Saturday, October 22, 2011

Our Giant Halloween Pumpkin

Halloween is known in Japan and you see a lot of Halloween themed products and decorations in stores, though most Japanese don't know what it means. English schools all across Japan have Halloween parties. Big orange pumpkins are not so easy to find, though. Japanese pumpkins are small, green and very hard. They don't eat big orange pumpkins, but grow them for animal food. In the past, I usually ordered real American pumpkins from the foreign buyer's club. They're not cheap, but authentic. Recently, though, I found big orange pumpkins at a local supermarket, Marui. This year however, there were not many to choose from. There was either huge or extra huge. I opted for the huge. I could barely even pick it up. It probably weighs over 40 Lbs. Junko will use it in her class at Elementary school, before we carve it. The girls couldn't pass up a photo shot opportunity.It looks even bigger next to them.

Hana's Leaf Shop

 This is the scene I came home to recently. My good friend Michiko sensei was looking after the girls and they had gone outside and collected some leaves. They were all arranged on the table with little price tags. This was her "Leaf Shop". She would measure the leaves with a measuring tape and what ever the number of centimeters became the price in yen. 18cm would be 18 yen. Then she would make little price tags. She and Rika were playing store clerk and customer. Michiko was encouraging her to measure things, an important math concept. She would measure the length and width and write them down on a piece of paper. I suggested that the price should be based on how pretty or colorful the leaves were, but nobody cared for my idea. It's amazing, with a little encouragement and creativity, kids can make a game out of anything.

Japanese Figs: ichijiku いちじく

 One thinks of figs and dates as middle eastern fruits, but figs are a very popular food in Japan. These fresh figs came from Junko's mother. They have some fig trees growing on the little mountain behind their house. Figs are really tasty. I've always loved Fig Newtons, but I don't think I'd ever seen a fresh fig in America before. I have to admit, their a little gross-looking, like something bloody cut open. When ever I see them, I'm reminded of the strange monsters from the Stephen King movie "The Langoliers" or the burrowing monsters from "Tremors". Another thing about figs is in Japan, they say eating figs will help a woman's breasts grow bigger. I wonder if that kind of ad campaign would work n the states? Bon appetite!

Taiwanese Beef Jerky

 This was a present from Junko's father. Taiwanese beef jerky. It was chewy, but not too hard, a little sweet, with a spicy after taste. It was too tough for the kids and Junko didn't like the taste. More for me. Never met a Kansan who turned down free beef jerky. Jerky is popular as a snack with beer and you can get it in any convenience store.

I remember when I was a kid, my mom would make big batches of beef jerky from brisket marinated in soy sauce. They would bake in the oven all day. They were soo good. She put them in a big coffee can for storage, but they wouldn't last but a few days. We couldn't stop eating them. This Taiwanese snack was ok, but doesn't hold a candle to Mom's.

Japanese Snacks: Imo Kenpi 芋けんぴ

 Sweet potatoes are very popular in Japan and are put in many dishes.The traditional way is to rake up a big pile of leaves and set them on fire and put in the potatoes. That's is the yakimo or baked sweet potatoes.

This is a really good and somewhat healthy snack alternative. It's imo kenpi made from sweet potatoes. They're crunchy, sweet potato sticks frosted on the outside. Just potatoes and sugar. It's a great way to satisfy your sweetooth. I love them.

Friday, October 14, 2011

さつまいもの日, Satsumaimo no hi Sweet Potato Day and Picking

 I just learned recently that October 13 in Japan is "Sweet Potato Day". Japanese love sweet potatoes and its a traditional autumn food. I especially love the simple "yakiimo" baked sweet potatoes. There is a small truck that drives around the neighborhood, like an ice-cream van, playing a melodious music, selling sweet potatoes baked over hot stones. There good, but kind of expensive. People often make them at home. I think the simple music and song is really beautiful and somehow kind of pious. . I remember when I first came to Japan, I heard that music in my office and I thought there was some kind of religious procession going on outside. The words are simple:

Yakiimo, ishi yakiimo, yakiimo
(Baked sweet potatoes, stone baked sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes)

That day, my school had a sweet potato picking event at Mori no Kuni at Mt. Daisen. All the students and parents came, including Rika and my wife. Most Japanese people go sweet potato picking at least once in their life, it's traditional. We picked the potatoes, baked them in burning leaves and had lunch. It was a good day. Every family also got to bring home a big bag of sweet potatoes. Yata!(great!)

Here's a video of the song, sorry, not mine

Hana's Un Do Kai, Sport's Day, part 2

Last weekend we had yet another "un do kai" Sport's Day or Field Day at Hana's elementary school. That's two Sports Days in two weekends! The First one was the official Sport's Day by the school. But this second one was actually put on by the community, the school was just a host. That Monday was a National Holiday, Taiiku no Hi (Sport's Day) and commemorates the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Many schools hold athletic events on that day. The feeling of the two days was very different. For the first, official one, participation by students and attendance by parents was pretty much mandatory. There were so many people there and the schedule was busy. The second community one, however was much more relaxed. Attendance and participation were voluntary. Not as crowded and more laid back. Spectators were assigned to small pavilion-like tents by neighborhood. They also had lots of parents' participation events. Junko ran in a couple of races. I was the camera man. Participants could receive snacks and a bento lunch. There were also prizes for winning teams. It went from 9:00 in the morning till 3:00 in the afternoon, but we left at lunchtime after collecting our bentos. Good job girls.It was fun, but I've had enough Sport's Days to last me until next year. Oh no, My school's is next month!

竹とんぼ Take-Tonbo: Helicopter Whirligig Toy

At the 100 yen shop (dollar store) in Japan, you can find lots of simple traditional wooden toys. These are some I got the other day. "Take", ("ta" rhymes with "ma" and "ke" rhymes with "may") means bamboo and "Tonbo" means dragonfly. The "bamboo dragonfly" toy was originally from China, and has been a popular toy in Japan for a long time. I've seen these whirligig toys in the states, too. There were two in the package. First was the simple traditional one, powered by spinning the shaft between your palms. The other used a simple string wound around a shaft. Place the propeller on top, pull the string and it goes flying off by itself. 
Cute, simple, and fun. The girls and I had a blast.  

Halloween Jack-o-lantern Pinatas

A good portion of my time last weekend was spent making big Jack-o-lantern pinatas for Junko's class and party. She was busy preping other things, so these you see here were 100% yours truely. It took a couple of days to make them. We got some jumbo sized balloons. Then, covered them with strips of newspaper, using a simple flour and water glue. I've had a lot of practice(and failures) making balloon pinatas at my school or at home. One important thing is to get good strong balloons. You don't want it to lose its shape before you finish. Another thing is to let one layer completely dry before applying the next. The last layer, I used shoji paper which is used in Japanese paper doors. The last layer of white picks up the paint better. Then, pop the balloon inside. I cut out the shapes of the face on black paper and glued them on. These were big and stood about three feet high. They were still tough to break, though. The paper gives when you hit it. I'll work on that problem. I'm sure I'll be making more of them before the seasons over. Happy Hallowen.

BBQ at Michiko-sensei's house

 Last weekend I went to a family BBQ at my good friend and former co-worker Michiko-sensei's house. She and her family are great people. She often babysits the girls and grandma makes homemade clothes for them. BBQ's at Michiko-sensei's house are not to be missed. They really know how to stuff a guest. Japanese BBQ's don't feature hamburgers and hot dogs, but we had steak and nearly every other kind of meet you can think of I loved the spicy sausage. They have a smoker and we had smoked chicken and Michiko's famous smoked cheese. Of course we had some veggies, too. Later they broke out the dutch oven for some old style camp cooking.

The excuse for the event was the soon departure of  Chris Koldenhof, the Aeon emergency teacher in Yonagof or a while. Chris is a great guy (for a Canadian). Quick on the uptake with a wicked sense of humor. And of course, a real ladies man :)

Hana was sick, so only Rika and myself attended. I was driving, so you can see me there throwing back a whole six pack of non-alcohol beer, while smug Chris partook of the real stuff. Rika was a little shy at first, but later she warmed up to him. It was a great day. Come back soon Chris.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hana's Un Do Kai, Sport's Day

Last Saturday was Hana's elementary school's un do kai event or Sports Day. They called it Field Day when I was in elementary school. Sport's Day is a big deal in Japan and probably the biggest event of the year for most public schools. It's a right of passage for students, but also a big deal for parents. I went to the school grounds at 7:00 in the morning and put down a family sized tarp with our name on it on the ground to reserve our spot. The event is all day long from 9:00 a.m. to nearly 4:00 p.m. All grades (1st-6th) are mixed together and put into 4 teams, red, yellow, blue, and green. Hana was on the green team. Each team is then divided into smaller groups of 5-6 students for races and such. First they had races, then various games. I liked the giant ball game, where each team had to move a giant bouncy ball from one end of the field to the other. They had fishing game race for younger students with giant cardboard fish. There were several relays and good old fashioned tug of war. Mixed throughout were songs and performances by different grades. Everyone has a picnic lunch with families at noon, before continuing in the afternoon. Mothers often go all out making lunch. Hana's grandparents came, too. It was all really fun, but personally, I felt, too long. I got really red and my eyes hurt from the sun. The whole family took a nap after coming back. What a big day.

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