Monstrosities in Dining

Pizza Ball Takoyaki in Namba

As I’ve mentioned before, Osaka is famous for its food. Takeshi Kadokami, celebrated food columnist and editor-in-chief of the popular Kansai culinary magazine Amakaratecho calls Osaka “a treasure box of food,” and in its entry on Osaka Wikipedia notes that “Author Michael Booth and food critic François Simon of Le Figaro have both suggested that Osaka is the food capital of the world.”

Osakans are appositely proud of their food and don’t hesitate–with their trademark comedic brashness–to jump head (mouth?) first into the Kuidaore culture. Kuidaore is the call ” to ruin oneself by extravagance in food” and perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the over-the-top restaurant exteriors of Osaka. I’m all for show, don’t tell, so lets take a look at some Osakan treasure boxes…

The heart of Kuidaore, Osaka’s famous Dōtonbori:

Dōtonbori may be the epicenter of the extraordinarily dressed restaurant, but the fun has only just begun. Wanderings and bike rides often meant inroads made into the bizarro world of sculptural advertising.

These next two will always have a dark place in my heart. Located on a road I traversed almost daily, these Izakaya boasted some of the creepiest and most abrasive displays I ever encountered. Both the babies and pig move constantly, and both are accompanied by blaring soundtracks (music for the babies, squeals for the pig) so ignoring them was simply not an option.

I’ll end with two businesses that fall outside the culinary realm but are close cousins to their kuidaore counterparts, proving that the exuberance of Osaka knows no bounds when it comes to 3-dimentional advertising.

Posted in Food | 1 Comment

The little things: Land of memories

My departure from the Eastern Hemisphere has, in terms of this blog, meant…nothing. Letting my tiny plot of internet lie fallow seemed to my repatriating brain the logical next step. But as I come to terms with the fact that I’m no longer there, that I’m HERE, I find myself visiting, and revisiting, the memories I have in my mind and in the “Asia” folder of photos on my desktop. My inability to edit and compile this wealth of travel memorabilia seems suddenly ridiculous in the face of such tasks as figuring out What’s Next and, like magic! adjusting contrast and deleting blurry photos doesn’t seem all that tough. Nostalgia is bittersweet, but it’s exactly that pleasant, loose-tooth pain that makes it such a heady mode of procrastination.

So…what do I miss about Japan? Lots of meaningful, powerful, beautiful things of course. And I’ll get to those. But for those times when I was tired or frustrated or trying to locate the anti-diarrheals through a lively game of charades with the pharmacist, nothing endeared Japan to me like its ability to make me laugh.

Posted in Little things | 2 Comments

Faking it

Japan may be the Land of the Rising Sun, but I’d like to offer an alternate title: Land of the Plastic Food Displays. What I’m saying is this: Japan has a LOT of fake food. This is a real blessing for us foreigners who are both hungry and language-challenged. More than once have I led a patient waiter to the 3D plastic incarnation of the menu out front in order to communicate my culinary wishes. These food displays dazzled me when I first arrived in Japan, but after almost 10 months, I’m afraid I’ve come to take them for granted. But there’s hope yet, and no way to bring back the magic than a feast of fake-food photos!

A real spread in Koyasan.

It can be a lot to take in.

A veritable pasta museum in Tennoji Station!

Pasta is popular here...

...and gravity-resistant!

Typical coffee shop fair.

Sumō-sized sushi.

Sometimes the displays are accompanied by profound words...

...concise descriptions...

..and those that are slightly cryptic.

This was amazing. An entire fake food STORE in Tokyo. Magic restored!

Posted in Food | Leave a comment

The little things: little students

My blog is messed up. The photos in many of the posts have become huge and as a result the text has been pushed into formations I find aesthetically abhorrent. I spend a lot of time struggling to format each post to my liking and this latest change is causing me much distress. I’m a bit challenged in the technology department (I’ve always been more than happy to leave the gizmo world to my genius parents and brother) so creating posts–especially those entries with lots of photos–to my liking is no easy feat. In any case, I’m all bent out of shape because of the recent malfunctions, and while I wait for the WordPress wizards to rescue me I do believe some heart-warming photos are in order.

Teaching children is no easy feat. Add to that a severe language barrier (for the most part, the kids in our classes can neither speak nor understand English) and things can get messy in a hurry. I think any teacher often wonders if she is making a positive impact on her students, and some days I find myself convinced I am nothing more than a bizarre foreigner to these kids. But most days I am just happy to be imparting what language skills I can to my little charges and learning right along with them.

And then there are the special days, days when…

…a student (Hiroki) brings me a card:

…and his younger sister (not my student) draws me a picture:

Or when Halloween rolls around and all of the students and teachers dress to impress (more of these to come, once all my schools give me copies):




"Alice Hellow! English is fun. good-bye Kousei"

Or when Kousei, my incredibly precocious 4-year old student (while his classmates are learning the alphabet, he informs me that “It’s November! It’s Watumn! [stet] And its ten forty three in the morning!!”) proudly brings me a two-page letter:

"Dear Alice Hellow! i am Kousei. ECC is fun goodbye"

Talk about proud-teacher syndrome. I’m not sure how much credit I can really claim for Kousei’s new-found writing career, but just knowing that I contribute something to his–and my other students’–interest in English is enough for me.

Posted in Little things | Leave a comment


Nate, Jen and Matt approach the East Tower of Yakushi-ji. The only original 8th-century structure at Yakushi-ji, the East Tower is famed as one of the finest pagodas in Japan.

On Tuesday, I headed out to Nara with Nate and our friends Jenn and Matt for a day of sightseeing. I’d been there a few times before, but was more than happy to return to the beautiful former capital of Japan.

Nara reigned supreme from 710 to 794 and, according to trusty old Wikipedia:

“The temples of Nara remained powerful even beyond the move of the political capital to Heian-kyō in 794, thus giving Nara a synonym of Nanto (南都 “The Southern Capital”). ”

We spent the day traipsing around the city, feeding (and being fed on!) by the ridiculously tame Nara deer, taking in the fall colors and basking in the temples and shrines that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”

Entering the Kofukuji Temple complex

Nara deer are, as I mentioned above, exceptionally tame. They are also rather un-Japanese in their manner, a fact illustrated on signs sprinkled throughout the city:

Jenn illustrates a common progression of deer-feeding merriment:

Things start off innocently. A lone, seemingly-docile deer nibbles charmingly at one of a stack of “shika sembei” (deer biscuits) we have purchased from a nearby vendor.

But next thing you know–attack! The deer come from all directions and the victim is left to fend off the butts and bites of the bullying mammals while her cohorts offer no assistance but the service of photo-documentation.

Despite the deers’ intimidation tactics, Jenn proved admirably unflappable and went on to become something of a deer whisper–a veritable Snow White!

We all had our moments with the deer, even well-dressed women in Kimonos.

This photo (plus the two of Nate above and the one of the Kasuga Shrine path below) were actually taken this summer, so the leaves had yet to change color.

The approach to Kasuga Shrine

Why so many deer in Nara? The legend is that one of the five gods of Kasuga Shrine (that holy mouthful-of-a-god Takenomikazuchi- no-mikoto) landed atop Mt. Mikasa-yama one day. His mode of transport was a white deer and as a result deer have since been said to be the sacred messengers of Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto. They are also designated National Treasures, and feisty ones at that! The shrine itself is tucked up in the trees, and at this time of year that meant bright reds and oranges from both leaves and architecture.

Another one of them thar green-leaf summer shots

One of the main attractions of Nara is the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) which lies within the Buddhist temple complex Tōdai-ji. The whole situation is truly amazing, from the outlying, towering Nandaimon (Great South Gate)…

…to the grand Daibutsuden‘s facade…

…to the giant bronze Daibutsu (Buddha Vairocana) and accompanying statues that are housed within…

I should pause here to make note of some interesting superlatives. The Great Buddha Hall we see here is actually the third version of the building. After the first two burned in fires, the current structure was erected in 1709. Wikipedia notes that “although immense—57 m long and 50 m wide—it is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor.” Despite its comparatively diminutive stature, the current Daibutsuden still holds the title of the largest building in the world made primarily of wood.

Seems to me that if you are going to boast the world’s largest building, you might as well fill it with the world’s-largest-something-else. Looks like the Japanese and I are on the same page, since Tōdai-ji‘s Daibutsu just happens to be the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. From Wikipedia:

“The Great Buddha statue has been recast several times for various reasons, including earthquake damage. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama Period (1568–1615), and the head was made in the Edo period(1615–1867).”

Some numbers for the measurement-hungry:

Height: 14.98 m (49.1 ft)

Face: 5.33 m (17.5 ft)

Eyes: 1.02 m (3.3 ft)

Nose: 0.5 m (1.6 ft)

Ears: 2.54 m (8.3 ft)

The statue weighs 500 tonnes (550 short tons).

As I mentioned above, the bronze behemoth isn’t the only statue in the hall, and the (relatively) smaller figures only add to awesome atmosphere of this special place.

*Note: Nate and I took the photo below for The Provincetown Banner, Outer Cape Cod’s newspaper.

Along with the statues, the Great Buddha Hall houses an intricate diorama accompanied by the following description:

“This is a reconstruction of the original temple area of Todai-ji on the scale of 1 to 50. A group of specialists lead by Shun’ichi Amanuma. a doctor of engineering, made this model during the Taisho period (1912-26) on the basis of old documents including Todai-ji Yoroku (“Todai-ji Digest”) or Shoso-in Monjo (“Shoso-in Archives”). One can see that the Daibutsu-den of those days was wider than the current building and, moreover, that there were two pagodas to the east and west that reached a hundred meter in height.”

And if the diorama isn’t interactive enough for the curious visitor, there is always the nostril-pillar! What??? you ask. Well, one of the pillars inside the temple has a rectangular hole going through it’s base. This hole is said to be the same size as the great Daibutsu‘s nostril, and the brave soul who can make it through will be granted enlightenment in his/her next incarnation. Jenn, Matt, Nate and I wasted no time in lining up for the experience, and it looks like we are all on the road to a heightened awareness come the next go-round.

All that nostril-squeezing tired us out, so we headed home. Some of us kept our composure on the train ride. Others of us, according to Nate’s camera, didn’t.

Posted in Outings | 3 Comments

A day of momo (peaches)

One of my main problems with blogging is indecision. I have such a hard time editing down my photos–picking out just a few choice ones to illustrate an experience or idea from the MANY I have taken. This creates a huge buildup of digital images and an egregious lag in reporting time. It can feel awfully overwhelming, but in a way perhaps it’s for the best–by writing about past adventures, I’m (re)experiencing them right along with you.

On that note, let’s travel back in time to this past summer when Nate and I took a trip with one of my students (a dear, single 67-year-old woman named Sumiyo) and her rather bossy neighbor. Our destination was Wakaba Farm, a peach orchard in Arakawa (also called Momoyama I think, though I’m a bit unclear on specifics here)–the peach zone of Wakayama. The Wakayama Coordinator for International Relations Website describes Arakawa in the following way:

“Momoyama Town along the Kinokawa River is famous for its speciality: “Arakawa no Momo” or “the peaches of Arakawa.” With more than 100,000 peach trees, the town of Momoyama (in Japanese literally “Mount of Peaches”) has the reputation of being one of the most impressive views in spring.  It is certainly much revered by the landscape-loving people that the Japanese are. As far as the eye can see, a pink carpet extends all over this area of Wakayama, and the fragrance is unmistakable.”

Nate, me, baby Kouki, Keiko, an orchard helper (eek! I don't know her name!), Sumiyo, and her neighbor.

Wakaba Farm is a u-pick orchard run by a young couple (Yukio and Keiko) who made the courageous (and, in my opinion, wonderful) decision to quit their jobs and move to the country to become farmers. They don’t just grow peaches though–potatoes, sweet potatoes and sawanobori (Japanese river-climbing) tours are among Wakaba’s many offererings. We had a great day picking peaches, chatting with our incredibly kind hosts, and oohing and aahing over their adorable baby, Kouki.

The Japanese have several classes of fruit, determined by the relative perfection of the fruit itself. There is the gift fruit category: extremely expensive single fruits sold at special stores in gift boxes (remember these?) and the everyday-fruit echelon: reasonably (well, mostly) priced supermarket stock.

A gift-class peach in the orchard...

The reality is that there are many tiers within these two categories, especially the gift fruit one, but I don’t know what they are or how they are determined.

...and ready for the store.

What I DO know is that Wakaba Farms was cultivating some extremely fine peaches. While they are still on the tree, a paper hood is placed over each peach in order to protect them from the elements and maintain their pristine exterior.

We were asked to pay 500 yen (about $6.40) per peach, a steal compared to what the gems garner in stores. Still, our budgets could only support so many pricey prizes and Nate and I found ourselves hungrily eying the fallen peaches that were scattered all over the orchard floor.

Yukio, Sumiyo, the neighbor and Nate washing and peeling the peaches.

One of us got bold and casually asked Yukio what the plan for all those wayward peaches. He said that they helped fertilize the ground and were just left to molder. But…could we eat one? Of course! was his reply, and we wasted no time in diving in.

Once we had harvested our bounty and eaten our fill, we headed back to Yukio and Keikos’ house to for tea, conversation, and some quality time with Kouki. Endlessly generous, Yukio and Keiko loaded Nate and me up with even more peach “seconds” before sending us on our way with farewells and invitations to come back any time.

Posted in Outings | 2 Comments

Vacation report, take 4–Padang Pandage and environs

After our day at Dreamland, Jack, Steph, Nate and I were ready for a more far-flung adventure. We had heard about a surf competition at a beach (Padang Padang) several miles south of us, so we set off for a day of exploration and tuberiding pros.

We passed by the usual ho-hum sights:

A motor scooter ludicrously laden with plastic tubs…

…irreverent roosters pillaging local offerings…

…cows a-plenty…

…beautiful bamboo penjor…

…and roofs in-the-making.

But lazy Balinese time was a-ticking, so we hailed a cab and set off in search of the storied Padang Padang.

As we neared the beach we were greeted with a gnarly (look! I’m using surfer terminology!) traffic jam, so we left the cab and continued our journey on foot. Soon enough we were greeted by large signs, informing us both of our arrival at our destination and our expected behavior within.

Walking down the “road______to the temple” we were met with crowds of people…and monkeys!!!

It didn’t take us long to learn the Bali’s monkeys are far less polite than those of Japan. These guys are snatchers (and apparently thirsty, too)!

After some quality monkey-watching, we headed down to the beach itself.

This involved squeezing through a crevice in the huge rocks before making our final descent to the sand.

Turned out the surfers were pretty far out and rather difficult to see, but we caught a few glimpses of the wave-riding champs and were kept abreast of the action by the play-by-play (wave-by-wave?) commentary being broadcast over speakers across the beach.

Beach days tend to work up an appetite, so we said goodbye to Padang Padang and went in search of a lunching locale. We chose poorly, food-wise, but the decor sure was enticing!

So that’s that. Another post for the virtual books. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Trips | 2 Comments