New Year’s Day.
January 22, 2016
July 28, 2015
Watching a sumo practice of the kasugana-beya in Kasugai City, Aichi prefecture.
Meal with the boys:
Wrestlers having their hair done after practice:
Party after the last match:
June 29, 2015
Sam saw the supermarket flyer advertising Nagoya specialties and begged me to buy some of the deep-fried pork-on-a-stick with dark miso topping, called miso katsu. I never make this at home so I did. It’s really delicious! Tebasaki chicken wings and large deep-fried shrimp are other famous Nagoya offerings. I wondered why ebi fry was a specialty here until I found out that the color and shape of fried shrimp reminds people of Nagaya castle.
The castle has big golden dolphin-like creatures on its roof. When I came to Nagoya for the first time, long ago, I was told these were two grampus. Well, I’d never heard of “grampus” before. My English students wouldn’t believe me when I insisted that if they told foreign visitors about the grampus they’d receive blank stares. The local soccer team is called the Nagoya Grampus. Everybody knows, what was wrong with me? I’m not sure what the hell those things up there on the castle really are, but I’m not going to call them grampus.
The Kishimen noodle popular here is different from other udon noodles. I was told this is because Nagoyans are so stingy that they roll their noodles flat so it cooks faster, saving fuel. Whatever.
The miso katsu (I dropped them on the floor right before taking this picture — don’t tell Sam):
The Nagoya Plate: miso katsu, the tempura shrimp onigiri called tenmusu, and unagi.
Kirin’s Nagoya limited brew:
The castle is a reproduction, much of the city was fire bombed during the war. Sam said even where we live, on the edge of the city, was thoroughly bombed. Nagoya had a big aircraft industry — the freeway I can see from here used to be an airport runway.
A cute little bag;
The Nagoya coffee shop, Komeda’s Coffee, famous for its old-fashioned “morning service.”
June 28, 2015
We visited Obama city the first summer of Barack Obama’s presidency when the small city’s hopes were high that tourists would flock and souvenirs linking President Obama with the city were readily available. The Mikestsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum gift shop sold an impressive selection of Obama goods:
At the time we lived in the next prefecture but since Obama was only accessible by local roads, it took hours to get there. Now there’s a fancy new expressway and even all way from Nagoya didn’t take long at all. When we revisited Obama this spring, however, the mood was different. The museum gift shop was gone. The few President Obama souvenirs we found were in the tourist center.
Soon nobody will remember President Obama and the original mackerel-loving cat mascot takes over:
Obama’s last stand:
Before visiting again, I Internet-searched for others’ experiences in Obama. The general opinion was: “there’s nothing there.” It’s true. It was peak cherry blossom season that weekend, but not many tourists. The little food museum was deserted. A few tourist buses stop at Fisherman’s Wharf, everybody gets out and buys souvenirs, they get back in and go.
Obama was the origin of the Mackerel Road to Kyoto. Now there are few fishing boats in Obama port. I don’t think there’s much fishing going on anymore.
The Miketsukuni Wakasa Obama Food Culture Museum. These guys come alive at midnight, probably:
The ancient common people’s diet. Bummer:
The origins of sushi:
Second floor of the museum, lacquered chopsticks:
I usually buy cheese-in-fish paste, but they only had one kind:
Fish market across the street from the Fisherman’s Wharf (closes at noon):
Obama burger. We looked everywhere for these Obama burgers. At the tourist center next to the train station where we stopped to get a map, Sam asked about them and we were told to go to the supermarket. We did, but they said Sunday was Obama Burger day. No Obama burgers for you. They’re made with local ingredients. The bun of rice flour, the burger with sea bream, mackerel, or beef.
Walking around sleepy Obama city, sleepy old shops, old buildings, hardly anyone around: this is the best thing to do. A narrow dark covered shopping street with a few shops still open. Everybody goes to bed early. It must get dark at night.
June 23, 2015
Sam’s mother has been doing a lot of house cleaning and we helped her last weekend. Sam found a basket lined with newspaper from 1961 while clearing several shelves of junk covered with very thick dust. Turns out that his mother had woven the basket herself. She found her wedding picture in an old file and giggled when she showed it to us.
Nearly 60 years ago, this happened:
Today I watched news coverage of the anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa. 70 years ago, this happened:
Student Nurses of the ‘Lily Corps’ by Miyagi Kikuko in Japan at War: An Oral History:
“We were smoked out onto the cliff tops. … ‘If we stand up, they’ll shoot us,’ we thought, so we stood up. We walked upright with dignity, but they held their fire. We were slightly disappointed. … A small boat came toward us from a battleship. Then, for the first time, we heard the voice of the enemy. ‘Those who can swim, swim out! … We have food! We will rescue you!’ They actually did! They took care of Okinawans really well, according to international law, but we only learned that later. We thought we were hearing the voices of demons. From the time we’d been children, we’d only been educated to hate them. They would strip the girls naked and do with them whatever they wanted, then run over them with tanks. We really believed that. Not only us girls. Mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers all were cowering at the voice of the devils. So what we had been taught robbed us of life. I can never forgive what education did to us! Had we known the truth, all of us would have survived. … Anyway, we didn’t answer that voice, but continued our flight.
“I had a hand grenade and so did Teacher. Nine of our group were jammed into a tiny hole. … Suddenly, a Japanese soldier climbed down the cliff. A Japanese soldier raising his hands in surrender? Impossible! Traitor! We’d been taught, and firmly believed, that we Okinawans, Great Japanese all, must never fall into the hands of the enemy. … Another soldier, crouching behind a rock near us, shot him. The sea water was dyed red. Thus I saw Japanese murdering Japanese for the first time. … Soon a rain of small arms fire began. Americans firing at close range. They must have thought we were with that soldier. … I was now under four dead bodies. … Yonamine-sensei, our teacher, shouldering a student bathed in blood, stood facing an American soldier. Random firing stopped. The American, who had been firing wildly, must have noticed he was shooting girls. He could be seen from the hole where my ten classmates were hiding. They pulled the pin on their hand grenade. So unfortunate! I now stepped out over the corpses and followed Teacher. … My grenade was taken away. I had held on to it to the last minute. The American soldiers lowered their rifles. I looked past them and saw my ten classmates. … Now there was nothing left of them. The hand grenade is so cruel.
“Young people sometimes ask us, ‘Why did you take part in such a stupid war?’ For us the Emperor and the Nation were supreme. For them, one should not withhold one’s life. Strange, isn’t it? That’s really the way it was. We had been trained for the Battle of Okinawa from the day the war with America began.”
December 24, 2014
December 19, 2014
From the tourist brochure:
Gassho style architecture is unique even among Japanese farmhouses. The ground story of the houses is constructed of heavy timber posts and beams connected by traditional wood joinery techniques. The upper two and three stories of the house are located within a steeply sloped roof of approximately 60 degrees framed by a series of triangular shaped heavy timber frames. Flexible, thin wood sticks are attached to intermediate wood members that span between the heavy wooden frames. The attic spaces of the Gassho houses were well suited to the raising of silk worms; silk being one of the major agri-industrial products of Japan’s early modern period.
During the Edo period, pits under the ground floor were used to produce niter, one of the main ingredients of gun powder. … It is ironic that niter, an essential ingredient of gunpowder, was produced in a large quantity in this peaceful setting. In fact, the village of Gokayama was at one time the leading producer of niter in Japan. It seems odd that such a quiet place would play a significant role in the production of gunpowder until you understand that niter was used as a substitute form of tax payment since the villages could not grow enough rice to pay their taxes to the authorities. The form of the houses and the lifestyle of the inhabitants were shaped not only by the extremes of nature but also by the social demands of the society of the time.
The area surrounding Shirakawa-go has many natural assets that complement the village’s cultural asset of Gassho style houses. … A virgin forest covers a large area of Mt. Hakusan, providing the habitat for many types of wildlife including bear, antelope, monkey, rabbit, fox, and raccoon. The clear waters of area streams and rivers is home to abundant fish.
In the fall … villagers begin to prepare for winter. Firewood is stacked under the eaves of houses and fence-like reed enclosures are placed along the perimeter of the houses to protect the walls and the entrances from drifting snow and from snow falling from the roof. Winter arrives early and lasts long in Shirakawa-go.
From Karen Tei Yamashita’s Circle K Cycles:
“We recently visited the very traditional village of Shirakawa, where all the houses are 200 years old and have thatch roofs. Also special to this area is the mountain cooking, which includes fern sprouts, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms gathered from the mountainside. Curious, we visited a factory that packages these mountain veggies because we had heard that a Brazilian family worked there. As it turns out, all the materials for this local specialty are imported from China and Russia, and have been for the last twelve years. To use the local produce would be far too expensive. So there you have it, unknown to thousands of tourists who pass this way, the packages of mountain vegetables bought as omiyage come from China and Russia and are made and packaged by Brazilians.”
December 5, 2014
From Chuji Kawashima’s Traditional Houses of Rural Japan:
“During the Edo period silkworm cultivation was the only rural industry that provided cash income. The prosperity it brought led to the emergence of the unique gassho-zukuri style of minka as well as to a distinctive family system. Because of the demand for female labor, families tended not to give their daughter away in marriages that would take them from the parental home. Moreover, due to a shortage of cultivatable land, families could not afford to divide up their holdings, and thus it was extremely difficult for younger sons to set up branch households. This situation led to the formation of the large extended families for which the region became famous — some had more than 50 members — and to the pattern of marriage called tsumadoikon, in which the husband lived in his parents home while working and visiting his wife at her home.”