28 April 2011

Black and white, opposite yet neutral

I just shared these two images from two of my favourite blogs and was struck by the similarities, despite the obvious contrasts.

A Japanese blogger photographing herself as if she has a fantastical ability. An American blogger photographing other people, doing real-life things. The subjects, a girl seeking company; an old man content to be by himself for a while. But both photographs have a monochrome quality with the setting and clothes. And the creeper on left, the fence on right. The hard lines of the door on left, the hard lines of the bench on right. And I'll stop this analysis now.

24 April 2011

Don't give up the day job

This morning I was overcome by laziness and so I didn't go cycling. Officially I blame the windy and cloudy weather though, just in case someone asks. I guess I'll store the route I posted for a better day.

In lieu of anything else to say I'll show you a picture I took of my afternoon snack some weeks ago. I don't know what inspired this, but I do know that I'm as yet neither a professional touring cyclist nor a food stylist. And it's clearly for the best!

Homemade bread from this recipe. Jam from the guy I talked about here. Water with fresh mint from my balcony. And I just realised I also painted that plate. I'm a home hippie, hurrah!

22 April 2011

The business trip

Tomorrow, the husband will embark on a trip that may or may not turn out to be a deciding factor in our future movements. Like, no pressure.

He's equipped with new business cards that I tried to design, but I think the cards developed a mind of their own because mine gave up after a while. At least they're spiffily packaged in a "for him" Ikazaki Shachū business card holder. The "for her" one (i.e. mine) is also featured.

19 April 2011

Pretty books: Part I

After having school on Sunday, I took Monday morning off with the plan to go cycling. But when morning came I was still sleepily contemplating this prospect when a 0% kidding 100% thunder, lightning and rain weather system rolled in. So turns out my bed had been the best place to stay.

So in lieu of more pictures of blossoms, all of which surely came crashing down in the rain of the last two days, here is something else I prepared recently. It's some of my favourite books that I have bought while in Japan. And this selection is also decidedly Japanese.

First is Commercial Design of Japan: From the Taishō to the Shōwa Era 日本の商業デザイン —大正・昭和のエポック—, published by Seigensha. This small format book features beautiful colour reproductions of packaging, logo and other commercial design from 1912 to 1989.

Next is Nihon no Kamon 日本の家紋, also published by Seigensha. This book is the same small format and features Japanese family crests. Different designs are organised by themes which can be looked up in the front of the book. I was intrigued by these symbols before, but my eyes are now even more fixed on the traditional houses that carry them. The way that kanji characters are abstracted to fit into a block format is also fascinating.

The third book is in the same format and, yes, also published by Seigensha. They must just really get me, because I bought all three on separate occasions, without realising that they are related until much later. Japanese Sarasa 新版—和更紗 features new Japanese calico prints. There is a wide range of motifs, from abstract patterns, to botanical designs, to human figures.

The last book, Sode Kagami: Meisen Kimono Collection ソデカガミ—銘仙着物コレクション, I bought after an eikaiwa student showed it to me and told me about this kind of kimono. The title translates as Sleeve Mirror, and meisen is a kind of silk. From what I recall, she said this book specifically features a more casual kind of kimono. I really like the juxtapositions of and the settings for some of the photographs, especially the one at the greengrocer's.

So that's the four books for today. All really inspiring, but also super affordable!

Note to self: Work on book photography :P
Oh, and P.S. If you're into really interesting art from beautiful old books I recommend 50 Watts. A lot!

17 April 2011

Can you stand it?

All the petals falling, like beautiful rain, but fading, fading away. All that ephemeral nonsense. Poetry! Pah!

And yet you can really feel it this time, because you're leaving Japan in a few months. So it's not even nonsense. It's all real. Waaaah!

So if you can possibly stand it, here are more pictures of flowers from a Friday afternoon walk.

12 April 2011

Vintage Photo Contest

The Sartorialist is having a Vintage Photo Contest. He posted an example of a previous run he did and that picture actually reminds me a lot of this one of my grandmother and grandfather.

It's a strange coincidence, because I was talking to a colleague about this exact picture collection earlier today. I scanned a small collection of my grandmother's pictures to use for her 80th birthday invitation. That was in 2006, and she's still with us today. My family really enjoyed the resurfacing of these pictures and everyone could see how beautiful my grandmother was. In some pictures she kind of looks like Nicole Kidman. I also really liked the small format (most of the pictures were about 6 x 8 cm)—the pictures seemed more precious somehow.

The centre picture would have been taken around the early 1940s and she's on the campus of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where she studied chemistry. She also met my grandfather there.

He kept a beautiful portrait picture of her, taken later, but with a similar upward looking pose, in his wallet all his life. He passed away in 1997. But there was one open seat at her 80th birthday party. I like to think it was for him.

11 April 2011

Pink confetti in my heart

As reported last week, we visited Ishidatami's Shidarezakura 石畳のしだれ桜, but it wasn't in full bloom yet. So I was up early on Sunday morning, getting my kit ready even before the mist had cleared, because I knew the weather was going to be great and I knew the tree was going to be in full bloom.

And was it ever. No image can really convey the spirit of this old knotted beauty, completely laden with her white-pink bounty. That didn't stop me from trying though, so enjoy the extended picture slideshow.

I made the last kilometre up to the tree on foot, because I don't know if I'll ever be mentally prepared for short hills of that gradient. But after the tree and the shrine I cycled along to the next town, which I'm not even sure what it was called, but it's part of the greater Iyo-shi 伊予市 area. This was absolutely sublime. There's something dangerous about enjoying cycling through parts where the road is lined with cherry blossom trees and not looking out for oncoming traffic carefully enough. But that's the sakura trance.

In order to avoid Route 56, I stuck to a smaller road that took me back up to higher ground, perhaps more than I'd bargained for. The climb was steep but fortunately fairly short—though yes, it totally involved more walking—but it was worth it anyway. I didn't really see so much of Tachikawa 立川 as what I saw of Tachiyama 立山—that's Tachi-mountain, as opposed to Tachi-river. Once I'd reached a sign that bade me welcome to Upper Tachiyama and that showed Lower Tachiyama further along, I knew the fun part of my return had finally arrived.

Back in town I met up with the husband for lunch, and, inevitably, took even more cherry blossom pictures. Now if only I could scoop up the fallen petals and store that soft pink confetti in a chamber in my heart I could keep this feeling forever.

View Larger Map

Total distance: 31.6km
Time: about 4 hours 30 minutes, including lots of picture taking and soaking up of atmosphere
Highest points: 440m and later 280m
Lowest point: 60m

Sakura trance

There is work to do—never a complaint in this job, by the way! But my mind is where it was yesterday... but more about that later.

09 April 2011

Floral day

Flowers 1: Today was the day that the ikebana ladies finally got to meet my husband. A strange sort of excitement reigned. Like you're having a tea party with your other 6-year-old girlfriends, except your male cousin is visiting, and that's like weird, and a little fun, but weird.

Anyway, under teacher's amazing hand even the husband could do a beautiful arrangement. And my personal success was that even though she rearranged my main flowers, I had managed to do the bottom ones well and she even said so. Gold star!

Flowers 2: Before we left, we took a short walk to the bridge to look at the cherry blossoms on the hill and all around. We also had a quick pink tree and red bridge photo op.

Flowers 3: Next we made a quick stop at the Ōzu flower park フラワーパーク 大洲 to admire the tulips. Well worth a visit!

08 April 2011

Hula and handicrafts

We started the round off to our Sunday afternoon at Ryūō 龍王. The fitness club and other groups were putting on some entertainment and there were stalls with delicious food to eat and other things to buy.

The first bit of entertainment we were exposed to was some of my elementary and middle school students performing as members of a hip-hop dance club they belong to. At first I was quite involved with taking pictures of them busting out their moves, but the more I listened to the song, the more I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A rough transcription of the lyrics looks something like this: "@$@%*%#* music @#&#**%^$#&#*@ yeah". I turned around and saw my foreign compatriots next to me, all with their hands over their mouths and their eyes stretched wide open. We were of course the only people to have this reaction, since all the angry swearing was happening in English.

Anyway, we ate, we watched some hula groups perform, and we engaged in some light shopping. I bought some blood orange jam and really tasty mikan juice after learning all about it from the producer and seller, in English. Yes, after three years here it's still impressive when someone in the countryside can tell you all about their business, in English. Morihiko Abe 阿部 杜彦 also showed me his picture on the pamphlet of their association of organic mikan farmers, Muchachaen 無茶々園.

Later we went around to the Ryūō park 龍王公園 side of the hill to look at some more blossoms. Some white ones that hadn't bloomed yet looked like pearls.

Before we went home we stopped by a handicraft exhibition that was being held at the Ikazaki kite museum. Personally, I really like the woodwork that I've seen at these exhibitions. And the Ikazaki Shachū paper designs never cease to please the eye. Check out more of Gabor Ulveczki's work in his catalogue, he's the designer who works with the Ikazaki company.


Making sure that we didn't waste any of our spring-filled weekend, we also spent Sunday out and about. Our first visit was to Ishidatami's Shidarezakura 石畳のしだれ桜.

View Uchiko, Ehime, Japan in a larger map

The tree wasn't in full bloom yet, but the festival atmosphere was there with soba cooking and rice popping with loud explosion sounds and cheers. We looked at the tree, then bought some fresh mochi and snacked our way up to Yuge shrine and its wooden covered bridge.

On the way up, a passerby educated us on the flavour of green mochi, which is achieved with yomogi ヨモギ. She even grabbed one from the roadside to give to us. Spring is a great time to eat things that might otherwise just seem like roadside flowers or weeds!

07 April 2011

Ladies dinner

This has been a pretty arduous post to write! It was almost as hard as eating all the food I'll describe below, after we had gone to hanami in the afternoon. I even had to call in reinforcements from the wonderful friend who is skilled in French.

You'll also notice a lot of Wiki links in there, because this turned into a strange study of French cooking through the Japanese language.

But the bottom line is this: Hanagoromo 花ごろも in Gorō, Ōzu 大洲市の五郎 is an amazing place to eat. It was a great follow-up to my recent ladies lunch. The French cuisine, with an appreciation of local ingredients, was beautifully complimented by the eclectic mix of Western and Japanese objects that made up the interior of the restaurant's private dining rooms. Reservation only!

The menu

Burgundy style sazae escargot (Turbo cornutus) grilled with herbs

Spring cabbage potage with seafood wrapped in spring cabbage

Hors d'œuvre of the day

  • 自家製スモークサーモンと野菜のテリーヌ
    Homemade smoked salmon and vegetable terrine
  • たっぷりベーコンと玉葱のキッシュ
    Bacon and onion quiche
  • 帆立グリエ茄子のピューレ、大洲産苺のさっぱりラビゴットソース
    Grilled scallop and eggplant purée served with a classic sauce ravigote of Ōzu strawberries
  • 愛媛県産カブトエビのカダイフ巻き ラタトゥイユとアメリケーヌソース
    An Ehime tadpole shrimp kanafeh roll with ratatouille and sauce Américaine

Meat dish of the day
  • 国産牛ほほ肉の赤ワイン煮込み
    Japanese beef cheek meat cooked in red wine
  • 国産霜降り牛イチボ<ランプ>希少部位。のステーキ
    Salt and pepper Japanese beef rump steak
  • スペイン産イベリコ豚のステーキ
    Spanish Black Iberian pork steak
  • シャラン産カモのロース はちみつ焼き
    Challands duck roasted in honey
  • フランス産仔羊キャレのロティ
    Hot roast French lamb
  • 国産極上牛フィレ肉のステーキ
    First grade Japanese beef fillet

Velvety gâteau au chocolat with fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream

Coffee, espresso, herbal tea, or regular tea


If you look at the kanji for hanami, 花見, it translates as flower look. And indeed, in the dictionary it says flower or cherry blossom viewing. But if a Japanese friend or colleague asks whether you did hanami, they mean "did you sit on a blue groundsheet and drink and eat and talk and laugh a lot while looking at cherry blossoms?" Indeed a much more sociable prospect than just looking at flowers.

I did however have to come to my third year here to graduate from the latter to the former. (Full disclosure: the first year I was travelling at the time, the second year there was a wedding on the same day as the main local hanami event... now it's year three.) I finally attended a proper hanami event, as organised by local businesses and goverment.

Proceeds from the event will go to Tōhoku. A charity auction of goods donated by local businesses also helped to grow the amount. And you'll see a picture of my friend MANning UP FOR JAPAN into the donation box.

A highlight of the day was when an enormous tuna was carved up, then carved some more, and then served to us along with hamachi as a wonderful sashimi treat. I went a bit nuts with pictures (and the video below!) of the carving, but hey, how often does a guy carve a tuna in an open-air setting with cherry blossoms in the background?

06 April 2011

The renovation

As may have been apparent in The move, Japanese government offices are generally not very pretty. In fact, if you spend enough time looking at the walls, another Dilbert strip comes to mind.


I don't remember why we started thinking about making the walls of our office nice, but one day it just started to happen. Our dreams of painting the walls were however initially thwarted, and we were told to try to clean them. So we did. Cleaning decades of cigarette tar of the walls (thankfully, the building is now largely no-smoking) did however seem quite tough, so our hanchō figured, "I'm getting transferred anyway, as my last act of kindness I'm approving some paint for you guys".

The great renovation began, and after painting, cleaning, rehanging pictures, and rewiring the office (looks like that PhD is useful ;)), things looked a lot better. We impressed our Japanese colleagues with our can-do DIY spirit—and knowing tricks like vacuuming while drilling—, but we also made them laugh at us for running to the hardware store as often as we did. So hey, maybe we're not as good at planning absolutely every detail in advance, but we also began and finished a renovation and cleaning in three days. So there.