Monday, April 26, 2010

Miso and Punk Rock and Matsuri

So, this weekend was really the most fabulous of fabulous weekends. Seriously.

I woke up leisurely on Saturday morning and read in bed for a couple hours, until about 10. And then I made myself a DELICIOUS pancake breakfast.

I ate them with strawberries and tons of maple syrup and black-strap molasses, and really, they were absolutely HEAVENLY! It was nice to have a reminder of some of the scrumptious vegan food I have been missing, even if this particular example of that had to be similar to intestinal glue.

Afterward, I headed over to the French/Japanese exchange, and once again it was absolutely wonderful. The Japanese people wanting to learn French are absolutely fabulous. When it was over, I went grocery shopping with a Japanese woman I had met, and it was very awkward, since I don't really speak Japanese, and she doesn't really speak French or English. And of course I had to lose not one, but TWO avocados under the fruit counter, which had her crawling around on her hands and knees while I stood aside feeling awkward and trying to hide how red my face was. It was maybe a "you had to be there" sitch.

On Saturday night, Matan, Alexis, and I went to see "Clash of the Titans." Lucky for us, it was in English with Japanese subtitles. It was a terrible, terrible movie, and I absolutely loved it! I thought the plot, which was lacking, I am sure, was wonderful, and all of the gods and everything were just so beautiful. What can I say - I'm attracted to pretty things. I was certainly never once bored, and to me, that's what makes a movie. So even though Alexis and Matan didn't really like it, well, I loved it.

On Sunday, I got to talk to my Dad and Tina in the morning, for the first time since arriving in Japan. So that was wonderful.

Then I hopped on my bike and rode up to Libra, the HUGE public library and community center, where I met up with my friend Carla and the nice folks from the library to go on a tour of the Hacho miso factory.

It was amazingly awesome, and I learned some very interesting things. First of all, you can buy Hacho Miso in the US, and it as advertised as having "100% US Grown soy beans." This sort of tricks people into thinking something that might not be true. Yes, the soy beans are grown in the US, but they are then sent over to Japan, where the miso is made and packaged and then shipped BACK to the US. Wouldn't it just be better if the soy beans were Japanese grown?

In those three barrels, underneath those stones, there is miso being fermented and created from organic soy beans that were grown in St. Paul, Minnesota. SIX TONS of miso to be precise. That's a heck of a lot of miso. And then the stones - yeah, there are TWO TONS of stones. Those are some HEAVY barrels!

Look at all that bacteria left over from miso making! They don't wash them too much, because this adds to the flavor!

You can also see that the barrels are held together by these sort of bamboo braided things. These stop the miso from exploding out and also cause the weight to go to the center so that the miso will not be lost even in the event of an earthquake. Unfortunately, no one in Japan knows how to make these things anymore, so they've started using iron ones in the place. As for the barrels, there are apparently only 3 people left in Japan that know how to make them, and when these barrels get too old to use, they will start using steel barrels, which will, inevitably, change the taste of the miso.

Okay, that was a lot about miso, I know, but I found it incredibly interesting.

After the tour, Carla and I hopped on our bikes to head over to the matsuri (festival) that was going on. On our way, we stumbled across a punk rock band playing in the street.

The picture that I attempted (and failed - grrr camera)to take. If you look really close, you can see some red and green in the top right. These are the colors of the mohawks of the guys in the band.

We didn't stop for very long, as we wanted to make it to the festival, but I thought it was so cool to see Japanese punk rockers. And I personally thought the music was quite good. I hope that in the future I will be able to find more things like that.

So then, on to the festival, which was absolutely AWESOME! There were these groups of Japanese drummers doing this really cool dance while beating on the drums.

At one point, some of them put their drums down and did this very martial arts esque dance that reminded me of the quen I was learning when I left France, which made me miss Viet Vo Dao. I am so sad that I can't be doing it here.

At the end, band started playing, and we all got up and did this weird dance where we flailed are arms around bizarrely and clapped and occasionally started jumping up and down, as if we were pogoing. It was super fun, and we met some interesting Japanese people and a very nice British guy.

Now that the weekend is over, though, I've got to get back to studying. We have a HUGE test on Wednesday containing everything that we have done so far. We "reviewed" today, which basically means we went over the things that will be on the test that the teacher hadn't told us yet. I'm sure it will be find, but I'm afraid that, because I am nervous about it, I will mess up simple things.

Sooooo, on that note, off to study

Friday, April 23, 2010

THE Castle aka Okazaki Jou

So classes are kind of amazing. They are moving a little bit slowly, but I figure that's probably a good thing, as in between the everything I have already learned, there is a little bit of the new, so I feel like I'm probably learning a bit more than it seems. YES!

Twice a week, I have kanji lessons, and there is only one other person from my class with me, as everyone else has already learned a TON of kanji. So I'm with the lower level class, and it's kind-of cool, actually. I bought myself a blackboard with a beautiful pink liquid chalk pen to practice, and I think I'm in love:

Last Saturday, I participated in a Japanese-French exchange, and it was super fun. I got to talk to a ton of Japanese people, and help them with their French. . . and then I got paid! Bonus! I'm going again tomorrow, and I'm super psyched about it! :-)

Then last Sunday, I went up to Okazaki Castle with a group of friends that I've made here.

My camera is still doing that thing where every picture it takes is blurry, so this is a blurry picture of Alexis, Lauren, Martin, and Jenny-Lynn, some of the friends with whom I went.

It was quite cool. It was surrounded by beautiful gardens, and there was this cool turtle holding a scroll at the entry way.

Blurry turtle!

I find this weird, considering that today I discovered that turtle is considered somewhat of a delicacy here in Japan. There is even a turtle restaurant about 5 minutes from my apartment. I haven't seen it yet, but I will look for it tomorrow.

The castle itself was super awesome, though quite small, actually.

Blurry, terrible picture of the castle. Why do I even try?

Unfortunately, the inside was totally modernized, so it was less cool. But there were some super awesome samurai costumes, and let me just say - those dudes must have been some kinda SMALL! I wish that I could have taken a picture of one, but it was not to be. Which I guess isn't a big deal, because it would have been blurry, anyway.

WE also got to meander a bit around the gardens, which were totally beautiful and Japanese style and also had statues like this samurai dude:

After the castle, we headed over to the HUGE mall for a bit to check out the international food store. Unfortunately, there were still next to NO English ingredients listed, so I didn't buy anything.

Then we went and ate in an Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese cabbage pancakes) restaurant. Well, they ate; I watched. It was actually kind of sad for me, because vegan Okonomiyaki was one of the foods I loved to make back in France, but now that I am actually IN Japan, it seems like it might be hard for me to eat. It was really cool, though because the waiter came out with the dough (can we call it dough?), and put it on the grill that was the table, and then they got to flip it themselves.

This past week, I gave my second English lesson, which I think went well. My student seems to like me, so that's good. He wants to read Pippie Longstocking in English, so I'm going to try to base some lessons around that.
I also had an interview through Yamasa for an English teaching job, and despite the fact that it was totally in Japanese and therefore completely awkward, they seemed to like me. They've already set me up with a student, and I am supposed to meet her next week. The woman at the school has also asked me to help her set up English classes for children. She seems very excited about working with me on this new project of hers, which in turn has me excited!
It also means that I might make money. Which is good. Very good, indeed!

I also bought a bike last week! I'm in the process of thinking up a fabulous Japanese-ish name for him, and then I will post a picture! A picture that will most likely be blurry. Grrrr!

Tonight, we went to a chicken restaurant called Sen Sen Yakitori, and I snuck food in and ate it all clandestinely under the table. I felt guilty, but well, they didn't have anything for me to eat. And I am discovering that restaurants here seem to only have orange juice as a juice option, and their orange juice is terrible. It's unfortunate, really. :-( So I had bad orange juice and a great time, and I came home REEKING of cooked meat, and I had to immediately take a shower.

If I can manage to get some pictures from other people, I might come back later and replace these blurry pictures with nice pictures. In the meantime, I don't know what I am going to do. How can I be in Japan with a camera that doesn't work?
Also, blogger is once again not working to upload my pictures, so these ones are all small, and for that I am sorry.

Anyhow, can you tell I am absolutely loving life here?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life in Okazaki

I'm psyched to say that things in Japan are going smashingly! :-)

I started classes on Friday, and I like my teachers, and I like my class, and while I have hardly studied AT ALL, I am slowly finding the necessary motivation. I study just a little bit more every day. :-) The plan is to learn Japanese, after all. :-)

I also absolutely ADORE Okazaki, which is the city where I am living. The lake right by my apartment is so full of life.

The Lake

This is one of the TWO swans in what I have so fondly come to refer to as my lake!

There are ducks and koi and turtles and ants and lizards and everything else you can think of. The turtles are SO cute. They float around with their little heads sticking out of the water, and you have to look close otherwise you might think it's a piece of wood. And every morning I walk to class to the beautiful singing of birds. And the air smells fresh and clean. I have to say, it's a nice change from France.

Even the sewer caps are amazing!

They are all this beautifully decorated!

This past weekend, I walked up to the BIG mall that's about 20 minutes by feet from my apartment, and can I just say - when I say BIG, I mean BIG!

the Aeon Mall

It's three stories, and it's nonstop. By the time I made it up to the third story, I was EXHAUSTED! Seriously. I had to sit down and just breathe for a minute. Luckily, there were some comfy couches with a woman playing the piano and another on violin. So I listened to beautiful music for a little while, then continued on my way.

How could I not be exhausted when all of the stores are crazy like this?

And I wanted to buy EVERYTHING! I'm used to France, where everything is beige or black and subdued and simple. Not in Japan. Everything was a blast of cuteness and color. And there was crazy music coming out of every store. And, well, I need to find more work and quick or else I'm not going to last three months here. Either that or I just need to avoid the mall. That is probably the better idea.

Other than that, I gave my first private English lesson today, and it was my first lesson with an adult, and I have to say, I think it went well. I think I could grow to like teaching adults. Though I'm sure it will never be as fun as private lessons with kids. Now I've just got to find 4 or 5 more private lessons to give, and I'm good to go!


Friday, April 09, 2010

T-T-T-Tokyo!!!! Part 2

So Day 2 in Tokyo. So much has happened since then - can I even remember what we did?

First, every night in the hotel, we went to the hot bath they had. It was SO WONDERFUL! I understand completely why Japanese people love their baths.

me on my way to the bath in the kimono provided by the hotel

Well, we got on the metro and headed to Harajuku in search of one vegan restaurant, which we never ended up finding. We found ourselves instead at another, the Brown Rice Cafe, which was quite good but quite expensive. It's not one that I would recommend (and not 100% vegan), though I was psyched that they had to go food, so that I could get something for lunch the next day.

The FUNNIEST thing, though, happened on the way there. Mahalia and I had eaten apples for breakfast, and she was holding our rinds in a cardboard cup, as there are trashcans to be found NOWHERE in Japan. It's as if they keep their trash on them, as it is also RIDICULOUSLY clean. Well, a train came as we were looking for a trash can, and last minute we realized it was our train. So we went to run for it, Mahalia tripped near the door, the apple rind on the top went flying out of the cup into the metro, the door closed, and the apple rind was in the car with us on the outside. SO not something to happen in Japan. We were shocked. People inside were examining it and looking out at us, both with our horrified faces. I didn't stop laughing the entire day. I am still laughing even now. Frankly, only when you understood how Japanese people are in regards to trash will you understand just how funny this was.

There are also women only cars on the metro in Japan. Though they don't seem very strict about it. Still, interesting. . .

Afterwards, we headed over to a museum that had an exhibit of old wood press Japanese art that we wanted to see. It was amazingly beautiful, but, once again, no pictures were allowed in the museum. Outside the museum, there was this super cool umbrella stand. They should have these everywhere!


And then we started exploring parks!

Aren't they beautiful?!?

We eventually found our way through the gardens of the Imperial Palace, which was just BREATHTAKING!

And then we headed over to Ueno Park, which is known for the Sakura, cherry blossom trees. They were absolutely BEAUTIFUL, but frankly, I was unimpressed overall. There were FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE! You could barely move when you were walking. How are you supposed to admire when you can barely breathe. And then there were drunk Japanese people everywhere. It just wasn't for me. The trees were AMAZING, though.

In case you didn't know, a lot of people makes a LOT of trash. They managed to get most of it in the trash can, at least. :-P

We were pretty exhausted after Ueno, so we headed out for an early dinner at the most adorable little restaurant that had delicious vegan Japanese curry and vegan ice cream. This made for a very happy Audrey. :-) And then, back to the hotel.

How CUTE is my heart-shaped bread?!?

Day 3, we did the Ghibli Museum, which was, of course, AMAZING! For those of you that don't know, this is the museum that focuses of movies by Hayao Miyazaki (think Howl's Movie Castle, Princess Mononoke, Naussica in the Valley of the Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, etc. . .).

Once again, no pictures allowed. :-( We got to see a short film that was made just for the museum, and it was amazingly adorable. Of course. And we got to see all sorts of original movie drawings and paintings. And there was a cat bus, like from Totoro. We were too big to be allowed in, though. :-(

There was also a big robot!

Afterwards, we walked through the surrounding park, and we came across the most beautiful shrine on a lake. When Japan isn't covered with buildings and people, it can be absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. It's a pity there has to be so many people.

And that was the end of Day 3. The next morning, to Okazaki! So that finishes my time in Tokyo! :-)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

My new chez me!

Okay, so I promise, the rest of my trip to Tokyo is coming SOON, but in the meantime, I'm now officially settled in my new apartment!!

It's small and the walls are ugly, but I already love it! There's a nice-sized bedroom with a nice-sized balcony. There's a smallish kitchen, a nice bathroom with a shower and, YAY! a bathtub, which is super short and super deep, Japanese style. I've already used it once, and while I can't really lie out in it, it's wonderful. :-)

This is literally right next door to my new apartment! I can see it from my window!

Yesterday, we had our placement test, and I of course forgot absolutely everything I know. In the interview part, I was even using the present tense instead of the past tense. It was embarrassing, actually. In any case, I don't really mind being put at a level slightly below my actual level. I think it will help, even, as we're supposedly supposed to learn *30* new vocabulary words every day!! I'll know Friday what my level is.

Today, we had orientation in the afternoon. Tomorrow, we will have what seems to be an all day orientation. And we're supposedly going to have to introduce ourselves in Japanese in front of everyone. AGH! Scary!

After orientation today, a nice Swiss woman named Monica pointed me in the direction of a health food store. Right here in Okazaki. About a 5 minute walk from my apartment. I am SUPER psyched!! It seems as if I might now survive my time here!

I know you want to see pictures of what I bought - I know I do - I don't want to forget. There was a super nice woman working who understood what vegan means and who read all of the ingredients on things for me. I don't want to have to do that again.

Is it just me, or is it weird that all soy milk isn't vegan. The only one I can think of in the US that isn't is 8th Continent. So yay marusan!

Tempeh and tvp! YES!

Vegan Japanese curry! Mieum!

Vegan ramen - I can see this coming in extremely handy!

I'm super psyched! I also found this website for Tengu Foods, which is a sort of Japanese version of Pangea. And what's best is that their web site is also in English!
So, I think it's going to be easier to be vegan here than I originally thought. I'm so going to have to find a job, though, if I'm going to be able to afford it.

Welcome to Okazaki, Audrey! And that's all for now, folks! I've bought a Japanese squash, and I'm off to find delicious ways to cook it when I have no seasonings whatsoever. :-)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

T-T-T-Tokyo!!!! Part 1

NOTE: I for some reason can't seem to get the pictures to upload via blogger or picasa right now, so if the sizes are weird, sorry! I had to size them myself. I will replace them if it ever starts working here.

So, Tokyo was absolutely FANTASTIC! For the first couple days I was there, I actually had this shocking thought that I might actually be able to live there. That changed quickly, when I realized that the area in which I was staying and that I had previously been visiting were just especially calm and tranquil.

Anyhow, unfortunately my camera has been having some issues ever since I dropped it in Etretat, so all of my pictures are BLURRY! Luckily, Mahalia took some great pictures!

So, the first night, we went to this cute little restaurant recommended by the hotel, which was luckily non-smoking. There was a very scary dead fish staring at us from the bar right in front of us.

After much discussion with the incredibly nice barman(in a weird mixture of English, French, and Japanese), we finally determined that I could eat the edamame and the Japanese pumpkin, which actually looked like green squash to me. It was SO delicious, and possibly the most delicious thing I ate while in Tokyo.

Afterwards, we went to the hotel bar (non-smoking YAY!), where we had to take off our shoes, and I drank mango juice and sat down on my knees all traditionally. :-) There was one of those traditional Japanese heaters under the table (I forget what they're called), and it was sort-of awesome.

Day 1, when we finally got out of the hotel, after a brief stop at something that seemed to be a graveyard,

the first thing we did was, guess what!, eat. We went and discovered the Loving Hut of Tokyo. Loving Hut is one of my absolute FAVORITE vegan restaurants of Paris, so I was psyched to discover one in Tokyo, even if the menu was totally different.

I was mega psyched because I got to eat my first vegan bento box.

It was sort of super awesome, especially since I'm sure it probably won't happen again unless I return to Loving Hut.

After eating, we hopped on the metro and discovered something I thought was very weird: there was a blood donor station IN the metro. Weird!

Anyhow, we went off in search of the Japanese Sword Museum, which ended up being a small museum showcasing Japanese swords. It was sort of amazing. I got to read a pamphlet on how to take care of Japanese swords and how to appreciate them. I appreciated, and I wish I could show you guys pictures, but that wasn't allowed.

Afterwards, we went off in search of cherry blossom trees, but in the place, we found the Meiji Temple/Shrine. It was this huge beautiful building (well, area, really) in the middle of this amazing forest.

It was possibly the coolest thing I saw the entire time we were in Tokyo.

I think we got lucky, too, because there was a wedding going on while we were there, so we got to see a Japanese bride and groom in traditional garb. Super cool (to the power of infinity).

The exit of the temple ended up being at the Harajuku metro station, so we walked down the big street through Omote Sando, which is basically like the Champs-Elysees of Tokyo.

Then we hopped on the metro

and headed on over to Ginza. I think we were lucky that we ended up there at night, as lit up it was beautiful, but I think during the day it would have been concrete and too much.

We saw the major area where there are, like, 6 ways to cross all at once; it's sort of ridiculous - it's full of cars one second then totally empty and then totally full of people.
{{picture of crossroads}}
Sorry, my picture didn't really turn out so well.
We also got to see the major Kabuki theatre. I think that I would have really liked to see a Kabuki play, though it might have been hard given that I wouldn't have understood anything.

This post is already pretty long, and that's only day 1. So days 2 and 3 will be in a separate post (or two). So that's all for now, folks! Check back soon for Tokyo Days 2 and 3!