visiting with friends and murdering yuzu

5 Dec

A few weekends ago, my friend J visited for the weekend.  If you’ve been following this blog since its creation, you might remember J as S and my friend from New York and Tokyo orientation.  She’s a friend of mine from college who currently lives and works in Yamanashi prefecture, which is about four hours from Kiryu by train.  It’s a little far for a weekend visit, but since the 23rd of November was a national holiday (Labor Thanksgiving Day or kinro kansha no hi in Japanese), we jumped at the three day weekend and used it as a chance to get together.  Since the last time we had seen her was when we attended the Hey! Say! JUMP concert together back in August, we were eager to get a chance to meet up again, especially since in college, we had seen one another essentially everyday and now we barely have a chance to meet.

While she does live somewhat far away from us, J obviously lives in a similar part of Japan, so there was no need to do anything particularly touristy.  Instead, we took advantage of the time together to do fun things that we hadn’t been able to do for a while, starting with karaoke!  Karaoke, a word made of two Japanese words smashed together, kara or “empty” and oke which is short for “orchestra,” is quite different in Japan from what one might be used to in the United States; rather than a chance at publicly humiliating oneself in a bar in front of complete strangers, in Japan, karaoke is done in private rooms with their own air conditioning, light, and, obviously, music controls.  One picks songs on a touchscreen remote control, and can change the volume of the music, the volume of the mic, and the amount of echo.  I really love doing karaoke in Japan, and since it had been a while since I had been able to do it with J– not since we studied abroad in Japan two years ago– I was happy to have the chance!

ImageWe also took J to my personal favourite izakaya, which is conveniently located close to the karaoke place.  J had never been to an izakaya before, just as S and I hadn’t before we came to Kiryu– in Tokyo, izakaya are often highly populated by salarymen, and drunk salarymen late at night are, to put it mildly, my worst nightmare.  I’ve been told by basically every young foreign woman ever that izakaya are not the place for young foreign women without male, preferably Japanese companions, so I never went while I was studying abroad.  But in Kiryu, izakaya are basically the place to go on a weekend night, and unlike in Tokyo, I’ve seen families with small kids and other groups of women there, as well.  I have really come to enjoy izakaya, so I hoped J would too.  The izakaya experience is slightly different to that at a bar in America in my experience; while it is someplace people by and large go to drink, the food is also a draw (obviously the aforementioned families with small kids aren’t indulging in too much alcohol), and one can order anything from sashimi to udon to karaage and french fries and other fried snacks.  ImageWhile on the unhealthy side, the food at izakaya is delicious, and it seemed as if J thought so, too!  The icing on the cake for the experience, though, came at the very end.  In Kiryu, shop owners often recognize their regulars, since it’s such a small town, and especially since we’re foreigners, it’s easy to remember us.  The owner of the izakaya definitely knows my friends and I, and is always friendly to us when we pay our bill, but that day, he also gave us yellow roses!  It was very sweet, and while I’m not sure why we got them, I was happy for the seemingly random act of kindness.

ImageOne last endeavor I attempted while J was here was to make a citrus drink for the first time.  J is generally into cooking and that sort of thing, so I figured it was a good project for her, but I ended up doing most of it myself!  A coworker had given me a huge bag of yuzu, a very sour Japanese citrus fruit.  They had informed me that one wasn’t supposed to eat yuzu as is, and that I could cook with it (or put it in the bath; yuzuburo, in which one bathes with whole yuzu fruits floating in the water, making the bath smell nice, is quite popular in Japan).  I wasn’t really sure what to make, so I settled on “yuzu-ade,” since that seemed like the easiest option.  Cutting and squeezing all the yuzu was an adventure, and at the end I felt like a yuzu murderer… but, for my first time making juice, it went fairly smoothly!  The yuzu didn’t make that much juice, but when mixed with water and sugar, there was a decent amount of a drink that tasted surprising like lemonade!  However, because there was so little, we decided to stretch it, and bought gin and tonic to make yuzu cocktails! They were delicious, and I highly recommend them… to anyone who can get their hands on yuzu.

We had fun, but for the time being, J has returned to Yamanashi.  Come back and visit again, J!

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