Archive | November, 2012

Can’t help fall-in’

27 Nov

ImageFall has officially (?) come to Kiryu!  Or rather, it’s been freezing for a while now, and I’ve had my kotatsu kicking and my space heater on in any attempt to keep my poorly insulated apartment warm, but it seems as if the world at large is only just beginning to consider it really autumn.  Only now that the temperatures are nearing 0 in Celsius are the schoolgirls biking to school around me wearing scarves (they’re still bare legged…) and the trees are finally dropping their leaves.  At work, we’re all freezing; apparently, the teachers aren’t supposed to turn the classroom heaters on until December, but at least the teacher’s room is relatively warm.  And the view out my window is nice, if nothing else.

ImageSince it’s really freaking cold to me (even if it doesn’t seem to be effecting lifelong Kiryu natives), I’ve been continuing my quest to make warm and fall-seeming foods.  I mentioned my first try at white stew last time, and as I said, for my next stew-making adventure, I tried to use “Japanesey” ingredients to make a more wafu style white stew.  For whatever reason, wafu style yoshoku is sort of a thing; I’ve had wafu hamburgers and wafu spaghetti before, so  wafu white stew didn’t seem out of the question!  Instead of the carrots and chicken I used before, I used enoki mushrooms and Japanese bacon, as well as the peas and carrots from before.  It turned out quite delicious, in my opinion, and I’m likely going to try to make it again sometime soon in order to keep me warm!  Because it’s definitely only going to get colder…
In terms of seasonal activities, because it’s not quite time for Christmas but too late for Halloween, I did some Thanksgiving activities with a few of my elementary classes and my junior high special needs class.  Since the lesson was originally planned for third grade, the main focus of the part I taught about was food, and ended with a quiz as to whether certain foods were eaten in America on Thanksgiving (hint: yes turkey, no KFC).  For the second half, however, I thought it would be fun to do hand tracings to make turkeys, since that’s not something I’ve seen used for many crafts in Japan.  I had them trace their hands, make a turkey, and write a message to someone they’re thankful for in Japanese.  I made an example to show the class, too, and the kids really liked it, I think!  I know I had fun making mine.
Unrelatedly to all things fall, next weekend is my birthday and I’m headed to Tokyo!  Hopefully I’ll bring back some interesting stories… and maybe a few presents to myself!

Another birthday post!

19 Nov

ImageLast weekend was one of the other new ALT’s birthdays, and to celebrate, we went out to dinner!  There are a lot of great izakaya in Kiryu where I often get dinner with my friends, but on Saturday, we decided to try something new: Chinese food!

Despite being Chinese and having eaten real Chinese food plenty, I have a huge soft spot in my heart for bad fake Chinese food.  What isn’t delicious about pork fried rice or chicken with broccoli? It’s a guilty pleasure for me in America, and so I was really looking forward to trying the Japanese varient of Chinese food.  Unfortunately, the place we were going wasn’t a buffet or a really run down store-front, but, in fact, its own free-standing building that was very clean and well-decorated, but the experience did share a similarity with many of the Chinese restaurants I frequent in America in that the people working there didn’t speak Japanese very well, and communication got a little difficult at times.  But the food more than made up for any difficulty there! Sadly, I couldn’t find any pork fried rice or chicken with broccoli, but we did have some really delicious beef with green onions and chicken with cashews, and their fried dumplings were amazing.  Also, they did a great karaage, too– S and I are huge karaage fans and try it everywhere we go, and despite it being a Chinese restaurant, their Japanese fried chicken was stellar!

I’m definitely looking forward to going back there again sometime~ But maybe once I stop hiding inside from the freezing wind.  

It’s been a long time since the last…

19 Nov

ImageFOOD POST.  Yay.

Recently, it’s gotten a lot colder in Kiryu.  The temperature has been dropping severely, and the forecast today is an unfortunate high of 50º fahrenheit or 11º Celsius.  I’ve been freezing in my poorly-insulated apartment (which I think may have been built sometime around the 60s or 70s) and so I’ve been trying to find ways to keep warm.  While I’m lucky enough to have been left a kotatsu by my predecessor, that doesn’t solve all my heat problems, and so, last Friday, I decided to try my hand at a new recipe: white stew.

Maybe this is just me, but I had never heard of white stew before coming to Japan.  I’ve had my fair share of stew made from beef cooked in a pressure cooker (one of my favourite home-cooked meals in America, eternal thanks to my amazing mother) but that was always most definitely brown, and the only thing vaguely stew-like that I’ve had that was white-ish is pork gravy… which isn’t really white, anyway.  But white stew is made from a cream base, and so, while I had never had it before, I decided to embark on an adventure and try it out.  Luckily, it was a delicious success!  Aside from looking fabulously like generic stew out of a Miyazaki movie, it also tasted fabulous and was a wonderful cold-weather dinner.  This week, I want to try to make a Japanese-style version with enoki mushrooms, Japanese bacon, and negi, so we’ll see how that goes!

And then the next day, Saturday, I had lunch with a coworker of my father’s.  It turns out, one of his Japanese coworkers just happened to live in Isesaki, about a half hour by car from Kiryu, and so she was kind enough to come take me to lunch and make sure I was settling in nicely in Japan.  We went to Italian food, and I was treated to delicious pastas.  I haven’t been to an Italian restaurant in Japan before, so this was my first time tasting a Japanese take on Italian cuisine.  It was probably about as authentic as in America albeit different, but it was also equally delicious!

ImageThe pasta was wonderful, but probably the most amazing part of the meal was the desert.  I ordered caramel cheesecake, so, naturally, I was expecting… well, a slice of cake.  What I got, however, was more of a mini-dessert course. It contained a tiny slice of cake, but also included on my plate was little scoop of raspberry gelato and a small stack of fresh fruit.  Delicious!  It was almost too pretty to eat, but… somehow, I managed.  I’m a huge fan of gelato, and while this didn’t compare to the gelato I had while I was in Italy, it was pretty amazing.  The cheesecake was great as well; since cheese isn’t a hugely integrated part even of Japanese yoshoku (Western-style food), cheesecake isn’t readily available here, so I was thrilled to get to enjoy such a high quality piece of cake.

…now that I’ve written this post, I’m starving, and I have to teach one more class before lunch.  Alas.

Tokyo, as seen through the lens of idols and shopping

15 Nov

It will be unfortunate if all of my posts begin this way, but I apologize for how infrequently I’ve posted recently.  My daily life is fairly boring, but I’ll try to find more interesting things to post about in the future!

Two weekends ago, I had a bit of excitement in my life when I showed a friend around Tokyo.  It was her first time, so S and I acted as tour guides in the lamest, most boyband and shopping-centric tour of Tokyo ever.  Naturally, after we picked her up in Shinjuku station (still the most confusing station in the world, but we figured out one of our problems– there are multiple exits that you can’t access if you go down, only if you go up from the platforms. D’oh!), we headed to Harajuku!  She was in a bit of a daze, since she’d been on a night bus from Mie for the past nine hours, but we woke her up with the Johnny’s Shop!  Annoyingly, there weren’t that many new photos for S and I, but it saved our wallets, and we got to show our friend CT the wonders of a room filled only with photos and pushy fangirls.  Hurrah!

After the Johnny’s shop, we rested for a while in McDonald’s; I find the Johnny’s shop exhausting, and besides, CT hadn’t experienced the wonders of Japanese McDonald’s yet!  She really liked their teriyaki burger, which was exciting, because I love sharing the wonders of a McDonald’s with more-than-edible options to Americans who have never experienced this glory before.  After McDonald’s, we hit Takeshita street, one of the dearths of Japanese society, but also a great place to buy cheap clothes and and accessories and overpriced tickets, paparazzi goods, and crepes!  I think CT might have been a little overwhelmed, but somehow, S and I managed to leave with even more idol goods.  We then showed CT to the other side of Harajuku, the ever-classy Omotesando, where she bought some makeup at Skin Food and we perused a few other small boutiques.  After that, it was on to Shibuya!

We didn’t really have any real reason to head to Shibuya, but we figured that Shibuya crossing was featured in enough movies and was breathtaking enough that its touristy draw outweighed our desire not to do anything touristy during the trip.  We showed her the Hachiko statue and took her to the Starbucks overlooking Shibuya crossing and nosed around a bit in the Tsutaya before chilling at Dotour for a while (because finding seats in that Starbucks is like finding buried treasure, or something).  Then, we headed to Takadanobaba!

Takadanobaba isn’t a particularly special place; it’s a neighborhood of Shinjuku and the home of Waseda University, so it’s characterized particularly by young people and students.  It was also the birthplace of Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy to Western audiences), Janguru Taitei (or Kimba the White Lion to Western audiences), and Ribon no Kishi (or Princess Knight to Western audiences).  By the way, his grave is also located in Kiryu, I just learned.  You learn something new every day!  But because he was born in Takadanobaba, the train jingle is the melody of the theme song for Tetsuwan Atomu, and under the train tracks, there are various murals of Tezuka’s works.  I have a personal attachment to Takadanobaba, as well, because it’s where I lived when I studied abroad.  As a result, I know a few good places to eat around there, such as a kaitenzushi place that we hit after we did some karaoke!  CT is a bit of a picky eater, but she managed to down quite a few plates of eel sushi.  Yum!

After Takadanobaba, we headed back to our hotel in Otsuka!  We tried a new hotel this time because our regular hotel was already booked by the time we made reservations, and while it was a bit more expensive, it was actually quite nice.  Our room was clean and relatively recently renovated, which was a plus!

The next day, we headed out to Ikebukuro, for which we had set aside a whole day, because Ikebukuro is awesome.  We showed CT around Tokyu Hands before headed to Otome Road and checking out Mandarake as well as the brand spanking new KBooks Cast, especially for goods relating to actors and idols!  It was all very exciting, and after that, we hit Sunshine 60 where we got Thai food for lunch and then did some shopping.  Despite trying to save money, I ended up buying a new shirt and sweater… ah yes, my life is difficult.  We finished the day by heading back to Harajuku for crepes before going our separate ways.

CT, I hope you had a good time in Tokyo with us!  Come back and visit us again sometime!

You knew it was coming… school lunches, part 2

2 Nov

ImageIt’s been a while since I talked about my school lunches… and I don’t know if anyone cares, but I find it interesting, after my experience with public school lunches in America and all.  School lunch continues to be good quality, though recently, there’s been an increase in fish with bones, which is less pleasant.  But as the season changes, I’ve experienced a bunch of new things in lunches, so I’m hoping things continue to be tasty!

A little while back, we had a special week of food produced in Gunma!  It was exciting, and the high point for me was a day on which we had a small egg block with Gunma-chan imprinted on it. The meal was mushroom udon, as well, which was delicious but sort of difficult to execute.  For those who haven’t experienced udon before, the noodles are meant to be eaten in the soup, but clearly, here, they were not in the soup but in a package.  It was the only time I’ve had udon at school, and the best method for getting the noodles out of the package was, apparently, to break them up while still in the package and then take them out with great care with one’s chopsticks.  It took a bit of work, but the end result was delicious nonetheless!

ImageAnd then, I’ve sort of failed at taking photos of more traditionally Japanese lunches, but I remembered recently!  The main course was chicken, but more interesting to talk about is the pile of what looks like black pine needles next to it.  It’s actually hijiki, a type of seaweed that’s popular for Japanese meals.  It looks unappetizing, but it doesn’t have a strong taste, and it’s full of nutrients like iron, calcium, and fiber.  I don’t love it– the way it’s prepared leaves it tasting sort of pickly, not a flavour of which I’m fond, but I don’t hate it either, so if it’s good for me, I’ll eat it (because I’m a big kid).

ImageLast but not least, “Chinese” food!  Mapo Dofu is a famous Chinese dish that appears in school lunches regularly here.  It’s famous for being incredibly spicy, but… the school lunch version doesn’t seem at all hot, which leads me to question if it bears any resemblance to Mapo Dofu in China at all.  It’s pretty good, still, and on this particular day, it came with a salad with rice noodles mixed in and a spring roll.  While I doubt that any of this is even vaguely reminiscent of any brand of actual Chinese food (I can only speak for what I know from my Chinese relatives– I’ve never been to China, but it doesn’t seem particularly authentic to me).  Still, it’s a bit of variety and pretty tasty.

ImageAnd then, completely unrelatedly, October 26th was my dog’s birthday!  I believe she’s three years old now.  My family sent me a photo of her, and I thought she was too stupidly adorable not to share with the world.  I miss her so much!  It’s been rough living in Japan with no pets around ever, so I was happy to get an update on my family pets back in America.

More adventures in Tokyo

2 Nov

ImageAfter a long break (read as: two weeks) S and I headed back to Tokyo last weekend to meet with friends!  We’d both been busy doing various things when we went in (you know, important things like seeing concerts and plays and shopping) but this time, we specifically went with the purpose of seeing friends.  We wanted to meet with some of S’s friends from her time doing study abroad, but one of them was busy, so we were only able to meet with one of her friends, unfortunately.  Also, I wanted to meet up with a friend from Bryn Mawr, who is studying abroad at Temple this semester.  So, we gussied up and got up early (a feat for me) to head into Tokyo last Saturday morning!  In terms of gussying up, recently, braided hairstyles have been in here in Japan, so I’ve been perfecting my braid pollyanna.  I think it looks pretty good!

ImageWe were meeting my friend for dinner on Saturday, so we moseyed around Ikebukuro for a while first before catching up with her at Meijiro station, from where we headed to go grab CocoIchi!  As I (may have?) mentioned, CocoIchi is my absolute favourite fast food chain in Japan, and I eat their curry as often as possible.  We don’t have any close to me in Kiryu, so I have to get it in Tokyo while I have the chance!  Also, my friend, B, had never been to a CocoIchi before, so of course, this situation needed to be remedied.  She enjoyed it, and I’ve finally reached a point that I don’t feel like I have to order my absolute favourite curry (chicken katsu curry) every time, and I branched out to try beef and vegetable curry.  It was delicious!

ImageAfter dinner, the three of us headed to Shibuya to nose around.  There’s tons of shopping in Shibuya, but S and I prefer Ikebukuro so we can get our fashion and our idol goods all in one hit, and so we hadn’t been in a while.  When we arrived, we were surprised so that that Johnny’s had essentially taken over Shibuya crossing!  Not only did they have their normal billboard and a half, but they also had expanded to cover two more!  The two largest billboards were advertising Johnny’s World, the show they’re putting on to celebrate getting two Guinness world records last year, and the half-billboard and another one slightly farther away were advertising Sexy Zone’s new(ish) single (the one I bought for S’s birthday).  All in all, S and I were surprised and delighted, and being the cool kids we are, we had to take a photo.

After shopping, we crashed at a Dotour in Shibuya to chat and eat deserts.  Unfortunately, my dislike of sweets struck and I didn’t get to eat much, but chatting was fun and my matcha latte was delicious! With that, we bid B goodnight and headed back to Ikebukuro, where we were crashing at P and R (the friends who had the live in Gunma)’s apartment while they were away.  Thanks P and R!  It was awesome of you guys to let us stay while you weren’t around.  It meant we got to sleep in instead of waking up for a hotel’s early check out time, and we also got to watch morning TV!  All in all, a good night and morning.

ImageFrom there, we headed to Shinjuku to meet with S’s friend from Study abroad.  We were supposed to meet at the Shinjuku Station South Exit… but Shinjuku station is like a freaking labyrinth and we were unable to find it, so she had to come rescue us from the West Exit.  Sad.  From there, we went to the Shinjuku Lumine, where we decided to find lunch at the floor of restaurants there.  There were a lot of options, but we decided on a place touting itself as Hawaiian cuisine.  I’m not sure how authentic it was, exactly, all things considered, but the food looked really good, as did the desserts, which were fancy pancakes covered in various sweets like ice cream, whipped cream, fruit, cookies, and even cheese cake.  We waited obscenely long to get in (I don’t know why there was like a half hour wait to eat at like 2:30), but eventually, we were seated, and after we ordered, our food came relatively quickly.  I got an avocado hamburger… which turned out to be gigantic and impossible to eat either as a sandwich or with a fork or knife.  It was a mess, but it was also quite tasty… even if I was forced to remove the cheese sauce… which seemed to be mostly plastic, or something.

ImageWe also ordered two deserts between the three of us, but… that turned out even to be too much.  The pancakes were about the thickness of four or five normal pancakes, leading me to feel like they actually shouldn’t be called pancakes at all, but… regular cakes.  They had tons of toppings on them, as well, and while they were really delicious, there was just too much, especially after eating a huge burger.  The two that we ordered were the Hawaiian pancake, which had mango whipped cream, mango sauce, regular whipped cream, raspberries, and pieces of pineapple on it as well as a New York Cheesecake-topped pancake with strawberries, strawberry sauce, oreo cookies, ice cream, and whipped cream.  They were both amazing, and sometime, I want to go back and try some of the other flavors that they had, too!

ImageAfter lunch, we headed down a few floors to shop.  Specifically, I was looking for a winter coat, but every one that I had seen so far wouldn’t close– I tend to be a bit larger than the average size in Japan.  But finally, I found a peacoat style coat that fits me!  Hurrah!  It was expensive, but hopefully that means it will last me a while~ It was a productive end to a fun weekend.

things that make me really cool, part 46592048

1 Nov

ImageAs I mentioned in a previous post, since the last time I updated about it, I’ve been to see the Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou movie four more times for a total of five.  And you know what?  I’m not ashamed.  It’s a really amazing movie for a variety of reasons, and is probably one of the least problematic pieces of popular media that I’ve seen in Japan, if not ever.  So I’m okay giving my money to that.  And honestly, if you get the chance, I would highly recommend it the drama and the movie.  The plot is… expected of a Japanese drama in its silliness, but assuming you can tolerate it and the first three episodes, which are less engaging as the characters and plot are introduced, I think the whole thing is very enjoyable.

But at the very least, I haven’t been going alone!  I’ve taken two of the other new Kiryu JETs (besides S, obviously; she’s gone with me every time) and am happy to report that both of the friends that I brought have liked it, as well!  It makes me really happy that I get along with the other Kiryu JETs as well as I do, and it was really fun to go to the movie and then go shopping or get food together afterwards.  I’ve hung out with this particular friend, K, a bunch of times before (she loves shopping for clothes as much as I do!), but I’ve always forgotten to take a photo of it, so I’m glad that I finally remembered!  I promise, I actually have friends other than S, I’m not making it up…

ImageOn the movie front, one disappointing thing is that my theatre has consistently been out of goods since opening day.  Yes, that’s right… in Japan, there are goods that come along with movies.  For less “popular” movies it’s usually just a pamphlet, but for movies aimed at young people or simply movies that make a lot of money, there are a variety of offerings.  For example, when I saw Harry Potter in Japan, there were shirts, keychains, jewelry, postcards, and a variety of things aimed at both kids and adults.  For the Bakaleya movie, the range was a little narrower; for both the female and male characters, there was a shirt, a set of stickers, a notebook, a pencil board (a popular item in Japan used for putting under the page currently in use in a notebook to keep the writer from making an indent into the page beneath) as well as the pamphlet. I had really been hoping to get some of these, so I was disappointed that there were none at my theater… but luckily, J is a lifesaver and picked some up for me at her theater in Yamanashi!  Hurray.

ImageAlso, while we’ve been seeing the movie, S and I have been able to try out a bunch of different restaurants in the mall, and we found a really great place with all you can eat bead!  What else could you want in life?  The restaurant itself is a generic yoshoku place with overpriced hambagu and the like, but the bread bar totally made up for it, and on top of that, they had another item I’d been craving: Caesar salad!  I’m a sucker for vegetables made unhealthy by fatty dressing and croutons, so I was really excited to see a Caesar salad on the menu.  It was pretty good and not something Japanese that goes by the same name but is actually completely different (this happens!), so I was happy.  It’s the little things in life, right?