form dangling below, done over and over. I didn't find it particularly engaging.

Some aspects of the show were great. The T-room, a 4 artist collaboration futuristically interpreting the Japanese tea ceremony, was beautiful. The concept was well thought out, and the giant bubble room enveloped you and instilled a real sense of calm.

I know I am not supposed to take photos in the museum, but it was covered in silicone! I have a weakness for silicone. I also liked the hair/thread works from Anne Wilson (the 100 days one, not so much the video, although it gave me a good idea about milk...), and the plastic organisms created by Sofi Zezmer.

We also spent time at the beautiful Kenrokuen gardens, and had some tea at the garden teahouse. Below is our mochi.

a view of the tea room

My empty chawan.

The overall best part of the day was when we visited the oldest shrine in Ishikawa and were treated like royalty. I was getting my shuin written by the resident calligrapher/hanko mistress, and the caretakers of the shrine came out and chatted with us for a bit. They told us about the temple and gave us arrows as we were leaving. Awww... so sweet. Now I just want to know where I can get one of those awesome shrine maiden uniforms!

Friday, February 17, 2006

My pencil is all good.

This week is officially my favorite week in school so far. I did a superlatives vote with my ichi-nensei classes and they were so cute about it. Here are some highlights of the week:

1. Obviously, cooking on Monday

2. My 3-8 girls coming into school on their day off and giving all their teachers nut muffins.

3. My ichis writing letters to me apologizing for using their keitai in class, and telling me that English class is their favorite and they love me. Even if they were lying, it was nice.

4. All the kids saying good morning on their way to school, as opposed to the terrified silence I have gotten the whole rest of the year. (even the boys!)

5. Being able to read the graffiti I pass every day and realizing it says, "bakayaro," or stupid bastard if you will.

6. One of my 1-2 girls talking to me yesterday on my way to the eki. She was telling me about the boy she likes and how he plays basketball in gym with her, sits next to her, texts her every night at midnight, is on the volleyball team, and is SO cool! She gave him chocolate on Valentine's day and hopes that he likes her. But she is worried that she is not pretty, because she asked who he thinks is pretty and he said Laura-sensei. Uh oh! I hugged her and said that she is beautiful, and we are both sexy ladies! She giggled unstoppably and went away with a big smile. I hope that was appropriate. Oh well, if not, I am fired!

I will leave you with Yoshida-kun's favorite thing:

"My foverite thing is my pencil. Because my pencil is red and that is get used to my red pencil. and that my pencil is all good."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


A few weeks ago, I had promised my 18 Canada homestay kids and my English club girls that we would make cookies. Then I broke my arm. Well played. So, this Monday, I finally made it up to them, and we spent 2 glorious hours baking away. I managed the convert the English recipe to metric via the power of technology, figuring it would be difficult enough for the little buggers to translate the recipe as it was. They separated into groups and began the daunting process of creaming butter and sugar together. Keep in mind, most of these kids have NEVER assisted their mothers in the kitchen before, so the home-ec room is like a foreign land. My English club girls rock, because we made sugar cookies back in December. Theirs were by far the prettiest, and most cookie-like of all the varieties we ended up with.

The four boys provided the most entertainment, however. They mixed the batter alright, but that's where the fun started!

The cookies were sporatically placed on a "greased" cookie sheet (note: the recipe did not call for a greased sheet!) and were so huge that they all melded together to create the infamous GIANT COOKIE. To be fair, nearly all of the groups, unless they were blessed with an English club girl, had entire sheet cookie action for the first tray.

After the second mess, I went over to help the poor boys, to cheers of "Sugei" at my spatulaing abilities. I am a domestic goddess, who knew?! After their 4th sheet came out resembling cookies, they chose the prettiest one and presented it to me. They were not satisfied till I ate it and proclaimed, "Oishiiii!" I love my kids!

My spirits were bolstered by my kiddies, once again. During class, I asked them to write a V-day message to someone they love. One of my boys wrote,

"Happy Valentine's Day Yeah!
Give me chocolate!
Be yours."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Kaiwo Maru and so much fish

Saturday morning, my supervisor Nishibuchi sensei and I took a trip on the tram. My Kyoto sensei gave me a pack of tickets for the Manyosen (fun red tram thingie) that goes from the Takaoka eki to the sea at Shiminato. We had talked about doing it doing it a few months ago, but finally managed to get around to it. The tram took about 1/2 an hour to get all the way to Kaiwo Maru park where we explored a cutter built in 1930.

Nishibuchi cracked me up pushing all the buttons, trying to open all the locked doors, and knocking the compass and radar systems around. She has the curiosity of a little kid, which is really refreshing to see, since the majority of Japanese I have run into are so straight-laced and conformist about such things.

After a few Titanic reenactments, we headed to a little market to pick up some omiyage for our co-worker who's house we were invited to for lunch.

They had some great metallic fish decorating the ceiling, and a whole case full of random medicines.

Sorry for the excessive photos of the medicine, but they reminded me of the seed packets you could buy for your gardens back home, at the flowershops. Behind the counter, they also had a bag of dried rattlesnake, which I was told is very healthy for us. ???!?!?!?!

Lunch was good, rice, soy sauce, sashimi, sprouts, seaweed, and mystery Japanese herb (that's their name, not mine), with miso. After the main course, they busted out mad sushi. It was trout flavored, which Toyama is apparently famous for... it was ok. And another mystery herb wrapped silvery looking fish. I preferred the trout. We watched a friendly Japan vs. USA soccer match on tv, and her husband (who is a JTE in Toyama-shi) and I found out that we both play the same position, yeah new friend! She pulled out photobooks of their family's recent trip to New York, DC, and Florida, and we talked about what Japanese and Americans thought of one another. All in all, it was a great afternoon and I am really glad we went. Oh, nearly forgot. When we left, our host generously gave us each a huge plate of kani and trout sushi to take home! So much food!