Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I've been cooking almost everyday. I usually cook only on the weekdays and eat out on the weekends, but recently I've been trying to cook everyday. Here are a few reasons:

1) I love food.
2) It's healthier than eating out--and you save money.
3) I just inherited a new oven & grill!
4) It's fun!

A couple of things that I've whipped up lately are: miso katsu and adobo. Tomorrow I'm making brownies from scratch, eek! I've never done that before. I usually buy the brownie mixes that come in the boxes at the store (and they are so yummy), but I figured I should learn how to make things from scratch. Wish me luck tomorrow!

After my third attempt with adobo, I think I've got it down. The sauce has been perfected as well, which was my biggest struggle.

I also have to thank my host mom in Okazaki for buying me miso paste! I love hacho miso, which is the red, sweet miso that Aichi-ken is known for. As a good-bye present, she bought me these:

This weekend I'm going to BBQ! I already have a few ideas in mind of what I'm going to grill...shrimp kabobs, salmon, chicken burgers with caramelized onions and avocado, steak... Must take advantage of the warm weather before it's gone!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Japanese Food = Oishi!

Konbanwa! I am pretty sleepy but I've decided to update my blog before I go to bed. High five to myself because I studied Japanese for two hours straight without any breaks. So, on to my blog topic: food. These past four days, I've been eating amazing food. Even my host family has been preparing the most delicious food, and I have no complaints. Tonight, for example, we had shumai for dinner, along with some other side dishes, and I love shumai! This past weekend, I went to Nagoya to meet up with Alex. We ate at our favorite misokatsu restaurant in the Sakae area of Nagoya. This area is the prime shopping area in Nagoya. I got the restaurant's recommendation, which was hire, the more tender pork cut with zero fat. It was divine. I'm never getting anything else again! Afterwards, we indulged in some yummy ice cream from Tully's. We then proceeded to go on the huge ferris wheel. If you know me, I'm terrified of heights. It's not really so much the height part I am scared of--I think it's the possibility of falling that scares me. Anyway, yes, I am a chicken, but I did it. And I think I actually enjoyed the ferris wheel 75% of the time. It's worse going up than going down again...The view from the ferris wheel is spectacular. It's best when you go at night because you can see the entire city lit up.
Alex left for the airport the following morning, and then I met up with Shizuka, my friend from Nagano-ken. I was really excited to see her. We ate lunch at the same misokatsu place, but this time I ordered something slightly different. We ordered the same set that included the hire misokatsu, but I was really shocked because it only came with two pieces! Shinjirarenakatta! Oh well, it was still good but I was disappointed that they only gave us two pieces. Saturday was extremely hot and sticky so we opted to stay in cool areas, a.k.a. stores and restaurants, which were guaranteed to have air conditioning. We found a nice New York bagel place and I had a blueberry bagel with some blueberry cream cheese. It wasn't bad for a "New York" bagel attempt. After Shizuka left to go back to Matsumoto, I went home and slept for ten hours, naturally...
Today was Japanese cooking day! I enjoy cooking so I was looking forward to our cooking session as a class. We were split into two groups and I was put into a three-person group with my two friends: Alex and Morgan. Our cooking sensei (I don't know her name) went over food vocabulary before we started cooking. Then we started making the dessert that we would eat later which was fruits & coffee jelly. Now, I hate Japanese "jelly" in general, but the coffee jelly that we made was alright. After we finished making dessert, we moved on to making Kansai style sukiyaki. Our sensei taught us how to cut the vegetables and meat correctly so that it was pretty for presentation purposes. One of the biggest differences between Kansai and Kanto region sukiyaki is that Kansai sukiyaki doesn't use soup broth. Their sukiyaki is almost like a stir-fry, I guess. Our sukiyaki turned out delicious. It was so much fun preparing and making sukiyaki with my classmates, especially my group. As corny as it sounds, I felt like it was a bonding experience for us, especially since everyone in my group really loves food. Alright, off to bed now...There is a typhoon passing through Japan so school may be cancelled tomorrow so I need to get some rest since I need to wake up early to check in with Yamasa. Oyasumi!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Volleyball & Taiko!

It has officially been one week since I started the Yamasa Institute JLCP program. The first few days seemed to go by slow, but I am already going into my second week! The next two weeks are sure to fly by fast. Next week we are going to Tokyo for a three day "field trip", but us students get to choose the places we would like to visit. I would like to go to the Ghibli Museum if we have a chance. There was talk of going to Tokyo Tower, Asakusa, and the "Ninja" restaurant, so we'll see what ends up happening. A few of us were also thinking of staying in Tokyo during the weekend and I'm sure that will probably happen.
Last night, my host otousan and I went to volleyball practice. He is on a volleyball team, and all of the players are probably in their late 30s to 50s. There were four women there, including myself, and the rest were men. I think there is even one member that is probably in his late 50s or even early 60s! He is really good, that is what I learned from watching him. I think he was my favorite player on the team, apart from the "coach", because he looks much older yet he has the movement of a twenty year old. Talk about being fit. Good for him! I hope when I am that age, I will still be able to get my groove on...It had been so long since the last time I had played volleyball with an actual team. I used to be on the volleyball team in junior high school. Being at the practice brought back so many memories of my my short-lived stint as an "athlete." For our warm up, we ran some laps, did some stretches, and practiced volleying, attacking, receiving, etc. Afterwards, we did janken to form two teams. I was on the same team as my host dad. Everyone was really encouraging throughout our games. I had a few good saves, which I was proud about. My host dad is amazing at volleyball. He had so much stamina while playing! For me, it was a great experience to play volleyball again, and also to practice my Japanese conversational skills. I'm glad that I went, and as we were leaving, someone told me, "Mata Mokuyobi!"
Today was probably the best day I'd had in a while. The JLCP group had the chance to do Taiko drumming. We had a professional Taiko drummer, Miho, teach us an entire song, and by the end of our lesson, we were rocking out! Miho explained to us how to hold the drumsticks, bachi, which is with three fingers (sans the pinky finger). Your thumb should also be straight along the drumstick. The big drum is called miyadaiko, while the smaller drum is called shimeidaiko. We received a paper with a type of music "score" written on it, which was the song we were going to learn. There were four sections to the song and we had to practice each section's rhythm before actually playing the drums. She made us practice each section several times so that we had the hang of it. Each section had a different and distinct beat to it. I can only imagine how much practice real Taiko drummers have to do to perfect each song. After learning each section, we then proceeded to play two different beats at the same time (one side played one type of beat, while the other played another type of beat). It got trickier and trickier as we progressed, yet I loved the challenge! I was determined to memorize the song completely and play it confidently. Our practice took about two hours, I'd say. Towards the end of our lesson, we had to perform the song as an entire group, and then in just groups of three. I loved seeing everyone get into the drumming, and I could tell everyone was absolutely stoked. It was so cool to hear the sounds being produced just from one practice alone. Now I really, really want to join a Taiko drumming group, so I am going to seek out one in the near future. By the end of the lesson, we were tired, sweating, and had used muscles in our arms that we didn't knew existed. I'm sure tomorrow everyone will be feeling a little sore. Although I've only gone on two field trips, people have told me that this, by far, was the coolest experience that they had had so far in terms of cultural activities in the course. I'm glad that I was able to be a part of that experience!

And as an added bonus, here's a couple of videos of the group playing, and also one of myself busting out my Taiko drumming skills:

(Our group!)


Monday, August 3, 2009


みんなさん, こんにちわ! I just spent my first weekend in Okazaki City. At first, I wasn't sure of what to think of it, but now it is slowly growing on me a bit more. I was under the impression that it had no character, but after watching the fireworks this weekend, and visiting the places that we did, I've decided that it isn't so bad after all. My host family and I went to watch the annual fireworks this past Saturday. We had a "special" seat, which meant that we were sitting along the riverbank, right next to where the fireworks were being launched. Needless to say, it was very loud and I'm sure I am partially deaf now after that experience. We enjoyed some good, typical festival food (yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, etc.) and had some good (but limited) conversation! Halfway through the fireworks, it began to rain--literally, pour--and many people decided to leave. We toughed it out and stayed for the entire two hours, though by the time we were finished, my handbag and shorts were wet, and so was the towel we had brought to sit on. I felt bad for those wearing yukata because they had gotten all dressed up!

Today I went on a field trip! First, we visited a Taiko drum factory (it's very small actually), where they manufa
cture all the different Taiko drums. It was really interesting to see how they are made. I had no idea how much hard work goes into making just one drum, and also how long the entire process is. It take roughly about one month to make a taiko drum (and I believe that's only a medium size one). They are also quite expensive (I think it cost $1,000 for the biggest one). I really enjoy Taiko drumming so I was really excited about visiting the factory. I found out that they use cow hide as the cover of the Taiko drum, which is very tough. First, they have to soak the cow hide, and then depending on the type of drum they want to make (smaller drums require thinner hide), they either thin out the hide or keep it as it is. Then it goes through a drying process, and then they must cut the hide in a circular shape. I couldn't understand all of it, but I gathered that much.
After visiting the Taiko drum factory, we had a nice Indian lunch and headed off to Rokushi Shrine. We didn't have a guided tour, so I have no idea
of the shrine's importance. It was a beautiful shrine though. Anyway, short update, as I must go to bed soon...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Well, here I am! My first day, or should I say night, in Okazaki-shi. The journey took roughly four hours in total. I left Matsumoto at 2 PM and arrived here around 6:15 PM. So, let's talk about first impressions of the family, the location, my living quarters...

The first thing that I noticed on the train ride from Nagoya to Okazaki was that it was very flat. I'm used to seeing hills and mountains as a result of living in Nagano-ken so this was the first major scenic difference that I noticed. A driver for Yamasa Institute met me at the station and was holding up a sign so it was really easy to spot him. He took me to a small building, where the Homestay Coordinator, Keiko, and I had nihoncha and she briefed me on the homestay rules, explained the local bus schedule, and talked about the general course schedule. At this point, I was already extremely excited and I hadn't even met my host family members yet!

My host otousan picked me up around 7 PM and I was really nervous and shy. Once I saw the warm smile on his face, and also noticed his attempt to talk to me right away, I began to relax a little more. Then we left to go back to their house, which is a 15-20 minute drive from the Yamasa campus. Okaasan greeted us at the doorstep with a big smile on her face. After bringing my suitcase to my "cottage" (I'll get to that afterwards), I gave the family their omiyage, which were some sweets from Matsumoto. Shizuka helped me pick them out, so I know that they're good! Then I met Ayako, who is twenty five like me and has studied abroad in Australia for a year. She is a quirky, outgoing girl who speaks English pretty well. She and her dad always seemed to be teasing each other and cracking jokes. For dinner, we had tenpura and it was so yummy! I always get excited about eating homemade Japanese food because it's not often that I have the opportunity. I secretly get excited whenever my Japanese friends invite me over for dinner, and always secretly hope that they continue to invite me over every now and then. Anyway, no complaints about tonight's dinner! I met Reiko, their eldest daughter, right as we started tapping into dessert. She teaches piano and had just finished her lessons so that is why she joined us later. For dessert, we ate the sweets that I had brought from Matsumoto, along with some coffee. We discussed my three week schedule, the family (especially otousan) cracked corny jokes, and they teased each other. There was a lot of laughing, "how do you say this in English/Japanese...?", and getting to know each other.

I found out that my host family has a lot of hobbies, namely my host mom. She likes yoga, calligraphy, teaches sadou, and does Japanese flower arrangements. Ayako and Reiko play the piano very well (Ayako plays jazz and Reiko plays classical), and they have a gorgeous Yamaha piano in their house. My host dad likes sports and plays baseball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis, etc. Their house is very nice and clean and I should take photos of it some time soon.

Okay, let's talk about my living quarters. I live in a cottage away from the main house. In a way, it's good for me because I have my own privacy, which I value a lot, especially since I live alone nowadays. My room has a baller toilet, you know, the one with all the crazy buttons and functions, I have my own shower, sink, stove, conventional oven (crazy, right?), desk, internet connection, air conditioner...yeah, I am golden. I can't believe how great it turned out. I am very fortunate to have the set up that I do. Maybe tomorrow I'll post some photos if I have time. Right now, I just want to soak it all in. I'm thinking a nice warm shower and a spot of Harry Potter sounds good right now...Oyasuminasai!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Tuts My Barreh"

I don't know why, but I'm always a sucker for songs with fake translations. I can't help it if I find it entertaining...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weekend with a Kiwi!

This past weekend, I spent some quality time with my favorite Kiwi, Kate. She is definitely one of the coolest girls that I've met here in Japan and I'm sad to see her go. However, it's not "good-bye", but a "see you later." She's moving back to New Zealand soon so she wanted to hang out with Alex and myself. I must say that the weekends have been pretty eventful. Instead of the usual "What am I going to do this weekend?", I find myself already planning my schedule in advance nowadays. It's kind of a nice change to know what you're going to be up to prior to it happening.
Last Saturday, Kate joined up with us in Hakuba. We spent the day making strawberry banana smoothies--which rocked--going on a quest to find the rumored "best gelato place in Hakuba" (mission accomplished!), going for a nice hike in the forest, chilling out along the river (which Alex stupidly went into while it was still freezing cold), and filling our tummies with delicious Mexican food at Uncle Steven's. Not bad for a weekend start, eh? That night, we drove to Nagano to go salsa dancing with some fellow JETs. My Japanese gym friend, Yuki, had told me about this salsa party called "Cubanismo." I spread the word and got a few recruits, and all of us ended up having a blast.
The following morning, Alex had a soccer game down in Suwa, so Kate and I slept in and had a nice hearty breakfast at my place. Then we rented some bikes at the castle and ran some errands in town. We were in search of the perfect tea set for Kate, but we only succeeded in finding tea kettle. Kate also bought me an early birthday present, which was definitely unexpected! I had mentioned a cute owl mug that I'd seen at a shop, and I took her there to look for a tea set and she ended up buying it for me! Thanks again, Kate! It was love at first sight for me. The mug is shaped like an owl with huge eyes. The weird part is that if you were to sever the owl's head just above the forehead, that is where you would be drinking out of. I guess it's like I am drinking out of the owl's brain. Kate and I hit up Sunny Place Cafe for some delicious mocha and blueberry shakes, then checked out a cute boutique just above the cafe. After that, Alex joined up with us and the three of us made our way to U2 Burger. I have to say, all in all, a fantastic weekend. I got my mandatory nine hours of beauty sleep, went out dancing, and was surrounded by great company!