Monday, January 23, 2006

Japan (13) - The last pics

Well, the holiday is over. We got back from Japan last Saturday. Because of suddenly heavy snowing in Tokyo we left with a three and a half hour delay, but Sunday after reading the latest news on TV-text we realized that we had been very lucky. A few hours after we left most flights were canceled because of the winterweather and about 10.000 people had to spend the night at the airport.

Parts of Japan have been suffering from the most heavy winterweather in about 25 years. There were parts of Japan were they had more than three metres of snow, but those parts were still quite far away from Tokyo. During our stay in Tokyo it was only a bit chilly every now and then and we had one afternoon of rain, for the rest it was dry, sometimes a bit cloudy sometimes some sunshine, but basically pretty good weather. Anyway, we were glad we only had some delay and didn't got stucked at the airport.

Here are some of the last pics that were taken during our last night. Noriko and I went out to a Korean restaurant with some friends. The food was very nice and we had a good time. It was also nice to see some of Noriko's friends again. They are a nice group of people.
This was one of the dishes that I had. It's called bibimba (not sure about the spelling), a Korean ricedish. This one was very spicy (at my own request) and very yummy.
This was one of the dishes the others had. Forgot about the name, but it was also yummy.
This is the same dish after it boiled for a little while

Finally in my Japan (11)-post I wrote about the high-tech toilets in Japan. It seems that I'm in good company and I'm not the only one who appreciates the Japanese high-tech toilets.
Just check here, here and here.

Well from now on it's back to the daily routines sleep, work, eat and sleep again. Don't know yet about our next holiday. I won't be posting as much as I did from Japan, but I'll try to post at least once a week.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Japan (12) - Last post from here

BTW, I forgot to mention, but the previous post was my last post from Japan. Tomorrow Noriko and I are flying back to Holland.

Japan (11) - more food and Japanese toiletexperience

Last night we had sukiyaki for dinner. You can check the link for more info if you don't know what sukiyaki is. The main ingredient is beef, but very thin sliced and very tender and soft. The cows that are used for sukiyaki beef get special treatment and food. This treatment includes massages and lots of beer in the cows diet. This result in a very soft, tender yummy beef that is hard to get outside Japan.

Sukiyaki is prepared in one pan on the table. Everybody prepares his own meat and vegetables and sip them in a small cup with raw egg before eating. Not everybody like to use the raw egg, but it's also okay to eat your own prepared meat and vegetables with rice. At least one time during our visit we eat sukiyaki. It's one of my favorite Japanese dishes. Below you can check some of the pics from last night.

Although not planned I bought a small compact digital camera yesterday afternoon. Noriko and I were at Yamada, a chain of electronic stores. While we were looking around we saw some very cheap priced compact digital cameras. I was looking for a technical good and not too expensive camera for quite some time. My current camera (Nikon Coolpix 5700) is a good camera, but it's a little too big to take with me in the pocket of my jacket. This new camera (a Nikon Coolpix P2) will be used for snapshot purposes. I only wanted to buy a camera here if the price difference was big enough with Holland. It was. Some models were on sale and they gave some extra discount. In Euros I paid between 165 and 170 Euro while the average price in Holland is between 335 and 390 Euro for the same model. A huge difference in my opinion. Noriko also bought a small digital camera because her old one is in bad condition.

It's a pretty advanced camera. It's good for point and shoot, but there are also enough manual settings for the more creative photographer. The sukiyaki pics were shot with the new camera.

Finally something about Japanese toilets. There are two types, the old Japanese squat toilets (a modern hole in the ground) and the high-tech toilets with the latest in electronic convenience. Check this link to watch a short funny animation how to use the Japanese squat toilet (requires Flash). The same site also provide a toiletmap of Tokyo with the dirtiest and most clean toilets.

Here, here, here and here you can find sometimes funny info/articles about the high-tech toilets. The pics below show the toilet at Noriko's mother's house. It has a warmed toiletseat, bidet, a bottom washer function, some nozzle that sprays water against your bottom with quite some power. Some even more advanced model toiletseats also provide a blowdryer to blowdry your bottom after you used the bottom washer function.

It was very funny the first time I was confronted with these high-tech toilets. Now I'm quite used to it. I must admit it's very convenient and very hygienic.

Here are the pics.

This is how it looks from above.
This is the controlpanel. with the first two buttons you can arrange the temperature of the toiletseat. The second button is the bidet-function. The third one is the bottom washer function. This symbol speaks for itself I guess. And the last button is for stopping the bidet- and bottom-washer funtion.This is the overall look. The water reservoir on the right is also the sink where you can wash your hand after flushing and where the waterreservoir is filled.

Maybe it's a guy's subject, but I thought it was fun enough to share with you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Japan (10) - Funny Engrish and other stuff

Noriko was outside Tokyo from Monday till Yesterday visiting some of her friends. The day before yesterday I helped Noriko's mother to replace most of the ceilinglights downstairs. It took some time to find out how to remove the covers of the lights. Once I figured out it wasn't so hard. Those were all round TL-lights and I totally replaced 8 of those lights. When I was replacing the lights Noriko's mother was getting ingredients for the dinner that I was going to cook. I made a Dutch dish called Hachée (pronounced hash-sjay), a kind of beef stew. See pic below. Noriko's mother and sister liked it very much. Taito our little two and half year old nephew didn't eat it because he already ate at the daycarecentre.
A little more than a week ago I made Dutch pea-soup. They also liked it, including Taito. He ate a lot of it and kept asking for more. For more English info about Dutch food and recipes you can check here.

Yesterday I went to Ochanomizu and Shinjuku. From Ochanomizu I don't know the exact Chinese characters but I would say that the name literally would mean the water of tea or teawater. Anyway near Ochanomizu station there is a street with lots of musicshops where they sell mainly guitars (acoustic & electric), but also other instruments like violins, keyboards and wind instruments. It's nice to wander around these shops and watch all those gorgeous mouthwatering (is this proper English?) and expensive Gibson-, Martin- and Takamine-guitars. Although compared to Holland it's not that expensive, because of the good exchange rate between the Yen and the Euro. I still find about 2400 Euro for a Gibson J200 a lot of money, but It's a little more than 70% of the prices that you pay in Holland for this model. Depending on the guitarmodel, prices here in Japan are between 60 and 80 % of those in Holland.

After Ochanomizu I went to Shinjuku station to check the nearby Kinokuniya (Japanese), a 7 floor bookstore with also one quite big floor with foreign (mostly English/American) books. In the past I also bought some of my Japanese studybooks here. I always like to check here. I found and bought an interesting and nice illustrated historybook about the battles at Kawanakajima. I wrote about this battle earlier in my Nagano part 3 post.

But the actual reason for this post and where the title (Funny Engrish) is reffering to was something I spotted on the way from home to the nearby station Oizumu Gakuen. It was on an outside barbershopsign. People who saw the movie Unagi (The Eel) know what kind of sign I'm talking about.

They use a funny English word for barbershop. You can check the pics and see what I mean.

It's a quite well known phenomenon in Japan. It's considered very cool to use English in Japan, but sometimes things get a bit out of hand with often funny results. There is also a website dedicated to all these funny Japanese Engrish with loads of exemples of Japanese funny Engrish.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Japan (9) - Nagano visit part 6

Here are the food pictures that I promised yesterday. These pictures were taken at restaurant Sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom) in Nagano during lunch last Friday after our visit to Zenko-ji temple (see my two previous posts). As some of the pics hopefully will show, it proves that often with Japanese dishes presentation and composition make up half of the dish. Eye for detail and esthetics always form an important part of Japanese culture. You can see this in many Japanese artforms, but also in the way Japanese food sometimes is presented. I'm not sure if I remember all the things that I've been eating, but I will do my best.
The starter was a small bowl with some root vegetable comparable with potato (the white stuff) with some sweet beans
The box in which the next course was presented looked simple but gorgeous.
On top of some sashimi (raw fresh fish), forgot te name of the fish, but it tasted a bit like trout, you see some pickles, sweet fruits and seeweed. On the right you see some deepfried thin noodle with inside the noodlenest some shrimp.
The next dish was some miso-soup with tofu, carrot, kind of cabage and sticky rice.
The next course was presented in three bamboopipes. You can't see what was in the left one on top, but in there there were some dark sweet beans. In the bigger pipe on the right there was a slice of minced chicken with special herbs and some pickles and rice wind up in a piece of eel. There was also some oyster on a stick. This was the only thing that I didn't eat (I don't like oysters). In the small pipe on the bottom in the middle you see a sweet round carrot.
The contents of this dish was some hollowed rootvegetable with inside some kind of minced meat and on top a bit of sharp mustard and some spinach
The last dish before dessert was some rice with sesame seeds and some seasoning, pickles and a different kind of miso-soup.
And finally some dessert. This was miso taste icecream with some sweet fruits and raisins and green tea. During all the courses I drank a very nice cold and fresh sake that was brewed by the restaurant themself. This sake was very yummy.

It was an interesting and mostly tasty experience. I never been and I never will be a big fish eater, but this food was very fresh and of high quality and it was presented in a gorgeous way. This experience showed to me that food and cooking can be art or close to art.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Japan (8) - Nagano visit part 5

Here are the rest of the pics from the Zenko-ji, a buddhist temple complex.
I also have some foodpics from Nagano, but I will post them

Japan (7) - Nagano visit part 4

On Friday we went to Zenko-ji temple in Nagano an old and one of the most famous temples in Japan. I was here before in springtime 1997, but I never saw the temple complex while there was snow. It attracts a lot of tourist, but it is for a reason, because this is a very nice and gorgeous temple. Here are some pics to give you a bit of an impression.

Japan (6) - Nagano visit part 3

Here is part 3 with pics from Matsushiro castle. I haven't found some more extended information yet about the history of the castle, there is just a little bit of basic information at the info of Matsushiro town (see: link)
Near Matsushiro there is a famous battleground, called Kawanakajima where two warlords Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought five battles in the 16th century within a period of 11 years. These battles belong to the most famous ones ever fought in Japan. The picture below shows the sculpture that reminds about the battles between the two warlords.

Japan (5) - Nagano visit part 2

Here is part 2 of the pics from Matsushiro

Japan (4) - Nagano visit part 1

Like I promised last night I'm going to post some of my pics that I made during my stay at Nagano from Wednesdaynight till Friday where I visited my good friend Motoko. We met each other for the first time in Israel at the kibbutz in 1996, the year that I visited kibbutz Gesher for the fourth time and also the year that my brother got married in Israel. After the wedding I went to the kibbutz and became friends with Motoko and a few other Japanese volunteers. Motoko and I kept in touch since then and I made my first visit to Nagano during my first stay in Japan in 1997.

This must have been my fourth visit to Nagano. The first night we went to a nice and exclusive Chinese restaurant. You have to take my word that the food was gorgeous, because I forgot to take my camera with me. The next day we visited the mountaintown Matsushiro (see: link1 and link2 ) a quiet and historical town with a nice and peaceful atmosphere. We visited some old historical houses, temples and the local castle. Here are the first pics. I also shot some black and white pics. Because I shot quite some pics I will split them up and post some more in some posts I'm going to make later today.
Motoko, me and Motoko's mother in front of one of the many small museums of Matsushiro

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Japan (3)

Just got back from a nice evening out. We came home a little bit later then I planned when we left home. I was planning to post some pics from my trip to Nagano, but I drunk a little bit too much beer and sake so I think I'll post the pics later this Sunday.

Noriko and I went out for dinner together at some Japanese Izakaya (Japanese pub), but the food here was a bit more exclusive than in the average Japanese Izakaya. Unfortunately I didn't took my camera to take some pics, but I had some very tasty beef. In Holland we would say it taste like if an angel just pee on your tongue. I also had some soba noodles and some small side dishes which I can't remember all the names of.

After that we went to a local jazz-bar (website only in Japanese) for a drink. There was a jam-session going on and there was a very nice, gentle and intimate atmosphere. After the jam-session everybody was gathering around a square table in the middle of the establishment and was drinking and talking. I was the only foreigner, so they were quite curious about Holland and I had to answer a lot of questions. Also talked a lot about music. It was an interesting and very friendly group of people.

They were all musicians and some of them were quite well informed about the Dutch jazzscene. They knew Hans and Candy Dulfer, Han Bennink, Louis van Dijk and the Willem Breuker Kollektief. There was a woman who played very good piano. Her 12 year old son was there too. He played pretty good drums and was also participating in the jam-session. He was a nice kid and was also very much interested in history.

We planned to go for just one drink, but finally we had a little bit more than one drink and we stayed there for almost 4 hours. We had a very nice and interesting time.

Like I said at the beginning of this post I will post some pics from my Nagano trip later this Sunday. Need a little more patience.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Japan (2)

Today some pics from yesterday and today. Yesterday we all went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant to meet a friend from Noriko's mother. This month he is on a businesstrip to Europe and goes to Cologne, Germany, Milan, Italy and Rotterdam, Holland. He's a designer and a friendly and interesting person. Although he visited Holland before, Noriko and I could give him some tips about typical Dutch food and public transport.

In the evening we went out for dinner at a so called Yaki-Niku place. Yaki-niku means 'grilled meat', usually grilled on a hot plate, derived from the Japanese verb yaku 'to grill/roast/fry' and niku 'meat'. (Although niku is originally from Chinese, the word has been almost completely naturalised). Although this place was different from Korean barbeque, the style of preparing is similar. You order some plates with different kinds of meat, most of the meat is marinated and you prepare them yourself on the barbeque, that is in the middele of the table. You can order some sidedishes, some soups, ramen and many other stuff. The food was nice and we had a nice time. Here are a few pics from last night.

Taito showing his chopstickskills again.
On the left you see Noriko's sister, Taito and Noriko's mother

Today Noriko and I went out for lunch at a sushiplace. Although I'm not a huge fisheater I eat fish on some occasions. This sushi place is not a place where you pick your little plates with sushi from a belt that is running around, that probably most westerners know. At these places you never know how long some of the plates have been on the belt. At the place we visited today your order is freshly prepared in front of you. Noriko ordered some mixed plate with different sushi's and I had tuna tartare (I forgot the Japanese name, have to ask Noriko) with sushi rice and chopped springonions. The dish was served with some salad, miso soup, green tea and a cup with some steamed egg. The steamed egg was a bit to soft and weak for me. I first thought it was some tofu. But the rest was very yummy. With some soysauce and wasabi it was a very delicious and quite cheap dish. My dish costed 700 Yen (about 5 Euro 30/6 Dollar 25) and Noriko's dish 1000 Yen (about 7 Euro 70/8 Dollar 95).

People always think that Japan is an expensive country. In a lot of ways it is, but when it comes to food and eating out there are plenty of cheap places. For 400 to 1000 Yen you can have a good meal. At lunchtime they have those all you can eat buffets for between 900 and 1200 Yen. Alcohol is a bit expensive, but when it comes to food Japan is much cheaper and with a greater variety than Holland. I really like it here. :-) Here are two pics from today's lunch.
After lunch I went to Ikebukuro station to reserve a trainticket to Nagano where I'm going to visit a good friend Wednesday. I will stay there till Friday and then return to Tokyo. I didn't practice much lately on my Japanese conversation, but I managed to do the whole reservationconversation (funny word) in Japanese and end up with the right traintickets.