Sunday, October 30, 2005

takatsuki

Today, since the leaves haven't started to change colors, we decided to go to Takatsuki.

This is the very first place where Satoshi's and my adventures began in Japan 4 years ago. We moved from very spacious Hawaii apartment to a "cute" 2-room apartment in his company's housing. We had a year to find our own housing, but moved to where we are now within 3 months.

The reason we decided to go to Takatsuki was that the company closed the housing facility this past March and we were curious to see how things had changed.

We were very surprised. The shopping arcade in front of the JR Takatsuki station was partially demolished and a twin tower deluxe condominium now stands there. The station itself has been renovated and there are many clothing shops and cafes. The area where we used to catch the bus was also moved and the route of the bus has changed a bit. The housing is now all boarded up and locked. Many of the stores around our housing area have also changed. The Italian restaurant where we first had dinner, Pommarola is now a video rental shop.

Also, the wagashiya (Japanese confection store) that I wrote about the other day, Satsukian, did in fact move, they have three stores, one in Tonda (Ibaraki), one in Minoo and one in an area of Takatsuki called Makami(down the road from Hattori Shimizu -our company housing area). While walking from the housing area back to the station, we found Satsukian and bought our dessert. Satoshi was drooling over the kuri(chestnut) daifuku and yomogi(mugwort) mochi.

Also while walking back to the station, we decided to check out the Tenmangu shrine. Tenmangu originally meant "heavenly god" but is now associated with Sugawara Michizane, a courtier-scholar. He was sent into exile and continued to protest his innocence through his poetry until his death. His angry spirit was believed to be the cause of a series of disasters, so he was pardoned and promoted in court rank. He is now revered as the saint of scholarship. For this reason, many pray at Tenmangu shrines or Tenjin shrines for success in school, passing entrance exams, etc. After walking up VERY steep stairs, we were able to say a prayer at the shrine.

This shrine was apparently built before the Tenmangu in Kyoto. Also areas around Tenmangu shrines are usually called Tenjinmachi or Tenjin.

Although Satoshi didn't remember too much about the neighborhood because he was coming and going to work, he was very surprised at how much the area around the station had changed.

We had a very nice day today. :)

Friday, October 28, 2005

crochet, wagashi, gokkun

<---This was the first project for my intermediate crochet class. A 2-row necklace.

This other project was an extra project. I was talking with another student and we were thinking of changing classes after this one is over because it is just too expensive.

For one thing, we are using sterling silver wire so you can't make a mistake...Plus, the teacher changed the way we pay for our lessons, so every time you go, you don't really know how much you'll owe her...just a bit too stressful!!

Wagashi or Japanese confections usually consists of azuki(red) bean paste and mochi (rice cake). Nowadays, there are wagashi makers that blend Western ideas with their Japanese confections.

One of those makers is Satsukian. Their original store was in Miyanokawara, Takatsuki; what I didn't realize was that it was near our company housing! (I think they have since closed this store and moved closer to Ibaraki). I went to a store in Minoo. My friend told me about this shop, they are known for their cafe au lait daifuku. (authentic daifuku is a very soft mochi (rice cake) with azuki bean paste inside) But, this version is a bit different, it has coffee flavored cream in the center and a little azuki bean paste, the outside of the mochi is covered with cocoa powder. Yummy!! I also bought kurikanoko, this is chestnut (kuri) with azuki beans and a mochi center.....also, very good!

I love this drink, it is very refreshing, it's called Gokkunumajimura, but most people call it Gokkun for short. Umajimura is a town in Kochi prefecture where yuzu (citron) is grown. Gokkun is made with yuzu and hachimitsu (honey). A very simple drink. I love this in the summer time, a gourmet supermarket was having a sale, I decided to pick up a few.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

it's official....

Well, it's official the Chiba Lotte Marines are the Champs of the Nihon Series. They won 4 games straight...the Tigers didn't have much of a chance. It didn't help that there was a 3 week lag after the Tigers became their league champs and had to "wait" around for the Pacific League to have their play-offs. (Why they even need to have play-offs is beyond me, each league only has 6 teams!! It's not like MLB, where there are 4 divisions and a total of 30-something teams....Anyway, Congratulations Marines!! 31 years is a LONG time to wait. A promotion manager wrote a little column (in English) on the Marines website...oh and if you look real closely at the photo, you can see Benny Agbayani(formerly of the METS (Kat's a Mets fan) and Hawaii local boy (Kat's from Hawaii too)--yeah Benny!!). (^o^)v

Sunday, October 23, 2005

autumn chocolate, kanten & (-_-)zzz

Meiji Chocolate just came out with a new dark chocolate called "Noir" (which I think means black or dark in French). It has 63% of cacao and is also a Venezuela Blend. Delish!

I've tried a new kanten recipe, you're supposed to use cappellini (angel hair pasta), but I used soba (buckwheat) fusilli pasta with tomato sauce using tomato kanten. Satoshi liked it and he didn't even notice it had kanten in it!

Satoshi apparently has a crooked nasal passage, so this causes him to snore (LOUD!!) It doesn't help when he also has had a couple of drinks (even LOUDER!!)...To solve this problem, we got this pillow for him because it is supposed to cut down on snoring, by propping up your head and neck...I don't think anything except a nose operation will help...

We also bought these Tempur futon overlays. You put them on top of the shikibuton (bottom comforter). The Tempur mattress and pillow mold to your body - giving you a feeling of weightlessness. When you first lie down on it, it feels quite firm.

However, with your body temperature and weight, the material softens and molds to the exact contours of your body. Tempur is a high-tech material originally developed by NASA for the U.S. Space Program.

It's great...now if I can only stop the snoring...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

knit cafe

Knit cafes are steadily becoming popular in Japan. This trend is not only for women, knitting has also become popular among male Japanese office workers too!!

A Knit cafe is a cafe where you can knit, make new friends, take a knitting lesson
--all while enjoying your cup of coffee.

The trend started in New York, Knit New York is just one of the cafes that I found on the internet. I think the reason it is becoming popular here in Japan is because knitting is a great way to relax and make new friends (if you've ever lived in or been to Japan, you'll know what I'm talking about).

Happy Knitting!!

Friday, October 21, 2005

interesting bento (box lunches)

Recently, a morning program featured this blog.
The author shows off the bento (box lunches that she makes for her intermediate school son. (Can you believe she makes these lunches in about 40 minutes? Wow!!)
Everyday, everyone at school eagerly awaits for him to open his lunch to see what character his mother has made for him. But he is so embarassed with his lunches that he "inhales" them as fast as he can.
All I can say to this boy is, "Hey, your mother has talent!! You should really appreciate her!"

Thursday, October 20, 2005

trying to help save the planet

One thing I've done more of while living in Japan, is try to think of ways to help save the planet. We separate our garbage (burnable goes out on certain days and recycle items & non-burnable items on other days), we bring recycle items such as styrofoam trays and plastic bottles to the supermarket. We try not to use ziploc bags and paper towels too much and we've even started to cut down on the use of our air conditioner/heater and microwave oven. And, if we can walk instead of using transportation, then we do.

Recently, I found two more ways. One is to use a "nel drip" filter for brewing coffee. Nel (short for flannel in Japanese) drip coffee filters were used in 18th century France. The fine texture of the flannel helps to cut down on sediment and acids when brewing coffee. To start your filter, you need to boil it in water then after use, rinse it (no soap) and keep it in water in the refrigerator. Without the paper filter, getting rid of the grains can be a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, you'll definitely be saving some trees. We got our Nel drip filter from our local cafe, Hiro. But it is made by Hario.

The second way, is to use a bio-cleaner.

In mid-September, "Toreru No. 1" was featured on a local show. The next day, it flew off the shelves! I had to wait about a month to receive my order. Toreru No. 1 is made from vegetable oils such as natane(rapeseed), daizu(soybean), goma(sesame seed) and combined with enzymes from komenuka(rice bran) and fusuma(wheat bran). It is safe to use for cleaning appliances, the bathroom areas, washing dishes and even taking out stains on clothing. So far, I've used it to clean the bathroom, kitchen and have taken a few stains off of some clothing.

Hopefully, we're making a difference. :)

autumn = chocolate (part 2)

Royce is a famous maker of chocolate and sweets in Hokkaido. A lot of local department stores have area fairs, such as Hokkaido & Okinawa, once or twice a year. This is when they bring in authentic foods and products from these areas.

One problem they have been running into is the authenticity of the vendors. Last year, a customer had bought a Hokkaido seafood bento (box lunch). It was so delicious that she was eager to eat it again in Hokkaido, she went to the address noted on her chopsticks wrapper only to find out that the restaurant didn't exist. To solve this problem, Hokkaido and other areas have been sending out specialists to check the types of vendors and quality of the products being sold.

Last year, Royce came out with this very rich chocolate pudding which sold at various convenience stores (I bought this one at Daily Yamazaki). This year, they have brought it back! 90 grams of heaven!! Now if they would only make it from dark chocolate...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

kanten


Agar (also known as agar-agar and kanten depending on the source) is a type of gelatin made from seaweed. It's whitish in color, and comes in either sticks, flakes, granules or powder-usually in a little packet. It's healthier than regular gelatin which is made from animal products.

This past summer, the kanten diet took off! Every store was sold out. The makers of kanten were frazzled because it apparently takes some time to make and everyone wanted some. The reason kanten was so popular was that its gel like properties helps cut down on snacking. Also, the way the body absorbs foods is different--it's good for diabetics.

Since the wave seems to have died down a bit, I recently started to add kanten to our diet. You may only know of kanten in the form of a sweet gelatin with fruits, but there are recipes in which you add it to tomato juice, sauces, and soups. I've even added it to our rice before cooking (the calories are the same, but absorption is better). By adding it to meals, you can cut back on the portion of meat--you'll be filled up with the kanten, while taking in less calories.

Our breakfast this morning was ham sandwich with a slice of tomato kanten. And orange juice kanten with mandarin oranges.

We'll see how long we can keep this up and if we can lose some weight. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

autumn = chocolate

One good thing with Autumn is that a lot of candy makers come out with their new versions of chocolates.

A lot of Autumn versions use kuri (chestnut), maccha (green tea) and recently dark chocolates have been found to be nutritious (haven't we already known about this?) so there are now more dark chocolates out on the market. (Yeah!!dark!!) (^o^)b

Today, I found this new version at our neighborhood supermarket. It is the DARK chocolate version of Kit Kat!!

Kit Kat has teamed up with a famous Tokyo patissier(French Pastry maker) named Takagi, he also specializes in chocolates. His has a shop called Le Patissier Takagi & Le Chocolate Takagi.

There are about 16 pieces in this box. It is the original Kit Kat wafer covered in dark chocolate instead of the milk chocolate then dusted with cocoa powder. The only thing is that they are BITE size, but taste heavenly!!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

crochet & scones


On Thursday, I started my Intermediate bead crochet class. My teacher says I'm getting better at some of my stitches. This was a ring & necklace that were extra projects.

Today is Sunday, but Satoshi had to work. You know, I really get confused with the days when he has to work on the weekends...Anyway, I decided to try my hand at making Cranberry-Orange scones. I got the recipe off a website called Joy of Baking.

I was wondering why the scones spread so much (although they tasted really good!!), if anyone can give me some advice I'd really appreciate it!!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

kobe

Today, after Satoshi's German language class, we went to Kobe.

A friend of mine, (that I had met through one of my bead classes at the JTB Culture Salon) and other students had an art exhibition at the Gallery Kitanozaka.

While she was taking bead classes, she was also taking "sarasa" classes. Sarasa is a type of wood block printing.

What they do is weave the fabric (from raw cotton) they will print onto, the teacher then carves out the wood blocks (why buy when you can make them yourself!!), then they stamp their designs onto the fabric, fill in their designs with some color and dye areas and then have their teacher put their projects into a steamer (like a little sauna).

We were very impressed with the different types of stamps and also the intricate stamping and dyeing techniques.

We then went next door to a cafe called the Pearl Cafe. It was a very quaint place and the cafe latte and sweet potato "mon blanc" were great! (UPDATE: as of 4/18/07 they are out of business!)

After our afternoon tea break, we walked over a couple of streets to a bead store that my friend told me about, Beads Lot.

They sell a lot of semi-precious stones (beads), but I bought some sterling silver parts. I think I may go back, if I need to get some semi-precious beads...

As we made our way back to the Sannomiya station, we stopped at the Chocolat Republic to pick up some cookies and other treats.

Despite the rainy weather, we still managed to have a nice time!

saita box lunch & ousunosato

Yesterday, I tried something new.

I bought a bento (boxed lunch) from a convenience store. I usually don't buy my lunch from a convenience store because they mostly have fried foods in their boxed lunches.

This bento was featured in a magazine that I buy twice a month called SAITA.

The bento had (from the top row) vegetable nishime (vegetables boiled in a soy sauce broth), niku dango (a meat dumpling), tamagoyaki (seasoned scrambled egg that is cooked in layers), kinpira (burdock root thinly sliced and cooked with chili pepper & soy sauce), hijiki (a type of seaweed cooked with corn and beans) & kokumai (literally "black rice", the grains are black and when you cook them with some white rice, they turn the white rice a purplish color) mixed with some sweet potato...it was delicious...pretty healthy, huh?

Today for breakfast, we tried an ume (pickled plum) rice mix that I bought from Ousunosato. It was easy, cook 2 cups of rice and stir in the mix!! Yummy!

A couple of years ago while walking along the Gion shopping arcade in Kyoto, I came across a shop, Ousunosato, that sells ume (pickled plum) products. I started with the ume dressing, it is great on daikon (radish) salad.

Since I can't go to Gion all the time, I now order different items from them through the mail. Can you believe that they let you pay the delivery guy when he delivers the items? You don't have to put a down payment or anything!! Very trusting.

Monday, October 10, 2005

shigaraki

Today, it was a national holiday, Sports Day. Since Satoshi had the day off, we decided to go to Shigaraki.

From Osaka it took about an hour and 45 minutes; we took the JR train to Kusatsu and transferred to the Kusatsu line.

From Kusatsu, we rode until Kibukawa and transferred to the Shigaraki Kogen Railways, and rode to the end of the line, Shigaraki.

Shigaraki is located 300 meters above sea level in Shiga Prefecture. This weekend they held their Pottery Festival.

Shigaraki ware is one of the oldest types of pottery in Japan and dates back to the 16th century.

Shigaraki ware is known for its transparent dark blue, shades of green, brown and yellowish-red glazes. The pieces are fired in a kiln called Anagama.

There is a Ceramic Cultural Center located about 20 minutes from the Shigaraki station.

There, artists from around the world gather to study Shigaraki style pottery as well as learn about other Japanese pottery styles and also share their pottery styles.

One thing that we tried was "Tanuki no Harazutsumi" or bang the stomach of a tanuki like a drum. It is actually a local sweet.

It is a pancake-like outside (mikasa-kiji), with a thin mochi flavored with Asamiya maccha (the local green tea) and has an "an" (sweet bean paste) filling in the middle.

Neither of us had been to Shigaraki before so it was an interesting experience, too bad the weather wasn't too cooperative. Pottery, pottery everywhere!! (and lots of tanukis, too!!) :)

minoo & recycle

On Sunday, we asked Satoshi's friend, Yanagita to take us to a shop which buys used clothing, and dishes, pretty much, whatever! We had about 6 bags of things to sell and they bought everything except a few items, but all we got for them was 1340 yen (about $13)...at least we got rid of some of our clutter.

After our trip to the recycle shop, Satoshi's friend had some other errands to do, so he dropped us off at home, and we put the items that they didn't buy from us back into our place.

Since the weather was clear and very nice, we caught the train to Minoo (3 stations from Ishibashi, where we live) and walked in towards the waterfall. We stopped to have lunch at a cafe called, Yuzuriha. Too bad the amount we got for our recycling wasn't enough to buy us lunch. :(

Friday, October 07, 2005

hirakata

Yesterday Satoshi had the day off. We decided to go to Hirakata, it is right in the middle of Osaka and Kyoto. There is a theme park called Hirakata Park. Every year they have an exhibit called Kikuningyo (Chrysanthemum Dolls). The theme of the dolls varies from year to year and mostly reflects a taiga drama (historical drama) on television at the time. This year the theme is "Yoshitsune". It is also the last year that they will do this exhibition.

The exhibition started in 1910. This year is the 94th time, but the 96th year (some years the exhibit was cancelled due to war, etc.) that they have had this exhibit. A lot of locals really want them to continue, at least until the 100th.

For lunch we went to a French restaurant called Bistro Le Passage. It is nearby the Hirakata Koen Station. The interior was very comfortable and relaxing. And the food was really good.


We have another 3-day weekend coming up this weekend. The weather doesn't look too good, so I'm not sure what we will do.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

autumn is here??


Autumn is supposedly here, but the weather is still quite warm during the day. I've noticed that the kinmokusei (sweet olive) trees have begun to bloom and their fragrance is still rather light (should get stronger as more flowers bloom). I usually associate autumn with the blooming of this flower.

Can't wait for the temperature to drop so that the leaves can change nicely! We haven't had really spectacular autumn leaves for the past two years.

Monday, October 03, 2005

loco moco--kat style

Loco Moco is a Hawaii favorite. It is a hamburger patty with a sunny side up (or over easy) egg on rice with lots of brown gravy on top.

Satoshi loves this. Everytime we go to Hawaii, he wants to eat this especially at Kakaako Kitchen. Although, he usually forgets that Kakaako Kitchen only serves it for breakfast. :(

I usually make mine with rice, thinly sliced cabbage (or some kind of green veggie, like spinach), a hamburger patty, an over easy egg for Satoshi and a scrambled egg for me and brown gravy on top. If I don't have brown gravy, then I use demi-glace sauce.

Ono!! (Hawaiian pidgin for delicious)