Food day. 食べ物曜日 Part 2

Okay, let’s talk about food again!  I’m on a really tight budget at the moment, so after a brief recap of my current food rations, I’m going to travel back in time to the days when I had money to spend on great food that other people cooked for me!  Can you hear the TARDIS coming?  Wait for it…

Yesterday I made myself a nice curry – it was delicious, filling and really hit the spot.  What kind of curry, you ask?   Tofu curry – one 63 yen carton of tofu, part of a package of frozen vegetables, and one block of Japanese “Golden Curry” – altogether it probably cost about 200 yen ($2 or so).  I cooked it up into a simmering mess of greasy, barely-spicy orange soup, which I poured over my mixed brown and white rice and stirred until I had a decidedly un-Japanese-looking dish.  It was so good that I ate it for a snack after work last night, and for lunch and supper today.  Sometimes I love Japanese curry.  The rest of the time, I don’t even want to see the box in my pantry, let alone think about eating it.

Off we go, back in time, to March 16th, 2014!!!  Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…

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This was the traditional Japanese breakfast served at the hostel I stayed at in Takachiho.  I am of the opinion that the food they served here was the penultimate introduction to homemade Japanese food and so I feel really lucky – not only that I stumbled across this hostel but also that I decided to order meals too!  What a great score!!  I should note that not every breakfast was fancy like this – the rest of the breakfasts were rice, miso soup, and various little side dishes.  My favourite Japanese side dish to date is “goma konbu tsukudani” (ごま昆布佃煮- seaweed simmered in soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin until it reaches caramel-like perfection, then sprinkled with sesame seeds).  It’s actually a topping for white rice, and can be used as a filling in onigiri.  I really, really, really love it, and plan to try making a homemade batch of it as soon as I have enough leftover kombu (+ time + motivation).  As for other side dishes, I really enjoyed sunamono (cucumber and wakame salad marinated in rice vinegar etc.) and I specifically disliked natto – a fermenting soybean dish which smells and looks like rotting beans.  “They” say that homemade natto is better than store-bought, and also that if you hold your nose while eating it, it tastes good.  Even the Japanese either love it or hate it.  So “they” say.  I have yet to attempt it again…I’ve tried it twice so far and while I did swallow, it was an ordeal to get it down. :/  I’m sorry Japan, I don’t think I can do the nattoral thing. (See what I did there?)  One supper at this hostel was my first shabu-shabu (a small hot-pot is brought to you along with raw meat and vegetables, which you dip into the boiling/hot water, then take out, dip in sauce, and eat).  Yes, it was delicious!

So we’ve covered the natto…let’s move on to something without the stench of controversy.

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Here’s what was served for breakfast at another hostel, on Yakushima.  This hostel didn’t cook the meals, but ordered the bentos ahead of time.  I have no idea who cooked the food, how, or when, but it showed up at the hostel in time to be served and eaten.  All the food tasted okay, but it was nothing to rave about in comparison to the spectacular flavours I enjoyed in Takachiho.  I must admit though, the lunch bento tasted really, really good after summiting Tachudake…but that’s another story.  Note that the coffee was a gift from a very kind French WWOOFer who was staying at the hostel at the same time.  Merci beaucoup!

Next time, read about some very special food and beverages I enjoyed while on Yakushima.

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Onomichi Minato Matsuri (Port Festival) – Part 2

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This is a Shinto mikoshi (神輿), or portable shrine, which is only taken out of its small shed-type building (see below) during festivals like this one.  This particular mikoshi is the mikoshi of Hachiman Jinja (八幡神社). It isn’t something you normally get to see when you visit a shrine, as the main building where actual worship is performed is a larger one.  This building is only big enough to encase the mikoshi.

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After watching the dance competition, we walked along the boardwalk at the water’s edge and checked out the various food stalls set up for the festival.  (The food is for another post.)  As we ate our snacks, we saw a mikoshi (portable shrine) being carried off down the street, away from the stage.  We went back to the stage area to witness the processional displays of various Onomichi-area shrines.  And what is the point of this exercise, you may well ask? Originally, it meant this:

“The essence of the procession . . . is the movement of the kami through the parish. This is accompanied by a symbolic transfer of the kami from the inner sanctuary to an ornate and gilded sacred palanquin {mikoshi) , which becomes temporarily the abode of the kami.”  Ono Sokyo,Shinto: The Kami Way (Rutland and Tokyo, 1962),p. 68.  (“kami” means “god”)

For much more detailed reading on the roots and possible significance of various aspects of the mikoshi processions, see this page:  http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/998

The teams of men displayed various types of mikoshi-carrying steps and calls (which are essentially work-chants – “hai-za” means “left-right”).  The swaying, swinging, and ringing of bells is supposed to amuse the god being carried inside.  To me, the most impressive display seemed to be the spinning of the mikoshi.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get any video of it, so you’ll have to settle for a description and a blurry photo.  Imagine a team of men carrying an excessively heavy and awkward burden on their shoulders that transform into one giant spin-the-bottle display, using the mikoshi as a fulcrum for a high-speed merry-go-round.  As if this wasn’t hard enough, try switching out people during the maneuver, because you can’t have a tired guy fall down and trip up the whole team.  That might make kami angry, instead of amused.  Besides, after you’re done running in circles, you might have to lift the whole mikoshi up with only one hand each…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2guqOa8Jg48
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBW0iOHh7HY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0hAjSD2GSM
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Food day. 食べ物曜日 Part 1

Today’s post will be all about food – because I spent a lot of time looking at it, thinking about it, remembering it, cooking it, and eating it today (and yesterday…)  This is what I ate for a late lunch, at a tiny okonomiyaki shop in Onomichi:  Image

This is Hiroshima okonomiyaki.  You may notice that there is a layer of noodles on top.  Hiroshima okonomiyaki is cooked with the ingredients in layers, as opposed to Kansai okonomiyaki (which Wikipedia claims is the predominant version of the dish – and I ate it Kansai style in Canada so let’s assume Wiki is right about that), which has the ingredients all mixed together.  My dish was a layer of batter, then cabbage, seafood (miscellaneous – I definitely ate some squid and shrimp but who knows about the rest…), soba noodles (I could choose from either soba (this kind) or udon noodles), then an egg on top (fried) and a bunch of sauce.  It was stupendously good and very filling.  Can you guess how much it was?  500 yen.  (About five bucks.)  Mmmmm.  Tastes even better at that price.

Later in the evening, I deciphered the kanji on what I guessed was a slow cooker, and proceeded to make myself a batch of tapioca pudding with the last bit of tapioca pearls scavenged from a friend who happened to have some laying around in her cupboard.  I suspect she was sick of me asking everyone I met if they knew where I could find tapioca, looking through every corner of every grocery store for it, etc etc.  Homemade tapioca pudding is a wonderful thing, and as it was a rainy day today, I could pretend that I actually needed some warm, just-like-at-home comfort food.  In reality, I’ve just been on a bit of a foodie kick lately.  The poverty diet of rice and ramen grew old quickly and the last two days were a great break from that.

Yesterday, a group of friends had a potluck (maybe there’s a Japanese term for that, but I don’t know it) and in addition to takoyaki, tonkatsu, salads, curry, rice, fruit, cake, sweet potato fries (hardened, candied yam fries coated in doughnut glazing), and bottled drinks, some brought omiyage from their Golden Week excursions.  Food omiyage.  Mmmmm.  My kind hosts sent me home with leftovers:

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If you ever get to Hakata (Fukuoka), get yourself some Hakata Torimon.  The writing on the package is not far off:  “It is what gives a peaceful and pleasant mind to the human race.”

There will be more Food Day posts to come, believe me.

Onomichi Minato Matsuri (Port Festival) – Part 1

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I’m currently living within the geographical boundaries of Onomichi City…but if you want to be technical about it, I’m actually a resident of one of Onomichi’s neighbouring islands, Innoshima. The settlements in this area owe their very existence to the sea, and sure enough, there is a related festival – the Onomichi Port Festival (Minato Matsuri). The festival celebrates Onomichi port’s construction, which began in 1740. When the shipyards were in their heyday, Innoshima had over 50,000 residents and therefore had the right to call itself a city, etc. etc. Nowadays, its population is under 30,000. Innoshima has been merged into the island-gobbling conglomerate of Onomichi City. That, my friends, is why having a port is a big deal around here. No port = no shipyard = no city. (I should explain that Mukaishima, Innoshima, and Ikuchijima) do have “ports” but they are small and used for ferries…therefore they don’t throw festivals to celebrate…)

The festival runs over a full weekend, but I attended on Sunday afternoon only, which means I missed the famous Minato Matsuri parade…but witnessed three other spectacular events (and some other things which can’t rightly be described as spectacular but that I find noteworthy in their own small insignificant ways and will therefore share with you anyway). Onomichi is a short, five-minute/100 yen ferry ride across the sliver of sea that separates it from Mukaishima, Innoshima’s northern-neighbouring island. In order to reach Mukaishima, I had to brave the currents and swim through swarms of jellyfish. No, I’m just checking if you’re reading carefully. Actually, a friend drove me to a parking spot beside the ferry port, as it is much more convenient to take the ferry across than attempt to find parking in Onomichi during its most famous festival.

What you can’t see in these photos/videos is the temperature – it was hot. The sun was out in full, and it felt about 26 degrees Celsius at least. When the students whirled on the dry lawn, maelstroms of dust and brown grass bits whirled too. The MC yelled into the microphone to start off each school’s dance entry. He seemed to alternate between “LET’S GET IT ON!!!!” and a couple of non-offensive, school-age-child-appropriate phrases that naturally I can’t remember now.

Let me explain a little about who makes this festival happen…In Part 1 (this post) you can see photos of school students participating in a dance competition between schools. There are hundreds of students who have been practicing singing/chanting and dancing to the same piece of music, again and again on different days, after their full school day, in addition to the ridiculously heavy workload they already have. Some of the students walk an hour to school and then walk back home afterwards. After school, if they don’t have club activities or make-up tests or preparation for major events like the Onomichi Minato Matsuri, they may have to come learn English from me.

I hope you enjoy these clips and appreciate their efforts.


Here are clips of this year’s winning school:

Boeing 767-300 (763)

Boeing 767-300 (763)

In the air, likely near the Alaskan coast and definitely between Vancouver and Tokyo.

Before I reached Vancouver, I sat beside a poor woman who had left her engagement ring in the departure lobby of Regina airport…a little excitement to pass the time before reaching Vancouver.

I flew over the Pacific on March 10/11 (depending on the timezone of course) in a Boeing 763, with lovely new “mood lighting” which made the cabin seem much roomier than it really was. Before leaving, every TV throughout Vancouver airport displayed news coverage of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. EVERY TV. I sat beside a Malay woman who was amused nearly as much as I was while I watched the Canadian movie “Winter Stories” during the flight. I highly recommend this movie to anyone remotely aware of the significance hockey has (used to have?) in Canadian culture. It was a great, family friendly movie.

Arriving in Japan was an experience… Immediately after leaving the plane, I was greeted by airport staff. At the end of the exit ramp, I was greeted by airport staff. Along the moving walkways, I was greeted by airport staff. When I say airport staff, I mean fully uniformed women, caps and all, standing in pairs at the walkway exits, smiling, bowing, and greeting every passenger or group of passengers going past them. As if this was not welcome enough, I soon heard a familiar voice speaking to me as I neared the end of each walkway – Michelle Yamamoto from the NHK World Radio Learn Japanese Lessons! Her voice was used for a message warning that the end of the conveyor belt was fast approaching… You can hear what she sounds like and learn some “useful Japanese expressions” here: http://www.nhk.or.jp/lesson/english/learn/list/ Thank you for making me feel at home, Ms. Yamamoto.

I nearly died of the heat entering Narita Airport, and it is still beyond my comprehension how the Japanese women can wear sweaters, jackets, caps, scarves and so on, even when it is quite hot inside! Finally, after passing the pairs of greeters, I came close to the immigration room. Then, I saw it. A hologram, waving, and welcoming me to Japan. Yes, a life-size, manga-style hologram. Female of course.

That was that. I made it to Japan.

Minoux Finally Starts a Blog

The first blog post.  Why has it has taken such a very, very long time for me to begin blogging?

There are two reasons, neither more important than the other in my mind:

  1. Privacy issues.  I do not have the time or patience to deal with even the remotest possibility of cyber stalkers, harassment, or general annoyance from unwanted attention.
  2. Plagiarism.  I am a writer.  I will publish books, stories, articles, and be paid for my efforts.  My writing comes from my soul, and I take my soul very seriously, thank you very much.

So what’s the point of this blog?  I will be sharing some of my travel experiences and photos via Minoux’s Random Shitamizu.  Not only will this be a glimpse into what I have been doing and seeing, but it will be a glimpse into how my mind works.  I miss serious writing, I miss the extraction of ideas and emotions and pressing them onto a paper with smears of smudgy ink while I weave a story from mid-air – and I will return to that in time, when I possess it (time) – but for now, I need to share with you some stories and some photos from my travels.  To do that in a time-and-effort-efficient manner, I’ll be blogging here on WordPress.com.

I will not be posting photos of myself or any of my friends/acquaintances, nor will I be using any real names.  I will not be mentioning anything that may induce any kind of harassment/unwanted attention towards myself or anyone/any organization.  This means I will not refer to politics, religion, or personal relationships in any manner beyond the generalities necessary to tell a story.

I ask you to please consider this when posting comments on my blog and follow the same pattern.  Thank you.

Minoux