During dinner at the local Okinawan joint, we ordered a new-to-us dish that came with a mystery seafood topping. We asked about it, and got an answer we didn't understand: shi-chikin
. While the owner's son disappeared into the back, we consulted the electronic dictionary, but couldn't find anything under a listing for shi-chikin
. It all became clear when he brought out a small can and pointed to the mermaid on the side. Sea chicken. Chicken of the Sea. Canned tuna.
Canned tuna has an odd place in Japanese cooking. We find it where we'd expect to: in sandwiches and salads. We also find it where we wouldn't
expect to: on pizza, in those prepackaged, unrefrigerated sandwiches with the edges pressed together and the crusts cut off, in onigiri
(rice balls). It reaches the pinnacle of awesomeness in onigiri
. There's no better convenience snack than a tuna-mayo onigiri
― the creamy, salty tuna, the sticky, slightly sweet rice, and the crisp, ocean-y nori are perfect together.
Additionally, tuna keeps company with an unlikely sidekick: yellow corn (corn in Japanese cooking is another subject entirely). They're a surprisingly tasty duo ― corn and tuna pizza is far from the worst thing I've ever eaten. Salads now seem to lack something if they come with one or the other, but not both. Which raises a question: does the normalization of the tuna/corn partnership mean we've been here too long
? It's likely that question will only linger until the next discovery of canned tuna in a completely unexpected place.
I haven't been able to determine whether it's intentional or a longstanding typo, but I love that the hospital
near JR Mizusawa Station appears to have a French name:
It wouldn't be too surprising for the name to actually be French. French has a larger influence on the Japanese language than I would have expected. For example, one of the words for "clown" in Japanese is a loanword from French ― piero
. Also, it seems that the more common translation of the word kuri
is into French ― marron
― rather than into English ― chestnut.
A pink waterlily floats in the lake beside the tofu-making shop at Battari-mura
Yesterday, some places in Japan celebrated Tanabata
, or "The Night of Sevens." Originally from China, the story of Tanabata
is a sadly romantic one. It is said that a weaver of beautiful clothes (represented by the star Vega) fell in love with a herder (represented by the star Altair), causing them both to neglect their work. The king of the universe became angry with them, and separated them with the Milky Way, permitting them to meet only once a year on the seventh night of the seventh month.
To celebrate Tanabata
, people write wishes on slips of paper and tie them to bamboo.
According to the Western calendar, the seventh day of the seventh month on the traditional Japanese calendar falls in August, which is when Sendai holds its famous festival
. And, according to Wikipedia, this year Tanabata
took on special meaning with the commencement of the G8 summit in Hokkaido and the Prime Minister's encouragement to the nation to celebrate by turning off lights and going outside to enjoy the Milky Way instead as a symbolic gesture for the environment.
Yesterday, we went to Battari-mura
, where we observed villagers making tofu the all-natural, old-school way. Tofu-making
has a lot in common with cheesemaking, what with all the boiling, pressing, straining, and coagulating of curds. It's hot work, but the end product is well worth it.
, step one of the process involved grinding cooked soybeans with a hand-crank-operated stone mill, complete with straw-and-bucket drip system
After the beans are ground, the resulting mash is boiled for a time, then scooped into a machine where it is pressed in a hand-crank-operated machine (what else?) to extract the soy milk.
Salts or acids are added to the milk to cause the proteins to coagulate (or, as the maker said, "form a katamari
"). It takes a little while for coagulation to occur, but once it does, it happens quickly.
There's more processing involved to get blocks of tofu, but since we were there in part to eat tofu, the woman making it simply scooped the curds out of the bucket and drained them before serving them to us.
Mmm . . . fresh, delicious tofu.
When you attend a business meeting in Japan, your outfit has to be appropriate: a business suit and tie, a proper briefcase (one appropriate to your position within the company and meeting), and of course, a cheap pair of slippers. At many large companies, business guests are expected to take off their expensive business shoes at the front door, and exchange them for slippers. Regular employees also change their shoes, but most of them have "indoor shoes" (sneakers) to change into. So the image of the businessman wearing slippers or tennis shoes is not that unusual here.
It lends a nice casual touch to the business day, but — if you're from a culture that associates slippers with relaxation time — it can make it awfully hard to get in the proper frame of mind for work. Taking off your business shoes means you're home for the day, right? That's how it seemed to work for Mr. Rogers.
On Tuesday, I was out shooting photos around town when I heard a shinkansen coming. They're neat, so I thought I'd take a picture for the blog, not at all expecting this
It's the Fastech 360
, which JR is apparently still testing on the Tohoku Shinkansen line.
There's a little puffery involved in any kind of advertising, but I wonder if Suntory hasn't gone just a leetle
bit over the line here:
The Miracle is more delicious than the King, and both are far superior to their compatriot, the less extravagantly named "Sweet Lemon
." Maybe Suntory is on to something, although I haven't developed superpowers or anything after drinking the Miracle.
And Now, a Word About the Dogs
During a walk through town a couple of weeks ago, a car pulled off to the side of the road, and a couple got out. The woman waved at us, calling out a question: Akisora-chan desu ka? She had met the dogs in the park a few weeks earlier, and had been quite taken with them. Aki bounced and wagged and gave kisses and was terribly charming during their visit; Moki was aloof and not at all disturbed by the fact that the woman forgot his name.
Moki got his moment in the sun about twenty minutes later when a police van pulled alongside us. A policewoman leaned out the window and greeted him by name: Konnichiwa, Moki-chan! She had met the dogs outside the coffee shop at some point. Moki wagged and bounced over to say hi, then got distracted by some interesting-smelling weeds. He seemed happy for the attention, though he probably would have preferred that she gave him some dried sardines. That's what the neighbor down the street does sometimes.
A year after they came to Japan, the dogs seem to have settled into a rather happy existence. And, just as we've made friends and become recognizable members of the community, so have they.
After dinner on Saturday night, Matthew and one of our companions played a friendly game of shogi
, a Japanese variant of chess. The rest of us drank and cheered them on.
Matthew emerged victorious after a long endgame. Next time, we'll play an all-American game: Monopoly.