Dydo (makers of Energy Gym) came out with a series of cans of cider called “Ultra Cider”. The drink itself is just a sweet, made-for-kids carbonated cider drink, but of course I like the idea of the cans. I might try to collect (pictures of) all of the cans, if I find them all.
Today (Friday) I took another day off (due to the economy, we kind of have to take a couple days off a month now). So my random town I chose to take a train trip to was Nagiso (南木曽) in Nagano-ken. I chose it simply because it was the closest (time-wise, by train) town to visit in Nagano. It takes just under an hour to get there from Nagoya station. It’s just over the border from Nakatsukawa (中津川) in Gifu-ken. Had no idea what to expect, just wanted to take a couple pictures of the river and mountains, so I just spent an hour there (actually, when I take these trips, the train ride itself is more fun that the visit itself). I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice little park with a bridge built in honor of someone named Momosuke Fukuzawa. I realize sometimes my pictures seem to have no “point” (as has been pointed out to me by some of my Japanese friends), but I like some of the boring-looking pictures, and don’t know how to explain the reason.
So, by the way, that brings it up to 21 prefectures (or city-districts, or similar government-units) that I’ve visited in Japan. This is my current Henry’s-style quest - to visit all the kens. The next post will talk about all the ones I’ve visited so far.
My long-lost cousin Nicole came by and went to this party with us.
This past week I took a five-day trip to Kyushu (九州）. Kyushu is the island extending southward from the western most tip of the main big island Honshu (本州). Of the seven prefectures on Kyushu, I was able to visit five: Kagoshima (鹿児島), Kumamoto (熊本), Saga (佐賀), Nagasaki (長崎), and Fukuoka (福岡). Kyushu is famous for, among other things shouchuu (a Japanese alcoholic drink made from potatoes (imojouchuu 芋焼酎), rice, corn, or wheat), and ramen.
I started out in Kagoshima, on the southern tip of Kyushu. Here I visited the island of Sakurajima (桜島), which used to be a separate island but at the beginning of the 20th century a volcanic eruption bridged the gap to the mainland and turned it into a peninsula. Some famous food from Kagoshima is kurobuta, a special kind of pork. I had a nice dinner that included everything from pork sashimi to pork tongue and boiled pork. Also famous in Kagoshima is shirokuma, a really nice frozen desert which I’d describe as vanilla snow with lots of embedded fruits.
Next was Kumamoto, where I visited its castle and had some nice ramen. This time the noodles were the skinny kind I like, and the soup was not too salty. Definitely an improvement on the Kagoshima stuff. On the way from Kumamoto I stopped at Tosu (鳥栖) a little town in Saga prefecture for about 20 minutes. Not much to say about that place except that I did get some nice train pictures.
Finally, I headed over to Nagasaki, which has a ton of islands and lots of peninsulas. Nagasaki was the first part of the trip that actually felt like I was in a different part of Japan. There, you’re right on the waterfront and the sounds are something other than just traffic. (You know, boat whistles and seagulls and stuff). I took a boat out to a practically deserted island called Takashima (高島). It looks like it might be somewhat of a summer resort town at some point, but at this time there was no one there. I actually really loved being in such a quite place for a while, taking some nice pictures and just soaking up the peace. I visited the Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb museum, which was quite moving for me. But strange, also because both places were full of Indian sailors.
Some of the famous food in Nagasaki is champon, a hearty seafood soup with zillions of different ingredients, and turukoraisu (Turkish rice) which was nothing special. Nagasaki is one of the cities I wouldn’t mind living in, because of its actual personality, and I bet the summer humidity isn’t quite as oppressive as Nagoya. I’ll definitely visit again.
On the way back, I stopped again in Fukuoka for a couple of hours, which gave me just enough time to visit another Ichiran. (Compare to this time. It was the same kind of shokken, isolated booths place). I wanted to visit a yatai, but at that time of the early afternoon, none of them were open yet, so I had no choice. Even though now I realize this place is a significant chain, I still think that this Fukuoka ramen is the best ramen in Kyushu.
Hanami season started a little while ago already. As you’ve seen, over the years I’ve taken a lot of pictures of the cherry blossoms. This year, when I went to Ogaki, of course, there were a few flowers already. The street I live on got about a three-week head start over the rest of the city.
Just this past weekend, however, even though I’ve lived here for over three years now, I actually went to my first hanami party. You know, with the blue vinyl tarps and the hanging around and drinking.
Even though Meijo koen was only at about 30% full bloom, and it was rather cold and windy for a late March Sunday, it was a perfect time out. It all ended with a trip to the karaoke box, the quintessential ending to such an affair.
My Grandpa Tony passed away last week. He was a wonderful man who left a legacy that will live on for a very long time.
Some of my earliest memories are of going to Grandpa Tony’s house on Saturday mornings. There were so many great places in the gardens, the yard, and the woods for us kids to play and learn. He was really great at growing things. More different kinds of fruits than I could ever imagine. He took tiny branches from fruit trees back in the Old Country (Czechoslovakia) and bring them back to Ohio and graft them. I was amazed he could grow fruit there in Ohio that you couldn’t get anywhere else in the world but in Eastern Europe. Apples, pears, plums. And beyond that, his vegetable gardens were spectacular. Just acres of tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, onions, and on and on. And Grandma Lilly would sure know what to do with that natural bounty (and still does!).
What really impressed me is how hard he always worked. Because of this he was always healthy as an ox. He built a log cabin out in the woods and a huge inground swimming pool for all of us grandchildren to play in. It gave him great joy to provide for his family and it showed.
I was lucky enough to visit Straznice, where he was born. We are so grateful he took that trip over the ocean to start a family and life here.
Today’s one-day trip (日帰り旅行, higaeri ryokou) was to Ogaki, a little city in Gifu prefecture about a 30-minute train ride from Nagoya station. I went to see the little tiny Ogaki castle. Not much to say, except that it was only 100 yen to get in, and it did again pique interest in Japanese history. People have been living here comparatively forever. This castle was originally built in the 1500’s (although rebuilt in 1945 after it was burned down in an air raid), and yet that is practically yesterday compared to other places. The weather was really nice (a little too much sunshine, though ;P), and it seems that spring is already here. So we got about three months until the sauna hits.
Hyperbole is probably my favorite thing in the whole world, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that the smartest thing I ever did was archive “The Ramen Ninja” website, which now seems to be down in real life. So I just went to my local version and happened on his review of ”Ippodo”, a Hakata-style tonkotsu place by Shirakawa-koen. Absolutely incredible. This style ramen is certainly a favorite of mine, and it may seem lazy to say, but I have to say that this is the greatest Fukuoka-style ramen that I’ve ever had. The soup had more ingredients in it than I can imagine, even the colors were innumerable. The place has a very hip atmosphere, with tables (and even counters) made from tree trunks, unusually-shaped chairs, and a really nice mix of music. When I was there, I think they played some 70’s album rock, J-pop, and a never-before heard Frank Sinatra track. Another cool thing is they have a bunch of jars of otsumami which you can either dump into your bowl of ramen or put a bit in plates provided just for the purpose to munch on while you wait (which was not very long). But it’s not just your usual otsumami. Besides the typical shouga (pickled ginger), they also had whole cloves of fresh garlic and a garlic press, and moyashi (bean sprouts) with hot peppers, and something else. Cool-shaped bowls and a totally genki staff completed the experience. I learned a new word this week, 有頂天 (uchouten, ecstasy), and I already had a chance to use it.
Nothing too much to say. Thanks for all the birthday wishes on Facebook and stuff. The day itself wasn’t so special, but I got a really special present of a Japanese calligraphy set, which was kind of exactly what I’d been wanting for a long time. I am kind of nervous about whether I’ll have a job here or what for a while, but things could be worse. I hope all three people that read this blog are doing fine, too.
For the first time in about a month, I feel good again about living here in Nagoya. Last night I did karaoke until the wee hours of the morning. And tonight I went, with a few of my former students, to a “Magic Bar” for the first time. I guess a short description of a “Magic Bar” would be, like a hostess bar, except instead of pretty girls and karaoke, it’s a magician who comes around to your table and does car tricks for a couple of hours. I had forgotten the fun of being amazed by a simple sleight-of-hand card trick up close. The guy wasn’t perfect - there was one trick involving ESP-style cards and having his eyes closed that he had to redo a few times to get it right. But for the most part I was dumbfounded and astonished by stuff like the coins through the sen-yen bill, and all the different variations on the “is this the card you chose?” trick. I would definitely like to go again. Another cool thing is that Taro-san’s little brother, who is an elementary school teacher, also came, and he showed prestidigitations of his own, which I guess he teaches to his students.
Anyway, just feeling good again, and wanted to talk about it. Also, today there was this Pizzicato Five song that I listened to for the hundredth time, and I realized that I understood all of the words. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there, maybe.
I’m very worried about the economy, though. Who knows, I may need to go back to teaching English or something soon if things don’t improve.
I’ve been studying this language for quite a while. My vocabulary is relatively extensive I think. I mean, I know about 2000 characters, so at least, like 5000 words. So why can’t I understand a single whole sentence on the radio? The stupid homophones in this god-forsaken language: For example: kougen: it can mean light source, antigen, plateau, flattery, field, wilderness. When I hear it in a conversation, I have no freaking clue. My brain just stops and I not only don’t know the word but lose the rest of the sentence. And the whole language is filled with these things.
And the weather in this place can eat a bag of shit. There are maybe two months total out of the year when you can have your window open. The rest of the time it’s a sauna. In the wintertime, it’s comfortably cool, but it’s never cloudy, so it’s always direct sunlight. And windy. I need to move to Hokkaido or something. Arrgh.
Sorry, I just needed to rant.