Friday, November 11, 2016

Rabu Rabu Cooking: Tuna and Avocado Salad w/ Sesame Dressing



Tuna and Avocado Salad w/ Sesame Dressing

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
* 320 g of sashimi-grade raw tuna, cut into cubes
* 1 avocado
* 1/4th red pepper
* 1/4th yellow pepper
* 5cm of negi (Japanese Leek)
* 4 TBSP store-bought sesame dressing

Directions:
1. Blanche the cubed tuna in boiling water, then immediately submerge it in ice water to stop the cooking. Dry with paper towels to remove all the water.
2. Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and peel, and cut into 2 cm cubes.
3. Cut the red and yellow peppers into thin strips. Mince the negi.
4. Put the ingredients from steps 1, 2 and 3 into a bowl and mix in the sesame dressing. Transfer the salad to a serving dish and it's ready to eat. 

I haven't tried this recipe yet either, but I love avocado and tuna and sesame dressing, so I'm definitely going to give this a try. I might add cubed cucumbers as well, because I am obsessed with them and I think they'd go good with these flavors. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Japanese In-laws

Mother-in-law, Father, Me, Father-in-law

One of the things I was most worried about when I started dating Kazu was not the language barrier or cultural differences, but how his family would react to him dating and potentially marrying a foreigner. Kazu is the oldest son (he has two younger brothers, who are 22 and 20, I believe) and I've heard many, many horror stories of foreign girls who either married an "eldest son" and had a hard time dealing with his parents, or even worse ended up getting dumped because their boyfriend caved into pressure from his parents not to marry a foreigner. Luckily, I haven't had any of these problems!

Kazu's family dynamic is very different from mine. My family is very close, very involved in each other's lives and very vocal about how much we love each other. Even after I became an adult and moved out (and then halfway across the world) we talk often, at least once a week, and we meet up as often as possible, which is once or twice a year right now. Kazu's parents and his middle brother live in the house he grew up in, only about 1.5 hours' drive away, and his youngest brother is in uni and living only about 30 minutes away, but he only talks to them when he (or one of them) needs something, and they only visit a few times a year. At first I thought that their family was very cold and that they must not love each other, but I've come to understand that they just express it in a different way. For example, a few times a year Kazu's mother sends a huge box in the mail, full of food. She mails us rice, potatoes, carrots, onions, and canned tuna, and usually a bunch of Kazu's favorite snack foods. We can buy all of this at the grocery store 5 minutes from our house, but she mails it to us to show her love and to let us know she was thinking of us.

The first time I met Kazu's family, we'd been dating for 7 months and they'd known about it for about half that long. Kazu had some time off of work for Golden Week and was planning to go home for a visit, so he decided to take me with him. His parents were receptive to my visiting, so we packed up and headed 'home' to spend a few nights with his family. His mom picked us up at the train station by car (their house is about 15 min drive from the closest train station) and it was super awkward at first. I remember saying hello and introducing myself and then just listening while she talked to Kazu (mostly one-sided, because he's very quite around his family, for some reason) the whole way home. When we got to their house I met his dad and introduced myself again, and then gave his mom the present I'd brought. It's an important part of Japanese culture to always bring a present for your host when going to someone's house. Kazu and I picked a Baumkuchen german-style cake that is very popular in Japan.

After a short conversation, it was decided that Kazu, his father, and I would go over to grandpa's house (about 10 minutes away by car, in the same town but even further out into the wilderness) before dinner to meet him and grandma. Kazu's grandfather is 83 and still works full-time, self-employed as a carpenter, and his grandmother is in her early 70s and she doesn't have a job of her own, but she can often be found in the workshop helping grandpa with his carpentry. I say that they are 'carpenters' but more specifically, they are traditional craftsmen, building Japanese-style houses in the traditional way with intricately detailed, hand-made, one-of-a-kind carvings decorating the doors and the archways. There are very, very few people left in Japan who know how to do this kind of work. Grandpa and Grandma also welcomed me with open arms. They told Kazu that I'm "beautiful, like a porcelain doll" and after they were convinced that I do, in fact, speak Japanese they were not at all shy about talking to me and asking me questions.

I really like Kazu's grandparents, they are very interesting. Their lives are so different from both that of modern, young Japanese people or even people their age in America. Grandpa was a little kid during world war 2 and remembers the air-raid sirens and the preparations and practice they did in case they should have to evacuate their homes. Luckily, the remote village where they live was not damaged at all, and in fact took in many refugees from more rural, damaged areas. Despite these experiences, he doesn't harbor any hate for the US. Grandma was born after the war. She told me that she'd seen cars from time to time as a kid, but the first time she ever road in one was the day they took her from her hometown to marry grandpa by arranged marriage. They were both agreeable to the marriage, which their parents, who were acquaintances, arranged for them. At the time of their marriage, she was 16 and he was 24. Despite the very traditional circumstances of their marriage, they are very tender towards each other and obviously love each other. I do find their old-people Japanese hard to understand sometimes, but I'm getting used to it the more time I spend with them, and likewise they can't remember my name, but they don't remember Kazu's either half the time (they call him by his father's name, because he looks exactly like his dad did when he was younger). Grandpa dramatically made a vow upon his ancestors that he wouldn't die until he gets to see his great-grandchild's face, so Kazu and I always joke to him that we'll never have kids just so that he has to live forever.

After that, we went back to Kazu's parents house to eat dinner. For dinner, his mom made yakiniku (barbecued meat cooked on something resembling a pancake-griddle). When it was dinner time, Kazu's brothers finally came downstairs and I got to meet them too. His brothers are both shorter than him, and fairly chubby, which is rare in Japan. One is a NEET (unemployed and not trying to get employed) and the other is still in university, hoping to become a policeman when he graduates. I should mention that the whole family are Otakus, to varying degrees, and they have a very, very impressive collection of shounen manga in their house. With 3 boys and both parents enjoying manga, they get their money's worth out of anything they buy.

Kazu's brothers are both shy, but nice enough. Even now they're still shy around me, but not to the point that they won't talk to me when we happen to be in the same room. That first night at dinner, everyone was curious about how we met and about my background, so we had plenty to talk about. The meal was delicious, but I spilled some yakiniku sauce on my dress, which distressed Kazu's mom to no end. She fussed over my 'beautiful dress' (a very ordinary, cheap dress) and helped me blot it off and from that point on made me eat while wearing her apron. During dinner, Kazu's dad told me about how he went on a business trip to the Philippines once, so he can speak a tiny bit of English. He doesn't know much, but like Kazu he's not at all afraid to use what he does know.

The most memorable part of the entire visit was when, during dinner, Kazu's mom suddenly asked "So, Kazu, you guys are planning to get married, and everything?" We'd talked about it and were both agreed that we wanted to marry each other in the future, but we weren't officially engaged yet at that point, but after a moment he answered "Yes, we're dating with the intention of getting married." His brothers congratulated him in a manly "Nice job, bro, you managed to catch a cute girl!" -type of way, but his father's reaction was to start sternly telling Kazu to save lots of money for the future and to try and get a better job (his current job is stable enough, but the pay is low.) None of them were at all opposed, though his mom mentioned that if we wanted to have a wedding ceremony we should wait until the youngest brother graduated from university, because they don't have any  money now to contribute to the ceremony.

After dinner, Kazu's brother and dad took a bath, and then it was our turn. I think his parents were surprised that we took a bath together, but they didn't say anything about it (either at the time or to him privately after). We always use the bath together, one person using the shower while the other uses the bath then switching, but at Kazu's parents' house there is a huge (American sized length, but deeper) bathtub, so we actually fit in the bath at the same time. After the bath we watched TV and the members of Kazu's family all did their own stuff. Kazu's father actually has his own room on the first floor. He sleeps in the bedroom with his wife on the second floor, but his room on the first floor is for his hobbies, which include photography, manga, and his desktop computer which is decked out with 3 monitors. Kazu's mom's hobby is playing games on her cellphone, which she does in the living room at the kitchen table, and housework (not really a hobby, but she seems to be at it all the time). Kazu's brothers don't really come out of their rooms at all except for mealtimes. The NEET brother is into motorcycles, but was in an accident a few years ago, which kind of triggered his NEET-ism (he's fine now but had to do physical therapy for a while, and I think getting off track with job-hunting and 'falling behind' everyone his age has him kind of depressed.)

Kazu's bedroom on the second floor is still exactly as it was when he was living there, but when we go to visit together, we can't sleep there because it's too small (the bed is even narrower than a regular twin bed, and there's no room for a second futon on the floor), so Kazu's mom sets up futons for us in the 'in-law apartment' on the first floor. Their house has 4 bedrooms upstairs, and 3 (a Japanese style room, a tiny room that is Kazu's dad's aforementioned hobby room, and an in-law apartment with its bathroom and a door to the outside, but no kitchen or shower/tub.

My only disappointment with my first meeting with my in-laws is that, after the first night, Kazu's mom all but insisted we leave the next day. I felt very hurt and thought that she hated me, or that having guests was too much burden for her, and ended up crying about it (not in front of the family, obviously!) But it turns out that she wanted Kazu to take me somewhere fun during Golden Week, and she felt embarrassed that their small town has absolutely nothing to do. I'm from a small town in the US myself, so I really enjoy the area where they live even more than the area where we live now, but Kazu's mom was sure we'd be bored there and gave Kazu a huge lecture and told him to take me somewhere nice. As a result, we went home and went to an indoor zoo that we saw on TV while we were at Kazu's parents house, but that's a story for another time.

I've met Kazu's parents many times now and they are always very kind to me. I still feel that I'd like to feel more like family, rather than just people who treat me kindly as their guest every time I visit, but I do think we're making progress. Personally, I find Kazu's father much easier to talk to and more genuinely friendly. His mom is what I call "polite-friendly" but I still feel that she's being nice by ACTING nice, the way Japanese people often do. I also hold back a lot around her, because I'm terrified of upsetting her in any way. I'm sure we'll get closer, it will just take time.

I'll close this post with some pictures of my in-laws. I don't have any pictures of my brothers-in-law, but I have some pictures we took of my mother and father-in-law, grandmother and grandfather-in-law, my husband, my father and I when my dad came to Japan this summer. It was very interesting seeing the difference in their behavior towards me when my dad was there; with him there, he was the 'guest' and I was one of the family and got to help give hospitality to him and of course translate between them.


Father, Kazu, Grandfather-in-law
Me, Grandmother-in-law
In the garden at grandfather-in-law's house.

Grandfather-in-law, Kazu, Father, Me
At grandfather-in-law's carpentry studio.

Father, Kazu
Me, Grandmother-in-law
In grandmother and grandfather-in-law's living room.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rabu Rabu Cooking: With Daikon



I picked up this "cooking with daikon" pamphlet at the grocery store the other day. Here in Japan, most grocery stores put out these free pamphlets to give people ideas of recipes using seasonal ingredients. It's beneficial to them because people who just came to the supermarket to buy a cup of instant ramen or w/e will end up buying the ingredients to make a dish they saw in the pamphlet instead, and it's beneficial to us because we get free recipes, directly in front of us without having to search and plan ahead, and best of all it doesn't say anywhere on there that it's copyrighted material, so I can translate it for you guys to my heart's content! There were more than these two recipes in the original pamphlet, but I only bothered scanning and translating the ones that look good to me. 

Just in case you don't know "daikon" is the name of a giant white Japanese radish. It's low in calories, high in nutrients, especially vitamin C, very inexpensive, and with a subtle taste and pleasant texture that makes it especially popular when stewed in some kind of flavorful sauce or broth. However, raw daikon is very hard, so it takes a long time to cook, and it's very stinky! I use grated raw daikon as a garnish often, but I wouldn't suggest eating it by itself; we put grated raw daikon and ponzu (a vinegar soy sauce) on grilled fish, for example. In the US, I was able to find daikon at my local asian foods specialty store, and I wouldn't be surprised if some normal grocery stores were carrying it now-a-days, though I can't remember if any near me did when I lived in the US.



Recipe 1: Butter-tomato Stewed Pork and Daikon

Ingredients (feeds 4):
* 10 cm of daikon, peeled and cut into chunks
* 500 g of pork shoulder, cut into chunks and dusted with a bit of flour, salt and pepper
* 400 g can of cut tomatoes
* 1 TBSP of olive oil
* 1 cup of water
* 50 mL of white wine or nihonshu
* 2 cubes of chicken bullion 
* 1 clove of garlic, sliced
* 1 bay leaf (optional)
* salt and pepper (to taste)
* 20 g of butter
* Italian parsley, chopped (to taste)

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in a deep fry pan or pot and add the pork and daikon.
2. Once the pork and daikon have developed some color, add the water, can of cut tomatoes, wine, bullion cubes, garlic and bay leaf and simmer on medium-low for 40 minutes.
3. Once the daikon's softened, flavor with salt and pepper to taste and finish by stirring in the butter. Ladle into serving bowl and garnish with Italian parsley as desired. 




Recipe 2: 3-Color Namul with Daikon

Ingredients: (feeds 4):
* 5 cm of daikon, peeled and cut into long, thin strips
* 1/4th of a carrot, peeled and cut into long, thin strips (Note: Japanese carrots are very short and fat, so I think 1/4th of a Japanese carrot would be equivalent to about 1 whole US carrot)
* 1 cucumber, cut into long, thin, strips (Note: Japanese cucumbers are long and thin, about 1/3rd the size of a standard US cucumber, so you might not need the whole thing)
* 1 TSP of grated garlic
* salt and pepper (to taste)
*  1 TBSP of "tori-gara soup no moto"(Note: This is basically a chicken bullion powder. I think a crumbled-up bullion cube should work fine as a substitution).
* 1 tsp of white sesame seeds
* 2 TSP of sesame oil

Directions:
1. Mix the daikon, carrot and cucumber strips together and sprinkle liberally with salt. Leave fore a few minutes, then wash off the salt and squeeze out as much of the water as you can from the vegetables with paper towels. 
2. In a bowl, mix the vegetables from step 1 with the grated garlic, chicken bullion powder, white sesame seeds and sesame oil together. Leave to marinate for a bit, then it's ready to eat.


That's all! I can't say whether or not either of these recipes actually taste good, because I haven't tried either of them yet, though I plan to try both soon. This "Cooking with Daikon" pamphlet was published by Seiyu, the Japanese branch of Walmart, and these recipes are ultimately their intellectual property, not mine! Please let me know in the comments if you are interested in more posts like this and I'll bring you some more recipes, I have a whole ton of these pamphlets at home for when I need some cooking inspiration. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Camping in Japan

久し振り~ It's been a loooong time since I updated this blog. Oops! So Kazu and I have been married for just over 5 months, though it feels like much longer. I've finally gotten used to the idea of being married, though I still occasionally have moments of total mindfuck where I'm like "Husband? I don't have one of those. Oh wait, yeah, I do..." We have little fights over stupid stuff but for the most part have been blissfully happy. In just a few months we'll be going to America for almost 3 weeks over Christmas and New Years as a combination honeymoon and yearly visit to my family. I'm really looking forward to introducing him to my friends and family, and to showing him so many things and places that were a huge part of my life before coming here and shaped the person I am today, but that he's never even heard of. 

Today I'm going to play catch-up and post about the main thing we did this summer: camping! We went 4 times, only 3 of those were successful, though. I'll talk about the major differences I've noticed between camping in the US and camping in Japan, and then tell you a bit about the places we went this year. 

Growing up, my family were big campers. We weren't 'nature survivalist' types that go out into the wilderness with only a knife, but we weren't the 'we own every space-age camping gadget known to man' types either. When I was young we were poor as dirt and went camping in a little tent with an air mattress 2 or 3 weekends each year during the summer. When I got older, my parents were both working and we were doing a bit better financially, so my parents invested in a used camper, and we upgraded to 3 or 4 weekend trips every summer. When I was in university, my parents got divorced and for a year or two we didn't go camping at all. Then we got into the habit of taking one big week-long trip each year, until I moved to Japan. Now, my mom (who got custody of the camper) rents a 'seasonal' campsite and goes camping almost every weekend. 

Campgrounds in the US (at least in New England, where I grew up) almost always have a pool, and if they don't, there is at least a lake, pond or river for swimming in. Most campgrounds have a few 'field sites' (mostly undivided campsites in the middle of a field with no shade or trees) but the majority of the campsites are bare dirt lots surrounded by trees and there are bushes and whatnot dividing the sites. Overall, it gives a feeling of being 'in the forest' and there is a certain degree of privacy. Most campgrounds have fire pits, electric outlets and water faucets installed in every single site, and there are communal toilets and showers in multiple locations around the campground. The smallest campground I've ever stayed in in the US had about 45 sites.

In Japan, 'field sites' are the only kind of sites there are. The ground is planted with grass, and in most cases there is absolutely no division between sites; there are just stakes in the ground holding up a sign with the site number written on it, and you set up your tent in the area between your stake and the one for the next site. Campers are all but non-existant and none of the campgrounds I've been to had sites that could accommodate them, though I saw some online that did. Japanese campgrounds generally do not have electricity available in each campsite, or if they do it's only available in around 20% of the sites and there's an extra fee to use it. Also, there aren't fire pits in Japanese campgrounds, you have to bring a charcoal barbecue grill with you, and setting a wood fire on the ground is prohibited. Some campgrounds have one 'communal area' where you can have a bonfire, if you pay an extra fee. The amount of 'nature' you can enjoy depends on the campground, but it's generally much less than what you'd expect in America. I think that the communal bathroom facilities in Japanese campgrounds are superior to those in America, however: the toilets are cleaner, there are huge rows of giant sinks and countertop space for washing dishes, and all the campgrounds I've been to were withing 5-15 minutes drive of an onsen. Size wise, Japanese campgrounds tend to be much smaller than american ones, with only about 15-40 sites. 

Now a bit about the campgrounds we visited this year...

1. Shibamasa World Campground (芝政ワールドキャンプ場) 
Our campsite!
Trying to cook on the disposable barbecue grills we bought.
Me teaching Kazu how to roast marshmallows.
Located in Sakai city, Fukui prefecture, Shibamasa World is actually a water park that had a theme park and campground added recently. The water park is amazing, with multiple pools, about 7 different giant water slides, and my favorite feature was the ocean pool, a giant artificial beach with an ironic view of the actual ocean just behind. It should also be mentioned that Japanese pools do use chemicals for sanitation but they are much milder than chlorine, and don't smell, hurt your eyes, or destroy your hair like swimming in an American pool will. The theme park is pirate themed, quite small, and obviously aimed at children with a pirate themed roller coaster, 'viking ship' ride, and teacup ride. To stay at the campground, it's mandatory that you purchase a 'passport' for each camper, which allows unlimited entry to both the water park and theme park. There's no discount on the cost of this passport (I believe it's about 34$ per person for adults) however while it's only valid for 1 day for normal visitors, people staying at the campground only have to buy it once and it's valid for the duration of your stay. The cost for the actual campsite was also quite expensive, about 80$ for only one night. To be fair, I think we went on a national holiday, which is always more expensive. The campground was clean and larger than any others I've been to in Japan, but it was a bit disappointing for me. Although we had a nice view of the ocean, it seemed more like a golf course than a campground. There are a limited number of sites with electricity, but we weren't able to get one. Memorable occurrences during this trip include us forgetting to pack the barbecue grill and having to buy a tiny disposable one to cook our dinner on, trying to go to the onsen at 7am the next morning only to discover it wouldn't open until 11am and then being unable to re-enter the campground because the main gates didn't open until 9am, and finally me getting the worst sunburn of my life that ended up with my shoulders and arms covered in blisters and me being unable to wear a shirt (or leave the house, because I was shirtless) for an entire week because the fabric touching my skin hurt too much. 

2. Juunibou Onsen Yurara Auto-camp Campground (十二坊温泉ゆららオートキャンプ場)
Our campsite.
Kazu uses an electric fan to get the fire going.
Enjoying beer and barbecue!
Located in Konan cit in Shiga prefecture, this campground is the closest to my house, only about 30 minutes away. It's very small with less than 20 sites, and 3 or 4 small cabins for rent. All sites have electricity available for an extra fee, and the cabins have air conditioners installed. There's also a small indoor pool and an onsen on site which campers can pay to use if they wish. If I remember correctly it was about 40$ to rent the site and 10$ per person for a ticket to use both the pool and the onsen. The term 'auto-camp' simply means that you can park your car in the site, and that you are sleeping in a tent (vs a trailer). The sites are slightly more divided and private than at Shibamasa world, and they have movable concrete blocks at each site to set up your barbecue grill on so you don't have to worry about scorching the grass. The pool was small but nice, with a big hot tub, and it was all indoors, so I didn't have to worry about getting sunburned again. The only thing I didn't like is that the lifeguard wouldn't let my husband into the pool compound until he removed his top (he was wearing a swimshirt made of swimsuit material; they are very common in Japan for preventing sunburn, but I think he was wearing it just because it looks cool). I think this must be so that people with tatoos can't secretly use the pool by covering their tatoos with a swimtop? I don't know the reason why they are prohibited, but I gave the guy a hard time and told him that if my husband can't wear a top in the pool then I shouldn't be able to either, and told him I was going to take off my swimsuit top. Haha, I thought the guy's head was going to explode! But of course I didn't follow through with this threat. The onsen here is a bit strange: there is the 'men's bath' and the 'women's bath' like at all onsens, but at this place they change which is which every day by switching the signs that say 'men' and 'women.' We used the onsen twice (the night of the day we arrived and again the next morning before leaving) and I was shocked at the difference between the two baths! The right side, which I used first, is really nice with 6 different indoor pools  including an artificial waterfall and a pool with tons of bubble, as well as an impressive outdoor pool and 3 individual bath barrels (literally a tiny pool the size and shape of a barrel). But the left side, which I used the next day, has only 3 pools (no waterfall or bubble pool) and one medium-sized outdoor pool. I wouldn't have been dissatisfied with the 2nd bath, if I hadn't gone in the other one first! The other negative point was that the check-in process for the campground was very long and confusing. We'd lined up and waited 10 minutes for the staff to check the person in front of us in, and just when it appeared to be our turn, a woman appeared out of nowhere and said we needed to wait our turn. We were pissed but waited 10 more minutes for the staff to check us with all the speed of a glacier and then when it looked like we'd finally get served, the staff called another customer, who was off somewhere else doing something else the whole time we stood right there at the counter waiting. We finally almost threw a fit at the staff before they finally explained "Oh yeah, you have to tell us you're here, and then we'll write your name on this list of people waiting to check in, and we'll call you in order." Despite this, we'll definitely go here again.

3. Kuzuryuu Kokumin Kyuuyouchi (九頭竜国民休養地キャンプ場)
Setting out with high hopes, and a full trunk.
A picture from their website, since we weren't there long enough to take any.
Located in Ono city in Fukui prefecture, this was the farthest campground we went to, about 4 hours one way from our house. It was also the one we 'failed' to stay at. It was raining in the morning when we left, but it was raining in the morning the day we went on all of our camping trips; on previous trips it cleared up by noon, so we hoped it would this time too. Unfortunately it didn't. As we approached the campground, on top of it being steadily raining, I started to get really horrible menstrual cramps. When we arrived, there was no one there! We couldn't even find an employee to check us in. When we finally called the phone number on their website we found out that check-in for the campground is actually done at the hotel (there's also a hotel onsite), but the employee strongly urged us to cancel our reservation because a typhoon was on its way! In the end we agreed, even though we'd driven all that way, and turned around and went home. It's a good thing we did, because my cramps got even worse on the way back (the worst I've ever had) and I was throwing up from the pain. As soon as we got home we left everything in the car and ran inside, literally moments before it started thundering and lightning! Although we didn't get to stay here, the campground looked very nice, with gorgeous scenery and lots of nature, as well as a river running through the campground to play in. The area is very secluded, however, and there isn't even a convenience store for miles and miles, so make sure you  have everything you need if you go here!

4. Takayama Campground (高山キャンプ場)
Our campsite.
Front view.
Kazu's "creative" fire-starting technique: using a blow torch and electric fan.
Enjoying a cold one (that my dad brought from America) while waiting for the fire to get going enough to grill on.
The river running through the campground.
Kazu (right) playing in the river.
I think this was my favorite of the campgrounds we've been to. It's located in Nagahama city, in Shiga prefecture, about 1.5 hours from my house. My husband's family is from Nagahama city, though they live on the complete opposite side of the city, about 30 minutes away from this campground. We left all our luggage (except the cooler) in the car after our failure at Kuzuryuu and went camping here the very next weekend. Takayama Campground is pretty small, with 14 or 15 regular sites, all with electricity available on-site, as well as several large cabins available to rent and an open camping area, which is a big open field with no site divisions where people can pitch their tents wherever they want and camp for a much cheaper price, but without any assurance of any privacy whatsoever. We lucked into what I think is the best site in the entire campground, with a forested mountain behind us and close to the bathroom, shower and dish-washing facilities without being too close. The cost was about $40 for the night. It's in a very rural location (the road leading into the campground is only wide enough for one car at a time, if someone's coming in the opposite direction you can't pass eachother) but it's not too far from amenities like convenience store, pharmacy and grocery store. We also stopped at two different onsens nearby. The first, only 5 minutes from the campground, supposedly has both a pool and an onsen, though we only used the onsen, and it was nice but not amazing. The second, about 10 minutes away, was even better, with a very beautiful outdoor bath and two interesting indoor baths, though unfortunately I was feeling sick and running a fever that day so couldn't enjoy it for very long. One of the best features of Takayama Campground is the river running through the campground. It's between ankle and knee-deep in most places and although you can't swim or fish here, you can play in the water, skip stones (as Kazu did) and search for crawfish and other waterbugs (as some kids were doing while we were there). I definitely want to go here again!

As for our camping gear, we had to invest a bit of money to scrape together the bare minimum. In the US my family has everything a person could possibly need for camping, so when I would go camping with my (then) boyfriend or my friends, I'd just borrow what I needed, but Kazu's family doesn't really camp, so we had to buy almost everything. His parents did give us a portable picnic table and two camp chairs that they had, and we also got a small "cooler" (not a hard-sided one, but the insulated lunchbox type) and a small barbecue grill as wedding presents. Out of pocket we had to buy a tent, air-mattress and canopy, as well as little stuff like charcoal tongs, an outdoor-safe extension cord, a gadget to blow up the air-mattress, and sheets for it. It cost about 150$ for everything, and we got the smallest and cheapest that we could find of everything we bought. Even so, we had no difficulties with the gear we purchased and can easily enjoy camping with just this for the next few years until Kazu-Tori baby(ies) join the family. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Business Trips and Barbecues and BLTs Galore!

The last two weeks have been pretty busy for me. I've been waiting very impatiently for my new passport with my married name on it to arrive so I can tackle the arduous task of changing over all my documents here in Japan (immigration and visa related documents, my driver's license, my credit card, etc). You wouldn't think that you could be 'busy waiting' but somehow I have been! I have been spending nearly all of my time outside of work trying to keep up with housework, and have been just barely keeping up with all my lessons. I really hate the feeling of not being at least a week ahead in my lesson prep and teaching classes that are half-assed, not well thought out or well prepared for, but lately I find myself planning lessons the night before at least once a week. I wish I had an extra 5 hours or so in the day! 

Kazu was sent on a sudden 1-night-2-day business trip to Okinawa last week with only 1 day prior notice, and he left again just today on another 1-night-2-day business trip to Gunma. I feel really bad for him having to rush around so much; he didn't get home until 1am the night he returned from Okinawa and this morning he had to get up at 5am and catch the train at 6:30 to make it to Gunma for noon. However, I'm secretly happy that I have been able to see him in a suit so much lately; he looks really handsome in a suit, and he normally doesn't wear them to work. 



On the weekends, I'm busy catching up on sleep and keeping my husband happy. He likes to go out on the weekends, even if it's just for a drive or shopping at the mall. He says that it doesn't feel like a relaxing weekend if he spends time at home doing nothing (or worse doing chores) and he feels neglected if I don't spend time with him. Obviously he's not an unreasonable brute (I wouldn't have married him if he was!), so he gives me time to get the main things (dishes, laundry and garbage) done and often helps me with them if he has time, but things like vacuuming, dusting and cleaning the toilet seem to just keep getting regulated to 'later' and not done unless he has overtime work during the week, or has to go to work on a weekend day. 

This weekend, we enjoyed the very summery weather with a whole bunch of our friends by having a huge barbecue. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes all the bad stuff that comes along with being a foreigner in Japan can get really suffocating, and although my husband is the most wonderful and supportive man I've ever met, he doesn't /understand/ how I feel, so it's really great to have my foreign friends to get together with and laugh at the BS we all experience and insulate ourselves in a bubble of familiar, comforting foreign culture for a few hours. The fact that many of these friends have been here much, much longer than I have is reassuring, and I feel like I need to build closer relationships with these 'old-timers.' My closest foreign friends here in Japan have either already left Japan, or will most likely leave at some point in the not-so-distant future. I will most likely be here forever, and it's really rough losing my best friends one after another, and knowing that whoever becomes my next 'best friend' (by which I just mean the person I hang out with and rely on the most, I don't really consider any of my friends 'better' than any other) is probably going to find their future elsewhere sooner or later.



Anyways, I apologize for the overall kind of gloomy air of this post. I think I'm just tired (physically) which lowers my tolerance for everything else. In reality, despite being busy and tired, I'm happier than I've ever been before. My relationship with my now-husband has been giving me a deep-seated peace and contentment that I've never had before.

Finally, to lighten the mood of this post, please allow me to share this picture of a BLT on an onion bagel that Kazu and I made for dinner last night. I've gotten him addicted to bagels and bacon (two things that virtually don't exist in Japan, and that you can pretty much ONLY get at Costco or very expensive online), and during his business trip last week Kazu saw a restaurant in the airport selling these, so he suggested we try making them when he got home. I've never eaten a BLT on anything other than bread, but it was delicious! 


Friday, May 20, 2016

A Trip to the Japanese Dentist

I wrote on my other blog a few days ago that I was having a really excruciating toothache. I'm glad to say that the pain is completely gone now. However, I had a really shocking experience at the dentist's office that I wanted to share with you guys. I hope it's interesting for you; it was a bit traumatizing for me, but I'm glad that I now know more about how dentists operate here. 

I was lucky enough to get a same-day appointment at a dentist near my house on the say the horrible pain started. When I got there I handed over my insurance card, filled out the first-time-patient medical history form, and waited until I was called in.

I already knew that in Japan, the dentist chairs are not in separate rooms, but all lined up in one big room with dividers between them. In both of the dentists I've been to, there was a wall with big windows in front of me, dividers on both sides, and the side behind me was wide open to the rest of the room. This didn't really bother me, but I have heard from other foreign friends that they don't like the lack of privacy. 

The dentist came over, asked me about my symptoms, and took a look in my mouth. He wasn't particularly gentle but not overly rough either. After a brief check of my mouth, he had a nurse guide me into a nearby closet (literally a closet) for an x-ray of the area that hurt. The x-ray room was tiny, but the x-ray process was identical to the dental x-rays I've had in America. In Japan they only do these if they are pretty sure you have a cavity and intend to drill it; they are not part of your regular yearly or bi-yearly cleaning-and-checkup dentist visits. 

After looking at the x-ray, the dentist couldn't tell which of two teeth the cavity was in (I have two teeth next to each other with old cavities in them that were filled back in America years ago, and the new cavity is right next to the old cavity, in the area where the two teeth meet and the old fillings are connected, so it's hard to see on the x-ray) so he used a tool to tap my teeth and determined which tooth the cavity was in when I shouted "Ow!" after he hit it. Not very nice, but effective. I couldn't really tell which tooth hurt until he did this, because the whole area was radiating pain.

Then the dentist said "Okay, let's fix the cavity!" and pulled out the drill. I stopped him before he could start drilling and was like "WAAAAAAIT, you forgot to give me novacaine!!!" but he said "Don't worry, I saw from your x-ray that the nerve inside your tooth is dead because of your old fillings, so you don't need it!" and started drilling. In the end, he was right, it didn't actually hurt much more than the excruciating pain I was already in. But I was really, really freaked out by the IDEA of having a tooth drilled without pain medicine. I also wish he'd explained it to me first before coming at me with the drill, but I guess it didn't occur to him that I wouldn't know any of this, since he doesn't know how dentists in other countries operate.

Then, after drilling out the old filling and the new cavity, he put some medicine inside my tooth and then told me I could go home. Once again I stopped him. "WAAAAAIT, you forgot to fill my tooth back up!" No, apparently that was intentional. He told me (in a tone kind of like he was trying to be patient while talking to a person with a mental disability) that I have to go back several times for more treatment, and when he's done healing my cavity, he'll fill it back up then. When I got home I saw that he'd put a kind of plastic/foam 'filling' inside the tooth so I could eat and not get stuff stuck in there, but it actually fell out before my next appointment and it was really freaky to have a huge hole in my tooth.

The only good surprise was the price. In the US I didn't have dental insurance past age 18 or so, and getting a cavity filled cost ~$100 with insurance and ~$300 without. The cost for my first appointment (x-ray, diagnosis, drilling, antiseptic treatment and 4 doses of painkiller to take home with me) was only 2,000 yen, ($20). 

I was very disappointed that the pain didn't stop that day, or even the following day. The dentist gave me 4 pills of a decent painkiller, which I could and did take 4 hours apart. So I was out of painkillers by the next morning, and in terrible pain again the entire day at work. After work I went to the drugstore and got some over-the-counter painkillers, which worked okay if I took a bit more than the maximum recommended dose. Japanese medicines in general are reputed to be too weak for foreigners, and although I usually have no problem with taking the 'Japanese dosage' this time I took a bit more without feeling bad about it at all. Thankfully, the 3rd day after visiting the dentist my pain got weaker and now it's completely gone. 

I went back for my 2nd appointment the following week, and the dentist cleaned out the inside of the tooth again, put more medicine inside, packed it up with new plastic/foam, and had the hygienist do a 'cleaning' for me.  It wasn't a normal cleaning like I've had before in Japan when I went for a regular checkup; she used a vibrating tool to clean the tops of my teeth where they meet the gums, and then put a really bitter medicine on the same area, on the top teeth only. I think it was some kind of anti-cavity treatment. This time the cost was only 1,500 yen ($15).

The dentist said I have to go back 3 more times (presumably once a week for 3 more weeks) and then the treatment for the cavity will be done. I am not really sure how I feel about the Japanese system overall. I'm glad it's cheap; even with the 5 office visits, the total cost is going to be less than I'd pay for a cavity with dental insurance in the US. It's worth mentioning that in Japan, national health insurance covers dental work; you don't need to pay for extra 'dental insurance.' I'm also glad that they are thorough and cautious; I would not be happy to have an entire second drilling and filling to fix things if they filled up the tooth and it was not completely healed yet.

However I don't appreciate how the dentist doesn't really explain anything to me. It's not because he's just a nasty old man,, it's just how things work here. It doesn't occur to explain what he's doing or why, because Japanese people don't bother asking because they won't understand the technical answer anyways. So when you ask the dentist (or a doctor) to explain what he's doing and why, it sounds to him like you are implying you don't trust his expert judgement. 

In any case, I'm happy not to be in pain anymore, and will be even happier when I have my new filling in place and don't have to go back in for treatment anymore. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rabu-Rabu Kitchen: Beef Stew with Puff Pastry Crust

A few days ago I made my husband one of his favorite foods ever, beef stew. He especially likes when I make it like this, baked in an oven-safe bowl with pastry crust on top. It's very easy to make, here's how I did it. You can change out the veggies for whatever you want and can easily get. In America I made this with regular sliced white mushrooms instead of bunashimeji, and I often added celery. Also, you can make it without the beef stew roux but you might need a few more bullion cubes or just replace the bullion and water with canned beef stock. .   

Ingredients (makes 2 large servings):
700ml water
2 beef bullion cubes
1/2 box (one of the 2 packets inside) of Japanese beef stew roux
1/2 large onion
1 carrot
1 large potato
100 gram bag of bunashimeji mushrooms
200 grams of pork or beef
Bisquick or flour
Japanese 'pie sheet' or puff pastry

Instructions:
1. Cut the carrots, potato, onion, and meat. Put into crockpot with water, roux, bullion and mushrooms and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
2. Shortly before dinner time, take some of the broth out of the crockpot and mix it with some bisquick or flour. I use bisquick because I think the flavor is better, but it could be all in my head. The more bisquick/flour you use, the thicker your stew will be. I used 2 giant spoonfuls of bisquick (maybe 3 normal human sized spoonfuls). Then pass it through a sieve back into the crockpot and let it cook another 10-20 minutes untl the stew has thickened.
3. Ladle the soup into oven-safe bowls. Cover with frozen puff pastry cut into a circle just a little bit bigger than the top of the bowl. If you wanna be fancy, use some cookie cutters to cut decorations from the leftover scraps of puff pastry and put them on top.
4. Bake according the directions of your puff pastry package. The soup is already cooked, so once you get the pastry golden and cooked through, you're good! I think I put it in at 200 C for about 15 minutes, but don't quote me on that.
5. Enjoy! If you're like my husband, you'll collapse on the couch immediately after eating, groaning "Onaka IPPAAAAAAI!" (I'm fuuuuuull!) while watching Supernatural :D