Archive for January, 2008

Hirokos! Jan 29th

To date I have met 7 Hiroko-sans. The latest was a lady who just joined the gym. ANd did I tell you that my Japanese teacher is Hiroko too? The original Hiroko said really the name is not a common name and I said wahhhh? 7 Hirokos in a small area is not common?!

It is cold here. It has been snowing off and on – heh you can tell I ahve nothing to blog about. A lady from the gym who is a doctor’s wife took me to Yamada Electrical store to buy a small electric blanket. The sheets are so freezing cold when I get into bed. Why or why did I not bring my own electric blanket. There is no heating in our room. The whole freakin apartment is cold wind whizzes in through the windows and door seals. This lady, whose name I have forgotten used to live in Boston for 2 years, about 20 years ago. Everyone is so very nice to me.


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Dave’s appointment with Hiroko-san’s husband who is a doctor was at 8.30am this morning. Of course, we got lost. Here, many roads have the same name, so Hiroko-san had to come in search of us. She took us to her house which was to the back and connected to her husband’s clinic. The clinic itself is 50 years old! Her father in law practised here before her husband and it used to have a 6 bed hospital on the second floor. She used to have to cook for the patients and three nurses! The hospital closed about 17 years ago and now she is a free woman!
I kept telling her how lucky I am to know her. Her husband is the Chairman of the Medical Community here and is well liked and well known. He was very nice and even took time out to come and chat with us. His English is very limited but Hiroko translated for us. When he was a medical student here, the courses are all in German and Latin and to this day he writes his notes in German! He does not speak the language anymore but he writes all his diagnostics in German!

I am teaching her to knit and in return she will teach me Japanese and also how to do Japanese calligraphy. Her house is really big but cold. Our apartment is small and it is also cold. I think the homes here are not very well insulated. Brrrr!

After the bloodwork, Dave and I took Lucy to x-c ski and when we got to the mountain, it started blowing and snowing but not at all like last week when it was freezing and blustery and white out conditions. It was the best ski we have ever had here, the snow was just right and the grooming was as perfect as it can get, with the grooves for the striders way to the side and there was ample room for us to skate. OOh, Dave and I were in 7th heaven! The trails were nothing like the ups and downs of Tahoe DOnner – I think it is about twice as long as Lion’s Leap. The hotel runs the grooming and the trails are free.

Lucy and Dave at the Kyokomin x-c center

Well, finally, I have a tutor coming to my home for Japanese lessons starting next week. I am so excited. I have learnt alot on my own but I want to progress faster. And guess the name of my tutor? Yup – another Hiroko!! To date, this is my fifth Hiroko-sans!

Yesterday, I went to a book shop and ordered a Japanese cookbook with both ENglish and Japanese language- all by myself and spoke Japanese to the shop assistant and best of all she understood me !

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fish-keki.jpgred-cow3.jpgBy the red cow, Aizu’s MascotI cooked breakfast this morning – Liza’s last day here in Aizu. It was a sad day for me. We walked to the station and took some pictures next to the red cow – Aizu’s mascot. I cannot believe that she and Steve have been in Japan for three weeks! Time flew when we were having fun.


When I got back to the apartment, I changed into ski pants and Ski jacket, and got on my bicycle to run my errands – post office, city hall to get our Japanese green cards, and the cell phone shop. It was very cold out on my bike and I had to dodge snow piles and I kept thinking I shd have my helmet on in case I fell.


At the city hall, I got our green cards which now meant that Dave can work here legally and I think I can get a job here too but who will hire a non Japanese speaker? It also meant that I can change my cell phone from Pre Pay to Post Pay phone, which will be way cheaper. From the city hall back to the main road, I had to ride through this alleyway past this little shop selling fish shaped dessert. Liza and I went there a few days ago but it was closed, so I went there today to eat some fish keki for Liza and I. I bought three of them and I told the lady that I would like to eat one in the shop – “Ima kokono.” So, she immediately brought out a cup of tea for me. I was amazed at myself that I could carry on a conversation with this lady with the little Japanese that I know! She told me that there were 5 fillings for this dessert – I could only grasp three, which was red beans, cheese and curry. She said the curry was popular and that she wanted me to try one for free. Now how did I know all these? Amazing! I tried the hot filling and it was really spicy, so she brought out a cup of water for me. While chomping, we chatted some more – asked me where I was from, how long would I be in Aizu… she said she was 55 and I told her so was I and she thought I was 30 which was lovely of her. I told her that I have 4 kids and she said so did she! Her oldest was 30 and all four are boys and I told her my kids’ ages. It was so fun. I just loved it. I am sure I only understood a portion of what she said and guessed the rest but I must have said the correct words cos she understood me. Before I left, I bought one hot spicy fish for Dave.


The cell phone shop was a disaster – A couple of weeks ago I had filled the application form with Lucy’s phone no. on it thinking we could do hers first – changing it from pre pay to a monthly payment. We could not do it then because I did not have the green card. So, today, I handed the form and my phone and she told me to come back in an hour. I pedalled to Saty – a department store to while away the hour. When I got back she told me the bad news – they had changed Lucy’s instead of mine. The silly cow did not check my cell phone against the form and I forgot that Lucy’s number was on that form!! SO now Lucy’s phone is dead and I had to do mine which would take another hour. It was so exhausting – she said to call Lucy… and tell her what? I could not understand her! After an hour or so an English speaker from the service center told me that poor Lucy has to go in search of a Softbank shop in Sapporo to reactivate her phone. I was mad cos Lucy still had lots of pre paid money on her phone and now it was all cancelled. Anyway, I told the silly cow that I would collect my phone tomorrow morning cos it was getting dark and I was not willing to ride my bicycle in the cold and dark icy pavements.

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I wanted to try that Okonomiyaki restaurant while Liza n Steve was here, so we went for lunch. There were about three or four booths and chairs around this bar with a huge hot plate. Each booth also had a hot plate on the table but the waitress said she would cook ours at the bar.

We chose a meat dish, an octopus dish and a mixed seafood. I guess the ingredients were eggs and shredded cabbage mostly – kind of like fritata but I don’t think you use cabbage in fritata. It looked like a well cooked omelette, both sides saw the hot plate. Mayo was squeezed on top in neat zig zag lines, then some kind of brown sauce, then lots of finely shredded seaweed were heavily sprinkled on it and lastly, pink fish flakes. When you looked closely at the plate, you could see the thin fish flakes waving around – it looked weird to me – like little wormies squirming – as the heat disippated from the dish, it moved the flakes around. The best was the mixed sea food. When the dishes arrived, I thought we would never finished all these but they were all delicious and we ate every morsel of it.

I have been a very good girl when it came to waiting for the red walk sign to turn green (yeah right says Liza) – honestly, I waited patiently for the little green man to come before I crossed the road. Well, on our way home, the red light was on but no cars nearby, and the little Japanese lady in front of us started crossing the road and I pulled Liza along, following the lady. Halfway across, there was a loud hail from across the street – it was the police reprimanding us!! I looked at the lady infront of me – she was startled as well! I thought the police was going to arrest us all but I think they were just warning us. Where the dickens did they come from anyway?? I could have sworn the road was clear.

Dinner was Malaysian Dish “Chicken Masak Lemak with egg plants”, which is just chicken cooked with smashed lemon grass, tumeric and chillis in coconut milk. We would have gone out but Dave was going to be late coming home so I thought it was better to eat in. I also fried some oysters and thinly sliced kabocha – a Japanese squash that they always served in tempura dishes, in batter. For veggies, I sauted some greens and rice to complete the meal.


Dessert was strawberry shorto keki – that’s what Liza called the sliced pound cake with sliced strawberries and get this, with green tea ice cream! I forgot to get some vanilla ice cream and we had some green tea ice cream in the freezer. It tasted quite lovely.


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Jan 13th 2008

Dave eating ice cream..hmm..must be good!Dessert Stop at 7-11Ba with rows of bottles belonging to customers. Notice the tiny Tanukis onthe barOur legs are stretched out instead of being folded neatly.Red Berries near the ski trailsThe kids were still asleep when Dave and I left for the mountains. It was blowing really hard down here and I was worried about the drive but Dave has had no exercise yet this week, so I decided that we should go. He must work out.


At one of the traffic lights, we had to stop and Dave noticed a girl trying to walk on ice and snow – looked like she was slipping and sliding and he said watch – she will fall on her arse in a minute. Well, she didn’t and I said to Dave that the lights had changed. He was still looking and hoping that the girl would fall. When I looked out of my passenger side door, our car was about to crash into the car next to us and I looked at Dave – he was oblivious to the accident about to happen cos he was still looking at this girl! Of course, I shouted at him and clouted his head. I cannot believe this man! And all he could say was well, good thing that you are here!


It was slow going up to the mountains, the wind was blowing snow sideways! When we got to the x-c trails, I was reluctant to ski because it was so freaking cold and when I looked for my warm hat – it was gone! Dave must have dropped it at the 7-11 where we stopped for a pee, when he pulled his jacket out. We decided to skate but I did not get very far. It was a white out and when the wind blew all that snow in my face, I decided to take refuge in the hotel.


I went out abit later and met up with Dave. He had done 6 laps by then. It was so cold and windy that I decided to call it quits after half a lap. The trails were all chopped up and icy in parts – it was just about the worse condition I have ever been in. In Truckee, I never ever go out in weather like this. I was glad Dave got his exercise in, though. He did 8 laps in this frigid onditions. I did manage to whip out my camera and I took a picture of the red beries. It was more specatacular last week when there were snow on all the branches.


That night we all went out in search of the Okonomiyaki (like a fritata restaurant) restaurant. We did find it but it was almost 9pm by the time we got there and they were closing, so we wandered round the corner and came upon a restaurant with a Tanuki infront of it. A Tanuki is a beaver like critter with two huge testicles. In Japanese stories, Tanukis can wrap their testicles round their bodies for protection or wave it around to fly or do what they want to do with it. Emma and Liza have far better stories to tell about them!



Anyway, we went into this restaurant – only one table was occupied, and they were all Japanese style meaning we have to sit on the pillows. I have not gotten used to this stlye of sitting yet, although, I used to in Malaysia. Dave sat down but instead of folding his legs and sitting on them, he straightened them under the table and leaned against the wall to prevent achy back. I did the same.I could never fold my legs like the Japanese do.


On the shelf behind the bar were rows of sake bottles and some whiskey bottles too with little labels. Dave said the labels are customers’ names. So when they come into the restaurant, they will be served from their own bottles! So, when you see our names on there, you will know that we have made it as locals!


There were no set menus, we just ordered ala carte, with Steve reading the Japanese menu. He did really well with the Japanese charaters. So, we had shashimi – maguro, fried oysters, some boiled rice – like porridge, potato croquette, a dish with potatoes and cheese grilled and fried fish head that came with grated daikon. We were wondering how to eat the fish and so I asked the waitress. She came over and said use soy sauce – so I poured abit of the soy sauce and grabbed some daikon and plonked it into the soy sauce but the lady said no this is how you do it or something to that effect. She poured a little soy sauce onto the grated daikon, the rubbed it onto the fried fish and then she used her chopsticks to loosen the flesh and it was delicious. Between Dave and I we devoured the head, eyes and all (that’s my department – the eyes).


At the end of the dinner, Dave got up – painfully, to pay the bill while I left for the toilet. When I came back, Liza took off for the toilet. The waitress was giving us all some baked mochi, which was rice cake covered with soy powder and toasted sea weed sheet. It was very weird eating dessert standing up! I guess the waitress did not expect us to leave as soon as we were done.It was tasty but we had to struggle to eat it because we were all full. When Liza came back she was handed a piece as well and it was painful watching her try to eat it to please the waitress!!

We stopped at the 7-11 for desserts to go – in the picture you can see Dave enjoying his ice cream in the cold weather – brrr – but actually the flash of the camera blinded him.

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Jan 12th

Emma left us Jan 10th. I felt very sad to see her with a huge backpack, a little pack in the front and her laptop bag, walking to the train.

Liza and Steve arrived in the afternoon of the same day, they were both tired. Liza needed to see an eye doctor and Hiroko-san helped us find a doctor who spoke English and did alot of translations for us at the front desk.

Jan 10th was also the Tokaichi Market Festival. Most of the roads in the center part of town were closed to traffic. Hundreds of people milled around the many stalls of foods, drinks and wares. We bought some round cake with bean fillings. The cake reminds me of the ones they sell at night markets in Malaysia. We also bought some round Takoyaki – batter with bits of octopus cooked in little round griddles – with mayo, some brown sauce and fish flakes on top. Yummy!! I would have loved to browse some more but it was freezing cold.

We missed the Hadaka Mairi Festival. It was on Jan 7th and on this day, a large group of scantily clad men run barefoot up the many stairs of the Enzo-ji temple, climbed up a rope to a loft where they ring a bell. The noise was supposed to drive away the dragon spirit living in the Tadami river, thus bringing good luck for the new year. Dave wants to know when is the women’s turn!

It snowed today. We went to the flower shop to send a bouquet to Hiroko-san. Funnily enough, the pretty young shop owner was also Hiroko!

Lunch today was pot sticker, some round savoury cakes, rice pillows, and deep fried shitakes. We went to Nakago, which is more expensive than Lion D’or but they accepted credit cards. The market was classier than Lion D’or or Saty. The guy who was manning the pot stickers and other delicacies kept giving us samples to eat; a bite of pot sticker, then a tiny plate of rice , then it was a small bowl of miso soup, all the time chatting to us asking us where we are from. I stupidly asked if he was Nihonjin and he said yes but he laughed! He was not finished feeding us samples – he added shrimp soaked in some sourish marinate, then shell fish, some pickled veggy and finally sweet and sour ume (plum)! When he gave us the chewy sample we asked what it was and he said ‘shiroi kai’ and we guessed that it was some kind of shell fish when he made a ‘clam’ movement with his hands. So I said ahh a clam and he said cramu and I said no it is clam and he said cramu…later I realised that he could not say the ‘l’ – I thought that was funny!

The skies cleared up but the kids did not want to leave the aprtment so we watched some tv. We went out to dinner to this restaurant that Hiroko pointed to us. If she had not, we would not have known that it was a restaurant. The front gate had crisp linen banners that we had to part with our hands as we entered. Along the walkway were containers filled with beautiful huge flowering cabbages. There were only two items on the menu, a tempura set dinner and a sashimi set dinner- the set dinner included, a small plate of pickles, , a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup, some cockle shells, and either the sashimi, which Liza and Dave had or the tempura which Stve andi ordered.

Dave never knew about this restaurant and he stayed in that neighborhood for four months. Later we went to the Dog House restaurant for drinks. After that, we nipped into Lion D’or super market for desserts to go.

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We decided to take Lucy to Fukushima Airport this morning. It was about an hour and a half drive to get there. Yesterday we went to the bus station to find out the times of the buses but it appeared that the bus will arrive at the airport at 920am and the flight to Sapporo was at 10.15am. Dave thought it was cutting it too close. Well, when we arrived at the airport we were even later than the bus! But, Lucy made it on the flight.

After dropping Lucy off, we stopped at Ura Bandai on the way home. This is where all the ski resorts are. We went to the Kokumin Cross Country center and discovered that they had groomed the trails!

Last October, when we went to inquire, from the translations of the Japanese writing we thought it said that they were closing the trails but what I think they meant was that the “trails are closed in the summer” because, there were groomed trails today and the hotel close by was renting skis out for $26 for the day! However, it was free to use the trails, so that was great! All October and November, we hunted for cross country centers because we thought this one was closed – wasted energy!
It was snowing quite steadily but not as cold as the last time I went skiing over there. My skis were sticking a little so this Japanese man took his block of white wax and waxed my grips and after that it went quite well, too well, in fact, cos I was falling every few steps! until I got the hang of it. It was too slippery and kept going faster than my body! But it was just stunning like a winter wonderland. Here you don’t get too much pine trees so the snow were on bare branches – it was gorgeous and every now and then there were red berries on bushes in the stark whiteness to break the monotony.

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