Friday, February 29, 2008
THE LIGHT BULB DEFICIT
I've been wearing haramaki for over 30 winters now - though for some reason not this year, could be my intensive winter regimen of chocorobics, or maybe it's that non-global non-warming, who can say...
Anyway, for all those decades the only people who wore haramaki outside their clothing (even in summertime!) were the generally tasteless big-bellied men of yesteryear who hung around pachinko parlors and for whom the external beige haramaki was a macho statement, especially with a pack of cigarettes tucked inside and a folded fan sticking out. Haramaki under the clothing was generally only for grandmas and grandpas and those who worked outdoors in winter, or people like me who lived in relatively unheated places.
Nevertheless each of those winters I dug out the old beige or gray (sometimes a daring pale blue) haramaki, looked like my grandfather's undershirt, I wondered why, WHY (like the anko bean paste in the local souvenir bun-- don't they ever put anything else in the bun?) didn't the haramaki makers make stylishly varied haramaki?
Took a few decades, but finally a light bulb went off over someone else's head, someone in a position to do something about the black hole of haramaki style, and PingMag has a nicely detailed article about it.... these will go like hotcakes, or better yet, buns with not chalky bean paste inside, but semi-sweet chocolate crème, maybe. Or even raspberry jam, or...
We need more light bulbs around here.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Every once in a while when the right conditions come together (there's a sky, there's weather) for no apparent reason I spontaneously engage in that fascinating privilege afforded the elder: I look back over my life and think about all the things I might have done differently, ponder all my errors, all my rewards, how many more of each there could have been.
If I'd done this I might have been rich; if I'd done that I might have been famous; if I'd taken that turning I might have been powerful etc. But what are the worth of these things, after all? (One of the privileges of age is that you can ask such questions at last, with experience at your back.) In any case, you must in the end let them fall away. There are many more genuinely fulfilling and naturally delightful paths, that travel more peaceful ways.
What I did instead of all those things was to jump off the career ladder before I'd climbed too high: at the age of 30, to travel my own path at my own pace around the real world, earning my way as I went, making many mistakes along the way, taking many wrong turnings - serendipity being the point - learning thereby the basis to all the good and bad there is out there, what they both mean, their nature and how they function; I have lived in many countries and made many lifelong friends, and as a result not of my own doing after all, I have been truly happy, satisfied with my life; my only regrets are my own as well, and who does not have regrets?
My greatest worldly regret is not having always paid enough attention to the whole picture; my motives were always the best I could choose, given the time and materials at hand. But who can see or say all? Who can be all? Anyway, life is a learning curve, as long as you keep moving.
To the extent I could, I have been what I consider worth being: a person unafraid to be a fool in order to learn, a person open to free-range experience. I have lived in such a way that when at last the shell of what I was is tossed atop the rising mound, perhaps I will have been, for at least some of these brief moments, the world's oyster.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
THE PLAN WAS SIMPLE, LIKE...
"The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work."
The 25 Funniest Analogies (Collected by High School English Teachers)
Well, analogies were like that in high school...
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
In a comment to a few-days-ago post about dango with a radical black sesame addition to the traditional brown sugar/shoyu sauce, Val asked where was the recipe?
Knowing how kindly (and comparatively healthily) addictive dango can be, I herewith offer links to some selected recipes.
An "easy" recipe
Another recipe that looks easier
Mitarashi Dango/Rice Dumpling with Teriyaki Sauce
Mitarashi dango (the specific name for these) are good at any time of year (kids LOVE them!), whether standardly quick stovetop broiled on skewers and served with the traditional sauce as above, or slow-broiled on skewers around embers as at right (the dango are often festively colored in pink, green and white), before brushing/spooning on toppings left to the imagination.
You can also just put a few of them in a nice little bowl, top them with black sesame sauce (add ground black sesame to the brown sugar/shoyu sauce) and feel no shame at the mini-gluttony that ensues.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
THE AUTOMATIC DOORS OF LATE AFTERNOON
This was a couple of decades ago, when we lived in Kyoto. It happened when we were on our way home one late afternoon - when there aren't many shoppers - and Echo had gone into the supermarket on Ichijoji Street to pick up something quick while I waited in the car down the street a little, Kyoto being a fanatically parking-tickety city.
On the left side of the supermarket front was the one-way entrance; the one-way exit was on the right side. Each had automatic doors, triggered by a large mat before the door. When a customer stepped on the mat, the doors slid apart, permitting entry or exit. Pretty standard stuff in Japanese supermarkets. Anyway, as I sat there waiting, a woman headed for the entrance, stepped on the mat, the doors opened, she passed through; then as the doors were closing she realized she hadn't taken one of the baskets stacked outside for customers to grab before they go in.
She turned, reached back through the doors, grabbed a basket and the doors closed on her torso-- not painfully, but unrelentingly, and not widely enough to trigger auto-reopening. She turned and was able to get the basket through; then she slid her arms back inside the door and slowly commenced edging herself inside. But when the doors at last passed over her shoulders, they closed at once on her neck, where they bounced gently, but firmly: she was stuck-- not dangerously, but embarrassingly in the extreme. To perhaps extract herself immediately, she could sacrifice either her ears or her nose, so she chose to to do neither.
She put down the basket, put down her purse and tried with her hands to wedge the door open, but from that bent-over position with that degree of closure she couldn't get enough leverage, and since it was late afternoon, no one was coming into the store who would thereby step on the mat and set her free.
She tried the next thing, of sticking one leg out through the crack in the doors and stepping, in fact pounding on the mat with one foot to trigger it, but the brief weight of even a plump leg alone was not enough. She yelled, too. But she was yelling outside and to an empty street, so no one inside the store could hear her. And since her doors weren't an exit, no one was coming her way from inside the store.
After this had gone on long enough for me to see that the hyperembarrassed lady could not free herself (her clear preference), just as I was getting out to go and step on the mat to set her free (an unusual privilege), an elderly shopper gentleman came shuffling ever-so-slowly up the street toward the entrance, head down, as the woman's head watched him, her new hope.
Step-by-slow-step he got-him-self-a-bas-ket as she spoke to him but he was hard of hearing and had turned and was just about to step on the mat - his foot hovering right over it - when he saw the head of a young woman about two feet in front of his face, looking at him wide-eyed, just the head it was, hanging there from the supermarket, the head was also speaking at him and he freaked, backed away in panic as the head babbled about something surreal he couldn't quite make out... He adjusted his glasses, looked again at the face on the doors, then edged closer to the suspended countenance once more... Maybe some kind of a practical joke... There was more than a head, there was a body inside, and the head was making a strange kind of sense, it was a woman's head, and it was... stuck in the doors??
The unexpected savior stuck out a leg and tapped the mat: not enough. He advanced gingerly toward the head, to an unseemly proximity with a young female stranger, until his slight but full weight was on the mat: the doors opened and they both staggered; she in new freedom and he in regaining his balance following another completely unforeseen memory of a lifetime.
Thought it might be worth the retelling.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
"Just who are the Japanese? Where did they come from and when? The answers are difficult to come by, though not impossible ― the real problem is that the Japanese themselves may not want to know. Unearthing the origins of the Japanese is a much harder task than you might guess. Among world powers today, the Japanese are the most distinctive in their culture and environment. The origins of their language are one of the most disputed questions of linguistics. These questions are central to the self-image of the Japanese and to how they are viewed by other peoples. Japan's rising dominance and touchy relations with its neighbors make it more important than ever to strip away myths and find answers."
Excerpted from an impressive summary
of the mystery that is Japan,
by Jared Diamond.
of the mystery that is Japan,
by Jared Diamond.
Looks like it won't be a 'mystery' for long though...
Monday, February 18, 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2008
WHAT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD...
My rant a few days ago about Western and Japanese desserts came to mind again in reverse miniature when I had a Japanese dessert yesterday after lunch, as prepared by Echo. The dessert, pictured here (with a teaspoon to give some scale to your puzzlement), is about as alien to American eyes as you can get , I expect; at first glance it looks like maybe three marbles of possibly vanilla ice cream in licorice syrup, or white who knows what richly slathered in black who knows what else, at which point the mind begins to rise into the air and slowly circle the problem, so I'll pause here for about 5 minutes while you Western readers, soaring on your mental winds, can ponder what on the other side of the world this dessert could be.
[Five minutes pass.]
OK, I'm back. Had to go get some firewood and replenish the stove anyway. This mouthful in a dish is actually a significant departure (for Japan) from the traditional form of this dessert, which has been served with a brown sauce for about a thousand years. Be still my heart. The white objects are three small balls of plain white rice paste of the kind conventionally accompanied by a sauce of brown sugar slightly offset by a touch of saltiness. Better loosen your belt. Here you are beholding quite a radical Japanese dessert change: three small balls of plain white rice paste (so far so good), with a sauce of brown sugar slightly offset by a touch of saltiness (still so far so good), mixed with (here it comes:) ground black sesame! That'll knock your tabi off. I'm not sure Japan can withstand such extreme dessert adventures. The next thing you know, there'll be fewer decades of nowhere near Ben & Jerry's at the local supermall.
Which only my American mind minds, really--
My Japanese mind thinks the new rice ball dessert is delicious and suitably small.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
The other day it was snowing and blowing fiercely, the new snow already stacked up several inches atop the old, and Echo had to go into the city and do a couple other things on the way, but because of the snow and threats of bigger snow later in the day, she decided to take the train rather than drive, so I drove her to the next big station, three stations down the line.
About halfway there, as though god had snapped her fingers we emerged from heavy snowfall into a land of blue skies and tweeting birds, people were walking here and there unhunched, wearing shorts and flip-flops or sunbathing-- ok I'm exaggerating a bit but that's how it felt in the mind, the sudden transition from Yukon to Miami. The weather had just broken into tiny pieces of winter that melted on the road behind us. Long live the summer.
Later, on my way back home in the birdsong sunshine, about halfway there I saw not far ahead a roiling white carpet hanging from the sky, a pale wall into which the world and its road disappeared. Winter was right where we had driven out of it a half hour before, it had not moved or weakened, it was waiting, the great wall of white, hanging there like a veil before another world, the gateway to Snow Country.
I rolled up the windows and wished I hadn't hallucinated into shorts and flip-flops. I hit the big drift and the bright world disappeared, I could see maybe 2 meters to any side in the multicurrents of the snowstream, drove slowly back to our village and up the mountain a teeny-tiny person in a teeny-tiny red car at the heart of the way-biggest snow globe I'd ever been in.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
THE RECURRING SURPRISE OF NO DESSERT
I've been living in Japan for quite a while now and have gotten so used to the Japanese style of eating, and to the absence of any form of what even long-term expat Americans like myself at the end of their meals would honestly refer to as "dessert," and to the absence of any form of dessert-focused foodstands along the roadways of this well-driven land, like the Carvels etc. of my early years in America and the Ben & Jerry's and Cheesecake Factories of today, that I'd come to consider myself free of those calorific chains.
The early years in Japan were pretty frustrating, though, to a native pie-and-ice-creamist - if I wanted any dessert in 1972 Japan, I had a choice between a small dish of canned fruit or a golfball of ice cream (i.e. vanilla; hasn't changed much since). A request for chocolate was like asking if they had any moon fragments on the premises.
As a result of protracted denial in extremis, the Japanese approach slowly became my way of life, and over the decades I stopped associating the meal terminus with a sweet explosion. Indeed, dessert seems repellent to me from here, though when I go back to the states I usually have to try my teeth on pie a la mode at least once after an American-sized meal (enough to make it across the continent in a wagon train), to see if I can still believe I used to do that every day. Each trip, it gets harder to believe.
Generally speaking (when speaking of dessert, always leave a loophole), dessert now strikes me not so much like a chocolate creme pie in the face as somewhat of a death-defying practice, to top off an adequate meal (80% full stomach) with a calorific time bomb, and every time I go back to America I behold in the flesh the results of the great national dessert experiment. So I would have thought that by now the hefty finale would be fully alien to me, well erased from my way of being, but as I found out from within not long ago, I remain American at the core.
It happened not long ago, when the family went to a local restaurant that's part of a Japanese countryside food chain whose menu we enjoy when we're on the road-- all kinds of fish and vegetables cooked in all kinds of country ways, just good plain food. It's the kind of setup where you select your own dishes from the simple, tastefully prepared choices on offer in the bright, roomy place, you go along the counter and take the dishes you like, request rice and miso shiru and can heat up whichever of your selected dishes in a microwave if you so desire...
But this day, as I was cruising along and had reached the end of the offerings - the point at which only the water/hot tea selection remained - I was filled with a vestigial yearning, but I didn't know what for, as I stood there holding my small tray, in that kind of trance like when you reach the top of the stairs and stand there wondering what you came upstairs for... then it hit me like a ton of cellulite: there were no desserts!
There were no pies, no cakes, no cupcakes, no cookies even, no key lime pie, no brownies, no pecan pie, no fudge, no tubs of ice cream, no banana splits - no sundaes at all - no Devil's Food, no mousse, no banana cream pie, no New York cheesecake - my mind went automatically down the long list that I merely high-point here - no lemon/raspberry/chocolate syrup or whipped cream to heap atop any or all the aforegoing, no hard or soft candies even, no chocolate milkshakes or ice-cream sandwiches, not even a frozen Mars bar-- about the closest thing to all that arterial delight was a dish of fried sweet potato slices, and for a surreal moment I felt lost in that dessertless place, a foreigner in a strange land… I shook my head to clear it of empty-caloried visions, lamented the absence of ginger ale and got some water.
While working to enjoy my simple meal with nothing at the end of it, my old American appetite and I observed the many Japanese customers go through the line; not one of them, not even the kids, looked lost at the water. They were born here.
THE SOURCE OF RAINBOWS
It comes to me in the knife-edge cold of the winter night, out here on the deck for one last look at the stars before sleep, that what we all need, what we all seek in the streets and rooms, meadows and museums of our ways, is a place to wonder. Not to be taught, but to wonder. Not to be told, but to wonder: completely from and by ourselves. Where are those places but out in the nature of things, as out in the winter beneath the stars without explanation? Where but in the sudden realization of how remote we are in the vastness we are one with, and in that wall of sudden awareness discover the bright door that opens in ourselves; then to walk through...
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
SMITH AND JONES
Ya gotta wonder sometimes about the PR capabilities of certain organizations, like Japan's "Institute of Cetacean Research." It brings to mind an early seafarers' "Institute for Dodo Research." They think it's a slick name that gets them the respect they deserve while pulling the wool over the public eye, which seems to have worked well in Japan, where the public eye is pretty used to wool, but because of the ballpeen way the "Institute*" thinks, i.e., that they are so right they can't go wrong, they never realize they're a laughingstock to the rest of the world.
This same hammer-edged perception is evident in ICU's response to recent photographs and video footage of two harpooned minke whales being hauled up the stern ramp of the Nisshin Maru, the media claiming that they were a mother and calf: it was "emotional propaganda," there was no proof two were mother and baby, i.e., the two whales were unrelated. One was named Smith, the other Jones. Oh. Well. So that's ok then.
Moby Dick saw this day coming.
*"They bring along the stats for the number of calf, pregnant mothers, males, females, how big their eyeballs were - whatever - but there is never any analysis." [Excerpted from linked article]
Monday, February 04, 2008
THE WISHES OF HEAVEN
When there's a slow steady snow falling in large flakes through the cold still air and a full day-and-night supply of prime dried firewood stacked next to the stove, which is glowing gold with a well-stocked flame of oak and cherry and there's no point in shoveling off the deck anyway until the snow stops, and besides you've just had a big lunch of hot three-bean soup with toasted baguette and that mystery you put the bookmark in the day before yesterday is right at the point that makes a mystery worth reading - plus it takes place in winter - you'd have to be some kind of insane to wash the dishes, let alone do laundry right now, and thus fly in the face of the almighty, for there is no opposing the vectors, the many powerful vectors that point like the finger of god to the celestial aspects of arranging a few cushions in front of the stove and fulfilling the wishes of heaven, is there.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
When I go out into the winter night I do more than depart from a door, a home, warmth and light, the merenesses I leave behind-- it is now me alone in the face of all else that is, that is relentlessly, that drives inside myself as well, we are so inseparate-- I am more at home than ever, here in the wind, the cold that would erase me, if that were the way of things-- but that is why I am here-- the way of things, mighty as it is, is shared-- shared by the wind with my face, shared by the warmth I bear in being, and one day need no longer bear, when my small mote rejoins the snow in its turn to rain and flowers, melting into the eternity we have only a word for...
Posted by Robert Brady on Saturday, February 02, 2008