Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Goodbye Asuka

Last week we had a big party to commemorate the departure of one our teachers. After three years of hard work, Asuka is leaving us. In Japan, any reason to have a party is a good reason, teachers leaving, teachers arriving, the weather changing, me washing my socks, anything!

So we put together a big soirée at a local izakaya that has a big party room. We got a course meal of delicious nabe, think a sort of Japanese fondue, with water instead of oil. And more tofu and veggies than you usually see with fondue. Of course we also had a nomihodai all you can drink deal. Of course.

About 40 people showed up, which was our best turn out to a party in a while, and really shows just how much everybody around here loves Asuka. She was a great teacher and an awesome coworker. She felt a little bit sad about leaving us too, crying just a little bit. After the main party, we decamped to Karaoke (again, of course!) and several students sang really sappy J-pop songs that also jerked a few tears from the honoree and the audience at large. Not knowing any of those songs, I just sang my usual Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. I need to remember that songs that all MY friends know are not really all that popular with the rest of Japan. Oops. Well, it was a fun time, good food, and good company, even if it was a bittersweet occasion.

We will miss you Asuka! Good Luck!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Uchinada Beach in Winter

I actually arrived a little early for the Pancake Party, so I decided to kill time at the beach. I'll admit, I was shocked. In summer, Uchinada Beach is trashed. In winter it is even worse. The amount of debris was epic. There have been some pretty crazy storms lately, so I suppose some of the extra trash has been washed up from that, but honestly there is no excuse.

While the average family may not be able to have a great time at the beach in February, it looks like the motor bike boys can have a great time!

Here are a pair of HDR images I took. I didn't have my tripod, so both are from a single RAW file. (Though not through lack of trying, I actually took a 5 photo HDR of the lower image, but I moved. I guess I'm just not as stable as a real tripod!)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pancake Day

Over in the British Isles, rather than celebrate Mardi Gras and go hog wild on the day before Ash Wednesday (and Lent), they celebrate Pancake Day. This involves more pancakes, and less beads and rampant nudity. Probably a good thing really. The idea is to use up all the rich foods, like eggs and butter and such, in preparation for the fasting of Lent

While I have never celebrated Pancake Day, Fiona has always celebrated by cooking pancakes for as many people as possible. Much to the Delight of pancake lovers in Ishikawa, she invited a ton of people over to her house in Unchinada on Sunday (Tuesday being a work day and all) for pancakes, tea, and conversation. Sadly, a ton of people did not show up, it being Sunday. Apparently there had been a big birthday party on Saturday night, and Hangovers were rampant. I guess being sick last week saved me more than just money.

One of the attendees brought an amazingly awesome party game called Apples to Apples. Each player has 7 noun cards, which must be played on an adjective card in the middle. The person with the noun that most fits the adjective wins the round. You can get some crazy pairings, and it's great fun.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Putting the Kana in Kanazawa

In Japanese Kana means gold, and Kanazawa is in fact very famous for its gold production. At least it's famous for its gold leaf production.

In fact in modern times, 99% of all the gold leaf used for anything in Japan; statues, screens, pottery, and other such things, comes from Kanazawa. The city is rather gold leaf mad actually, and you can find all sorts of crazy products involving our most favorite export.

Gold leaf soap? Gold leaf tea? Ice cream? Stickers? Chopsticks?

Ah, but gold leaf chopsticks, not *that* is less a strange souvenir and more a useful and beautiful object d'art. And lucky me, I got a chance to make my own gold leaf covered chopsticks last Saturday.

We started with plain black plastic hashii, and used an exacto knife to cut masking tape into the design we wanted. For ease and simplicity, most people chose a variant of candy cane stripes. More elaborate designs are certainly possible, but you don't have a lot of space to work on, using the top third of a chopstick. I went with a nice random collection of 2 cm strips of tape. It was pretty easy, and it looks good.

Then, you brush glue on your design, and let it sit for 5 minutes. After the glue comes the tricky party, actually putting the gold leaf on your chopstick. I was sitting closest to the instructor, so I got to be the guinea pig. Lucky me.

If you've never handled gold leaf before, picture a sliver of gold far thinner than a piece of paper. It is so fragile that to touch it is to destroy it. It will literally dissolve in your hands. If you breathe to hard, as I did, it will billow up, out alignment and make it very difficult to evenly distribute it on your chopsticks!

Despite the difficulty, once it was all done my chopsticks came out looking very nice. They were cheaper than the store bought versions, and they are all mine. Of course these are most certainly NOT dishwasher safe!

A side note, this is my 200th Post! Wow, 200 articles of varying importance and interest over almost 2 years. How time flies when you are having fun ;-).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chocolate and Hospitals

This is the longest I have gone without posting in the history of my blog, and for that I apologize. There was a pretty unique combination of factors, including boring weather, nothing happening, oh, and my getting really sick for a week.

Last Wednesday was Valentines Day, and I have to say the Japanese sweet shops have really learned how to work it in the most commercial possible way. Instead of each couple buying maybe one or two things for the Holiday, every woman, single or no, has to buy chocolate for every important man in her life. Husband and boyfriend for sure, but also boss, coworkers, English teachers... Oh yeah, I got a fair amount of free chocolate from my students last Wednesday. The downside to that from my view is the added holiday White Day on March 14th, where all the men have to buy chocolate for all the women who bought them chocolate back in February.

Like I said, they really found how to maximize commercial possibilities.

Wednesday was also important as that was the day I went (back) to the hospital. My throat had hurt a little bit Sunday evening, a bit more on Monday but still not bad, then Tuesday I lost my voice. I was grimacing every time I swallowed. Drinking was painful, and eating was worse. Despite my general distaste of the Japanese Health Care System, I had little choice. Life was hell, and its hard to teach with no voice.

I got up early, rode my bike uphill a couple of kilometers. Its no problem, maybe a 15 minute ride, usually. However last week was a week of insane weather, and Wednesday especially saw some pretty intense winds. Coming from the mountains, which I was riding towards. Now when I say intense winds, I mean the kind that are enough to blow a man on a bike almost into the street. The kind you encounter on top of a Fourteener in late September. So between fighting the hill AND the wind while being sick, it took forty minutes to make it to the Ishikawa Municipal Hospital. Wow, what a great start to the day.

Now, I've been pretty lucky really. Been to this hospital for an ear infection, and for my eczema, but both of those are pretty external, this was my first trip to Internal Medicine.

Getting things kicked off I got to answer a nice long Kanji questionnaire, and of course get weighed and have my height measured. (Not like they actually TOLD me the results of those but I suppose thats for the best. I really don't want to know!) After that there was one more major test... the Urine Sample.

"Uh guys? Yeah, my throat hurts. My throat. No urine involved. Please don't make me pee in a cup. Please?"

My distaste for it not withstanding, I had no choice. *sigh* This trip was not getting any better. But finally after all the initial poking and prodding and waiting I was ushered in to see the Doctor. Now at most hospitals here the general staff speak NO English (how they all managed to escape from Elementary, Junior High, and High School without learning a lick of English I'm not sure.) but the Doctors usually speak excellent English. So once you run the gauntlet of receptionists and nursing staff it gets easier.

He was very polite.

"May I please examine your throat?"

"That's why I'm here!"

"Please say 'ahhh'"


"May I please examine your chest with my uhhhh"

"stethoscope? Yes."

Well you get the picture. The diagnosis was acute tonsillitis. Maybe strep throat, maybe not. They didn't bother to culture it, which is like step 1 in any Stateside hospital. He then showed me all the medication he was going to prescribe.


We had the antibiotics, then the anti-antibiotic to protect all the bacteria in my stomach. Follow those with the anti-inflammatory, and a gargle to "reduce the sputum." There was even one more pill, but I don't remember what it's purpose was! Yup, FIVE different pills, powders and gargles, to be taken three times a day. I felt like saying that I have a sore throat, not AIDS. I don't need a drug cocktail.

Though to be completely honest, as crazy as it was, it worked. I still felt pretty bad the next day, but Friday was a little better, and I had most of my voice back on Saturday. I stayed home Saturday night just to ensure my recovery. Yesterday I felt almost perfect, and this morning I feel great. Today is the last day I have any drugs left, so this is it!

And I am so very happy about that. I hate being sick.

Next: Putting the Kana in Kanazawa.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let it Snow?

Weather wise this has been a really crazy year for Japan. The official website for the Sappororo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) states:

Concerning this year's Sapporo Snow Festival

Due to the shortage of snow, a number of winter events in Japan have been affected this winter. However, we have already secured enough snow that enables us to make all snow statues and ice sculptures planned for the snow festival.
It is our pleasure to welcome you to the spectacular winter display of the 58th Sapporo Snow Festival.

Hah, the "shortage of snow." Complete lack of snow more like it. This winter in Kanazawa has been a remarkable contrast to last year, more freezing rain and hail than snow, with the occasional massive midnight thunderstorm. This week was the first week since December that it snowed and actually stuck, and it marks the first time in History (or so they say) that it didn't snow in January at all.

Of course you could hardly call it snow, more of an ugly, wet slush. Not the most appealing of mixtures, and for once had me wishing it was just raining instead! Luckily the weather forcast for this week is for warmer temps and maybe even a bit sunny! The apocolypse must be upon us, it is sunny in Kanazawa in February!