Friday, October 28, 2011

さくらさくら (Sakura, Sakura)

Sakura-Cherry blossoms.

This is probably the most famous folk song from Japan...even if you don't think you know anything about Japan, chances are good that you have heard this tune.

When you start learning how to play the koto, this is the first piece you learn.  It's like learning "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" when beginning to study the piano.

When I began my koto studies this past July, I also had to learn Sakura...

This is a very simple version of Sakura.  My teacher recently gave me the "advanced" version, which I have just begun to learn.  More on that later.

Stay tuned for more pieces and a post on the sheet music of the koto. (It's waaaaaaay different from what I was used to reading!)
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

勿体ない (What a waste.)

This is something you constantly hear in Japan.  It means “What a waste.”  And reads “mo tai nai.” 

I am not a fan of wasting things…but really, who is? 

I try to be good about not being wasteful.  Especially when it comes to food.  Food in Japan (and by food, I mean real food: unprocessed, mostly produce) is pretty expensive.  I expect this is because they rely so heavily on imports.  As of right now, Japan would only be able to sustain 39% of the population on it's own. 

Japan is a tiny country with an enormous population.  Most of the land is mountain ranges.  The only sustainable crops that Japan can produce is rice, potatoes and some vegetables.  The other primary source of the Japanese diet is the sea. 

Fish, seaweed, rice.  Three staples of the Japanese diet.  The makings of sushi. 

Japan is trying to become more self-sustaining.  One thing I have seen on the news and read about is the development and marketing of rice flour.  Wheat does not grow very well in Japan.  This is smart as bread has more nutritional value than rice.

I have also learned to appreciate the grocery stores produce section noticeable rotating with the season.  There have been many times I have gone shopping for something particular and had to improvise with something seasonal. 

A fun challenge.  It has made me more aware about where my food comes from.

So we are getting much better at not wasting food, buying in season and being aware of our foods origins. 

It’s a good way to live!
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An Investment

Leaning against a wall in the tatami room, there were six or seven kotos.  Their long, graceful figures reaching towards the ceiling.  I couldn’t believe I was about to call one of these exotic instruments my own.

“Which one do you like?” asked my teacher. 

“Which one is best?”

The one with the orange floral décor was the best quality, she said.  I completely trusted her opinion.  The decision was made.  

Next, the accessories:  ivory picks, the pick case, the silky koto cover, the music stand, the koto stands and the music itself.  

For a musician, this was like Christmas morning.  So. Exciting.

My first koto lesson was spent getting me set up with all of my new equipment, explaining the instrument and simple first instructions.

I was practically bursting with excitement.  I had gone from being a full-time music major practicing for hours every day, to not even having an instrument to play for the past year.  A big change.

I have now been studying koto since early July.  It is completely different from any musical instrument I have ever played-I love it.  This could very well be the groundwork for a future masters degree in ethnomusicology. 

You never know…I just follow my love of music through life.

So far it hasn’t led me astray. 

More on the music (maybe even a video!) and koto learning adventures coming soon.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Expanding Horizons

I am used to regular cheeseburgers.  You know, made with cheddar cheese.  To me, this is “normal.”  The “regular” version, if you will.  (ps-that junk they put on fast food burgers is not even real cheese. In fact, those aren’t even real burgers…or real food for that matter.)

For some reason, using other cheeses to top burgers never occurred to me.  Until a couple of years ago, that is.  I really started getting into other types of cheese. 

Since there is a significant lack of good cheese in Japan, cheeseburgers are not something we have on a regular basis.  Besides that, even Costco doesn’t fulfill my greatest dreams of cheese.  It is missing one of my all-time favorites…


Fortunately, I have been able to go on a Jarlsberg binge lately because some fantastic people sent me some for my birthday.  Best gift ever!  (In case you’re wondering, vacuum packed cheese does very well when sent overseas. Winkwink!)

Occasionally, Karl and I get our America on and have big, fat cheeseburgers for dinner.  The most recent instance resulted in the best burgers I had ever made.  Ever.

Remember these?  After devouring the steaks, we kept the leftover marinade.  It would have been a horrible waste to toss it!

I mixed some of the marinade into some ground beef with some panko and an egg.  Then fried them nice and slow.  They didn’t shrink at all.  Which means they fit perfectly onto the toasted bread.  

They were veritable gourmet hamburgers. 
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Beef and Barley

Alright.  I know I have said this before…but I truly love cool weather and the foods that come with it.  Soups and stews, in particular. 

My awesome sister who lives in New Zealand recently mailed me a bag of barley.  Awesome.

Of course, this means…beef and barley soup.  How could it not? 

I, again, searched through one of the best food blogs I know.  And again, it did not fail me. 

She does not kid: this is the easiest soup ever to make.  I followed it near exact, with a few added carrots and a couple more cloves of garlic.  It was perfect…

Warm.  Comforting.  Aromatic.  Delicious. 

Served with a fresh slice of buttered bread, (that my husband made-What!? How lucky am I?!) this meal hit the spot. 

It’s definitely on my make again list.  

Find the recipe right here. 
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

If at first you don't succeed...

Last month, I turned 25.  I had an awesome party.  I ate delicious food.  I drank delicious drink.  I spent time with excellent people. 

I also received some awesome gifts, one of which was a bagel cookbook.

Remember this episode?  My first attempt at bagel making: result…disaster.  But hey, you can’t win ‘em all.  Right?

Well this time, I actually read the directions and…


Mission accomplished.  Delicious bagels acquired. 

They were so easy and quick to make…I can’t wait to try more of the recipes.

I’ll keep you updated in my bagel adventures. 

Maybe blueberry for next time…
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Raj Mohan

Dressing up as a samurai was a great experience, but there are a few reasons why I mentioned I will only watch next time.

Reason number one: 

Going to the restroom is a maaaajor undertaking.  It basically requires taking off most of the outfit, doing your business and getting dressed all over again.  All of which takes a long time.  This is why most of us decided to hold it.

Reason number two:

Because of the first reason, we had to watch our liquid intake. 

Reason number three:

It was hot.  And because of the aforementioned reasons, dehydration was inevitable. We drank some green tea and water throughout the day, but because of the heat and subsequent sweating, we needed more liquids.

Reason number four:

The straw footwear that was at least three sizes too small.

Reason number five:

By the end of the day, we were famished. 

Fortunately, all of these drawbacks were very easily remedied and I would still strongly encourage everyone living in Japan to do something like this at least once.  The fantastic photos are definitely worth the discomforts.

Also, you feel amazing once you take all the hot constricting armor off, drink a bunch of water and eat a ton of food.

Which is exactly what we did.

A group of us went to one of our favorite restaurants in Ogawa: Raj Mohan, a fantastic Indian restaurant.  (Karl and I go at least once a month.  The people who run the place are very nice.)

Keema Curry with Eggplant
Kebab, chicken tikka and tandoori chicken
cheese naan
Mutton Saag
Keema Curry
 If I had to choose one type of food to eat for the rest of my life, Indian food would be it.  

So delicious.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

侍 (Samurai)


All too soon, the alarm went off.  We got up, got ready, and made our early train to Yorii. 

There aren’t many things that will get us out of bed early on a weekend morning…but a samurai festival is one of them.

寄居町北條祭り-Yorii Machi Houjou Matsuri-Yorii Town Samurai Festival.  This festival, held every year, is a historical reenactment of a samurai battle that took place on the banks of the Arakawa River some 400 or so years ago.

A friend of ours participates in this festival every year and coordinates a group of international volunteers.  We were asked to join. 

What a fantastic opportunity.

For some reason, it was decided that Karl and I would be wearing the most intricate costumes in our group.  We had to get up so early so there would be time to get dressed and adjust everything without rushing. 

Karl’s outfit-by far-took the longest.  

Karl's outfit in pieces before dressing.
First the shirt, pants and arm guards.
Much help is needed during this process.
The leg guards.
Finishing touches...this outfit took over an hour to put on.
The dratted too-small footwear we all had to wear for seven hours.
Tying the straw sandals on the feet.  Again, help was needed.
Ready to go lead the samurai troops!
Me keeping Karl in line.
There were many cute little samurais running around.  Some were my students!
Once we finished dressing, we had to walk to the banks of the river, where the opening ceremony-and later on, the battle reenactment-would take place. 

Lined up, listening to speeches.
Checking each other out...I think the samurai look works.
 After numerous speeches by politicians (which lasted waaaaay too long in full armor, 80+ degree weather in the beating sun) we all trooped through town on a parade. 

Karl had to make a little motivational speech-in Japanese.  He was very well received. 

Karl passionately addressing the crowds.
Cheers and raising of katanas and spears.
Looking important.
 After the speeches and parade, back to the beach we went to watch the battle reenactment.  

The smoke billowing around the battlefield.
After the fireworks and smoke subsided as the "battle" ended, we were mobbed by people wanted photos of the gaijin samurai.  Many a photo was taken.  

My helmet was a tad large...I had to adjust it frequently.  Fortunately it was plastic. Karl's was metal and very heavy.
Our International samurai group.
These guys were the coolest. 

Our best try at acting.  I think we should stick to teaching.

So despite the heat and heavy armor, this was a really wonderful experience.  

But next time...I think I'll just watch and take pictures. 
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011


What do you do when a grill comes in the mail?  

You marinate and grill steaks.  Obviously. 

First, the marinade.  I know that one of my grandmothers had a steak marinade dressing to die for…I should really dig it up.  In the meantime, this is what I found and used. 

Rosemary.  One of the best herbs ever.  And seriously, there is no comparison between dried and fresh herbs.  There just isn’t.  







I could make a habit of this. 
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