Friday, November 30, 2012

Three Ways for a Foreigner to be Thought Amazing in Japan

1.    Eat with chopsticks

2.    Eat raw fish

3.    Go to the onsen

Yesterday, I was told I was sugoi (amazing) because I’m not Japanese and I can eat raw fish with chopsticks and I can go to the onsen.

Let me back up a little bit so I can tell you the whole story. Even though I’ve been here almost a year, most of the time I have no idea what is going on until afterwards and even then, I’m still not sure. After hula class last week, I was invited to go to the onsen and lunch with one of my class mates and I thought a couple of other hula ladies. (It turned out to be two people I didn't know but who wanted to meet me).  I said yes and she said she would email me about the day and time.  She emailed asking if Thursday was okay, she could pick me up at 10:40 am and I said yes. She replied, reminding me to bring lunch money and underwear.  I’m not sure if she thought I would come without underwear or if she meant another word. Sometimes things get lost in translation, but I thanked her for the reminder and did bring lunch money and my underwear.

She picked me up at 10:40 am yesterday and the other two met us there. Even though I told her I had been to onsens before, she wanted to make sure I knew that people are naked and without clothes in the onsen. Yes, I understood. Most people here think foreigners won’t go to the onsen, and while it is true I haven’t seen another foreigner when I’ve been at the onsen, not every foreigner is uncomfortable going.  While soaking naked in a pool of hot water with a bunch of other people isn’t part of American culture, I’m not against it.  If I didn’t want any new experiences, I wouldn’t have come to Japan.

This place was nicer than any of the others I’ve been to. They give you two brown towels and a set of brown “onsen wear” (kind of like thin pajamas) in a bag with your locker key. I looked in the bag before we left the desk and was glad I did.  The onsen wear in my bag was about three inches square – not big enough for someone as maru as I am.  I was able to trade for a larger set.

There was a restaurant and several lounging rooms with televisions and paperback books and low tables and recliners.  If you get too hot in the onsen, you can put on your onsen wear and eat or relax for a while, then go back in the water later. There was nice shampoo and conditioner and body wash in the washing area and hair dryers and combs and light up make up mirrors in the dressing area.

Inside there was a regular pool (42 degrees C), a “medicine” pool, which I think was some kind of minerals not medicine (39.5 degrees C), a Jacuzzi pool (41 or 42 C), and a cool pool (20 C), plus a sauna (47 C).  The sauna was too hot for me. We tried all the indoor pools but spent most of our time in the outside pools (42 C) where there was snow on the ground and a cold wind blowing.

After several hours of soaking in the hot water, we got out and had lunch, then spent several more hours trying to talk. I was the one trying; they knew what each other were saying.  I don’t think people in this area of Hokkaido have a lot of interaction with foreigners because I always feel like they think I am a celebrity. I’m asked a lot of questions about myself and life in the US. It’s very flattering and even though I can eat raw fish and am able to use chopsticks and go to the onsen, I’m not really amazing.

I got home around five pm and had a very good time. I didn't know I'd be gone all day, but that's how things go here.  

Here is another gift ornament. I used this green fabric for the backing.  Maki sushi isn’t the usual Christmas scene, but this is for someone who used to live in Japan.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ornament for Ted's Mom

Here’s another gift ornament I've finished.  It is backed with this red fabric and is on its way to Ted’s Mom.  She collects angels and we think she will like this little one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back to the Gym

Now that the snow has arrived, it’s hard to exercise outside.  Ted wants to stay in shape for his many outdoor activities and I don’t want to get any more maru, so it’s time to hit the indoor gym again.  It’s just a two minute walk from our apartment to the university building.  Ted was in shorts as it snowed yesterday morning; I prefer covering my legs when it’s snowing.

We went early to avoid the crowds of sports students who arrive around 8:30 am.

Before leaving the building, I stopped to take a look at the one English newspaper in the library.  The sports page featured sumo wrestling and the Osaka marathon.

Later in the day, we went to the Big American Store to stock up before the roads get so bad we can’t get out of town.

What have I been stitching?
I’ve been working on some small gifts. Here’s one ornament that I just finished and soon to be in the mail to our friends Kazu and Yoh.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gas Man Cometh

We have two gas water heaters.  One is a little box above our kitchen sink, the other heats the water for the shower/bath.  A man from the gas company visited the apartments in our building to check out the water heaters.  Everything was fine with ours and he left us this information sheet (front and back).

Not being able to read, I can only look at the pictures and guess at what it says. I think the big red X means don’t do it.  I was surprised to see the red X on the person washing hair in kitchen the sink because I sometimes do that.

The one at the bottom of the front page is kind of scary.  The X is in the kitchen but the dad with the spiral eyes is washing the kodomo’s hair in the bath. Is the dad in the tub or is the kodomo in the tub?  I don’t know what the pink arrows from the pipe to the tub and from the tub to the kitchen mean. What do you think?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cooking with Audi

You may already know that I am not a cook. I hate to cook and will eat cereal for supper rather than cook when Ted is gone.  Ted is a very good cook who isn’t fond of cleaning up, so we work well together.

The International Exchange Society hosted a cooking class at a local community center this weekend.  I attended and participated, and I didn’t have to eat cereal.  The cooking teacher was Audi San, with the help of his lovely wife Yasuko San.

As with other International Exchange Society events, there was an international group of all ages.

There were five cooking stations set out with ingredients and recipes in English and Japanese.  The featured menu was Eggplant Curry, Cucumber Yogurt Salad, and Apple Cake.

In my group were three sisters and their mother, Kyoko San.

Notice the proper onion chopping technique – fingers curled under to prevent any cutting mishaps.

The chopped onions were cooked with a little oil, then the cubed eggplant added, followed by ground meat and curry. Spaghetti sauce was added slowly, then the mixture simmered.

I peeled and chopped the apples and cut up the cucumber, trying to use the proper technique.  I didn’t cut any fingers off, so I think I did okay.

There was time to chat while the food was cooking and I wandered around taking pictures when I wasn’t chopping.

The yogurt cucumber salad was delicious – yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and chopped fresh mint.

This big kitchen had real ovens, but I think this flat cake might fit in my little fish oven.

These two little cooks look like they’ve had some experience in the kitchen.

There was a huge community sized rice cooker in the back of the kitchen where everyone could serve themselves.

When the food was ready, we all sat down together and the meal was great. (I didn’t try the curry with meat, but everyone said it was very good).

At the end of every meal is the cleanup, which went remarkably fast after this meal with so many people helping.

Ted’s sorry he missed the cooking class, he was on a field trip this weekend.  I’m hoping he will try out the recipes I brought home.

Great job, Audi!