Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

A picture postcard for Halloween, courtesy of Seto Sensei.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Today (Sunday, Oct 30) and yesterday, I worked the Far East Bazaar, volunteering to help out at a kimono stand (where else), Le Kimono Galerie. I had the time of my life! Ikeda-San and I had loads of fun selling Kimono.

I got to practice my Japanese on Ikeda-san and my Kitsuke(Kimono Dressing) on lots of unsuspecting individuals. Even though we were missing a lot of the ginch for proper Kitsuke, I managed to make the kimono and obi look pretty good. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of people went home with an obi and a kimono when they just set out to get a kimono. Chris says he thinks Le Kimono Galerie did much more business this year than it did last year. =)

Every time a little girl came into the stall, I put a kimono or a yukata on her. No pressure, I just asked if they would like to try one on. We sold a lot that way, especially when the little girls were with their Daddies (sorry about your budget, Nic). One little girl was so cute, she came back to pick up her purchase and I dressed her up in her yukata again, and she wore it home!

The guys were the funniest. I helped a lot of clueless guys. One guy seemed so uncertain about an obi he had chosen as a gift for his mother-in-law. I hope that MIL really likes the obi, her son-in-law put a lot of thought into choosing it, spending well over an hour looking at different obis. The one he finally picked was really great and I hope she can tell the care, earnestness and thoughtfulness with which it was chosen.

The vendor across from us, a Japanese couple selling handmade pottery, came over to me as we were nearing the end of the Bazaar. The husband said he and his wife liked my shirt (a funky Japanese-print shirt that I bought years ago in the States) and they thought it was great I was practicing my Japanese. In addition, they were impressed with how hard I worked and how kind and helpful I was! They also said that they were amazed by my ability to pick out kimono and obi, and how well I was able to tie the obi. The wife said that most Japanese (herself included) don't know much about kimono and that they were glad that Ikeda-San had someone like me to help him. I'm still smiling from those compliments.

By the way, Ikeda-San doesn't know how to do the kimono, either men's or women's, so when he modelled a men's outfit for a customer (dressed like Elivs! I saw Elvis at the Bazaar!), I had to tie his Hakama for him. I haven't had a formal lesson in Hakama yet--but I know how to time them from doing Kendo!

Ikeda-San gave me a beautiful antique obi (Meiji Era) as a thank-you. I was astonished (and thrilled). As the Japanese say "Rucky (lucky)!"

The Bazaar returns in the spring and I'm planning on volunteering again. This time, I think I will wear a kimono when I am working. I was going to wear one today, but my skills aren't up to snuff just yet. Were it just Americans around, no problem, but at the Bazaar, I will be surrounded by Japanese vendors and shoppers and the Japanese have an incredible eye for detail, so I need to make sure it everything looks perfect if I am going to wear their national costume.

I also won a raffle item. I NEVER win raffle items but this time I did. I wish I had not. I won an ginormous ugly-ass blanket. I threatened to give it to Sly as a Christmas gift! It's got a tacky tiger on it. Too bad that you cannot see that the tacky tiger has a lazy eye! Messed up-yet warm! So here's my new ugly-ass blanket. I already pwned the ugly-ass spousal unit.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Zen Hot Dogs

So the Zen master steps up to the hot dog cart and says: "Make me one with everything."

The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill. The hot dog vendor puts the bill in the cash drawer and closes the drawer.

"Where's my change?" asks the Zen master. The hot dog vendor responds: "Change must come from within."

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Chris told his mom about my blog...without telling me first! She's probably seen it and is apalled.

Chris' mother is a very nice, very proper midwestern-raised lady and wouldn't say s*** if she had a mouthful. I find this trait admirable, but impossible to emulate.

Lest you think I lack a proper upbringing, I certainly do not. My mom raised me as best she could, but could only do so much with me. I really don't ever remembering her using bad words while I was growing up, so it's not like I was beset by bad examples. It's just that sometimes, I AM the bad example.

So now Mrs. P has seen the blog and the bad words and now I don't know what to do. I don't really want to edit myself, because I enjoy the outlet the blog gives me and I know that my own mother reads it, too, so it can't be that bad, or Mom would have called and yelled at me, as mothers do. But still, I have to wonder about my use of bad language and how that makes my mother-in-law think of me.

Well, shit.



Romanji: tofu no kado ni atama wo utsukete shinee

Word for Word: tofu of corner on head bumped die

Proper English: If you bumped your head on the corner of a piece of tofu, you would die.

The Gist: You're softheaded/stupid.

It's a Japanese insult. I think it's funny, even if you don't.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Chris was tired of his longish orange hair. What, it doesn't look orange? Are you sure?
So he had a very nice Japanese barber give him a haircut. Chris said when the barber started, he looked at Chris' hair and said "Goodbye." A lot of hair was on the floor by the end of the process. When Chris left the shop, the barber told him "Don't catch a cold!"

Chris looks a LOT different. I've never seen him with his hair this short.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Giant White @$$!

Look! It's box with a giant white @$$! No, wait, it's actually the trademark for Momo (peach) Brand matches.

The Peach trademark was registered in 1892. It's one of the most famous and instantly recognizable logos in Japan. The Japanese, unlike me, recognize it as a peach and not a giant white @$$!

A trend right now is t-shirts featuring the vintage labels of Japanese brands, like Peach Brand matches and Shiroyuki (white snow) Brand sake.

I really dig the vintage match label, but honestly, I bought it because at first glance, I thought it was a giant white @$$! The thought of that made me just totally lose it laughing because sometimes I have the sense of humour of a 10 year-old.

The nice Japanese word for your backside is Oshiri.

Monday, October 24, 2005


So I got up at 0515 today, since Sly and I were scheduled for spinning class. I ducked into the den to check my email before I got into my workout clothes and happened to notice that Genji the Cat wasn't in the room. This was not unusual, since we leave the door to the balcony open and Genji goes in and out as he pleases. The balcony is narrow, has a very high, solid wall surrouding it and is 20 feet off the ground. Genji likes to lay out there when the weather is sunny.

While I'm checking Email, the neighborhood dogs went apeshit. I figured it was one of the delivery guys until...


Suddenly, I get the whim-whams and gooseflesh creeps up on my arms. That is one spooky noise.


I glanced out onto the balcony and didn't see Genj anywhere. Then something occurred to me.
I ran out of the bed and into the bedroom and woke Chris up.

"Chris, Chris, did you put the cat in the den when you went to bed last night?"


"Huh, yeah, whuh?"

"Genji's not in his room or on the balcony and there's..."


Chris got dressed and flew out of the room, downstairs and out the door. I was hopping around trying to get into my biking tights, my sports bra, my socks, everything all at once and get down the stairs and get outside, too.

"Oh my god, Chris, what if he fell off the roof and a leg or four are broken?" I hollered at Chris as he shot out into the front yard (yes, Genji would fall off the roof, trust me). I was having horrible visions of finding a big splotch of cat jello in the middle of the yard.


We looked out into the yard to see (whole) Genji and a mysterious, goddamn creepy-ass black cat (!) in the middle of a standoff by our storage shed. Chris shooed off the strange cat, which hissed, puffed up and practically flew over our gate like a bat out of Hell. The nasty beast impudently settled down on the sidewalk and stared through the gate at us as we dashed into the house. I would not have been suprised if that creepy-ass cat had shot fucking death rays out of its evil yellow eyes.

Genji seemed relieved to be back inside, and I could totally relate. Who wants to mess around with a Black Devil Cat with Death Ray Eyes! Genji didn't seem to have anything broken or sprained and we didn't see any bites or scratches, which was a relief. Genji is rear-wheel drive only and before someone starts giving me shit about how inhumane it is to declaw a cat, let me say that when I adopted Genji from the animal shelter (saving him from being euthanized) he was already declawed. Besides, if that other cat could shoot death rays, claws wouldn't have helped.

Sly came by to pick me up and I told her all about our big early morning adventure. She found it hilarious, since she owns Bibi, who is total Ghetto Cat. Bibi, despite being declawed, loves to get outside and go pick fights with cats, with dogs, with anybody. Bibi, who is a total thug, might have had chance against Death Ray Eyes Devil Cat, but Genji would have been doomed.

Anyway, Chris spoke briefly with our neighbor, Deb, after I left. Apparently, she came out to walk her dog at about 0500. She noticed Genji sitting on the low wall dividing our yards. He had probably slipped on the rain-slicked tin roof and gone sailing off. Once down in the yard, Genji had decided to hang around until someone noticed he wasn't around, took him inside and fed him. About the time that I got up and went to check my email was probably about the time that the Death Ray Black Cat appeared and he and Genji started talking cat-trash to each other.

Man, I hope that creepy black cat stays away.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Hotate Soft Cream

We went shopping in Aomori City on Saturday, for Christmas presents. One of the places we stopped at was the ASPAM center, which is a very cool pyramidal building overlooking Mutsu Bay.
The day we were at the ASPAM, there was a live performance of Shamisen (a three-stringed instrument similar to a Banjo). We enjoyed the music for a little bit and then went to the shops. The ASPAM building is a tourist center, so there's lots of little shops and a couple displays. Most of the shops sell regional specialities. Aomori is famous throughout Japan for its Ringo (apples) and Hotate (scallops) so the shops had a lot of those items, as well as bottles of locally-brewed sake.

One of the shops was selling soft-serve ice-cream, not unusual--the Japanese love the stuff. What was unusual was the flavor--Hotate! That's right, SCALLOP flavoured ice-cream. I really wanted to try it but sometimes ice-cream upsets my stomach. I also figured that the Hotate, about 20 minutes after being ingested, would cause my ass to detonate and then I would have atomic diarrhea. I was almost willing to take that risk, except for the fact that I didn't know where we could readily find a restroom if we were out and about in Aomori AND I needed a wingman for backup and Chris just absolutely refused to try the Hotate Ice Cream. I mean REFUSED. 403 DENIED refused. Like no-fucking-way refused. Chris pretty much dug in his heels and neither promises of sexual favors nor threat of bodily harm would budge him. So it was fly alone or not at all. I made the more grounded choice of getting some Sembei (crackers) to eat instead. They were freshly made by a cranky old guy in a tidy white chef's uniform, who made cracker craft look easy, meaning he probably had a hundred years worth of experience. His wife, working the shop counter, seemed pretty excited about a couple of Gaijin buying sembei.

I ended up eating the entire bag of Sembei for dinner.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Poetry Corner

BN is the son of MN, a former coworker of mine. MN used to have his poems posted all over her office and they were always a great conversation starter. BN's been writing since he was a little boy. Now his not so little--he's attending Oberlin college and still writing. Here's a very recent work by BN.

long walks in lowell

the past wanders around in skirts
i scrape your name onto a wall
and find our stories in flaking paint

love can rust
can taste like mildew
love leaks. as a tricycle
it rolled all crooked

i rode the luck of love
up around the leidseplein

the problem with philosophy
is it obscures real things,

sometimes. it blurs the images
i want, paint perfect sharp
refractions of whats happening

i want to see the zits, the coughs
and laughs, the blend of sun
light onto horizon

i dont have any perfect maps
weaving our friendship through the streets

but every place i knew was where
the tourists went

insignificances crowd the path

i put my organs on display
for you. i cut my tongue,

braced for heart ache
i monologue my fears

the air is cool where you look at me

ive read the gourmet recipes
for love pate, lovestuffed pheasant,
dressed and battered love

and tried them out
im sick with them

ive wandered with you
through a couple continents
but dont know where youve gone

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tempura Tonight!

Here's my foodie hat trick: night number 3, writing about food, this time, Tempura. I hope all you people out there on the World Wide Waste of Time appreciate the fact that over the last three evenings, I have completely wrecked my stict diet of two months, in the attempt to provide somewhat interesting content on my blog.

Tempura is heavenly (you'll get this little joke later, trust me) and is one of my favorite things to eat. I get stuck on a desert island and can only have one thing to eat, ever? It would be vegetable Tempura.

Several resturants in Misawa serve Tempura. None are bad, but some are just okay (Kimura Udon, but I shouldn't be ordering Tempura at a noodle joint, anyhow) while others are brilliant, like "The Blue and White Sign Place"--not the real name, of course, just what the kanjii-illiterate Baka Gaijin calls it.

Tonight we ate at Kuroyama-ya (Black Mountain Resturant), the first resturant in Misawa at which I ate Tempura. It's a cozy place, done up to look like a traditional farmhouse. They have a really lovely Tempura Taishoku (Tempura set meal). I order it "Yasai dake, onegaishemasu." (vegetables only, please) because it normally comes with two big ol' shrimp, a piece of fish fillet, and three vegetables--whatever is in season and looked particularly yummy to the buyer that day. The Taishoku also comes with two kinds of pickles (the type changes), a bowl of rice the size of my head, and a consomme-like soup with mushrooms, negi (scallions) and ginger in (because Japanese soups traditionally contain 3 solid ingredients). I always scald my tongue, tonsils and throat on the soup--I just never learn.

The Taishoko I got looked similar to the one in the picture below, just with some slight variations on the dishes, tray, and the entrees. My dinner was certainly just as pretty as this picture.
In my meal, I had a half of an enormous and super-fresh green bell pepper, two piimon (japanese peppers), a slice of imo (sweet potato) a shiso leaf, a shiitake kinoko (mushroom), a cluster of shimeji kinoko (also mushrooms), a huge slice of kabocha (Japanese pumpkin-similar to an acorn squash). There was take oshinko (bamboo pickles) and the green mystery pickles that Chris and I both love. Chris is picky about pickles and there's not many he likes so he was happy to see that one of the two pickle dishes with his meal were the GMP's. I got his serving of take oshinko--SCORE!

I am always amazed at how light and crispy the Tempura is and how flavourful, too. The batter highlights the flavor, rather than hiding it. The coating on Tempura is always very light, almost sparse at first glance, not like how Americans usually think of fried things--with a heavy layer of batter.

Most people think Tempura is a traditional Japanese food. It's not. It was introduced to Japan by Portugese Missionaries in the late 16th century. Over the course of time the original has been altered to suit Japanese taste and the result is, you could say, heavenly. Go here to read more to learn about Tempura (it's getting late, I'm getting tired, and the article I link to says it better than I ever could).

In case you were wondering, my meal cost 1,300 Yen. At today's exchange rate, that's only $11.72, for a ridiculous amount of fresh, wonderfully prepared and beautifully presented food.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Kaiten Zushi (Conveyor Belt Sushi)

First off, please go over to the links section and check out Kelly's updated site. He's been working hard and it looks really nice. The content can be pretty gross, but not as gross as Miggy's site. Lest you think otherwise, I appreciate gross as much as I appreciate exquisite. Miggy mistook me for a troll once, so I'm not linking to his site. Anyhoo, on with the blog...

I'm on a foodblog tear. I think I WILL go get Tempura tomorrow night, so I can get a food blog hat trick. Tonight, I had sushi for dinner. Misawa is a port town in farm country, so all the food, be it from earth or sea, is fresh, fresh, fresh. There are all different levels of sushi places from the economical to the extravagant. Ourselves, we went to Hanakan Sushi, a franchise. Among the Americans in Misawa, Hanakan is known as "Pink Sushi" since the building, the logo, the staff uniforms, are all pink.

Pink Sushi is a Kaiten-zushi restaurant, where the sushi dishes are presented on a conveyor belt.
You have a little station at which you sit, and it has soy sauce saucers, Waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a box of Gari (pickled ginger for cleansing the palate), tea cups, and Ocha (tea). Drink all the Ocha you want, it is free! Each station at the counter has its own spigot, which dispenses scalding hot water. See?
As the different-colored (pay attention to this part) dishes roll by, you take what you like or you can order dishes which are not available on the belt. There are usually daily specials, usually featuring a seasonal food, in addition to the regular menu items.

But wait, you Baka Gaijin, you are begetarian--you don't eat fish or chicken or any sort of animal, how can you get sushi? Well, they have Kappa (cucumber) and Kanpyo (gourd) and Takenoko (bamboo), as well as Tamago(an omelette-like affair) and right now, in Misawa, the larger of the two Pink Sushi shops have this amazing pickled eggplant. (I had four plates/eight pieces of it tonight). I also get Anti-Atkins Sushi (they don't call it that, I do), which is corn mixed with a little mayo served on a pat of rice and wrapped with Nori (seaweed) in the Gunkan (warship) style of sushi. Over there to the left is an example of Gunkan Sushi. It contains Ikura (roe) instead of corn salad, but you get the idea, don't you?

Ikura, by the way, is one of Sylvia's favorites. She also likes fried Ika (Squid) tentacles. The tentacles are pretty rubbery and require vigorous and somewhat lengthy chewing. I wish I had a picture of Sly with the tentacles hanging out of her mouth, it's pretty funny. What's not funny is when you snort rice out of your nose. In fact, it hurts. A lot. Refrain from laughing at Sly and her tentacles when you have a mouthful of rice.

Speaking of rice, Inari Zushi is something I request often. Inari are pockets of fried tofu,stuffed with rice. The tofu pocket is slightly sweet and sticky and they are oishii (delicious). Sometimes, they sprinkle Goma (sesame seeds) throughout the rice filling, which is great for me, since I am rather fond of sesame. Inari, by the way, is also a Shinto deity, and is the god of rice. His totem animal is the Kitsune (fox). I've seen Wakame (seaweed) chopped up and used in the filling, too, and sometimes Chris has seen Inari with shreds of pork in (I avoid those). I like to stuff the whole Inari in my mouth at once. It makes me look like a chipmunk but for some reason it makes the Inari taste even better.

Chris particularly likes Meguro(Tuna) and Shimisaba (Mackerel) and Salmon. These are often served as Nigiri, which is the raw fish on top of a pat of rice. Most of my veggie sushi are done in this style, although the Kanpyo and Kappa come in the Hosomaki or Norimaki (roll) style. I've never seen the "inside out" rolls served at Pink Sushi or at any of the other places in Japan where I have dined. I did see them at a lot of places back in the United States, though. Chris also digs Pink Sushi's Karaage (fried chicken). One of the first times we went to Pink Sushi, Chris inadvertently tried horsemeat, mistaking it for prosciutto (he won't make that mistake again). The Tohoku region (where we live) is renowned for its horses which are descendants of a herd established by a local nobleman. Beautiful animals and apparently pretty tasty, as well.

There's always some oddball pieces making the rounds on the conveyor belt, like a tuna-salad Norimaki, a ebi-pizza Nigiri (a piece of boiled shrimp covered with a dot of pizza sauce and melted mozzerella cheese), Kimchee Gunkan, and some mystery rolls, of inscrutable ingredients. At any rate, there's a lot of variety for the price and the price is pretty good, too!

Kaiten-zushi tend to be less expensive than usual sushi-ya, and Pink Sushi is extremely popular with families as a result. Chris and I can eat extraordinarily well for about 18 bucks, and most of the cost is Chris' plates, since my sushi is about 100 yen (or 95 cents or so) for two pieces.

The method of tallying the bill is pretty clever: When you are Ippai Ni (filled up!), you tell the Sushi Chef, "Oiso onegaishemasu" (I'm finished, please) and she calls the cashier to do the bill because traditionally, sushi chefs never handle money (it's dirty and it distracts from their main duty of making the sushi). Did you pay attention at the beginning of the entry, when I told you to? Basically, the number of plates is counted to determine the cost. Before the lady (most of the employees at Pink Sushi are women) counts up the plates, you can tell her "Issho Ni" (all together) or Betsu Betsu (separate) for the check(s). She then counts the dishes, ticks off the appropriate boxes on the check slip, recounts the plates to verify her results and hands you the check with a thank you and a bow. You take the check up front to pay, because in restaurants in Japan, you don't pay at the table--and you don't tip, either. I do however like to tell the Sushi Chef "Arigato, oshiikata deshita" (Thank you, it was delicious). It always makes them smile.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Noodles are a staple of Japanese cuisine. Noodles, in all their variety, came to Japan via China, around the Nara Era (8th Century) and became popular in the Edo Era (17 - 19th Century). Noodle shops here range from street vendors to high-end resturants with pedigrees going back a hundred years or more. Everybody has a favorite noodle place, whether it be plain or fancy or somewhere in between.

Kimura Udon is a small noodle shop down the road from my house. The shop isn't anything fancy, but it is comfy and absolutely spotless. The noodles are made fresh right in the open kitchen of the shop and you can watch the entire process. Udon is made by kneading white wheat flour, water and salt, and then prepared in a variety of ways.

Udon are thick, white, wheat noodles. They're big, especially to someone like me, who generally prefers capellini and other thin noodles. When I first got here, I wouldn't eat udon noodles, because they reminded me of albino nightcrawlers. I'm glad I got over that stupid hangup, because udon noodles are delicious. There are lots of variations, with just a few listed here: Kamaage tsukejiri (boiled in plain water, accompanied by a strong dipping sauce served on the side), Kitsune, which is Udon with piece of fried tofu on top--probably my favorite. It is said that the Kitsune (Japanese Fox) loves fried tofu, and it is from this story that the dish derives its name; Torroro (Japanese Yam), Yasaiten (a piece of veggie tempura in the bowl), Sansai (Wild Mountain Veggies) and assorted meat ingredients. Chris, having more of a carnivorious nature, likes the Nikku Udon (pork bowl). Udon dishes can be eaten hot or cold. I like the cold noodles for dinner at the end of a hot, humid high summer day. As the weather gets colder, a hot bowl of noodles is an uncomplicated, comforting and filling food.

Tonight, I had Kamaage Udon, which are served in the water they are cooked in, hence the name kamaage, meaning " from the pot" (Udon are usually boiled, then drained, the dropped into various broths for serving).The Shoyu (soy sauce) dipping sauce for Kamaage is served on the side. You dip the noodles in the sauce and slurp away. The noodles, which are solid yet springy in texture, settle into the bottom of the stomach, providing inner warmth and a feeling of satisifaction and comfort. I drank the rest of the remaining dipping sauce (this is not considered rude). To accompany my Kamaage Udon, I had a small piece of Yasaiten (mixed veggie tempura). Tempura, which is deep-fried, isn't exactly diet food, but Tempura is one of my favorite things to eat and I just couldn't pass it up, diet be damned. Misawa has a couple of places that serve really good Tempura and next time I have some, I'll write about that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


This is a picture of KW's niece, taken about two months ago. I cannot believe how absolutely adorable she is! Kawaii desu yo! I noticed that she has ears like KW! In case you were wondering, KW is one of my former coworkers from Johns Hopkins. KW has probably forgotten about the time that I screwed up his cluster server and he had to spend some time fixing it...but I haven't! KW takes a vacation to China every year, so we're hoping we can meet up in Tokyo in Spring 06.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Blah Blah Blah

On the way to the gym this morning, Sylvia and I were discussing our slowly improving comprehension of Japanese.

When I got here last year, and went to a resturant everything sounded like: bababababababababababababababababababababababababababababa

Now it sounds like:

I guess that's an improvement.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

WTF? 3 and 4: Kai Mono Imasu (Shopping)

So I was on my way to the grocery store to buy some more of those fall mochi I discussed in "Random Good Things" and I happened to glance in the display window of Kochikiya, a store I had not gone into before. Suddenly, I had the perfect excuse to drop in and see what the store had for sale, because I was not going to pass up the chance to have WTF? shopping moment.
And here it is! A giant stuffed maru nasu (Japanese Round Eggplant). I was even more excited to discover the thing was on sale for more than half off! No wonder, who the hell would buy a giant plush eggplant. Uh...yeah...anyway...Here's the maru nasu, sitting in the middle of my den.

As we were walking out of the store, Chris said "I know what you're going to blog about tonight."

After the eggplant store and the grocery store, we stopped by the 100 Yen Shop (like American Dollar Stores but much better stuff) because I needed a new lanyard for my work badge. Going to the 100 Yen means you never run in and buy just one thing, you have to wander around and see what's new since you were last there (in my case, that's quite often). I was walking down the baking aisle when I saw this: I nearly peed myself laughing. It is the only way both cookie humpers, er, cutters will fit, but still! Of course, I had to buy them, so I could come home, take a picture of it and post it to the blog. Hey, I never promised you Pulitzer-quality E-Literature, now did I?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Obi Quiet!

This is my Kimono no Obaachan (Kimono Grandmother), Eiko-san. Here you can see the two of us. If you want an idea of how tiny my Kimono Granny is, I am only five feet tall! She's so cute and sweet and she is extremely outgoing, which is a bit unusual in a Japanese person, especially an older one. She and her family run Aizawa Costume shop, where they provide rental kimono for weddings, funerals and other formal occassions. Eiko-san is a licensed, professional kimono dresser (this entails formal study and passing a practical exam or exams). Many Japanese rent kimono for such occassions, since a bridal kimono and all the accessories cost several thousand dollars. Yes, several thousand. Eiko-san has been very gracious and generous in teaching me how to wear kimono. Many Japanese cannot dress themselves in kimono and have to pay a professonal like Eiko-san to dress them. Some attend Kimono Schools to learn how to dress in kimono. There are several such Kimono Schools in Misawa and I don't think they are cheap. Eiko-san shows me for free and she buys me coffee. In exchange, I buy ridiculous numbers of kimono, so it works out well for both of us. We've become friends, despite her limited English (No! No! No! Wrong!) and my limited Japanese (Hai, Hai, Hai, Moiikai--Yes, yes, yes, I will do it over).

After my lessons, Eiko-san makes me promise to practice at home. She's very serious about it, too. She even makes me pinky-promise! One day, after my lesson on tying obi, Eiko-san loaned me a mannequin to practice on since she was worried I would put my back out out if I constantly practiced on myself (mostly because I'm such a spaz). In addition, she explained itwould be good to learn to dress someone else. I also think Eiko-san was worried I would practice on Chris and he would get mad. So she lent me Karadako-san* to practice on! This was pretty tremendous, because the mannequin is from her kimono shop and mannequins are expensive! It was very sweet and I was honored she would trust me that much. While Karadako-san belongs to Eiko-san, all the obis and accessories you'll see on this page are from my own collection. No, these are not all of the ones I have, either. No, I do not have a problem. No, I do not. I can stop anytime I want. Really.

Here is what you need to don an obi, listed from the underlayers up:

A board used to flatten the stomach and keep the obi crisp and neat-looking

A wide belt of cloth, used to hold a kimono closed

Literally, "obi pillow", a pad used to provide shaping for the bow of the obi

A decorative scarf used to cover the OBI MAKURA

A cord used to hold the folded obi together

The obi pictured here are Nagoya Obi and the type of obi I have been practicing tying. Nagoya Obi were first produced in Nagoya, Japan (no duh!) at the end of the Taisho Period (1912 - 26). Most of my obi are modern, but I do have some Taisho Era obi, although they are not Nagoya style. The Nagoya Obi is lighter and simpler to tie than other types, making it very popular. The Nagoya Obi has a distinctive narrow portion, which is prefolded and stitched in half. This narrow part goes about the wearers waist. Sometimes the narrow part has a decoration, too, and some of my obis have this charming feature. The wider part of the obi forms the bow, also called Otaiko, of the obi. Obi come in a wide range of materials but are most often made from pure silk. There are between 300 - 500 ways of tying an obi! I have learned (but no where near mastered) but one way, which is called the Otaiko.

* * *

Here's what my practice looks like. I practice in my tatami room. I begin by selecting the obi and the obi accessories I want. I lay everything out within easy reach, like in the picture above.

I get Karadako-san, in her very Japanese wifebeater (I placed this over the mannequin to protect the cotton undergarment Eiko-san had dressed her in).
The obiita goes on. I have a kantan (easy) one, it has an elastic band. Some obiita are just boards without the band; you stick them into the obi after you do the first wrap around your waist.Then I drape the short section (te) over the left shoulder from back to front.
The long section (tare) of the obi is wrapped around the waist twice. Because this obi has a decorated tare, I have to ensure the decoration is nicely centered.
Next, tie the obi and allow the tail section to drop down
Then you pull the bow part out and smooth out the gathers from the knot
You pick up the wide part and fold it, making sure that if there is a design, it is centered
Then you insert the makura under the top fold and fasten it around the waistTuck the ties into the obi
Here is another view of what we have so far
Cover the makura with the obiage, wrap around and tie in a temporary knot in front

Fold up and under, making the drum part of the bow and hold it in place
note the te hanging downNow you pass the te through the drum,
being careful not to mash the drum all out of shape,
like I usually do

Pass the obijime through the drum and tie it in front
Tie it with a fancy knot, dumbass!
Adjust the obi and bow so that it has a lays flat and looks crisp,
this is accomplished by tugging or making the obi go (as Eiko-san says) "Fzzzpt!"
Untie the temporary knot you made in the obiage, fold the edges in,
then tie a proper knot in itAdjust the knot until it looks just so and then tuck all of the obiage down into the obi
Loop the loose ends of the obijime back into the obijime and
et voila, fini!

Admire the front
Admire the back
Realize there are ninety gazillion things wrong with this and take it all off and try again
And again
And again
And again

* * *

This is actually a brief synopsis of how to tie an obi. One of my reference books lists about 40 steps in the Nagoya Obi process. By the way, it took me about 20 minutes to tie the obi, with some of that time spent taking pictures. I have seen Eiko-san do a Nagoya Obi in about 5 minutes, if not less and it looks absolutely flawless! Gives me something to aspire to, I suppose.

*this is a silly joke-karada is the Japanese for body and -ko is a diminutive attached to girls' names. So I named the mannequin "miss body"

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Random Good Things

I had a really bad day at work in the end of September. I stuck my head in Sylvia's office and unloaded and then stormed off. I spent the evening running around, frustated and cranky and generally unhappy. When I got home, I found flowers stuck in the gate of my yard--from Sylvia. How sweet was that? Sylvia is a wonderful co-worker and a great friend. She is funny and smart and sweet and loving and goes "Ha. ha. ha." when she laughs. Sylvia is a nice shade of brown, too.

I made a fundoshi (tradional japanese wrap-around underwear, like a loincloth) for Chris. I will not post a picture of it. It was a practice run on how to sew narrow, rolled hems, a skill I would need to sew a table runner. I figured out how to sew the hems and made a runner for Sylvia's new table. The runner has fancy beaded ends. The fundoshi did not, but I wish I had beaded it!
The runner is being modeled by my table, but the runner flatters Sly's table, too.

I recently did some grocery shopping at the Japanese supermarket. Bontan Candy is back in season. It is a gummy candy, flavored with Yuzu, a kind of citrus fruit. The best thing about Bontan Candy is that you can eat the wrapper, which is made of cellulose (plant fiber). The candy went away in the summer, probably due to the fact humidity would melt the wrappers. I love Bontan. Last fall, I bought boxes and boxes. Chris almost died laughing at me, because I stuffed two whole boxes worth of Bontans in my mouth because I liked the crinkly sound the edible wrappers made. And I kept saying "I'm eating the wrappers! I am eating the wrappers! Because I can!" Another good reason to eat the wrappers is that the wrappers don't peel off well.

Here is a dozen Japanese eggs. How many are in a dozen? That's right, ten! They are lovely speckled brown eggs. And the expiration date is printed on the eggs, which is extremely cool.

Mochi is pounded rice. It is made into an assortment of treats, some savoury and some sweet. Here is a pretty set of mochi, for fall time. They are little works of art. Even the little disposable container is pretty. I originally picked up the mochi because of the shape of the treats, but I noticed the manufacturer's label is a nice Fall scene with a Bashi (bridge) and Maeda (Maple) leaves. One mochi is shaped like a kaki or persimmon, and has a crunchy bit of cookie for the stem. The dark mochi is coffee flavored and has sesame on the outside to make it fancy. The greenish one has bits of sugar crystals, to look like dew on autumn grass. Almost too pretty to eat, but not quite, since this is the second package I've bought, as I ate the first one.

They sure look good don't they? I think I will go have one right now, with a nice cup of Ocha (tea).