Yukkuri Countdown JAPAN
Monday, January 31, 2005
 Good and Bad

Today at visit school (Mondays and Fridays I work at my visit school, as opposed to the other three days of the week when I work at my base school) I braved the cafeteria alone for the first time. It's kind of scary, really. I managed to find out what they were serving (there is no menu posted) and decided on something relatively non-oily.

curry rice
This curry was on the thin side but I prefer that to very thick heavy overly-rich curry. That doesn't mean I don't like a fair amount of veggies in my curry, however, which is why I won't get this curry again. Even though the lady behind the counter told me it had carrots (and potato?) in it, this was just onion curry. No, correction: this was onion and pork fat curry. Still, I ate it all up (except for the pork and fat)!

I found out Taiji dropped out of school. He quit, said my JTE quite matter-of-factly, when I asked him after class. I was disappointed at the news because even though Taiji was one of the four or five boys who was held back from last year, he seemed to have a better attitude and behavior than many Ss. He smiled all the time and didn't argue or make jokes, just was more absorbed in his keitai than class. He had me going though, because he was one of the most active Ss in his English class. He'd be the first to volunteer answers and he was interested in the stamps I rewarded for participating in class. He struck me as a clever kid.


natsumikan
On a sunnier note, today a teacher brought in a box of natsumikan for other staff members to take. People often bring in loads of their own homegrown fruits and vegetables. Once I took home a giant cabbage in my backpack, or was it two?


natsumikan
Believe me, today I wasn't being greedy! I was taking one when my favorite JTE grabbed another and said, Oh this one must be very good too! and put it in my hand.


natsumikan
Coincidentally I think this is the fruit that the principal at base school gave me one time. It's like a mix between an orange and a grapefruit in both appearance and taste. I eat them like I eat grapefruits, peeling all the skin off so it's just shiny juicy segments. Do they have these in other places besides Japan?


nabe ingredients
Tonight's nabe was a nice combination of veggies. I personally like niira, the long greens (often used in gyoza filling?), because they have a subtle yet substantial taste. It's oniony but not exactly, perhaps somewhat garlicky. Left pocket describes it like eating grass...tasty grass. I prefer to eat the niira before they've been in the nabe for long, while they still have crunch in them. Another special guest in tonight's nabe was first-timer, flat-green-pea-pods. What are these called? These are very thin and the peas inside pop when you bite em. If they're sweet they're good. I had leftovers so I decided to experiment and they weren't a bad addition at all!
 
Sunday, January 30, 2005
 Left pocket's Bulgogi

First, an afternoon snack...

corn flake treat
I had an old bag of marshmallows that my mom had sent me along with other goodies awhile back. I don't know why she sent them; I didn't ask for any and in fact I think I was still not eating gelatin at the time. Recently I dug out the marshmallows (probably to stuff in my face in a fit of snackiness) but found that the marshmallows were dry and shrivelly! Perhaps inspired by monkey, I decided I wanted to make rice crispy treats. There are no Rice Krispies in Japan, not even imitations or similar Japanese versions. Left pocket requested corn flakes as the substitute so I found a Japanese brand of corn flakes on sale. Amazingly the bag measured out to 5.5cups, exactly what the recipe on the marshmallow bag called for! During a "when I was little..." moment I told Left pocket I could never stand waiting for the treats to cool completely; he told me he only ate his treats warm and I wondered why I always felt the need to wait until the treats cooled before eating some! This time, as you can see, I didn't wait for them to cool in a rectangular pan and I didn't cut them up with a knife; I didn't even make them into little balls but instead I pulled chunks apart to immediately eat/store. My question is this: why do rice crispy treats sometimes get really really hard, like rock hard, when they cool? I think it happens if they are exposed to air because I somewhat sealed my extra in a plastic tubby thing and it didn't turn into rock this time.


Left pocket's bulgogi
This was dinner. All I had to do was make rice and cut broccoli! Left pocket made his tasty bulgogi. Bul means fire/flame and gogi means meat in Korean. The onions were nice and sweet with a slight crunch, qualities which perfectly complemented the salty kimchi and sorta mushy broccoli (it got neglected in the steamer). The beef was extra tender this time probably because it was marinated overnight with all the little Coke bubblyfingers. Does leek also have acidic tenderizing effects? You might not be able to see any but there were slivers of leek in the bulgogi.
 
 HAIBISUKASU bento

Last Monday, January 24, I decided to try the teachers' bento at visit school. I knew I was gonna try the students' school lunch on Friday, so I wanted to give the teachers' food a taste first. See, if I ended up liking the gakushoku enough I might never have another chance to try the teachers' bento.

I asked one of the JTEs how to order myself a bento for the day. She gave me an envelope to write my name on and put 400yen in. She showed me where the box for money envelopes was, and where to mark a little circle next to my name on the list of teachers. I didn't have exactly 400yen so I also wrote the amount I gave next to my name.


bundled in furoshiki
I've seen who I thought were the cafeteria ladies come into the staff room during the morning to collect the orders, then before lunchtime carry in these large bundles of bento boxes as well as the metal miso soup container. When all is delivered, they also return the stack of envelopes with any change due.


two parts bento
Not holding back, I went and opened up the furoshiki to get my bento before anyone else! I ladled some miso soup into my mug but was afraid to take too much even though everyday I see the last bit of miso soup left in the pot and eventually poured down the sink. There were a few types of flower designs to choose from but haibisukasu was quickly recognizable to me. I thought the writing in romaji was cute!


main bento
Here we are, marinated fish on shredded cabbage topped with ginger, mostly onion tempura, marinated diakon?, potato salad, nori?-battered deep-fried gyoza, ume? flavored pickled daikon. I'm not big on fish but I ate it and it tasted good. The fried tempura and gyoza were cold, as is expected in bento, but they were also very very oily. The gyoza had a lot of meaty filling but it didn't exactly taste good. The potato salad and side vegetables were good.


bento, rice and miso soup
The rice was hot. Those are black sesame seeds on top. It seemed like a lot of rice when I was eating it.

When you are finished eating, you put your bento boxes outside the door. I often see neat stacks of them against the wall on the ground. At some point they get picked up to be washed and used again. I had assumed that these bento were made in the school cafeteria but after eating in the cafeteria I thought I was wrong because this food was higher quality. After eating in the school cafeteria again and noticing the bento boxes, maybe they do make these bento there!
 
Friday, January 28, 2005
 Fumiyo's Cafeteria Tour

Ate gakushoku at visit school for the first time! The cafeteria is very beat-up looking and colder than base school's. I could only see three elderly ladies working in the kitchen. Compared to at base school, the number of Ss who eat gakushoku here seemed much less; the food is cheaper, and maybe oilier, if that is possible! Still I very much enjoyed my experience. Talking (in English or Japanese) with Ss and other Ts is always good. I think I will eat gakushoku again soon.

Fumiyo, my guide, insisted I try the sansai udon because it's her favorite. Unfortunately there was only enough sansai, or mountain vegetables, topping for one so it was tempura for me. Each were only 230yen!


tempura udon
The tempura was big and crispy and yummy. It was mostly onion and some pieces of carrot. The udon noodles were the fat kind, nice to bite but not too hard and not chewy. The soup was dark and sweet and very tasty, not fishy at all.


sasami
After we finished our udon, Fumiyo went back in line to get her beloved poteto, or french fries, and treated me to sasami. Sasami refers to the chicken breast meat that is paired with cheese, breaded and deep-fried. At first I thought the melted cheese was uncooked batter but after a few more bites I was pleasantly surprised to realize it tasted like cheese.

Fumiyo is a great kid. She is always grinning and genki. She visits the staff room at least once a day, probably at least twice, just to chat with teachers. She says hi to everyone who passes by, even if they just nod or mutter a response. In class she wants to answer every question herself. Her hand will shoot up "HAI!" but much of the time her hand will shoot up while she blurts out the answer because she can't wait to be called on. Recently she saw me passing a Thank You card to another S and had to have her own letter from me, so she started writing letters to me in English. She always says her English is no good because she doesn't understand the grammar and such. Well it just goes to show that to truly communicate, there are some things that are important and some that aren't. She's made my time at this school a lot more special. I am sad that she's going to graduate soon, but my hope is that we will keep writing. Today she was telling other Ts that she is going to go to America and homestay with me, but half-jokingly as if it was only her dream; well I think she'd do very well getting by in English and I hope it happens someday!


dango with tsubu-an
After-dinner browsing at the market resulted in me getting some dessert. After having the dango treat the other day, these tsubu-an ones looked good too, and since the package of three sticks were 50% off from 105yen I went for it! One thing that's cool about Japanese markets is their markdown system. In the evening you can usually count on seeing bright red stickers on older goods telling you a discount percentage or yen amount. The date stamp on the package was 05.1.29 9am but the mochi was still nice and soft and chewy. I particularly liked the tsubu-an because it wasn't too sweet or too thick; it was perfect.


 
Thursday, January 27, 2005
 Japanese vs. Western
Excuse the hurried writing!

Today I got haircut, 1100yen.

I was reminded to grade those paragraphs ASAP.

Did my last TT, a genki class and then a really dead
one. I made a mistake and went to second half five
minutes early, didn't realize my mistake until the end
when the bell wasn't ringing. I turned the class back to
JTE and left. How embarrassing, but the JTE was
totally nice about it.

Had lunch with Kyoto, he asked why I take pics all the
time at lunch (I had prepared for this question by
looking up the word for "diary"), said I was keeping a
food diary to show friends and family, he laughed, but
told me about wafu vs. youfu, or Japanese-style vs.
Western-style, and the mixed culture of so many
Japanese foods (katsu curry, ramen, tarako
spaghetti, etc.).


wafu sauce katsudon
I ordered wafu sauce katsudon again by mistake when I
wanted the katsudon (with egg), asked Kyoto why one
was called wafu, or Japanese-style, when katsudon
itself is Japanese, he explained that the sauce made it
wafu, but the popular way was the dipped in egg one
which has a sweet taste (I'd never thought of them as
having different sauces). Katsu is usually pork katsu, or
beef katsu (katt-suteeki) but the one I ate was chicken,
Kyoto said chicken is used for katsu at our school only.
food was cold today. getting tired of it, know I'm not
eating well. Didn't want dinner

Surprisingly I hear the students eat two lunches
(their bento from home and then the one they buy at
school) and they like the cheesiest, fattiest food, the
doria (lots of cheese with oil oozing out, white
sauce, etc.)

Kyoto taught me that Japanese manners are to not
let hand rest on lap, but hold bowl up with it while
using chopsticks with other hand. When finished, lay
chopsticks down in front.

Kyoto introduced me to a passing student who just got
back from a year in New Zealand. She's friendly and
natural with English, wants to encourage other Ss to
go abroad but says they're too shy.

Also was introduced to lady in charge of night school
cafeteria, Kyoto told her to have me try the dinner
some time. It's a 280yen set menu at the night school
cafeteria, which opens after 6pm. I'm not at school
that late but I am curious how it'd be.



green curry set
dinner was at Asian Cup Stand. very nice and delicate in
the way that things are in Japan more often than in the
States. Green curry was hot, tasty, milky, with very soft
moist chicken and a fair amount of vegetables, not to
mention two big steamed buns. I love these buns, they
are like charsiu bao bread. I never see these sold in
Japan. jasmine tea was terribly strong and bitter but
why? did I steep it too long or was there just way too

much tea leaves in the filter. Set was 680yen.


Asian Cup Stand

 
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
 Chicken is an Animal
Today I had planned to get some things accomplished, to avoid the guilt. These were 1)get through at least two days in the Japanese textbook before eating lunch, and 2)grade a whole class' paragraphs.

I did my studying, ate lunch, and never touched the paragraphs.


shio ramen
Today I felt like having ramen. Even this morning I knew it would be ramen. As lunchtime approached I thought, If they have shio ramen today then I'm having ramen. To me, clear saltyness would cut the oilyness better than cloudy miso. As fate would have it I walked into the shokudo and there on the menu under ramen 250yen it said shio. The noodles were made to order so they were nice and chewy! On top were wakame, corn, kamaboko, a slice of chicken, and negi. The soup was very tasty, almost too salty, but good. Strangely it reminded me of saimin, a pleasant surprise since I haven't had saimin in a long time. Speaking of surprises I couldn't believe how full I felt after lunch. Perhaps because I ended up sitting with the kyotos again and trying to talk while eating, I ate slower and my fullness was able to hit me while I was distracted.

Much of today's lunch discussion was about vegetarianism. First we talked about fish. I said I didn't eat fish before coming to Japan. Kyoto asked if I've eaten eel and I said yes which prompted him to keep asking about such-and-such fish but I don't really know what is what, I rarely eat it. He couldn't believe I didn't know what he was talking about and that I didn't like fish. I guess if you live in Japan you become very fish-minded and it is easy to forget that some people in the world don't eat much fish. It's like me coming to Japan and not understanding why Mexican food is so hard to be found. So I reminded him I was vegetarian in the States. I had to explain that there are different kinds of vegetarian because each person is different. Kyoto told me Japan was mostly vegetarian, besides the fish, long ago. It was after WWII that Japanese people ate more meat. Eating lunch with the kyotos again today was, as Kyoto2 said, tanoshii, but conversation was hard because there were loud happy Ss sitting behind me.

This morning it was raining and snowing. Snow is nice because it's not so wet and cold. Plus it's pretty!


moon
Tonight I caught the moon when it was big, orange, and low.

A friend came over from another city to play GT4, the driving simulator. The left pocket, our friend, and I indulged in Shakey's (yes, derived from the one in California) baikingu, or buffet. I was too impatient to feel like taking pictures, throwing pieces of pizza onto my plate and all. I figured there will be another chance to feature Shakey's Japan.
 
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
 Eating with the VPs
Today I had no classes. I was able to do just about whatever I wanted!

Last week, all five days I had classes, which is rare. Also rare is having to come to school for the 8:hour to be able to TT first period, which is what I had to do all three days at base school last week. It's taihen to wake up at six everyday in the dark. Seven is, although still freezing, bright. Anyway, the TT wave is over--actually it's not, I have class 1-8 on Thursday--so today I woke up and it was sunny and for now I'm feeling raku. Free and easy.

Today I went to the PO to mail my Month 2 Japanese test, due in three days. It was harder than Month 1, especially because I did not study thoroughly as I did for Month 1. Studying makes me feel good about myself. Having the book open makes me feel like I am a hard worker. When I study at school I flaunt it because usually I feel like I am doing lazy raku things that I shouldn't be doing because nobody else has such time on their hands. I am an under-utilized ALT.

I do have a stack of 600ish 1st year paragraphs--chunks of words pulled from dictionaries and arranged by students who didn't know what a paragraph was before I babbled at them for an hour in English, which means half of them still aren't sure what it is--to read and grade. It was while preparing for that lesson that my efforts to communicate with JTEs hit a very low point.

My mission was to teach 300 or so Ss enough about writing so I could bear reading what they were gonna write, not to mention as a foundation for future assignments and for the sake of the future ALT. I had to work with seven or so JTEs, some who I'd never taught with before. Some claimed to not know how to write a paragraph. I thought, well, they should know what I'm teaching because you can't team teach if only one teacher knows the material being taught. And I wasn't teaching something, such as speaking or listening, that benefitted anyone to be taught in English. I needed the JTEs' help to make the lesson clear to the Ss. I told them this. When time was found for a meeting, I tried desperately to get feedback and make sure I wasn't fighting on my own. It was hard wading through the silence. The scariest part of this ordeal was facing that fact that one teacher wouldn't listen, flipped through the activity I made, said he didn't understand as it was all in English, and decided it was fine since I was going to do all the explaining to the Ss. Today that same teacher was humming Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.

I related a brief account of that situation to the BOE at my (Not) Re-Contracting Interview. Yet I repeatedly answered that things were fine at school. What were they getting at, I thought. The interviewers told me they get reports on me from my principal. No wonder they kept asking me how I got along with my principal. I wonder what he reported about me. I rarely see him. I don't work with him. I told them it was fine when I saw the principal. They suggested I talk to him, so we get to know each other better. Mayyyyyybe someday soon. He gave me a big grapefruit-like fruit once.

In the end, the interview was enough to convince me to try harder to get more out of being here.




chiizu omuraisu
Here's a start: Today I ate lunch with the kyoto-sensei, not just one but both vice principals! They are friendly and fun, and don't seem too busy to interact with. My choice for lunch was chiizu omuraisu, 300yen, and since I ate in the cafeteria, I got miso soup and hot tea along with it. I like the rice and melted cheese under the egg, all covered with hayashi sauce which contains chunks of chicken. Yummm. I was told that the name for hayashi comes from "hashed beef"; quite a stretch, don't you think?

Afterwards, I got a tour of the other cafeteria, the night school one. It's a separate building, kind of mysterious because it looks like a brick wall right outside the glass doors from the hallway. It was dark and empty, but I wonder what the food is like at night.




dango
A nice thing about being where I am is receiving yummy foods from other members of the staff. Sure, Japanese people might eat healthy fish and vegetables and all that, but they do a fair amount of snacking to keep sane. Yappari you gotta be balanced. Today I got a stick of four big dango! I don't eat them very often because I think I would get tired of the thick, sweet and salty shoyu sauce. Today's was a perfect treat, though. Apparently these dango were from a store in front of the City Hall and cost 40yen per stick.


hot apple pie
Tonight the left pocket and I used another Makku coupon for two hot apple pies for 150yen. Crispy, yummm.



nabe
Dinner was a sort of sad nabe. The last bit of the whole nappa, or hakusai, or Chinese cabbage I bought so long ago did its part. The tofu did its part, thank goodness there was some in the fridge. The last carrot did its part, as did a nice big onion. The naganegi was unsettlingly gooey when boiled and tasted a bit off. Still, the left pocket and I were filled. I needed a dose of clean veggies.
 
Seize the food, for Japan is time-service only! In other words, this blog is to preserve, share, and make the most of my six months left living in Japan. Yes, I am obsessed with food. Cheap food!

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Location: Tokyo/Saitama, Japan

Life is short so I eat fast, lest it get cold or disappear. I'm currently teaching English in Japan for two years. I was born and raised in California, and will be returning there in Summer 2005. I was ovo-lacto-vegetarian for about seven years but decided to let it go during second year in Japan!


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