Thursday, July 28, 2011

Out To Dinner... Whew (Mama's Tired Tonight!)

Kappa Maki!

Gomen nasai!!

Apologies for the sudden blog break-- but Dominic was right, last week was the last week of school (meaning that this week is the first week of summer vacation).

Last week was thus spent getting things done (well, *attempting* to get things done) that are hard to do with three or more kids in the house.  I was mildly successful...;-)  This week has been largely trying to adjust to what I realized today is a new schedule for me-- in Japan in the summer with elementary-age kids (we're usually at my parents:-((  Next time I'll tell you about all the homework...;-)

Kappa Zushi!  Kids' favorite:-)
Today, though, we went to dinner-- yay!  No cooking in the heat! (Actually, the heat isn't too bad so far this summer-- not much over 33, and nights are pretty cool)

The kids picked Kappa Zushi-- their favorite Kaitenzushi restaurant.  Every time we go, it is 1) crowded, and 2) my husband swears he's going to buy stock in the company because it's always jam-packed in there.  That little character in the photo (right) is a Kappa, the water sprite of Japanese folklore whose favorite thing to eat is cucumbers.  That's why those cucumber rolls up there in the top photo are called "Kappa Maki":-)

Ikura-- Cici's favorite these days
You wouldn't think young kids would care much for sushi-- and for the most part, you'd be right.  Makes it hard for parents to go out to a sushi restaurant, in fact.  And therein lies the genius behind the creators of the Kappazushi chain of kaiten sushi restaurants.  First-- it's the kaiten style, where all the sushi is prepared in the back and sent round the restaurant on a revolving belt.  You take plates off yourself as things come by you.  Kids love that-- trust me;-)

Second--they've figured out that, beyond the easy-to-eat eggs (tamagoyaki or tamagonigiri) and Kappamaki (top photo)... most young kids won't yet eat much of the nigirizushi involving sashimi (raw fish).  So they've made up "kid-friendly" nigirizushi...

Teddy's favorite:-) Corn.  Teddy likes this one.  It's a sort of corn-salad on top of the rice and wrapped with nori.

...and Tempura Zushi.  This one is Ebitempura (shrimp) on top of the sushi rice.  Kids like this, too;-)

Hamburger Sushi??

...and Hamburger Sushi.  Yes, really--little hamburgers (with or without the blob of mayo on top) sitting on top of sushi rice, nigiri-style.

The first time we ate there and the Hamburger-Zushi came rolling down the belt, I thought there must surely be people who thought it bordered on the sacrilegious;-)  I haven't personally eaten this one, though all three of my kids like it...


This time the new plate that came around was "Sukiyaki-zushi" with sukiyaki-flavored beef and a little bit of raw egg on top.

I couldn't figure out how they got the egg shaped like that... or how they got it to stay on top...

Of course, you need to see this in action.  Hai, dozo!  I took some video while we were eating (the Sukiyaki-zushi comes by right at the start... the camera follows in disbelief...)  Toward the end of the video you'll see several other reasons kids love this restaurant come by on the belt:

Teddy wants Hamburgerzushi... withOUT mayo!
 If what you want doesn't come round on the belt, you can order what you want using the touchscreen menu... and this is the other brilliant thing the Kappa chain does.  A couple of years ago,  they installed a separate belt (a track, really) above the main belt to keep special orders separate from the generally circulating plates (customers accidentally pulling off somebody's special order was sometimes a problem).  Naturally, it's totally kawaii.  Watch this:

 Is that adorable, or what?  The first time we went after they'd installed the Special Order Train, we hardly got any food because the kids insisted on special ordering everything just to watch their food come to them on the Shinkansen (see how it's made to look like the Bullet Train?)... a sushi restaurant?  Yup.

The train... the juice... the fruit... the dessert.  Yup--they send pudding and cake around the conveyor belt, too (and recently, tiramisu pudding and New York cheesecake, among other things).  The other bit the kids like:-)


(p.s.--  apologies again for the sudden break in posting... I just realized I left everybody hanging after a typhoon post.  Aack!  Typhoon was pfffft---veered off into the Pacific, as usual.  It did get quite cold for several days afterward, though-- cold enough to warrant the warm blankies again)

(p.p.s.-- posting will probably be light for August, due to summer break.  I'm required to be a good Japanese-Make-Your-Kids-Study-As-Much-As-Possible-During-Vacation-Mama for the next couple of weeks.  That's another post:-))

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Can't Sleep...

...listening to scary Typhoon Wind outside...

It's been raining/ pouring in bursts all day (no pool at school:-(( ... and we're supposed to be getting whacked sometime tonight or early tomorrow (Wednesday for me) morning.  It was quiet around dinnertime, then suddenly about an hour ago the wind kicked up.  So I've had to go 'round, shutting the windows, in spite of how stuffy it will likely get in here.  Can't have rain blowing in all over the blankies!  It's damp enough as it is.

Here's hoping I can sleep through howling wind... (having leapt out of bed at 5:00 this morning to rescue my laundry from the Doshaburi--downpour-- that came down as the leading edge of the system crept northward-- I am already sleeeeeeepyyyyy....)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just... YAY!!!!

When Japan plays America, well...  I have to sit on the fifty-yard line (you know what I mean) wearing stripes and polka dots ;-)  Who do I root for?  Both, of course, not being a rabid fan of anything but a good game.   And this was a seriously good game:

Especially this bit-- this save by Kaihori-san ought to go down in soccer history as one of the great all-time saves.
Look at that foot!

Gambatta, ne, Nihon!

p.s.-- it would be remiss not to mention the mad skills of American Abby Wambach-- anyone who thinks women's soccer isn't interesting after watching her play hasn't got eyes.  *Three* goals headed in during this World Cup Final, including against Japan.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Traveling: To Enoshima

Groups of Geisha Crossing the Spit of Land to Enoshima, Hiroshige, c. 1850
The boys had baseball all afternoon last Sunday, so it was just me and Papa at home... plus Cici, who decided she had a hankering to go the Aquarium at Enoshima.

Enoshima Island, off the Shonan Coast

So we hopped the train and went, since it's not too far from where we are (just change trains at Fujisawa and go three stops to the end of the line at Katase Enoshima, if you take the Odakyu Line instead of the Enoden).

Katase Enoshima Station

I love the Enoden (an adorable, tiny little train that goes squeeeeee right down the middle of the road and past people's windows... but more about that one another time;-), but I also love the train station at Katase Enoshima-- all green roof and upturned golden curlies on the corners.

...No trip would be complete, to be sure, without a couple of Harajuku girls for color (at least, their hair and shoes were colorful)...

The island is visible almost as soon as you walk out of the station--at low tide, it's connected to the mainland by a narrow spit of land (which is what Hiroshige painted in the print at top).  Naturally, there is a shrine on it-- the Toori of which you can see almost from the causeway before you set foot on the island proper.

On the causeway, looking toward Zushi
It was rather hot on Sunday (I wore strippy sandals, and my feet are now distinctly tiger-striped...o_O), and the bay was filled with colorful sailboats, jetskis, and the beaches were crowded.

No seagulls, though.  Weird, no?

鳶に、エサ を やらないで!

This is why there are no seagulls to be seen anywhere on the Shonan beaches or on Enoshima Island.

Tobi.  Black Kites.

Milvus migrans... I didn't think this shot would turn out!

This particular one was circling *very* low, just above one of the bridges.  The Kites have figured out what a good deal the seagulls had going, and have taken over the territory. 

They will swoop down and take food right out of your hand-- a friend of mine had her hand badly scratched by a Black Kite grabbing an onigiri she was eating from her hand.  The gulls have prudently moved up and down the coast, and ceded the area to the Tobi.  One is so accustomed to having gulls around at the beach, that it's slightly unnerving to have raptors circling overhead...

Still, it was a lovely day.

I love the view through the Toori gate, up the narrow street to the Benten Shrine.  If you squint, you can almost see that Hiroshige print right in front of you;-))

I love how the shrine is still surrounded, almost protectively, by trees.

There's another shrine in a cave around on the side of the island--probably the original shrine-- though the whole island is dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten (goddess of music and entertainment who is said to have caused Enoshima to rise from the ocean).

Mukashi, mukashi (once upon a time)...

...possibly around on this side (if you crop your photo right, the island still has that wild look in spite of the crowds).

Since it's right on the ocean, naturally the Fruits of the Sea are available in every market...

Freshly grilled Ika-on-a-stick (Cephalo-pops!)...

...and a variety of mussles to choose to have grilled on the spot or to bag up to take home.

Back on this side, the Enoshima (where Cici wanted to go) was completely refurbished several years ago and is now well worth looking into-- they have an enormous tank with a huge variety of fish that you can view from several levels...

me-me-kuchi (eye-eye-mouth)
...including a view nearly from "inside"a half-tunnel.  Very cool.  Cici and I both loved the rays-- the incredible grace with which they fly through the water... their funny face if you see one from below:-))

Rhina ancylostoma
We also loved the Bowmouth Guitarfish, whose Japanese name ends in "--zame", a reference to how similar they are to sharks.  They are, however, an unusual type of ray that gives the impression of being a creature halfway in-between a shark and a ray.

...and the Kurage (jellyfish).  Oh my, I could stand all day watching jellyfish dancing in the water...
I was a bad girl and didn't write down names of types of jellyfish...
And they had a whole corner dedicated to the research done by the Emperor.

Did you know that His Majesty Akihito (the Heisei Emperor) was also a Gentleman Scientist?  Neither did I! 

He's silver-haired now, but he still looks cute;-)
 Tenno-sama has actually done quite a lot of research and published several papers on the Gobiid fishes, which are endangered--in particular, the Mudskippers.  We watched the mudskippers skipping for quite a while--they are so funny to watch.  They are such obvious evidence for how fish like Tiktaalik came out to make a living on the land, using their pectoral fins as pseudo-legs.

Aren't they adorable?:-))  They are completely amphibious, breathe cutaneously (through the skin and the lining of the mouth and throat), and can flip themselves up to 2 feet into the air.  How cool is that?  His majesty has discovered and named several species that can be found around the Japanese islands.

You wanted to watch the Mudskippers... right?  Hai, dozo!

Mata asobou, ne!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

O-Yatsu Jikan: Dorayaki

Two days of laundry...

Sometimes I think Japanese housing is so arranged to keep women permanently chained to the home...

Of course, the weather is also partly to blame--  high humidity that encourages mold and a rainy season followed by a long, humid summer that is the perfect environment for Dani (bedbugs-- those bites itch).  So you don't just, you know, put off-season things in the closet (unless you particularly *want* all your off-season blankets and clothes to mold and be filled with dani).  The rainy season is officially over(梅雨があがった)...meaning we've had more than two sunny days in a row and I could wash and dry outside all the winter blankies (except the feather blankies--those just got well aired and put into plastic).  A two day job...

O-Yatsu Jikan-- Dorayaki!  (Snack Time-- Dorayaki... no translation for that;-)
Whew.  Chotto hot--to, ne.

Nearly three o'clock, so I get to sit down with a snack ("san ji o-yatsu" means, literally, "3 o'clock snack"... and pretty much everybody eats an afternoon snack at that time if they have one:-)

These are erasers;-))
A while back I posted about some cute erasers that came in a set-- the "Set of Japanese Snacks".   One of them (left) I pictured but left unexplained-- I thought I might as well wait 'til I was actually eating one myself before I tried to explain about it.

That is a Dorayaki-- a vaguely pancake-like snack that nearly everyone loves.

Totemo daisuki, Doraemon!

It's the snack that gave the popular anime character "Doraemon" his name-- he *loves* Dorayaki (as you can see in the picture at right, although he's actually blue and white), whence his name. 

A dorayaki is basically two pancake-like rounds (so.mewhat sweeter than a regular pancake) with sweet azuki-beanpaste in between like a sandwich.

Oishii, yo!  They taste particularly good with green tea (hot or iced, but usually hot)-- and somewhat odd, I think, with coffee or black tea.  I think it has to do with the astringency of green tea (it's "shibui", 渋い)  that matches the particular sweetness of azuki beans.

I do! I like them, Sam-I-Am!

Try one if you get the chance!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Manglish-- The Magic Stationery Case

"Yeah, so?"  I hear you say.  "It's a zippered stationery case.  Not a very interesting one, either."

So you think-- this is a magic stationery case.

No--really!  Hermione has one just like it (I think hers is green, though).  Professor McGonagall lent it to her at the start of term.

"The stationery and small articles of life are unified."

See?  Haven't lost a thing since-- this is a unifying case.  Wouldn't you just love to have all the small articles of your life unified?  All in one place and never lost again?  Like the Sorting Hat, it may *look* like a small, unassuming item... but don't be fooled.  It's one of the more powerful magical items out there.

A couple of caveats-- do not put a sharp thing in the case.  It may damage the case.

Also, please do not bring close to the fire, as there is fear of modification.

I left my last one too near the stove, and it turned into a newt;-)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Friday Field Notes-- Out and About

An Ajisai as big as my head!  The biggest one this year--I put my hand on it for perspective:-))

I didn't get a chance to take an actual walk last week or this.  When I sat down to look through photos taken willy-nilly over the last two weeks, I was surprised at how many things I'd stumbled across without particularly looking-- just out and about.  On my way here or there (usually to or from school or Kumon).

Gardening on the Porch
Don't you just love running across something that proves you were right?

The last two summers we've spent at my parents', and so haven't done any gardening on the porch.  But the summer before we had quite a little kitchen garden going out there-- basil, mini-tomatoes, green peppers... and an eggplant.  That's Yochien Cici there, with her eggplant:-))

Thing is, one day I went out to water plants... and the eggplant had sprouted a bizarre branch.  With white (instead of purple) flowers and *thorns*.  Thorns all over the stems and even down the middle rib of the leaves.   It was slightly Jekyll-and-Hyde scary.  The only thing I could figure was that edible eggplant must be grafted onto wild stock, and that this one branch was a throw-back to the wild variety.  Ka na?

Solanum torvum... Wild Eggplant
So on the way home from school last week, I came to a screeching halt (my bike brakes really need oiling or something) when a casual glance left at the so-called weeds coming up under the cherry trees presented this.

Have you seen this before?  I never had--but I knew immediately what it was.  Wild Eggplant-- the exact same thing that sprouted off the main stem of Cici's eggplant, only these were whole plants (I counted 24 of them coming up around the stump of a cherry tree removed last year).

Pretty white flowers-- "Prickly Nightshade" is another name
"Hah!" I shouted exultantly, "Ah Ha!" to no one at all.  It needed saying, though.  I have no idea why it was suddenly coming up all around that stump, but as I sat taking photos, it struck me that the flowers were similar to nightshade.  A trip to Wiki revealed, among a number of common names, "Prickly Nightshade" and "Devil's Fig"-- the first one being a reference to the fact that not only do the flowers *look* like nightshade... they are nightshade.  Eggplant, along with tomatoes and potatoes, is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), and was therefore thought to be poisonous.

Hey, you cows!  Don't eat my leaves!
Click on those photos up there so you can see the thorns-- this is a plant that *seriously* does not want to be eaten!  I don't think I've ever seen thorns down the center vein of a leaf before...

Those center-vein thorns confirmed, though, that this was indeed what I'd seen growing off the main stem of Cici's eggplant, and a visit to Wiki proved my "wild eggplant" theory right.  Hah!  *crosses arms triumphantly*  Also, eggplants are botanically classified as berries.  Got that?  Quiz next week;-)

Lycaena phlaeas
I've been seeing little Benishijimi everywhere, too, on a variety of flowers. 

On small, white daisies that look like weeds until they are sat upon by a lovely butterfly... (he sat obligingly still while I took his photo, intent on drinking nectar as he was)

The Small Copper

...and I saw him again on bright yellow daisies (or coreopsis), where he turned all the way around getting nectar...

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21.... or?

...on a flower whose whorled center made me think of Fibonacci numbers...

F_n = F_{n-1} + F_{n-2},\!\,

Kanokoga...Amata fortunae

On my way down the river to go home, I noticed a moth I'd never seen before.  A pair of them, in fact, copulating with their bottoms stuck together so that they looked like a single, double-headed creature.

The White-spotted Mot

Then I saw them again.  And again...  I must've seen five pairs of this moth mating, though what exactly was so special about the 28th of June that they must all needs copulate on that date, I'm sure I've no idea.  Everybody was having June weddings?

Ardea cinera

 The following day (Tuesday) was Kumon day, and Cici forgot her homework... necessitating a trip on the bike up to the Kumon classroom to drop it off.

Thank *goodness* I had the camera with me!

Aosagi (the Grey Heron), who doesn't visit our little branch of the river too often, was right there!  In the river behind the bus depot!  I dearly love watching Aosagi-- gawky and elegant, all at the same time--and this time he didn't fly off at my approach (they tend to be rather shyer than the Little Egret, Kosagi).

As I watched, I noticed him open his mouth and shake (or vibrate) the skin beneath his long bill (his wattle, maybe).  I wondered why.  When he did it again, I was ready for it and hit 'record'... and got lucky enough to record him catching and eating a fish!  Have a look:-))

Hagurotombo... Calopteryx atranta
I'll have you know that I kept my wits about me, and actually remembered that I was on my way to Kumon.  I did, in fact, drop off Cici's homework, in spite of all the excitement about the Heron;-)

I was nearly back home when I looked over and saw that the pair of black damselflies I'd seen several times over several days were still in the same place...

Black-toothed Damselfly

...sitting on the same leaves I'd seen them on the day before.

I think they sat on those leaves, over the drainage river, for a week.  They occasionally changed spots to a neighboring leaf, but otherwise remained in roughly the same place.  Very mysterious behavior, I thought, for which I still have no explanation....

Yabukarashi...Cayratia japonica
I found the early beginnings of Yabukarashi vines here and there--the vine that butterflies seem to love.  And ants, as I discovered taking this close-up of the flowers.  Click on that so you can see the liquid clinging to it that the ant was drinking.  I got a better photo of the tiny flowers this time--good enough to see that they're not all pink, but pink and orange, like tiny cups of sherbet...

Nothing to see here... or is there?

Of course, I've saved the best for last:-))

I was just in a hurry to get home before the predicted drizzle started in-- I had laundry out drying that needed to come in.

Hopped on the bike at school... pedaled past the temple... took the left fork at the machinist's shop behind the bus depot... and looked at the fence.

Do you see it?  No?  Have a closer look:

I did not fall off my bike.

He sat there-- I would say still as a stone, but it would have to be a very flexible stone to be woven in and out of those small spaces in the fence like that.

I walked right up to him and took several pictures, and he never moved.  I took the camera out of the bag, thinking to catch him and take him home to Koshi so we could look him up online.  As soon as my fingers grasped the longest part of his midsection protruding from the fence, though, he instantly slithered quickly forward.  I let go, afraid that if I held him tightly, he would struggle and scratch or hurt himself in the metal fence.  He wove his way further down the fence, like a shuttlecock in and out of the weft... then disappeared into the vegetation behind the fence. 

Stop and stare whenever you're out and about-- 'cause you just never know... ;-)

Japanese Four-Lined Snake... Elaphe quadrivirgata