Monday, September 18, 2006

A nutty weekend...

First of all, pardon the pun... but it was a nutty, as in nut filled, weekend...

Saturday night, I performed what has now become a tri-weekly bike ride up to Yoshiko's pad where I was greeted with a hot plate of linguini pasta complete with pumpkin. Pumpkin is an often used vegetable here in Japan, and though I may be wrong, Japanese kabocha is sweeter than the orange behemoths we sculpt into scary shapes back home. Before coming to Japan, I'd had pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin loaf.... but since coming here I've had pumpkin pasta, pumpkin tempura, pumpkin pudding.... all quite yummy!

Saturday morning, we headed out to Imaichi to visit my soon to be (26 days and counting) parents-in-law for lunch and to fill out the necessary paperwork for the registration of our marriage. Upon arrival, I noticed a pile of prickly looking balls under a tree, and recalled a comment Yoshiko's mother had made last week about the chestnuts starting to drop from the tree in their garden. Well, they most certainly have, at the rate of about one kilogram a day for the past week! They are dutifully picked and peeled from their prickly outer layer before being brought inside and boiled for consumption. Here's one fresh out of the pod...

Once inside, we were served plain boiled chestnuts as well as some boiled with sugar which sweeten them just a tad. Quite tasty little buggers. I also got to sample a freshly picked fig for the first time in my life, also from the bounty that is the Takahashi's garden. Quite yummy! We ended up heading out to the Soba Restaurant Yoshiko and I went to last year at about this time. Turns out that was the day our courtship officially began. While waiting for a table at this uber-popular soba place, we wandered around the grounds, visiting with Yoshiko's mother's former coworkers who brewed up some coffee for us. We also got to play around with some dragonflies, who seemed to take my balding head as some sort of dragon-helipad... We did finally manage to get a seat, and had some great soba. Due to our status as guests of a former staff member, we also got some warm konnyaku, served with sweet miso. I'm not a great fan of the ol' slab of konnyaku, but this was one of those occasions where you chow down and try not to make a face... lol There isn't really a taste per se, but I certainly don't enjoy the texture of this hardened potato jelly thing...

After lunch, we retreated back to chestnut land and cracked open Yoshiko's photo albums, something which we'll not be able to do after our departure from Japan. I think everybody enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and I made a bit of a contest at spotting Yoshiko and her mother in group pictures filled with kids in the same uniform wearing the same hats and making the same faces... I think I did pretty good, about 90% success rate. We then headed home for the evening where we chilled out with a couple of DVDs. This morning, I whipped up some banana pancakes and we headed in to the center of town to run some errands and check out HIS Travel for our Southeast Asia trip. I am quite disappointed in the shoes I purchased last May as they are already falling apart... and am having trouble finding shoes in my size of course. Anybody know a shoe store in Utsunomiya that sells shoes from size 29 and up??? Tonight, I had another helping of chestnuts, this time in the form of kuri gohan, or chestnut rice, which was delicious, served with Oden.

Heading in to the big city (or the outskirts of it at least) tomorrow for a training session. Not quite sure why they're bothering with me since I'll be leaving the company soon enough, but it's a nice break from the routine. This week will turn out to be a short one due to the school being closed for a holiday this Saturday which effectively eliminates our busiest day.

In other Japan news this week, a few items have been repeated multiple times on TV to the point that even I, who can barely understand a word they're saying, can grasp the whole story. Number 1 is: The Return of Gyudon to Yoshinoya. Yoshinoya is a Japanese fast-food joint that serves up fast and cheap Japanese meals. For the past couple of years, gyudon (beef on rice, in a bowl) has been off the menu due to the restrictions against US beef. With the recent lifting of the ban, gyudon returned to Yoshinoya menus today and the crowds were lined up out the doors for it. Outlets sold out of their meat stocks quickly and I'm sure many were turned away. Even our Yoshinoya here near Tobu had a lineup out the door. I'll never understand the idea of standing in line for hours outside a restaurant for a cheap bowl of meat and rice... but it seems the hype created by the news was a success.

Second is Typhoon number 13 which hit Kyushu a yesterday and has managed to kill 9 people so far through mudslides and a train derailment. We'll likely be feeling this bad boy for the remainder of the week in the form of rain and wind... but nothing to be worried about as it will quickly dissipate in the Sea of Japan. (or South China Sea, depending on your vantage point)

On another TV note, I watched one of the most stupidly amusing shows this evening... or maybe it was two shows. In the first, a comedian from Japan made his way to Iceland where, accompanied with the mandatory cutesy Japanese girl, he attempted to make shabu-shabu using the water from a geyser. Shabu-Shabu is a fondue-like meal where you dip thin slices of meat into heated broth to cook it. This moron was trying to do the same this using the frequent eruptions of 85 degree (celsius) water bursting from a geyser. After 4 attempts and 4 possibly serious sets of burns to his hands, feet and head, he did manage to get the meat cooked and chowed it down. Apparently, it was Umai. Shortly after this spectacular feat, cameras followed a high-heeled-screeching-with-fear woman into the bamboo forests of China where she proceeded to track down a panda, and collect it's fresh excrement for a smell test. Apparently, poop from pandas kept in captivity smells bad, while wild panda poop smells good. To prove it, she brought a sample back from China and everyone in the studio had a whiff, one man even saying it smelled like tea. You are what you eat and all that, I guess their diet in the wild is much greener than that in captivity.

As a parting shot, here's a picture I took last week of one of the last summer flowers. Soon enough the hills will be alive with colour.... and ski season is just a few months off... woohoo!


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