Of Miku, School Lunches, Festivals, Frying Pan Miso Soup and Other Things (Japan Update 2)

2013-09-23 11.56.52

A pair of cool looking samurai at the Kunimi (国見) Yoshitsune Matsuri

So it’s been awhile since my last update from Japan, but I figured I might as well spend some time putting together a collection of interesting and amusing experiences from that past month for people who are interested. I’ve had an extremely busy but very fun few weeks since my last update. The weather is slowly starting to get a little colder here as Autumn sets in, and it doesn’t take long to realize how “freezing” 50 degrees Fahrenheit can feel when you don’t have much to speak of in terms of central heating. I’m getting ready for an even busier 7 days here as a delegation from Elizabethtown in my home state of Kentucky will be visiting Koori for the next few days. I will be leaving tomorrow morning to meet them in Tokyo and then will spend the next few days helping them enjoy their time in and around Koori. It will be nice to hear someone speaking with a Kentucky twang after such a long time. Thanks to a couple of middle school students visiting as well, hopefully we’ll have some special and exciting English classes with my students.  Though my updates on the blog  usually come in big chunks, I try to post interesting tidbits a little more frequently on my Tumblr, Twitter and especially my Facebook group. So be sure to check those out if you are interested. First off let me make a few Vocaloid related announcements and then we’ll move on to the Japan stuff (including a review of Japanese school lunches and some of my own cooking attempts) after the jump.

Konachan.com - 126747 apron aqua_eyes aqua_hair food hachune_miku hatsune_miku headphones leek long_hair mayo_riyo ponytail skirt thighhighs tie vocaloid zettai_ryouiki

  • I was very excited to kick off the “in the rain” keeno cover song contest 3 days ago. So far the response has been great and I’m already expecting at least 30 or so productions just from messages I’ve received in the past few days! I encourage everyone to enter and help show keeno himself and fans all over the world how much we enjoy his songs! You can find info about entering the contest and the prizes in my previous post.
  • I also recently received this awesome present to myself a few days ago:2013-09-28 14.05.34I already been working on my first song for awhile now on the purely musical/composition side of things and have the lyrics and rhythm generally down but I know nothing about working with Vocaloids so it will still be awhile be I manage to put out anything interesting. While I do have some music and theory experience as a former violinist, I can’t say it was ever a huge passion of mine, so things are still a work in progress.
  • I’ve of course kept up my translating as much as time allows. Some of my favorite releases from the past few weeks include “in the rain” , keeno’s sad but beautiful title track from his new album, two tracks from 40mP’s new album “The Boy and The Magical Robot” including the title track (A song which tells the story of Vocaloid in a beautifully figurative way and which I really hope is made into a story book that I can read to my children one day) and another catchy song called “Laying Down in the Middle of Tokyo”, and also a high quality production by producer sizimi called “Bring Back Summer”. Finally, PowerchordP (producer of the Luka song “Knife”) made a return to Vocaloid after 3.5 years with a fun song about being yourself called “Duck Rock”.

I also apparently missed something awesome at the Tokyo Gaming Expo. Some of my fellow Fukushima teachers who did go were all making plans to meet up at “Miku Pizza” for lunch (*sob*):

2013-09-21 13.54.54With all that out of the way, follow me past the jump so that we can get to sharing the interesting, amusing, and eccentric Japan stuff from the past few weeks.

4fa0a5bce111bd402a46726d3a184fa5

The Yoshitsune Festival in Kunimi

So recently I biked a few miles up the road to attend the Yoshitsune Samurai Festival up in Kunimi Machi. You can read all about Yoshitsune here if you are interested. At the festival I found the two cool looking guys you already  saw dressed up in full samurai outfits getting ready to lead a parade around town. But it wasn’t just a bunch of older guys getting involved, several hundred grade-schoolers also donned their samurai gear in preparation for the festivities:

2013-09-23 13.42.55

Fearsome pink outfits indeed

The pink outfits are most fearsome indeed!

Warcry?

While I was there I also got to sample the greasy, delicious festival food as well. (always accompanied by those generous helpings of Japanese mayo):

Fuwatoro Takoyaki

Fuwatoro Takoyaki

Delicious Okonomiyaki as well

Delicious Okonomiyaki as well

It may be a small town of some 10,000 people but of course Miku showed up as well:

2013-09-23 11.46.51

Eating Adventures and Other Things

So I mentioned earlier how it’s been a really busy few weeks here in Koori Machi. As always with me, one of the first things that goes out the window when my schedule fills up is keeping up with the dirty dishes. I don’t have a dishwasher here in Japan so I have eventually scrub everything down by hand. Sadly this pitiful state of things resulted in me hitting this low point two days ago:

2013-10-03 18.53.21

In the end it was delicious, but yes, that is me cooking and then later preparing to eat miso soup out of my frying pan.

Since I discovered it in college, I’ve always been a fan of Japanese-style curry (kare/カレ). I especially love the spicy versions. Last weekend I decided to make a big pot of the stuff and I figured “what better to go with this, then that “Easy” Nan I bought from the store a while ago” (the same nan I mentioned last update). Well I am sad to report that while it didn’t taste bad, it also didn’t really look like the picture promised. It was pretty dang hard to knead and mold this thing it’s gooey and slightly oily state:

2013-09-29 14.07.46

“Easy” Nan, or as my friend Sunny said “Kore wa Nan desu ka?” (Nan means both Indian “nan” and also “what” in Japanese)

Living near in an agricultural area renowned for a wide variety of different products (but most importantly peaches) makes it very easy to healthily and affordably “eat with the seasons” as the Japanese say. Though peaches have sadly tapered off, it is Nashi (asian pear) season here in Japan and these pears are far and away better than the nashi I tried back in the US. They are extremely juicy and quite big too:

2013-09-29 22.37.18

“Nashi” (梨), an Asian pear

There’s a wholesale fruit/vegetable store right across the street from where I live where you can buy lots of different things in bulk for a very good price. Sadly living alone means that it’s a bit hard to buy stuff there that I can finish by myself. They have a cute and welcoming sign advertising what they sell by the entrance to the parking lot. Koori Machi is famous for its peaches but I admit that the peach looks a bit “special” here:

2013-09-30 16.20.11So the kindness of people in Koori and my co-workers still knows no bounds but sometimes this amazing kindness I receive makes me feel a bit silly and embarrassed. This time our story involves a very delicious Japanese seasoning called furikake. The best way to describe furikake is to think of it as a Little Caesar’s SpicePak for your rice (or something like that). It’s basically a pack of small, dried seasonings that you can sprinkle on your rice to make it a little more delicious. There is lots of different varieties and you can probably find it at most Asian/Japanese supermarkets in the US. Here is one that is based on the spicy Japanese seasoning Shichimi (七味):

A grocery night dinner. Half priced Grilled Squid and a box of Chicken and Spring Rolls along with a homemade dipping sauce and rice with Shichimi Furikake, lazy but delicious!

A grocery night dinner. Half priced Grilled Squid and a box of Chicken, Meatballs and Spring Rolls along with a homemade dipping sauce and rice with Shichimi Furikake, lazy but delicious!

So during school lunch (kyuushoku, 給食) one day last week, they gave us a packet of furikake to go along with our rice. It tasted pretty good, and as part of the idle chatter at the lunch table, I casually mentioned that “hey, I really like this furikake, maybe I’ll have to find it at the store and buy some”. No different than any usual conversation you’d hear amongst us, but as expected everyone was once again completely amazed by the new foreign teacher (“wow, descent-sensei likes furikake!”, “it’s like he is Japanese!”). What I didn’t expect was what came next. We teachers generally finish lunch a little earlier than the students, and so a couple of the teachers decided to take it onto themselves to go back to their classrooms and gather up all the uneaten furikake packets from the students who didn’t like them and left them behind. I returned to the teacher’s room after class next period to find a mountain of 20 or so furikake packets waiting for me on my desk (“descent-sensei please enjoy these!”). I wish there was a word for this odd combo of gratitude and embarrassment I always feel…

2013-10-05 20.57.13

Since I’m about to leave for Tokyo and then act as tour guide/interpreter for a week, I promptly cooked up whatever was left in my fridge. Here’s a bit of beef stir-fried Chinese style with the green onions that were about to go bad, miso soup that is using the left-over box of tofu I had forgotten about, and a small box of natto that I hadn’t gotten around to eating. More of that delicious Shichimi furikake on the rice too.

Let’s also not forget about the exciting Madoka Magica movie that will be arriving in theaters on October 26th. I am looking forward to the brand-new story, and lots of promotional goods have been popping up as well. Recently our 7/11 started stocking some promotional Kyoko Mitsuya Cider:

I didn't feel all that manly taking this up to the counter

I didn’t feel all that manly taking this up to the counter

Finally, I made another trip to the conveyor belt sushi (kaitenzushi, 回転寿司) about 5 miles or so from my place:

2013-10-04 19.14.58

You’ll find some interesting variety at these family-oriented places. Here we have “clams in garlic sauce” and “Korean BBQ” nigiri. You can also get Hamburger, Roast Beef, or Omelet nigiri if you so desire. These very “unjapanese” things are some of my elementary school kids’ favorites.

Here's a Japanese-style "California" roll, not bad at all

Here’s a Japanese-style “California” roll, not bad at all

2013-10-04 18.46.34

I love fish egg sushi/onigiri of all kinds, but nearly mature salmon eggs (Ikura) is by far my favorite.

A Trip to Sendai

Sendai seen from atop the Aoba Castle

Sendai seen from atop the Aoba Castle

Two weekends ago I took the bullet train up to Sendai, northern Honshu’s largest city for some sightseeing and shopping. Lots of fun was had doing both things and I’ll include a small assortment of pictures from the adventure:

Started off the day picking up some drinks at Family Mart where Miku was helping to sell some "recommended items" at the front of the store. A really good drawing!

Started off the day picking up some drinks at Family Mart where Miku was helping to sell some “recommended items” at the front of the store. A really good drawing!

Some "interesting" art, actually commemorating the postal service I think, outside the Sendai City Museum

Some “interesting” art, actually commemorating the postal service I think, outside the Sendai City Museum

I also made a pit stop at the little samurai's room at the museum

I also made a pit stop at the little samurai’s room at the museum

Found this MMD Handbook at a local bookstore

Found this MMD Handbook at a local bookstore

A huge butterfly and some nice flowers at the Touhoku University Botanical Gardens

A huge butterfly and some nice flowers at the Touhoku University Botanical Gardens

Hiking on some of the trails

Hiking on some of the trails

Date Masamune (the founder of Sendai who was originally from the "Date-Gun" region of Fukushima where I live) watches majestically over the remnants of his castle, Aoba-jyo

Date Masamune (the founder of Sendai who was originally from the “Date-Gun” region of Fukushima where I live) watches majestically over the remnants of his castle, Aoba-jyo

The tall walls of the castle are about all that is left after the rest was destroyed in the Bonshin War

The tall walls of the castle are about all that is left after the rest was destroyed in the Bonshin War

When you go to Sendai, you gotta have grilled "gyuutan" (Beef Tongue). This set meal was absolutely delicious.

When you go to Sendai, you gotta have grilled “gyuutan” (Beef Tongue). This set meal was absolutely delicious.

Took a break and healed up my party here

Took a break and healed up my party here

2013-09-21 16.05.49

A big and tall (aka normal America-sized) store I checked out. What a nice euphemism. "I'm not fat, I just have a Grand Back". It's a little better than another chain called X-Large whose mascot seems to be a roaring Gorilla.

A big and tall (aka normal America-sized) store I checked out. What a nice euphemism. “I’m not fat, I just have a Grand Back”. It’s a little better than another chain called X-Large whose mascot seems to be a roaring Gorilla.

Bought some of mothy-P's light novels

Bought some of mothy-P’s light novels

Got some Kagerou Project artbooks for friends as well

Got some Kagerou Project artbooks for friends as well

Pickup up the bonus version of Utata-P's second Happiness novel

Pickuped up the bonus version of Utata-P’s second Happiness novel

Date Masamune cookies for all the co-workers at the office

Date Masamune cookies for all the co-workers at the office

All kinds of Kagepro goodness

All kinds of Kagepro goodness

Earthquake and Safety Day at Handa Joho Elementary

So this morning I woke up, got another flat fixed on my bike (courtesy of the amazing old man at the bike shop who has saved me multiple times now) and then headed down to one of my elementary schools for the local earthquake preparedness and safety fair. Almost all members of city hall and the various emergency services departments were there to help everyone practice and prepare in case of an future disaster. (Schools are major evacuation centers in most of Japan) It was a bit chilly and rainy but it was another nice opportunity to meet more people from around town and learn a little bit myself. They even had a tent that simulated you trying to escape from a burning building. Even though it used a fog machine instead of actual deadly smoke it was actually pretty intense. Here a few pictures:

Things get started off with everyone seating in the gym like they would be for a disaster while getting an address from the mayor and emergency services personnel. There were practice CPR stations as well.

Things get started off with everyone seated in the gym like they would be for a disaster while getting an address from the mayor and emergency services personnel. There were practice CPR stations as well.

An "earthquake" simulator for the kids. It's both scary and odd at the same time. Somehow Japan is one place where you think that you might not need a simulator for this kind of thing.

An “earthquake simulator” for the kids. It’s both scary and odd at the same time. Somehow Japan is one place where you think that you might not need a simulator for this kind of thing.

Some military vehicles as well

Some military vehicles as well

A fake fire is simulated on the roof of the school

A fake fire is simulated on the roof of the school

Emergency vehicles rush to the rescue

Emergency vehicles rush to the rescue

Water cannons too

Water cannons too

Rescue personnel on their way up

Rescue personnel on their way up

2013-10-05 11.10.08

A daring simulated rescue

Finally after all was said an done, a tasty lunch of Onigiri, Pickles, and Tonjiru (a hearty pork soup) for everyone.

Finally after all was said an done, a tasty lunch of Onigiri, Pickles, and Tonjiru (a hearty pork soup) for everyone courtesy of the local town government.

Courtesy of the local government/town hall we were all provided with a couple of kilos of canned Tuna to store in emergency kits for potential disasters and evacuations as well. Whenever we have events like these they usually hand out slips of paper to everyone that can be redeemed for the goods/gifts at the end. Unfortunately I never receive these tickets though. Being the only foreigner for miles and miles means I instead get the bemusing “Don’t worry Descent-sensei! We know who you are!” courtesy comment. “B-but I just wanted to be like everyone else!” 😄

Koori Machi School Lunch Review

There really is so much I’d like to say about school lunch here in Japan. The whole process in many ways exemplifies so of the admirable things about Japanese culture, values, and the educational system. Plus it is a well-balanced meal that is healthy and usually pretty tasty to eat! All the meals in our town are prepared in the Koori Machi Kyuushoku (School Lunch) Center, which is right next to Joho Middle School and then delivered to all the schools in town. I suppose I am lucky because our town is considered to have exceptionally good lunches. During lunchtime, while there is some dietary staff that help make a few preparations, kids from each class don white aprons and hats and prepare the food containers, dishes, and silverware/chopsticks for themselves and their classmates. They also serve each other from the large pots provided to each class. Everyone says “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisousama deshita” as a group to show their appreciation for the food and practice their manners before and after meals. Afterwards everyone works together to clean up, separate trash, and put utensils and dirty plates all into their specified place.

There are not actually many picky eaters here in Japan. It is considered quite disrespectful to not eat the food you are given and everyone is expected to clean their plate. When I am at the elementary schools I usually eat with the younger 1st-4th grade students who I don’t normally work with and the instructors put a big emphasis on everyone having good manners while properly and quickly finishing their food. It also usually results in “Descent-sensei Question Time” as well, where I get asked everything from the classics like “What is your favorite color?” and “How old are you?” to interesting things like “How do I become as good at soccer as you?” (lol, I’m not very good but those first graders think I’m a soccer star) to “Our teacher isn’t married, do you like her?” Good times lol.

So without further ado let’s take at look at some samples of the usual fare. As you will see each day comes with a serving of rice or bread, some kind of soup, and a plate that contains the major meat/protein source and usually some kind of salad and/or fruit. This is always accompanied by a carton of whole milk (something that took my gut awhile to get used to as a life long skim drinker).

Tofu/Vegetable Miso Soup, Grilled Saba, and a Vegetable/Breadcrumb side dish. I was a little surprised by the yogurt because it was completely plain with no flavoring.

Tofu/Vegetable Miso Soup, Grilled Saba, and a Vegetable/Breadcrumb side dish. I was a little surprised by the yogurt because it was completely plain with no flavoring.

Today it was gyoza, fried rice (chahan), plus a ham and cucumber salad to go along with soup

Today it was gyoza, fried rice (chahan), plus a ham and cucumber salad to go along with soup

Rice, Pudding, A Potato Croquette, with a Cucumber/Seaweed Salad. The soup had a bit of chicken, mushrooms, and various veggies.

Rice, Pudding, A Potato Croquette, with a Cucumber/Seaweed Salad. The soup had a bit of chicken, mushrooms, and various veggies.

Our weekly "bread" day, sadly without a chocolate spread this time. However it did come with a tasty chowder-like soup and a healthy salad plus an omelet stuffed with vegetables. They also gave us ketchup packets so I wrote "Miku" on mine of course. There was also chocolate sauce for the milk this time. Two big grapes as well.

Our weekly “bread” day, sadly without a chocolate spread this time. However it did come with a tasty chowder-like soup and a healthy salad plus an omelet stuffed with vegetables. They also gave us ketchup packets so I wrote “Miku” on mine of course. There was also chocolate sauce for the milk this time. Two big grapes as well.

The protein was spread all around today. A small piece of grill fish, a salad with small bits of tuna, and a soup with bread/fish balls in it. Very delicious actually.

The protein was spread all around today. A small piece of grilled fish, a salad with small bits of tuna, and a soup with bread/fish balls in it. Very delicious actually.

A slightly more vegetarian day with a kind of Japanese fried rice with mushrooms, tofu/naruto soup, oranges, and a chunk of stuffs sweet fried tofu as well.

A slightly more vegetarian day with a kind of Japanese fried rice with mushrooms, tofu/naruto soup, oranges, and a chunk of stuffed, sweet fried tofu as well.

Insanely delicious fried chicken, potato/ham salad, vegetable soup, and a pack of that yummy furikake that led to the story I mentioned.

Insanely delicious fried chicken, potato/ham salad, vegetable soup, and a pack of that yummy furikake that led to the story I mentioned.

Fish ball soup and gyoza made a repeat appearance today. The small packet you see is a tasty snack they sometimes serve that is made up of salted almonds and tiny dried fish.

Fish ball soup and gyoza made a repeat appearance today. The small packet you see is a tasty snack they sometimes serve that is made up of salted almonds and tiny dried fish.

Well that’s it for another winding and circuitous series of insights into “real” life over here in Japan. I’ll keep trying to do these from time to time and please feel free to let me know if there is some kind of question you want me to answer or topic you would like me to focus on. And don’t forget about the keeno contest! Until next time!

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Of Miku, School Lunches, Festivals, Frying Pan Miso Soup and Other Things (Japan Update 2)

  1. joe hoang says:

    I’m quite happy to be able to read a blog from one of my favorite translator keep up the good work!!

  2. Samuel says:

    Interesting to see veggie meals are frequent at Japan schools (well at least at Koori Machi). Here in Europe it’s a heated issue when some progressive people suggest that we should at least once a week serve a veggie meal to the children.

  3. Dave Oakley says:

    Really enjoyed this little peek into daily life in Japan. I’d love to be able to have an experience like this, but I think I might starve to death. Or at least, insult a lot of people with my finicky palate. 😉
    Thanks so much! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s