Saturday, November 07, 2009

Beware the Squash Hand!

Were you aware of the possible allergic effects for butternut and acorn squash? Admittedly, I stumbled across a mention of possible allergic reaction on a food site a while back. Didn't think much of it, and assumed I was impervious, since I am not allergic to poison ivy. In my mind that makes you invincible. Alas... this is not so.

Within about 3 minutes of cutting the skin off of a raw butternut squash, the skin on my left hand started tightening itself closed. I immediately washed the hand with soap, to remove any irritant, and sent J onto the internet to figure out why my hand was morphing into an aged monkey claw.

The culprit was the droplets oozing from the edges of the squash. Earlier, the goo adhered the top half of the squash to my cutting board like superglue. I never expected an allergic reaction.

After 30 minutes, the skin was cracked and tight. I added water and moisturizer, which helped temporarily, but soon was absorbed.

The skin turned orange as well. As you can see below. I applied something akin to cortisone cream, and slept with a cotton glove on to keep in moisture.

After the next full day wearing the glove, I woke up to find the first layer of skin peeling off. It was what Elmer's glue used to look like if you let it dry on your hand in elementary school. Within the next few hours, my hand looked perfectly normal again. A quick recovery for an unexpected case of dermatitis. Be careful making your butternut squash soup this winter, everyone!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Vegetarian (vegan) Shepherd's Pie

This autumn, J and I were inundated with gifts from our school and friends' gardens. Our kitchen was filled with persimmon, sweet potato, onions, and potatoes. Having worked through most of the overstock, I am still faced with how to use 5 persimmon tomorrow (perhaps a bread?) and about 4 gargantuan sweet potatoes. Looking at a pile of radish greens, onions, and potatoes provided from our friend Miyawaki-san's hatake, I decided to make something pie-like. Inspired by the recipe from fatfreevegan , I concocted a Farmer's Pie.

Farmer's Pie
5-6 small to medium potatoes
1/2 cup soy milk
dash of salt and pepper
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
6-8 ounces fresh mushroom, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 can/pack kidney beans
1-2 cups green beans, snapped
1 1/2 tsp thyme
2 tsp fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp sage
2 cups radish greens or spinach
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water

1. Cube and boil the potatoes.

2. Mash them, as you will, and add soy milk. Flavor with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3. Using 1 tbsp canola oil, fry onions till translucent.

4. Add garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

5. Add carrots, celery, pepper, and mushrooms and cook for 3-5 more minutes.

6. Add veg broth, kidney beans, green beans, radish greens, and herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes.

7. Some liquid remains in the pan, so add corn starch and stir till sauce has thickened.

8. Pour into glass pie dish, and top with mashed potatoes.

9. Sprinkle with sage and rosemary. Broil for 3-5 minutes, till slightly browned.

*note: I added cheddar cheese to the top of the potato in this recipe (thus de-veganizing it), but we found that the cheese added nothing to the flavor of the dish, so I feel it's best to omit it.

Vegetarian Polish Sausage (take 1)

Last week, during my Japanese conversation class, I mentioned vital wheat gluten to my Sensei. To explain a bit, this man is possibly the most curious Japanese man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is a Baptist minister who has traveled around the world, and is fluent in English and passable in a slew of other languages, most recently including Portuguese. I have the utmost respect for him as a teacher and a friend, and his family as well. His son became one of my first and best Japanese friends, and is a pretty impressive snowboarder (after just 2 seasons). The entire family are also musicians, and when Maekawa-sensei is not trying to get me to somehow understand transitive and intransitive verbs, he's convincing me I need to learn how to play the accordion, or perhaps start studying Chinese as well. Like I said... amazing man.

Back to wheat gluten. My sensei doesn't eat fish, which is considered rather odd in Japan. When I stay for dinner after class, his wife cooks vegetarian food, so we can all eat together. It's awesome and I have gleened many ideas from her cooking. When I mentioned I have been looking for gluten so I could make vegetarian sausages, his interest was immediately peaked. He ran upstairs and ordered 1kilo for us to share, and I it was delivered this week. Upon handing me my pack, he said, "You might as well take mine, too. You'll need it to make me sausages." Cheeky!

This is my challenge. An old childhood favorite, that I made a few times in university with store bought veggie sausage. Can it be done with no proper steamer?

I started with a variation of Isa's sausage recipe from the Veganomicon, and altered it for a more Polish flavor.

for the sausage
1/2 cup beans (I used cannellini)
1 cup cold vegetable broth
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp dried marjoram

1. Bring steamer water to a boil while preparing other ingredients.
2. Mash beans in large bowl with fork.
3. Add other ingredients as listed and mix well.
4. Shape into sausages and wrap with aluminum foil, be sure to twist ends of foil
5. Place in steamer for 50 mins.
6. Using 1 tbsp of olive oil, fry sausages for till uniformly brown on edges.

for the kraut
1 jar sauerkraut
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp caraway seeds

1. Cut sausages into 1.5cm thick slices.

2. In frying pan or hot plate, add sauerkraut, sugar, mustard, and caraway seeds.

3. Toss in slices of sausage and spoon kraut over them till well integrated.

4. Cover with lid and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

I apologize for the most unappetizing food to ever be posted online, but I wanted to show the process for creating the sausages.

All tucked away in their make-shift steamer.

J gives it a 6 on a 1-10 scale (with 5 being I would eat it again as if some changes were made). The texture was surprisingly good, but admittedly the spice was not strong enough. I will "kick it up a notch" as requested, next time around. There was a definite flavor memory touched upon for me, though, so I was happy with my first attempt.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Next Step

The clock is counting down in my mind. It's already November, and I have butterflies in my stomach about what comes next. Next month, J and I will be heading home for a few weeks to visit our families and to see how much America is still "home" to us. There is a long list of things I am looking forward to seeing, doing, and of course eating when I get back. J mentioned the ease with which we can eat out. No worrying about what hidden delights might be put in the "vegetarian" food, and he can freely go to a steak house knowing that they are bound to have at least one veg option on the menu. I, on the other hand, am delighted to dive into the supermarket. Living here has allowed me to level-up my cooking skills. I never anticipated I would be making tortillas, pita, pesto, and veggie patties and sausages with a mini-oven and range out of necessity. It's definitely been a wonderful experience, but having a full-sized oven, a freezer that fits more than 2 ice cube trays and a bag of frozen bananas, and sweet god perhaps even a counter-top larger than my cutting board would be AMAZING. I am getting way ahead of myself, though. Before I can dream of appliances and roots, we have to plan out this next year.

The loose plan is to head out in August. Where we will lay our heads from July 31st till August 20th (besides in a tent on a mountainside) is still up in the air. Onward then, to Thailand. It's so comfortable and centrally located, you can't help but to keep coming back. This will mark my 5th time visiting Thailand, and the longest chunk of time staying solely there. Whilst J and I drown ourselves in local food (FRUIT!!), we will be taking the CELTA certification course just outside of Chiang Mai. This course is about a month long, and will both give us a kick-start back into study mode, and provide us with internationally accepted certification. Nice to have in your back pocket.

We're hoping to hop over to Luang Prabang for a few days before or after the course as well. Steveo, we will be in need of your expertise!

Soon after the course comes to an end, it's back to Bangkok and then to Mumbai (with a possible stopover in Myanmar). I'm still waiting for the dates on this one, but J and I are going to spend a month at the Yoga Vidya Dham Ashram in Nasik, India. Perhaps my dear Kara will join us, but it's a bit far ahead to know yet.

So, we'll be limber, licensed, and certified. We want to wander around India for a while after the course, to really see the country. After we have satisfied our wanderlust enough, we will likely head to Amsterdam, and possibly London (on your toes, Callaghan!) before landing safely back in Detroit sometime in December.

Nothing is concrete... things haven't been paid for or reserved yet. My goal is to solidify these plans in the next few months, and relieve some of the crazy pressure I feel right now. If anyone has any suggestions or thoughts, I would love to hear them!
Oh I wanna go!

Kara has plopped this tempting offer in my lap.

Bali Spirit Festival

I am trying to find a way to legitimize spending the money for my ticket there. Health? Fun? Relaxation? Focus? That annoying voice of reason in the back of my head keeps reminding me that I need to be saving money for grad school. But ooooh how much do I just want to slam down 50,000yen for a ticket to Bali?!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Staying Warm and Saving Money

The winter is upon us, and many of us will soon be huddled in our apartments away from the cold. Once the snow kicks in, an escape to the mountains is possible for boarding fun. Unfortunately, it's just pouring rain outside and the wind is howling. This will likely continue till sometime near New Years.

We have several ways of fighting the cold in Japan. My apartment is decked out with a kotatsu (small table with a heated bottom, it's all sealed in with blankets, and you sit under it and absorb the warmth), which is perfect for that pre-JLPT study push. We also have J's electric carpet. Put it under the futon and allow the heat to radiate through to you! Yum. I don't like using the standing heater very much, because it sucks mercilessly at the electricity. Instead, I double the use by baking breads and casseroles in the kitchen, thus heating up the coldest area of the apartment. Bonus: added layer of winter insulation provided by pie and soda bread.

I think the best thing we have going, though, is the gym literally across the street. We can go over anytime for a workout, sauna, and sento. I intend on saving my own electricity this year by spending as much time as possible leeching off of Holiday Sports center. Mwaa ha ha.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Myanmar and a bit of Typhoon 18

Last night, we knew we were in for a bit of a jolt, but I figured a Japanese typhoon would have nothing on the hurricanes I went through back in Florida. Usually, Toyama is protected from earthquakes, typhoons, and Godzilla attacks because of the Northern Alps hugging us. The wind seems to have found its way around the peaks, this time.

J and I woke sometime around 5am with no hope of going back to sleep. The wind was battering our veranda door and I could hear the empty bins in the hallway blowing to and fro. Donning pants, because we are fancy, we went downstairs to make sure our bikes were not blowing into the moat around the apartment, or flying through my car's windshield, as I was picturing in my mind. No problems in bike land, and the wind seemed to be much more mellow 4 floors down.

Most schools in the prefecture have closed down for the day... for the students. Yup, all the teachers were expected to put on our superhero capes and brave the roads this morning. I am not complaining because I live less than a 5 minute drive from work, but other ALTs were much less fortunate since Japan Rail canceled nearly all their trains today, and few of us have cars. Zannen, what can you do but complain?

On to other news. My trip to Myanmar back in July/early August was fantastic and beautiful, so here are some of the highlights!

For those wondering "why Myanmar?" I give you my dear Kara.

We went to school together for a year in Lancaster, England and traveled together in Europe and Africa. I hadn't seen her for nearly 7 years, and couldn't pass up the chance to come see her when she was living and working so nearby. She is doing amazing things in Yangon and around the country. I have always been in awe of how passionate Kara is about her work, but to see her in her element and to meet the people she is helping and motivating was truly inspiring. Being around a friend that you admire and love who is doing what they want to be doing, no qualms, no hesitation, is an ass-kicking and motivational experience. I had a fantastic time, drank a ton of tea, squeezed in some yoga, fell in love with thanaka (the goo on my face, above), and got my mind back into focus. Can't ask for more in a friend or a vacation.

The above picture and these below are from Na-gar Glass Studio in Yangon.

This family run self-taught company that was once the glassware crutch for the whole country. Because many products are blocked from being imported, Myanmar has become self-dependent in many ways, to save money, and sometimes just to survive.

We spent some time being shown around by Mr. Myay, an older gentleman who used to run the crucibles and furnaces. He spoke of the studios practices, recycling glass because there was no other option, and their technique of lower temperature crucibles, which leads to a signature bubbling within the pieces. He proudly showed us the 6 crucibles which each used to contain a different color of glass, and their handmade annealing furnace and sanders.

When Nargis hit on May 2nd 2008, the towering shade trees that surrounded the outdoor studio fell down taking the roof and almost the entire studio with it. What had been built from scratch and tweaked to perfection suddenly quashed. The studio site is now growing over with vines and roots, vases and wine glasses lay amidst the leaves and mulch, with centipedes crawling over them.

Devastating but also eerily beautiful, the studio hasn't been running since the cyclone. The family depends on sales made of previous work laying around the forest. We wandered and dug into piles here and there. I found what I was looking for half-buried in the mud. It felt like an excavation praying against nicks or cracks, finally I unearthed a nearly 4 foot high vase.

Getting "baby" (dubbed such because of the loving way the studio ladies wrapped it up) through airport security in both Myanmar and Thailand was a bit tough, but we made it back to Japan in one piece.

Kara and I headed north to Bagan by bus, a trip slightly reminiscent of our trek to Marrakesh, years ago. This time with more chocolate and less panic. The bus ride was somewhat surreal since we had two passport/national ID checkpoints and the new "capital" city, Naypyidaw to go through. The approach to Naypyidaw was much like the approach to Disneyworld. A long stretch of road with lights along the sides, vastly different from the surrounding area. Like you are heading to wonderland. Except Naypyidaw is much less "wonderland" and much more a leech on the country's resources and money. No joke, even the zoo was picked up and moved away from Yangon, so the "people" could benefit from it. This makes perfect sense if the only "people" the government is concerned about are its own workers.
I digress...

Bagan, on the other hand, is a lovely and quiet area. Tourists were few and far between, partly due to the time of year we visited, but also because of Aung San Suu Kyi's plea for a travel boycott. A large part of this is due to tourist money being funneled into the pockets of the junta government. I believe that carefully planned travel, where govt run hotels and transportation are avoided, can only benefit the country. Many of the people we met, including some of Kara's old students have jobs that depend on tourism, and also use the opportunity to speak to foreigners and learn other languages. Some manage to learn enough so that they can study abroad and return to Myanmar to help their country and teach others.

Bagan was an astounding city, very relaxed and overflowing with history.

If you climbed to the top of one of the higher paya, you could see nothing but Paya all around you. Surrounded by gorgeous temples, each housing its own art, statues, and unique history.

We spent 2 days wandering through the desert, talking to local artists selling paintings and bells, and avoiding herds of goats on the roads. Loved it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

2009 World Heritage Update!

Update! Up to 39 now, and hoping to add a few more in the next 12 months.

World Heritage Site List


Australia: Great Barrier Reef
Australia: Gondwana Rainforests


Cambodia: Angkor

Czech Republic
Czech Republic: Historic Centre of Prague


France: Chartes Cathedral
France: Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay
France: Palace and Park of Versailles
France: Amiens Cathedral
France: Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
France: Cathedral of Notre-Dame
France: Paris, Banks of the Seine


Italy: Historic Centre of Rome
Italy: Vatican City
Italy: Historic Centre of Florence
Italy: Venice and its Lagoon
Italy: City of Verona


Japan: Himeji-jo
Japan: Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
Japan: Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Japan: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
Japan: Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area
Japan: Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
Japan: Yakushima
Japan: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Japan: Shirakami-Sanchi

Japan: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Japan: Itsukushima Shinto Shrine


Morocco: Medina of Marrakesh
Morocco: Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddiou


Poland: Historic City Centre of Warsaw


Switzerland: Junfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn

United Kingdom

United Kingdom: Frontiers of the Roman Empire
United Kingdom: Westminster Palace, Abbey, and Saint Margaret's Church
United Kingdom: Tower of London
United Kingdom: Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
United Kingdom: Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City

United States of America

United States: Everglades National Park
United States: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

United States: Statue of Liberty

Just an update on some missing Japanese sites, and the most recent addition of Shirakami-Sanchi. Will post photos from the hikes up soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Better Late Than Never?

I said nearly a year ago, that I would post pictures from the Yakushima trip, and I never seem to have gotten around to it.

Some quick logistics for you. We drove to Nagoya and flew out of their lovely airport. They had bagels and pistachio gelato in one building. Needless to say, it is my new favorite place in Japan. After arriving at Kagoshima airport, we hustled onto a bus and hopped a taxi to the ferry port. The ferry was a 2 hour affair, air-conditioned, fast, and very mellow. Once we landed in Yakushima, we flagged a cab to take us up to the trail head. We witnessed a bit of devastating destruction on the mountain in order to make the trails more accessible, but the deer who hopped in front of our cab didn't seem to mind the construction too much.

We hit the trail around 3pm, which was much later than we originally intended. With our flight, it was impossible to catch the earliest ferry, so we had had to settle on the early afternoon one. The woman who sold us our tickets to access the reserve warned us against starting the trail so late, and asked us where we were planning on sleeping. J confidently told her we'd crash at the second koya up the trail, which was a good 4-5 hour hike away. She balked a bit and said that we had better hurry. This did not bode well.

The hike was beautiful. Crossing over bridges and rivers, huge craggy trees with roots sprawling across rocks and forming steps, and more moss than you could imagine. Meanwhile, I was looking down at my feet trying not to slip and tik-tokking away as I do. J had to remind me to enjoy the scenery every once in a while, so I didn't miss it all in my concentration. Perhaps it's a better idea for me to train mindlessly in crappy deforested areas of the world until I have enough skill to frolic effortlessly in gorgeous locales.

I have no doubt in my mind that if J had been climbing solo, he could have pushed on to the 2nd koya, but we ended up pitching the tent past the 1st koya, near a raised bathroom station with access to water. I was exhausted (I still have nightmares about the old tokoro we followed up for what seemed like an eternity... the false hope of each curve, praying the monotony would end) and we still had a grueling 1.5-2 hours to go to the next koya. Soon, we were drifting off into an ammonia infused sleep, thanks to the toilet chemicals nearby.

The second day was cake compared to the first. We woke up around 5:30, broke camp, and were on the trail within 1/2 an hour. This was the day of stairs. Wooden stairs, tree root stairs, stairs to more stairs. Massive sugi were situated just off the edges of the trail, some had been turned into shrines, others had been surrounded by terraces to protect them from erosion. 1000s of years ago, they were tiny things, now looming over the entire island. There was hugging.

We arrived at the Shintakatsuka koya around 12 in the afternoon and pitched our tent on the boardwalk. A bit of laundry time, and a solar powered risotto later, we got to bed early for a quick start in the morning towards the peak.

Starting around 4am, we headed up the final approach to Miyanouradake. The views were absolutely stunning, but I will let them speak for themselves.

Notable events were J's bush hunt for a water source, the deer who scared the crap out of us, and the worst possible likeness of me yet to be taken atop a mountain. Good times.

aforementioned deer

We had peaked around 10am, and headed down an hour or so later. J soloed up Kuromidake, while I sketched at the trail fork and lazed a bit. I falsely expected to camp in the swamps, but we kept on till reaching Ishitsuka koya (btw, the trail we followed was in pretty rough condition so if you head the same way, kiotsukete!). The rain was coming down a bit, and the koya was empty and a bit umm... rustic, so we actually pitched our tent inside.

This is the bad picture. Notice how genki J is. Then notice that I appear to have died.

Our bus was going to be arriving/leaving Yakisugiland at 10:59am, but according to the maps, we had plenty of time to get there. We left at 5am, figuring we could keep a solid pace and make it with time to spare. Ha ha ha ha! It was harsh with interspersed moments of not sucking too horribly. Then came the leeches. I had read about them, even went so far as to bring salt to deter them. Ironically, they seemed to be drawn to my faux leather boots, more than J's decomposing ancient leather boots. My feet were prepetually covered in them for a good hour. I squealed when I started noticing them making their way into my boots, and had already removed a few from my calves. J had to rip a few off of himself, and stopped a few times to help me bash at my own feet with walking sticks. The salt! IT DOES NOTHING! At least the fear of my toes being bloodless got my ass moving. So, we were looking good, making somewhat decent time. Then the boots started to die. Not my aforementioned bash accumulators, but J's 9 year old boots. The sole began to peel away from one and then the other. After the first hour of the boot, we had run out of duct-tape and were using bandanas and hatchimaki to hold the things together. There was a great deal of cursing, some at inanimate objects, some at blood-sucking parasites, but mostly at the clock. Time was ticking away and the trail just kept extending further than the map let on.

By the time we hit the edge of Yakisugiland, we were at a jog. Please take a moment to develop a mental picture, if you will. Two foreigners, drenched in sweat, most likely stinky after 4 days in the mountains sans bath, panic stricken, slightly bloodied legs, giant hiking bags on, one with boots tied together like an exploding scarecrow, and the other looking like she was going to start bawling any second. With the lighter of the two packs, and intact boots, I was to run ahead and try to find the way to the bus. Yakisugiland is a family nature park, so lovers are strolling around, grannies are on tours wandering aimlessly and enjoying the trees. We are tearing through this mother like death is chasing us. I run past a bridge-full of obachans, sumimasening my way across, and see their faces recognize my distress and return to calm a mere instant before J hits the bridge and sends them into another panic. The tour guide blew his whistle and moved everyone to the side of the bridge. That man is a star. I accost a young couple and beg if they know where the exit is, up the LONG staircase to the right, or down the straight path to the left. They point to the right, I thank them and then curse in Japanese, amusing them greatly. By the time I climb my 4th flight of stairs at a run, J has caught up and overtakes me. He screams through the treeline, "I see the bus, keep going! I don't think the driver will wait for you, hurry!"

In the end, the driver took pity as he saw me emerge from the forest over the last stair. We sat on the bus, J pulling a fat leech off his leg who had stowed away under his sock, me melting into the chair and waiting for my heart to settle back into my chest.

It was a good day. Then we saw monkeys!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Setting some goals for my last year in Japan. My imminent return to the outside world is a scary and exciting event on the horizon, and I am trying to prepare myself for a cushy landing.

In the next year, I need to do/will do the following:

  • re-take the GRE (hoping to raise my score a bit... damned computer test)
  • hunt down one of my favorite professors who retired, thus solving my looming 2nd letter of recommendation question
  • pass 2-kyuu in December, because I am about 99.9% sure that the July test was hopeless
  • fill out all my apps by May
  • make sure I have really narrowed my schools down to 2, and am not just dreaming
  • figure out how and where J and I will move all of our past 5/6 years of stuff/lives
  • discreetly freak out about leaving Japan
  • stockpile enough cash to float us through our first year of school/apt without a job just in case the economy is still in the crapper
  • get my yoga into gear prior to India
  • etc etc
  • sort out the selling of and getting rid of all my accumulated toys/junk
After writing it down, it doesn't look so bad. Some of the points are long-term goals, and need not be rushed, but I have a lot of studying ahead of me.

I also want to be sure to keep up with the Matsumoto Ukiyo-e Museum's 3-month shows. We went back in March and although the architecture is a bit trippy, the museum is a gem. Hoping to head back in September after the current show swaps over. I am not the biggest fan of courtesan/"fancy" lady prints, well... at least not a show of only them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

2 weeks

That's it. Wait, I am being melodramatic and confusing. Not leaving Japan yet, just two more weeks until I am out of here for a little while. Don't get me wrong. I love Japan and am still in shock that this July 31st will begin my 5th year here. It's just that I haven't stepped foot off of the islands since going to Thailand nearly 1 and 1/2 years ago. J and I have traveled all over since then, but not out of the country.

On the 24th, I will be utilizing the 18kippu and heading on the local trains to Osaka. I might get there early and hang out in the city for a while before heading to the airport, or I might just use my time to read a book in airport lounge instead. Hmm... the airport doesn't have falafel. It might have to be a bit of both.

There is a lot on the plate in these next two weeks, but I think that it will make me appreciate my downtime in Myanmar all the more. Visas are taken care of, passport has been renewed, and tickets are good to go. Packing is like second nature at this point, and I am staying with my friend Kara, who although more athletically built and taller than I, can still lend me a shirt or pair of trousers if it comes down to it. The benefits of visiting a friend instead of just going solo in a new country are many. They know the secret places that usually take months to find on your own, or with great strokes of luck (I'm looking at you fruit guy). They have all the necessities on stand-by (ie. toothpaste, shampoo, etc), in case you forget anything. They scout for vegetarian hot spots in and around town (thank you so much for that!!), and can help streamline the trip with suggestions and advice. I do love adventuring on my own, or with a partner in crime who is as clueless as I, but it's nice to have a bit of a pampering on occasion.

This coming weekend, though, J and I are tackling another 3 Hyakumeizan. We have an eikaiwa party for the hospital folks on Friday night, then an EARLY morning on Saturday, and all of a 3-day weekend to wander around taking pictures and making like Tik-Tok.

I have been graciously given this nickname due to my two speeds when climbing: "leeches are on me" - speed, and tik-tok - speed. In my defense, at least I have a steady pace. I keep moving... usually. After the first few climbs, I've discovered that J can be kept amused by the camera while I catch my breath. Plus, he can look at the pictures months later and proudly comment on how they are "HIS" photos. Ha ha! Actually, the only way I can tell who took 1/2 the photos is if one of us is in them.

Hopefully, after a few mountains under my belt, and a week and 1/2 of yoga time at school (no classes means I can snag the key to the old dance room again!), I will be ready for a bit of trekking in Myanmar, if the rain isn't too intense. I'll bring my hiking boots, but the good ol' Toyama boots might be more appropriate this time of year.

More after Myokosan!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Some Randomness

Last week, whilst waiting for my coffee, I was looking out the giant glass wall/window of the shop and to a bridge across the small lake in the park. (whoa preposition overload!) I was checking out what kind of bridge they built in the semi-new "health" park behind Toyama eki. To my surprise, there was a young man at the top of the bridge and he was dancing. At first, I wasn't sure if he was having a fight with an imaginary being, practicing a martial art I am not familiar with, or maybe just dancing? Dancing it was. J-pop style. Sadly, he wasn't 100% into it. There was still some sense of shame or embarrassment to his public display. Part of me was happy he was dancing at all, but another part was hoping he would throw caution to the wind and really break it down.

I turned back to my coffee and when I glanced back before leaving the shop, I saw him stop and run over to his girlfriend who had been sitting further down the bridge. I am left to ponder. Was it a display of love? Courtship? Maybe a dare?

We are going to Kanazawa this weekend, and I'm pretty excited. I haven't been to a museum for quite a while now, and I am starting to feel art pangs.

Also, I need to start sketching out my dreams again, I think. Last night... sabre-toothed antelope babies. Yup.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


It's the middle of winter now, in sort of melty/snowy Takaoka. I realize that I haven't updated in a very long time. The usual list of excuses are known "I was busy" "I had to study" "I couldn't be bothered to upload new photos and therefore had nothing interesting to share in this format." "I was sucked into the election news" etc

The truth is, life took priority over the virtual. That, I feel, is the most valid of excuses, so I am sticking with it.

Quick re-cap of what has happened during and since August:
  • Had an art adventure on Naoshima.
Kusama Yayoi's red and black "pumpkin" on Naoshima
  • My sister and brother-in-law came to visit Japan. It was a 2-week whirlwind. Kyoto, Nara, Toyama, takayama, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka, Tokyo, Nikko, and they managed to squeeze in a quick swing by Himeji.

Beth and Brenndan in Nikko

  • Climbed Hakusan finally. It really is a beautiful mountain, especially in the early fall. Please note my ever-stylish soccer socks.

  • Had a crazy camping trip to Noto. There were marshmallows, native art, and more Thai-jin than we ever expected. J also discovered a scary trilobite critter, if anyone knows what it is, please enlighten us!

This cultural park had a great rolly-slide. Too bad it was covered in rotten cherries.

The mysterious trilobite creature...

I am a chicken on slippery rocks when drunk on wine in the dark.
  • Went to Hida and Takayama in search of a wooden Godzilla sculpture I once saw.

aforementioned Godzilla

Hida warehouse and fall leaves

just some koi

J and his new friend tanuki-chan

  • Studied my ass off for JLPT's 2kyu test only to be turned away from the testing site because I didn't open my envelope beforehand to realize I had been bumped to Kanazawa. Complete failure on my part.
  • Cracked my laptops LCD screen, so now I have a thrillingly annoying "black bubble" effect going on. I am too cheap to just buy a new computer.
  • Took the Shin Nihonkai Ferry to Hokkaido, was great fun (we think we saw a seal off the coast, too)! Spent Christmas in Sapporo and New Year's in Niseko on the slopes.

outside of the Sapporo beer garden


J drawing kanji in the sand along the shore east of Otaru

  • Had a PA seminar in Tokyo, so brought J along for the weekend and visited old friends and a professor who was very giving of his time.
  • Spent the night in a tiny little minshuku in Toga. Had an amazing ungroomed first day of powder, followed by a mediocre yet fun 2nd day of groomed slopes.
  • Practiced my cooking A LOT in the past 6 months. Homemade muffins, cupcakes, breads, pita, tortillas, pies, various lasagnas, mousakkas, hummus, soups, and curries. It's been a fattening time!
  • Watched all the snow melt in 20C weather last week, and am now crossing my fingers that the temp will continue to drop.

I am going to fiddle with posting some recipes on here, and see if that lures me to the computer more often.

Till next time...