Wednesday, July 30, 2008

would you believe...

...these girls are actually competing against each
other to win an unagi dinner.
The contestants are paired up, and at the signal,
they both try to catch one of the unagi (eels) swimming
around in the little pool here. The first one to catch and throw
one out of the pool (yes, onto the ground for it to start
wriggling in the direction of onlookers!) wins the unagi dinner.
I'm sure that the nearby unagi restaurant sponsored
this event, which was one of the many activities that
was going on during the Kawamatsuri (River Festival).

Can you believe that my town is famous for these things? I mean - as in when you come to Isahaya, you need to eat their trademark dish, unagi. It is usually grilled with a sweet(ish) sauce and served over hot, white rice. It's also popular served as sushi (still grilled).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Banana Split Party

Last week I had some kids over to make ice cream and banana splits.
It was definitely their first time making & probably even
seeing a real banana split,
and I think it was also the first time most of them made ice cream, too.
We had lots of fun reading the English ice cream instructions,
and, I daresay, everyone had a good time!

The little ones were having difficulty with the whipped cream (incidentally, this was the first time I've found/used whipped cream and chocolate sauce in Japan!)

While the ice cream was churning, T-kun went a little 'nuts' :)

Since these guys were novices, we had a short lesson beforehand to go over the important steps in making a delicious banana split.

While waiting for the ice cream, the kids also decorated my windows, and so I had a nice surprise waiting for me when the sun came up!

Friday, July 25, 2008



Peel bananas, peel peel bananas
(other side now -)
Peel bananas, peel peel bananas

Eat bananas, eat eat bananas
Eat bananas, eat eat bananas

GO BANANAS, go go bananas!
GO BANANAS, go go bananas!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I think my Japanese painting teacher is part Italian.
It seems that every time I go over to the studio for class, she invariably brings me several treats. Actually, she's not even technically my teacher, her painter son is. She does the Japanese calligraphy classes.
I'm actually a pretty unremarkable painter, but I still like going because it's good to be making some kind of art again in a classroom situation, and taking this class in this setting is "so Japanese". It's called suibokuga (basically ink painting), and I know you've seen examples of it. Very ethereal ink washes of very "Japanese" scenes and objects. When I'm brave enough to show off one of my paintings, I'll put it up.
As for the food here - I know the white stuff is onigiri (rice balls), and the other has something to do with potato. I'll let you know after lunch :)

Here's an example I found on the web of a painting and some of the supplies used in suiboku-ga. In the next class my teacher is going to show me how to make a name stamp (inkan) so I'll be able to 'sign' my paintings.
(sorry to steal the image here without proper acknowledgment of the source, but there are some not so family-friendly images that pop up there - so I thought I should skip it)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Go, Japan!

So I walked into the staff room last week and saw the volleyball coach crouching on a Japanese flag on top of the table....?
Turns out he was writing (in Japanese with a brush) some words of encouragement to a former Isahaya High School student who is going to be in this year's Olympics! Many other people signed the flag, and the school had a big ceremony to present this alumnus with the flag and this "senbatsuru" (1000 cranes) made by the students. Some of you may know that the making of 1,000 paper origami cranes is a kind of good luck charm. Unfortunately, I had a business trip and couldn't go to the ceremony (and so I'm fuzzy on the details of all of this). I even heard about this athlete at my Japanese brush painting class, since this guy was from that little neighborhood, and while I was having class, many of the neighbors were having an enkai (dinner party) in his honor.
The link here takes you to our school's webpage, and if you click on the upper left photo, it will give you a pdf to open so you can read all about the event. Well, that is, if you can read Japanese - but there are a few photos, too :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lunch is served...

Here's what the bento boxes and plates look like when they're delivered...notice the labels on the forks and chopsticks - teacher's names.
I'm also happy that we can have live plants in here. I remember we couldn't have any in our Florida classrooms (why?). Yet I remember here, in a Japanese elementary school, the principal beamed when he showed off the fresh flower arrangements displayed about the school. He said he was happy to have these flowers because they 'calmed the students'...
Hmmm...there's an idea :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

not your regular burger and fries...

Just thought I'd show you what you can get for lunch around here. This is yakisoba. (yaki=fried soba=noodles) Interestingly enough, even though soba is in the name, the noodles used to make this dish are more like ramen noodles - made from wheat flour. Other things in the dish include cabbage, bean sprouts, and different kinds of 'meat' - in this case kamaboko (steamed fish paste - much better tasting than it sounds!) and tako (octopus).
I often make & bring my lunch, but sometimes I order something from one of the local restaurants that deliver here. Something that really impresses me is that most of the restaurants deliver their dishes on real plates & even provide forks when necessary. People eat, wash their plates, and put them in a special cabinet and someone from the restaurant comes round to collect them. Very eco-friendly. I'll see if I can get a stealthy shot of one of the people engaged in a delivery and pick up later...

Got it :)
Here's one of the ladies - she brings the plates wrapped in a big cloth so they're easy to carry. Most people who bring their bento (lunch box) wrap it up in a cloth, too. I think it's called furoshiki. This is the side of the teacher's room - notice the sinks for easy access to wash your hands or brush your teeth. :) Sorry, Cara, still haven't been stealthy enough to catch one of them brushing their teeth yet!
You can also see the blue trash bins there - they're for recycling cans, bottles, unburnable trash, and the foam lunch boxes from the only restaurant that doesn't deliver their meals in bento boxes or plates.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Class Match - Day 2

87F/29C & counting...

As you know, my kids at school here are always CRAzY busy with classes, extra classes, tons of homework, coming to school on Saturdays and during their 'vacations'...BUT yesterday and today they've been able to let loose a little at the "Class Match" sports competitions. I took these photos from the top of the gym as I looked down on the school grounds at the volleyball and soccer matches.

Each class has teams for volleyball, soccer, badminton, basketball, & dodgeball. As I sit up here in the air conditioned haven of the teacher's room, I can hear their continuous cheers of encouragement, and intermittent frenetic coaxing to help their team get that extra push they need at that moment. Have I mentioned that I adore my students here? Days like today it's so refreshing to see the pure joy and determination in what they're doing.

Yesterday I stayed outside most of the day playing with the kids as they practiced for their volleyball games (I kept trying to get on a team, but wasn't successful). However, one of my classes was short a basketball player, and so - how much do I love my kids? Apparently A LOT...cause even though the game was only 10 minutes long, I swear I almost DIED. Why do people play that game on purpose for FUN? It's sadIStic, is what it is - all that running around back and forth, stopping, running, stopping, jumping...lunacy it is, yo! Somebody get me a yoga class...
Well, I should quit procrastinating and get out there and start sweating with the students -

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

and a Happy 8th of July to you -

I was a little out of commission this 4th of July weekend (stomach bug), so maybe it's good I wasn't in the States with all that good smelling bbq around...
Last Sunday evening I did, however, manage to get up to the 4th of July party sponsored by the base up in Sasebo. It still was a little strange walking into a place with so many Americans all around, but it was nice to be surrounded by familiar sights, sounds, and smells. I ran into some nice people, but mainly kept to myself, enjoying my REAL cheeseburger (can't remember the last time I had one), and the slightly less than cheesy cover bands. Actually the bands were alright, I'm just not such a raving fan of the original bands. But live music is live music. :) I stuck around for the beginning of the fireworks, and saw the last of the show as I rode my little bike back to the train station.
And I think I've been here too long, now - that Lou Greenwood song they did to start the fireworks show was almost tolerable :) At least the words sounded different to me this time.
(and there was a moment during a particularly brilliant set of fireworks that I swear I could hear Mom oooing and ahhhing...)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Today is Tanabata
(Star Festival)
According to legend, the king of the heavens separated his daughter, The Princess Weaver Star, from her husband, The Cow Herder Star, because their intense love kept them from their duties. Now they can only meet once a year - on the eve of July 7 - by crossing the Milky Way. If it rains, the star-crossed lovers will have to put off their reunion for another year. To celebrate this romantic story, people write poems and special wishes on colorful strips of paper called tanzaku and hang them from the limbs of bamboo trees. *

The word for star is hoshi 星 (ほし)
and the word for wish is hoshiiしい (ほしい)

Hey - it's like Christmas in July :)

*(that was shamelessly excerpted from Japanese Celebrations, one of my books here)

Friday, July 04, 2008

kabi must die

I'm normally not a vicious or vindictive person,
but in this situation, I have no other choice.
(Kabi wa saiaku. Kieteshimae!)
Mold is EVIL. It must die!

OK, I know I always complained about freezing in my apartment
in winter. However, one really great thing about winter is -
NO bugs, and, (okay - two great things) - no mould/mildew.
Right, so I can take the rain in tsuyu (monsoon season)...
it's annoying, but I know it is necessary to make the rice grow, etc.
What, however, is the justification for
MOLD and BUGS, such evil entities?
Since my apartment is the end unit on the first floor
(remember - below my tatami mats are thin wooden boards, 3 feet of air, and wet soil), I'm under heavy attack. At least the mukade (centipedes?) haven't decided my house was party central. If that happens, it might really get ugly. For now, however, I'll just keep emptying my dehumidifier every 5 minutes and keep wiping down my floors everyday to prevent the kabi from turning my tatami mats into AstroTurf. I'm also keeping a baseball bat close at hand for any gokiburi (roaches) daring enough to cross the threshold. So watch out - I'm armed and dangerous, yo.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

竜頭泉 りゅうとうせん

(or for those of you having trouble reading that - "Ryutousen" (ryou-toe-sen).  
I can see why I had trouble remembering the right order of the name, because "ryu" means dragon, and I knew "sento" had something to do with bath/water/springs.  And, when I looked up "sentou" the first definition said "head"...
Well, I've got it now - 
"ryutou" = dragon head, "sen" = springs.  
And now your Japanese lesson is out of the way :)

Here's a picture of one of the "taki" (waterfall) and "sen" near the restaurant.  The surrounding area was gorgeous - good for hiking and camping I hear.  
After living here - with mountains so close, I can't imagine living without them now... 

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

So here's the rest of the story (and the dragon!).
Last Friday a really nice man took us to dinner in the mountains about a 45 minute drive north of here.  Glad I didn't have to take my bike - I wouldn't have made it (the Captain would have had no problem, though, I'm sure!) :)
As I said in the previous post, this screen was in the restaurant, and it's basically a map of a series of waterfalls in the area.  If you click on the picture, you can see the Japanese numbers beginning at the tail and ending at the head.  I think the restaurant was up by one of the claws.  
It's funny, sometimes, being the gaijin - I'm either really an outsider, who will never be accepted into the group, or sometimes - like last Friday, I feel like an honored guest.  The restaurant was empty except for our party of three, and so I felt like we were simply guests in this lady's house.  It was the first time I've had carp (sashimi), we had another cooked fish, and then eel (unagi).  Of course there was a selection of side dishes, as well.  No one even commented on how well I used chopsticks, though...I wonder if my superior skills are slipping -