Pre-Christmas December

December has been quiet and lovely.  We were surprised by snow, although not uncommon in Nagoya, its the first time in 16 years they’ve had it at the beginning of December.  We both felt a longing for Christmas festivities and cheer, since although tacky Christmas music blares in the shopping centres and Christmas displays can be found haphazardly in shopping malls, the tradition is celebrated much differently here.  In an effort to redeem some nostalgic festive feelings we’ve done a bit of emotional eating of chocolate, I found some Bailey’s that we’ve used liberally and plan to embrace the everyday normal activity of most Japanese people of eating raw eggs and make some homemade eggnog.  It’s probably culturally disrespectful not to.  Speaking of Japanese food here is some of what we’ve been eating:

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Matcha green cake and pumpkin soup.  We both were also given an entire loaf of bread each at this restaurant as a complimentary starter.

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I’ve been told this is somewhat of a typical breakfast.  Fish, miso soup and ‘pickles’ which can be any number of pickled things.  My friend taught me to do pickled red turnip, so that’s what we have here.

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I apologize for my photography skills, I realize this doesn’t look too appetizing, but I will not apologize for my cooking skills because this dish is actually really good.  It’s called Okonomiyaki and it means ‘as you like it’ so you can basically put whatever you want in it, but I didn’t go too crazy but stuck to the basic ingredients of cabbage/flour/eggs topped with fish flakes, seaweed, mayo, okonomiyaki sauce and of course bacon.

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Mussles from the pearl museum. If you can see in the background we were also served a tiny egg, we wanted to know what kind of egg it was and surprise surprise we were told ‘egg’.  We asked what kind and were told ‘small’.  We think it is a quail egg as I always see quail eggs in the supermarket.

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Takoyaki, a party favourite that everyone sort of helps out to make at a party.  The cheap persons version is to use hot dog instead of octopus.  We’ve also been eating more sushi which is strange for me to eat raw fish but I have to say it’s a pretty awesome food to have in abundance here.  There’s so much that goes into making sushi I refuse to even try preparing it even though no cooking is involved, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’ve got a nice shiny bike I’ve been biking to Ikebana with, and to meet my students, an army that continues to slowly grow.  I’m teaching English now to a little girl named Nana, who is 5 and so much fun.  We go to the zoo and make cookies and play games and sing songs and I get paid more than I did as a nurse to do it!  Obviously I’m working way less hours than when I was nursing but I still like to think of it as a pay raise.  Nana’s obviously very distractible but also such a sponge and picks up words and phrases easier than my other students who are driven and motivated and dedicated to learning English properly.  She shares my passion for chocolate in a all consuming, focused energy, primal instinct sort of way so she’s really easy to bribe too.

I have another student who is ‘crazy about Surfing’ and so we talk a lot about surfing for his lessons. Hideko, my Ikebana teacher is also still one of my students, she tells me awesome stories about her family, or her trips like when she went to Canada and stayed with her old English teacher who used to work in japan.  Her teacher took her to a dairy farm where she jumped on a trampoline and went 5 pin bowling, both for the first time in her life.  Needless to say she LOVED Canada.  She’s really into Japanese fine art and always has interesting things to share with me about tea ceremony exhibits and artistic masterpieces that she usually travels around Japan to check out each weekend.  She also tells me about different foods, and usually feeds me delicious things like Amazake, a winter drink.  It’s a sweet gingery white drink with sake that warms you up when it’s cold out.  I’ve bought the ingredients (the main being the ‘left over material’ from making sake’ which is like a white playdough) and plan to drink copious amounts to survive the winter.  Our apartments has a heater but the building is built so inefficiently we may as well be pumping our hot air right outside.  Despite constantly wearing long underwear, multiple layers, carrying around a hot water bottle and draping myself in blankets and shawls, the tip of my nose , my feet and often my hands are nice and chilled.  January and Februrary are supposed to get colder.  Oh well, it’s just like camping.  Here are some of my Ikebana projects that I’ve brought home:

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And this year’s Christmas tree (not really Ikebana but I threw together a bunch of scraps from left over projects.  Andrew insists despite their beauty I must eventually through these things out!):

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I’m also babysitting for a friend in my Japanese class her little 2 year old boy who she wants me to speak english around in hopes he will pick it up (they are Russian).  We had a pretty rocky start considering he’d try and push me out the door when I came over and his favourite activity included throwing blocks at me and laying face down, motionless on the floor.  But we’re alright now, he randomly says english words that I keep trying to hone in on him.  He’s got ‘pink’ and ‘jump’ and ‘pick up’ mastered.  We use ‘pick up’ a lot since he loves throwing anything and everything, but ‘don’t’ throw’ is still a bit of a mystery to him.

My other pseudo student is Ryoko who volunteered to help me once a week with the hope that in helping me she could practice her English.  She has dramatically improved the quality of my life and does way too much for me.  If I ask her a small questions about a dish, she’ll find a recipe, painstakingly translate it all and print it out and have it for me, along with pictures of the ingredients I need, their english and Japanese name (so I can ask grocery store staff where it is).  She’s organized for us to get farm fresh vegetables delivered to our apartment once every 2 weeks from a farmer in Gifu, as well as helps me book train tickets, hotels, find sales, find random things like deodorant and ponzu sauce.  She’s booked a hair appointment for me next week and helped me stock up on Medicine like antihistamine, pain medicine for headaches or congestions etc.  She makes restaurant recommendations and reservations for us, and gives me coupon books and travel guides.  She is really the best and I love just visiting with her every week.  Despite her english being quite limited, I understand her almost better than anyone else.

We spent some time this month watching a bunch of Japanese films and checking out some of the temples and shrines near our house.  Some films were better than others but I especially liked ハウルの動く城 Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, or Howl’s moving castle which seemed a bit random and arbitrary at the end but it was really creative and comical.   The much heavier 火垂るの墓 Hotaru no Haka, or Grave of the Fireflies was really depressing and about one family’s war experience.  Anime is huge over here, but it was very strange for me to watch a realistic, serious, adult film in cartoon.  Anyway all this anime watching has been good for our Japanese and I like to consider it studying although Andrew is a bit more skeptical.  Here are some pictures from around our neighborhood:

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Togan-ji (aka giant green Buddha that’s actually hidden and quite hard to find).

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Yokiso villa, a beautiful space villa built for the owner of Matsuzayaka, one of the biggest department stores in Japan.

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Some good lookin’ guy

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My picture doesn’t capture the huge quantity of land this enormous cemetery occupies, but I pass it on the way to one of the grocery stores and it looks a bit eery but beautiful at sunset.

Andrew has been working hard on his manuscript and has been telling me the funniest stories about his Japanese class.  There are 3 different scripts used in Japanese and we both know the first 2, the 3rd is Kanji which is the hardest (I think).  Instead of a character representing a sound, in Kanji a single character represents a word.  Of course to learn these 3 scripts we are given different memory cues to help us to remember the different symbols of each sound or character.   But some of these memory cues have provided quite comical.  The Kanji symbol for the word ‘cheap’ is:  安   The bottom portion of this symbol is the same symbol used on it’s own as the symbol for woman or female.  Andrew’s teacher adamantly insisted they could easily remember this symbol by thinking of the top part of the symbol as a house and inside there is a woman “See! Like cheap labour!”  This was said by a female teacher in a light and encouraging non-joking way! We laughed so hard, we were incredulous at how open she was about saying something like this since it is in fact so traditional for women to stay home and do all the cooking and cleaning and domestic work.  We later realized the same symbol for cheap is also used to mean ‘peace’ and many people remember this symbol by thinking that a woman in a house is equivalent to peaceful.

Also, the Kanji symbol for ‘child’ is within the Kanji symbol for ‘to teach’.  Andrews helpful teacher also suggested they can think of the ‘to teach’ symbol by thinking of child (子) inside a school, being beaten by a person with a stick!  Hence to teach:  教 .   Here’s a bigger picture:

A bit abstract in my view, but again the openness of these comments is a bit alarming.  Also, in the Katakana script, the script used  for words that are not originally japanese (like pizza and television etc) our textbook has some hilarious cues.  Katakana symbols each represent a sound (instead of an entire word like kanji).  The symbol for  the sound ‘ma’ is :  マ  I could think of a lot of ways to remember this, but our text puts a nipple on the end of it and the subscript reads ‘mama’s breast’.  We killed ourselves laughing about this with our Polish friends who are taking the same classes as us.  Embarrassingly I still always mess up ‘ma’ because the symbol for the sound ‘mu’ could also be ‘mama’s breast’.  This is mu: ム  It’s just a breast in a different direction!

Enough of this crazy language, we’ll update you on our Christmas and New Years on the next post. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone, I hope everyone has a great holiday and fills me in when they can.  Take care!

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