Monday, December 05, 2005

December 5th, 2005... a day that will live in gluttony....

The anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour is in a few days. This marked the beginning of 4 years of war in the Pacific culminating in the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wonder what people back then (both Japanese and American) would have thought if they could have seen 60 years into the future and seen an American, a Canadian, an Australian, an Okinawan, a Japanese woman from Shikoku and a Japanese man from Tochigi sitting around a table 100km from Tokyo enjoying an afternoon of food, drink, conversation and music. Just something that came in to my head while we were sitting around the table joking around....

Headed on down to Tully's this AM to meet up with the lads before heading over to Aichirou's place for Nabe. While I was enjoying my coffee and waiting for Scott, I saw a marketing push be deployed with almost military efficiency. The front line troops arrived in groups of two, each pushing a dolly with boxes... quickly they donned their uniforms and laid out their weapons and within minutes of their arrival on the field, the attack began.


I have no idea what the heck they were pushing, but signing up meant you got a free gift... they quickly covered both sides of the street with about 10 people and started herding people towards their sign-up table and their free gift. After a short time, their target demographic became clear...


None of their signups seemed to be under the age of 70... I wonder what's in the blue bag, anti-wrinkle cream? I kid of course, the Japanese elderly are not a group to be laughed at. They are certainly a hearty bunch! Case in point, as Yasuko-sensei and I were walking home from lunch on Saturday, we saw a group of about 20-30 folks exit some kind of health food seminar and proceed to mount their bicycles for the ride home... I'd say the age of these seminar attendees must have been from about 60 to 80 years old, quite impressive. I guess it's a testament to Japan's traditional diet and the fact that most people (less and less now, but still in great numbers) use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.

So Scott arrived and we quickly left the cold shaded patio at Tully's (yes we are still sitting outside, in total denial of the impending arrival of snow to Tochigi) for the sunny streets of the 'nomiya where we wandered aimlessly for a bit, coffees in hand before heading in to grab some vino for lunch. We met up with Airchirou and Alex in front of Aeon and were briskly whisked away to Aichirou and Fumi's home where a feast awaited us.

Here's the crew, ready for action... on the left is Fumi's daughter Iyo (named after one of Jupiter's moons, how cool is that!!!) , then of course Alex (who seems to be looking more and more Japanese the longer he stays here... notice the eyes???) and of course Scott (giving some kind of fight the power sign) followed by Fumi and Aichirou, our hosts for the afternoon. This was the spread which greeted us as we entered the house, quite amazing... and there was more to come too! The large ceramic pot on the gas burner is Nabe, a traditional Japanese custom which essentially forces a family to stay and eat together, a custom which is dwindling here in Japan as much as it is back home. At the front of the table are more dishes filled with veggies, tofu and other stuff which will serve as reinforcements as the battle for our stomachs advances. And of course, what's a lovely meal without the Shochu (bottle Scott has) and wine...


Another gaikokujin joins the table...


Incredibly, we sat there and ate, drank, laughed and sang for just about 6 HOURS! How's that for a feast? Kings and Shoguns did not eat as well as we did. Here is battle field after 5 hours, almost an aftermath but not quite... Udon is still cooking in the Nabe, and Gyoza made an appearance shortly thereafter. CRAZY amount of food but oh so delicious! Thankfully for my liver, I quickly decided to opt for the "if it's not empty, he won't refill it" strategy with my wine\shochu glasses...


One of the highlights of the afternoon (aside from the fabulous food) was a mother-daughter rendition of some traditional Okinawan music with Fumi on the violin and Io on the san-shin, a traditional 3 (san) stringed instrument played in Okinawa. It was great!


We even had a go at the ol' san-shin ourselves, and we even got it to make some noises!!!




Tried out quite a few interesting things in this meal... first, Aichirou came to the table with a plate of "raw meat and said here, try this, it's like sashimi" at which point I kind of figured out what it was... had a little of it, wasn't too bad... in Japanese, it's called Basashi... in English... Raw Horse Meat... Next up on the strange stuff list for the day was when a small dish was emptied into the nabe pot and once more Aichirou said with a smile on his face: "you should try this"... we quickly surmised through the use of a Japanese-English dictionary that is was fish testicles. Props to Aichirou, he was cooking them for us, usually they are eaten raw.... and of course, not being nearly as squeamish about these sort of things as I was 6 months ago, I had the first go at it. It was almost tofu-like... oddly... creamy... Also tried Shochu with Soba tea for the first time which was fantastic... quite good!

ALSO! Found out something which is quite shocking. Fumi and Airchirou are paying 5000Yen per month LESS for their HOUSE than AEON is paying for my APARTMENT!!! How crazy is that??? Lovely home they have, on o-dori a ways up... maybe 20 minutes by bicycle??? Ridiculous to be paying more rent for an old apartment than an old house with 8 times the floor space... but I guess what they say is true: Location Location Location.

So after a wonderful day, and as I said 6 hours of eating, we headed on home for the evening. Hopped a taxi and split the fare to get home since Alex had quite a few bags with him (he'd just returned from Tokyo) and it was rather nippy out. By the way, I've officially pussed out and started heating my apartment... tonight when I got home I put my fan into storage and took out a space heater, which is toasting my feet as I type this. The ceiling mounted heater\AC unit unfortunately does not do all that much (heat rises, why would you put a heater on the ceiling???) so it gets a little chilly in the evenings. Please be prepared for me to bitch on a probably regular basis about the lack of proper winterization and heating in Japanse households... I now know why heated toilet seats are so popular here... The reason Winter feels cold here is that no one seems to have figured out that there are ways to keep the cold OUT and the heat IN... wonderful thing called insulation in the walls and gaskets for windows and doors... oh yeah and there's this new thing I hear they've come out with: CENTRAL HEATING... This coming from a hearty Ottawa native. Overnight low in Ottawa is dipping to -15 right now, here in Utsunomiya 1 degree or so... and I feel colder in my apartment than I ever have inside a house in Canada, except of course the cottage when we first arrive and get the heat going. Mind you, my apartment stays relatively warm overnight, dipping down to a manageable 14 degrees. I am thankfully VERY warm under my duvet, and will be able to survive the evil Tochigi Winter after all...

Snow is expected here any day now, I can't wait!!! Many parts of Japan were hit yesterday and the mountains are just about permanently covered in snow now.... I hope this means ski season starts soon!!!


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