Dreams, Living and Death

The last couple of nights I’ve had some very vivid dreams.

Last night I dreamed I was with my cousin in the run-up to the ending of his life. We were on a mountain, with views to the sea and a crowd of tourists were whale watching. All of a sudden a huge whale rammed up against the shore to try and shoo the people away.

The night before I dreamed I had bumped into an ex from University. He had been very dull back in the day but now he was sporting an edgy haircut and tattoos. I was so pleased for him! That dream was set in Japan and is the first dream I’m aware of that is set here.

This morning I am lacking motivation. This may be in part to going out last night to mark Mum’s death 18 years ago on the longest day, but also the Solstice itself and also the birthdays of Steph and Ruby. I had three highballs. And some amazing aubergine from Osaka and some lovely chat at the bar with different people. And that was after eating the most delicious toasted sandwich (avocado and spinach with basil oil and cheese on caramel bread) from a local restaurant specialising in cheese toasties.

This morning I was looking at the Guardian online and read this article about Trent Rezner, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jun/21/trent-reznor-nine-inch-nails-youre-seeing-the-fall-of-america, and I am reminded of my friend Steve who killed himself last year. He loved NIN.

So, Jason, Steve, Mum. I’m thinking of you all. But I’m having a great adventure here. Thank you for the love.

For Mum:

 

For Steve:

 

For Jason

Out on the Town with the League of Japanese Gentlemen

Dan had been wanting us to meet one of his colleagues, Nakkei san, for a while. He finally arranged a meal out at a traditional Japanese restaurant chosen by Nakkei san and we were also accompanied by Nakkei san’s mentee and all-round Good Guy, (Junior) Suzuki san.

I got the kids to Dan’s office and then joined Nakkei san and junior Suzuki san for an introductory lesson in striving through crowds at rush hour to get on trains. Really, had we not had our Japanese friends with us I’m sure I would have waited in queues and the whole journey to Tobe would have taken twice as long. Let’s call this behaviour ‘Being Assertive’.

It was a lovely restaurant where you remove your shoes, and we ordered our food, and Dan ordered sake. I’d heard about it being presented in a glass in a box but never seen it before in the flesh, so to speak. I stuck with my oolong tea. We had a great night and tried Japanese Parfait as pudding for the first time and it was yummy. We learned that the gelatinous cubes were made from seaweed.

Having Nakkei san with us really enhanced the experience as he is from the countryside and is very knowledgeable about food. He and his brother have a rice farm and have invited us out there in September to stay with them and see the farm.

Bread and Circuses (or School Dinners and Japanese Theatre)

Quiet, Sophisticated Dining

Not surprisingly, this does not refer to the school dinners. Usually I meet Dan and a selection of his colleagues for lunch. At the start of June our numbers were depleted as Jermain san was on holiday and Paul san was in Hitachi city. So Dan, Sesheimo san and I had a couple of quieter lunches, the most memorable of which was at a French restaurant where I had my first ever galette. It was flavoured with blue cheese, pink peppercorns and honey. We ate outside and had beautiful views of the Yokohama wheel.

I’d first read about galettes in a book I read in October called ‘Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather’ set in Quebec. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17120581-fish-change-direction-in-cold-weather It’s a sweet book, I recommend it. The following day I had the school lunch to look forward to. Below are some snaps I took around Motomachi, where the school is situated.

 

School Dinners

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Armed with my slippers in a bag, my 260yen for lunch and a red PTA lanyard from the 100yen shop, I arrived at the school at the correct time. Go me.

Of course I hadn’t realised that there would be an hour-long presentation from the head of health and hygiene at the school about how the lunches are prepared.

It was all in Japanese but thankfully there were pictures too, but I did get more from the experience when an English speaker mother whose daughter is in Oliver’s class came over and explained some of it to me.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • All meals are made on site in the school kitchens.
  • They are making meals for over 600 people, (pupils and staff combined).
  • All meals are made from scratch, including broths. Recent changes to the amount of salt allowed in the meals means that more effort has to go into flavouring the broths, and ideally these would be simmered over a longer period, but due to time constraints they are not as flavourful as the staff would like. But it’s a compromise.
  • The staff take stringent measures to prevent against cross-contamination. Not only do they use separate knives and boards for different foods, but also different aprons, gloves and face masks. Wow.
  • There was a problem with waste at the school but after giving a presentation to the students about how hard the cooks work to ensure the children get tasty and healthy meals, the amount of waste has been drastically reduced.
  • Staff from Kamakura district education board were attending the presentation in order to learn from what Yokohama are doing. Yokohama must be a beacon of yumminess.

Finally, the presentation was over, and after washing our hands we lined up for our lunch.

PQ%9g9FYSICiIdfqk+UWZgIt was delicious. Except for the milk, which was just odd. I’m not a big milk drinker at the best of times, but I closed my eyes and sucked it up and then I could focus on the other elements of the meal: bread roll flavoured with cheese (yum); spaghetti bolognaise; cabbage salad and melon. Yum, yum, yum and yum.

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Theatre trip

That week also had Oliver going on a school trip to the theatre, which us parents were also invited to. So I walked through Nogai to the theatre and saw some new bits of Yokohama including this Art and Architecture library/ cafe, which I filed away to visit a later time.

I also clocked these bars along the banks of the canal that looked artistically seedy and so took this snap of them.

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I’ve never been to a Japanese theatre before, and apart from he decor, it was very similar to a British (modern) theatre. l+BOjgKiRHar+TZTkFIBRQ

When the curtain went up there were three gentlemen in Kimonos who came onto stage and played percussion instruments.

IMG_2133 Then a lady came on stage and played the shamisen. She played two or three tunes, including one western one which was familiar to me mainly through campfire singing at Guides. (‘Mary Had some Marmalade’ and ‘Jonny was a Parachuter’). There were three schools at the theatre, all of the kids were in the 5th grade. Two kids from each school were invited up on stage to have a go with the percussion whilst the shamisen player played alongside.

There was an interval, then one of the gentlemen came onstage and told a story.

IMG_2132 After this, the tone changed completely and a lady dressed in sparkly high heels, a split skirt and witchy get-up came on to do some magic.This bit was rather bizarre. The magic wasn’t that great either.

This was followed by another Japanese story telling session.

Quite an experience. Glad I went.

May’s Ending

Dan’s Birthday Weekend

Dan’s 41st Birthday fell on a Saturday this year. So did the first meeting of my new bookclub. Remember now: Bookclub = Friends, so despite the clash, I needed to go and make some friends.

First things first, though. The Friday night. We caught the bus to Honmoku and then walked along to Sankeien Gardens to go and see the fireflies. They were magical. Absolutely magical. But you’ll have to take our word for it as they were camera shy.


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On the way home from the fireflies we popped into our favourite bar, Cafe LeBron. Masagi, on the left, runs the place and it is just great – very friendly with a relaxed atmosphere, good food and I really like the whiskey highballs there.

Birthday!!

YiwEjI6nTgeuqpkRaFTEXQI’d struggled to get a birthday cake made locally, so I bought a sponge from the supermarket and then decorated it with whipped cream (which took ages to whip) and fruit. I also got this chocolate label thing from the 100yen shop and I’m pretty pleased with the result.

I made egg fried rice too (for breakfast) and we drank the wee bottle of champagne (as Buck’s Fizz) that I’d been given by my Nethertown pals for my birthday. And then we decided we’d also go out for brunch at a new place that has opened up locally called Smoke Shack which is run by a Glaswegian.

So at Smoke Shack I had a mojito, we shared some deep fried oysters and had Eggs Benedict too.

Fully replete, I then headed to an Indian restaurant in China Town to meet my new book buddies and Dan took the boys to Kita- Kamakura to do a wee hike with them.

The book we were discussing was ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula LeGuin. It was a big book. I was reading it on my Kindle and when I started reading it, the device reckoned I had 12 hours of reading ahead of me. It did not lie. Even with the assistance of my favourite peach alcopop, I only finished reading it the morning of the meet-up. But finish it I did.

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Unsurprisingly, after all that eating in the morning, at Bookclub I went for something light – the Idli setto – and it was okay. Aside from the food, I had a great couple of hours discussing the book and getting to know the other book gals, most of whom were American.

After the meeting I caught the train to Kamakura to meet up with the boys and then we came home to get ready for our babysitter to arrive so that Dan and I could go out AGAIN!

We wandered around aimlessly for a while, seeing the lights and the horse-and-trap-taxi, and then we discovered another newly opened business called Bruntons which specialises in beer.

The following morning we went for an explore; Dan planted up some flowers I’d bought and I started labelling Oliver’s clothes for his impending residential trip.

Oliver’s Residential

Come Monday afternoon I thought I’d better start packing. All the clothes were labelled, they just needed putting in the big rucksack (or the small rucksack) and checking off the illustrated list we were given. I’m so pleased I had made a start by the time the boys came home, as Oliver announces that a teacher from the International Classroom was on her way home with George to check on our packing. REALLY?!! Wow.

fullsizeoutput_2969So we get cracking. The teacher came. She was lovely. She was pleased with our procuring, labelling and packing. She told us not to back a paperback for Oliver. (Really?).

I felt so relieved. Until I remembered he needed an Obento box to take with him the following morning. Anyway, this is what I rustled up for him and he was happy with it.

The following morning he needed to be at school before 7am, so we all walked to the school and then left him to it. I’ve never felt so intrepid for him before. Poor lad, but he coped.

In the meanwhile I decided I really needed to get my learning head on and try a bit harder learning Nihongo.

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Also, whilst it wasn’t yet the rainy season, I might as well walk to destinations where possible and listen to lessons/ podcasts on the way.

Our next bookclub book is an American book which I found difficult to get hold of, except as an audio book with Audible, so that became another listening experience.

So I am trying to learn kanji piecemeal, often spurred by some kanji-based twitter accounts. I am using a youtube video for katakana and I used some online games to nail my hiragana. Pimsleur is helping me with speaking, listening and vocab, as is the LearnJapanesePod.

So here are a few of my snaps as I wander around. The hydrangeas are in bloom right now and are stunning. I never really ‘got’ them in the UK but here they are glorious.

George had his friend, Shoma, over one afternoon and then it was time for Oliver to come home. YEAH!! I’d missed him so much. I ran a bubble bath for him.

But he assured me that he’d had a bath before they got on the bus. So I put the cover on it and used it later.

The following morning he had a later start and so he and I went to a local cafe for a victory croissant. I love that boy so much.

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Moomins’ visit. (Still a fortnight behind)

Dan’s parents, hitherto known as ‘The Moomins’ arrived in Japan for five days to kick-off their ‘We’re Nearly 70′ round-the-world trip. We were SO busy. We ran them ragged. But we wanted to show them as much as possible.

They landed Thursday night. We let Hilary rest Friday morning and I took Bill to the Italian garden which is round the corner. I then whisked them into Yokohama to meet Dan and his colleagues for lunch at the Korean barbecue restaurant. Then we all trundled along to the boys’ school to take part in their open afternoon. I think I mentioned that previously.

On Saturday we took the train to Hakone.

Hakone

First Stop: the Open Air Museum

We all ADORE this place. It’s a real feast for the senses.

After the Open Air Museum, we went to an Onsen, which was another first for the Moomins. We had a traditional meal there: I chose the fish which was delicious.

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We stayed at K’s House, which is part of a chain of hostels.

We had stayed there previously in October and we  find it very convenient and I really enjoy chatting to the other guests. We spent the night in a traditional tatami-matted room, (a private room for the six of us), and the following morning I relaxed in the hammock on the veranda.

The weather was cooler but sunnier on the Sunday and we walked into Hakone, where we visited a little exhibition about the local craft of marquetry.

The boys and Hilary all bought ‘magic’ money boxes which have a combination of special moves that allow it to be opened.

Then we started our Hakone Free Pass adventure which goes:

  1. Hill train
  2. Furnicular Railyway
  3. Cablecar over Volcano
  4. Boat across lake

We then walked through a small grove of ancient cedars before catching the bus back to Hakone.

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We were blessed with super-clear views of Fuji-san.

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Then it was time to pick-up our bags from the hostel and make our way homewards, stopping off at our favourite bar, @Cafe/Bar LeBron

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Tokyo

On Monday, after the boys had returned from school, we went out to Tokyo to take in the lights.

Enoshima and Kamakura

We took the boys out of school on the Tuesday and we all visited Enoshima for lunch and then went to Kamakura to visit the Daibutsu, (giant buddha).

 

Food Shopping Redux

After the boys had headed off for their school trip I failed to go to my Pilates class after failing to buy tickets for the Studio Ghibli museum, (see previous posts). Anyways, this all meant I had time to kill before meeting Dan for lunch in Minato Mirai, (the shopping district of Yokohama).

I found a floor of a shopping mall dedicated to awesome food shops. Here are some of my highlights:

The Tea Shop

Yes, you read that right, tea made from Job’s tears. (I know, I know, it’s a plant, but it did make me giggle); and also onion skin tea. And to think I’ve been composting it all these years when I could have been making tea out of it.

Kaldi

Kaldi is brilliant. It has lots of exciting Japanese products, such as these crispy items.

Are they sweet? Are they savoury? Who knows!

And also, some more western products:

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Then there is the full-on supermarket that stocks loads of CHEESE and also the key ingredients for Tiramasu. I was so, so excited.

Nihongo Nom Nom Nom

Last Thursday, (or actually, a week ago last Thursday: time does march on), well, the boys had their first school trip. It was a whole school trip to a local park and this meant I needed to supply them with a packed lunch. In Japan this is called obento and *can* be a big deal. I made it a big deal. On my potential list of elements in the bento box was:

  • weiner octopus
  • rice balls
  • pasta salad + olives
  • cherry tomatoes and sticks of cucumber
  • hunks of cheese
  • dried mango
  • wraps

I never did find any wraps, so I went with everything else and voila! 

Bento boxes #1
The fruits of my labours (minus the dried mango).