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...