Why? Because I like sunsets, okay?
Moki and Aki are both tired and ready for a nap after their walk this morning. Why? Because it's hard out here for a 'keeter.
Near our house, there's a park along the Waga River where we frequently walk them. This morning, two groups of schoolchildren were visiting the park. Children always attract Moki's attention, and, because of his size, he always attracts theirs. One group of kids spotted Moki and Aki, and began clumping near the path to see them. The dogs headed toward them, anticipating attention.
It was a mutual lovefest. The kids chattered and giggled, exclaiming over the dogs: "Kawaii! Ookii!" (translation: Cute! Big!) They were very excited to meet Americans and American Akita dogs. The dogs happily accepted the petting, stretching out their heads and sniffing at the kids. After a time, we all said our goodbyes, and made to leave. Matthew, the dogs, and I approached the second group of schoolkids, who did not seem as eager to meet the dogs. No matter -- the first group of kids had followed us, continuing to pet the dogs and chatter. I think they would have come home with us, much to Moki's delight, if the teachers hadn't made them stay at the park.
Sometimes, it's just good to be alive.
Typhoon Number 4 headed out to sea last night, so instead of the heavy rain predicted all day, we got partly cloudy skies, moderate temperatures, and a cool breeze. A major earthquake rattled Niigata, but we didn't feel it here.
We took an evening walk with the dogs to watch the sunset.
Sometimes, it's just good to be alive.
I want a cupcake.
Not a crappy Hostess cupcake. A nice, dense, buttercream-frosted American cupcake. You can't find those in Kitakami.
Good sweets aren't hard to find here. There are no fewer than six European-style bakeries in town, turning out delicious cheesecakes, eclairs, and whipped-cream-filled sponge rolls. This is true of many places in Japan, which is one of my favorite things about the country. Among packaged snacks, there's a lot to like -- the omnipresent and overwhelming variety of Pocky biscuit sticks, McVitie's digestive biscuits (Banana Blacks, where are you? Last year, you stole my heart as a result of the twelve-minute dash from the JR Sakamachi Station to the convenience store for snacks and back to catch our train. Now, you are nowhere to be found.), and many other little cookies whose third or fourth ingredient must be crack. The tofu cheese and the gift doughnuts at the local Okinawan joint. Black sesame sweet potato pies from Mister Donut. The black sesame gelato at the Namahaga Coffee Company in Akita City. Mochi. Youkan, if you're into bean jelly.
But cupcakes . . . I got nothing. When I worked in Southwest DC, I could run over to the closest Starbucks (which is to say the one two blocks away, rather than the one three blocks away) to pick up a drink and a cupcake to enjoy in my office. The closest Starbucks now is in Morioka, which is an hour north by train and may or may not have cupcakes (and, being a Japanese Starbucks, carries the inherent risk that its cupcakes will be, say, melon. Not a bad thing per se, just a thing.). They weren't the best cupcakes in the world, and the chocolate ones were infinitely better than the vanilla, but man, do I miss those cupcakes right now.
Matthew's craving, incidentally, is equally insatiable: scrapple.
Oh, elusive cupcake. Can't make you, can't buy you, can't get you out of my mind.
Many people in Japan have vegetable gardens in their yards. One of our neighbors sometimes shares produce from hers with us -- young snap peas, a summer spinach-like thing. Yesterday, she gave us a bunch of Japanese cucumbers, which have a smaller diameter and fewer seeds than American cucumbers. I can't bake anything because I don't have an oven, so I'm not sure how to reciprocate. Maybe I should show up with cocktails in the afternoon.
I've now got my special ingredient for the foreseeable future, since we can't let any of that natural, neighborly, cucumbery goodness go to waste. I don't claim to adhere to the "use secret ingredient in every dish" principle of the show, but we will eat things that involve cucumbers until they're gone. Yesterday, I made quick pickles using vinegar, sugar, and ginger. Tonight, I made this dish dressed with dashi, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt:
The cucumber is accompanied by young Japanese ginger and reconstituted wakame
, a kind of seaweed. It's really pretty, and was really good.
We also had this simmered dish of lettuce (who knew?) and young sardines:
Doesn't it kind of look like something that, if served in a restaurant in America, would get a kitchen closed down for health code violations? Which would be too bad, because it was awesome. Good gravy, it was awesome, all savory and crisp -- perfect for a cold mountain evening. I'm now ready to put the baby sardines in just about anything. (Note to CFA Division: your future is sardines. Just saying.)
Dog Days of Summer Already?
It's supposed to be rainy season, and although we've gotten some rain, we've also had some hot days. With high humidity and no air conditioner, it can be quite stifling. A second-hand fan helps - except when the dog is hogging it, of course.
In other news, today Aki demonstrated just how poor her manners are. She was eating when I came home from work, so she barked with her mouth full
. We need to send her to charm school, I guess.
The Things We Do for Love
1) Begin life together. Adopt and raise very cute Akita puppy.
2) Cheer for law-school-in-Washington-applying wife, even though acceptance would mean leaving family, new home, great job, and awesome friends.
3) Move to Washington, bringing Akita dog along. Mourn loss of very cute, but congenitally ill Akita dog. Also, mourn existence of law school. Adopt wise, hard-luck Akita dog because husband loves his photo. Adopt very cute female Akita puppy because wife thinks she belongs in the house and makes other dog happy.
4) Good gravy, is there still more law school? Endure long-distance relationship while wife works in Philadelphia. Once home, frequently take snacks and cocktails down to the basement and layout-building husband.
5) Celebrate end of law school, but make dinner and do all chores during wife's bar study. Perfect repertoire of brunch dishes during series of parties to commemorate end of husband's Japanese class sessions.
6) Apparently enjoy blissful year of marriage during which nothing of note occurred. Seriously. I got nothing.
7) Buy second house together. Discover that prior owners' home improvements are completely random and nothing about house makes sense. Survive monthlong Plague House episode, trading congestion, respiratory distress, pinkeye, and insomnia.
8) Spend thirty nearly consecutive hours in car together during impulsive cross-country road trip from Washington to Cerrillos on Christmas Eve/Day. Then make return trip while both spouses are sick -- one drives, one dispenses drugs on a regular schedule.
9) Go through life-changing events together, then vacation in Japan. Discuss whether vacation was in fact recon trip.
10) Go though life-changing event together. Cheer for teaching-job-in-Japan-applying husband, even though acceptance would mean leaving family, home, great job, and awesome friends. Move to Japan and bring Akita dogs along.
Ten years behind us, a lifetime to go.
Okay, this isn't a densha
(electric train), it's a diesel. But that's okay, I'm not an otaku
(rabid fanboy), either. But I did finally get some track and a controller, so now I can run the handful of (Japanese) trains I brought with me to Japan.
Having lived in Japan for a little over a month now, I've been exposed to plenty of advertising. But not on TV. We don't watch TV. Ever. Especially not NHK. So NHK, you can stop sending your guy around to collect for monthly usage now, daijoubu?
Anyhoo, advertising. We don't so much get junk mail, although we do get newsletters and fliers for Strawberry Cones (yeah, I don't know either), the pizza delivery joint that charges 3,000 yen (approximately USD $30!) for a large stuck in our mail slot. Every couple of weeks, we get a big laminated binder of neighborhood information that we attempt to read, then pass on to the neighbors (clockwise around the block, as is proper). What are taking a bit of getting used to are the loudspeaker trucks.
Loudspeaker trucks, or vans in some instances, drive around town announcing various things. Some are selling laundry poles; others describing their used electronics pickup services. I can't understand most of what they're saying because, well, it's Japanese spoken over loudspeakers from a moving truck. One particular type, however, strikes fear in me as an American: loudspeaker trucks advertising candidates in upcoming elections.
Regardless of which party you prefer, you have to admit that this is one trend that you do NOT want exported. Seriously: imagine setting down the sheaf of political advertisements that your mailman delivered so that you can answer the phone, which turns out to be a call from Candidate X's campaign staff asking for your vote, then hanging up to hear a blaring ad for Candidate Y, followed by a blaring ad for Candidate Z in some other race. And, because our elections have been really contentious the last few years, you'd hear these much of the day . . . every day . . . for MONTHS.
I think we'd all vote for a big old pass on that, ne?
Last week, our friend Puller stayed with us for a few days post-dog transport. Because she has an interest in oni, Japanese folklore creatures similar to demons or ogres, we decided to make a trip to Kitakami's Oni Museum. The Museum is located about eight kilometres (yes, we now measure in grams, litres, and kilometres) from our house, a distance necessitating either a) a really long walk; or b) placing our friend at the mercy of one of the sketchy bikes.
So off we went, on an overcast but warm afternoon, Puller on my bike and me on Matthew's. We crossed the river via New Kunenbashi -- no need to make some kind of hazing ritual out of crossing Kunenbashi on a sketchy bike. (Sidebar: "bashi" is the Japanese word for "bridge." I'm not writing "New Kunenbashi Bridge" because it's redundant and redundancy is annoying. Yes, I did it in a prior posting, but I'm not doing it again for the previously stated reason. Which is that it's redundant.) Hundreds of rice paddies and one unprovoked and fear-generating gear change later, we arrived at the museum and parked the bikes outside, under darkening skies. Rainy season has thusfar been a big old wash, so we weren't too concerned about it.
The Oni Museum is very cool. You start in a room set up as a darkened forest, in which a short audio-visual presentation occurs. (P: "What's he saying?" SKD: "Uh . . . something about demons. And mountains. And maybe evil.") Then, you enter the beautifully designed, red and gold halls, where you find the interactive exhibits, demon masks from Japan and other countries, and murals. As you might expect this far north, everything is presented in Japanese, save for a couple of English-language brochures the staff were able to scare up.
P: "What's this guy?"
SKD: (reading plaque) "He's a . . . something . . . Oni . . . and maybe he eats children. That's why kids throw beans at the Oni during the winter festivals -- to scare them away."
P: "Where's he from?"
SKD: "Iwate Prefecture . . . something . . . river . . . something . . . onsen (natural hot spring bath). So maybe he's like the Water Demon. Or the Work-Life Balance Demon, manifesting the dark side of human nature by day, kicking it in an onsen with an Asahi in hand by night."
P: "Oh, these ones are eating people. See, there's a leg on the table."
SKD: "Is there beer?"
After a time, we bade the Oni farewell and got ready for the long ride home. Alas, it wasn't to be. Rainy season had decided to put in a rather fierce appearance, and as we watched the cascades of rain pouring down from the sky, we realized we had two options.
Option 1: Ride home in the cold rain, risking a) pneumonia; b) great bodily harm due to sketchy bike wipeout; or c) drowning.
Option 2: Call for a cab, risking a long, inadvertent trip to Hokkaido as a result of my rudimentary Japanese skills.
We chose Option 2 and crossed our fingers. Much to our relief, a cab arrived, driven by the World's Most Awesome Cabbie. Unfazed by my request to bring the bikes with, he started putting them into the trunk, only to discover that they wouldn't fit. We tried removing the front tire of Matthew's bike, to no avail. Eventually, he just put it mostly in the trunk and began securing it.
SKD: What about the other bike?
Cabbie: We'll put it inside.
SKD: *beat* Are you serious?
As Puller can attest, having ridden home in the doily-covered backseat of the cab, holding the wet front half of Matthew's bike in her lap and wiping up the rusty water running off the chain, he was.