Monday, February 21, 2011


We have had more snow this winter than I have ever seen in this part of Japan. Still not as much as I'm used to back home, but it came as a shock to get so much snow here. Fortunately, shovelling is still rarely needed, because the snow usually melts within a day.

And our good friend Lydia dropped in too. Did she bring the snow? Probably. Her and Tara sure enjoyed playing in it!
Strange Japanese snow play fact: Japanese snowmen consist of only 2 balls (head and body), unlike their three-balled Western counterparts. I guess it's a height thing?

The usual lineup of bicycles at the train station, slowly being buried under the snow. On the upside, it keeps your groceries fresh when you put them in your basket.

Thanks for stopping by Lydia!
It was a fun few days, and now she'a back at Columbia University in New York. But we will be seeing her again in a few months, at some kind of wedding that's taking place this fall.


Another year has begun. New Year's Eve is a big family holiday here, much more like Christmas for many people in Canada - a day to stay home with your family, and eat a traditional annual feast. Christmas, oddly, is more like Valentine's Day - as in, a day on which you're not supposed to be without a date. Anyway, expecting that everyone would be at home with their families, we didn't expect to find much excitement on New Year's Eve. We ended up finding some pretty big parties, though! The most interesting action was happening at the largest local temple. After the countdown at a bar, we wandered over to the temple to find a full on festival happening. People selling food, having drinks, keeping warm by large bonfires, walking through rings of fire to purify themselves at the start of the new year, and making the all important first prayer of the year. Tara and I fortunately had one lucky 5 yen coin between us, and tossed it in for good luck in the coming year. So far, so good!

The winter holiday gave us time to try skiing. Probably the first time in more than 10 years for both of us! Don't be fooled by my confident pose, Tara is the superior skier. In fact, she gave me a few lessons on the bunny hill runs before we tried the steeper slopes.

Ooh, photo effects!
Don't be fooled by my Canadian Olympic hat. I did not make the team…
this year.

The snowy mountain. It goes up and up and up into the fog. It was beautifully mystical, shrouded in fog, and covered in snow.

Mmm, delicious looking, frosted trees in Nagano prefecture. Nagano really resembles Canada. It made me feel kind of like I had gone back home for the afternoon. But we also had much more snow in Ichinomiya this year than any other year that I have lived here. (Photos in following post).

Makin' Mochi

How to Make Mochi (Japanese Rice Sweets)

Put the steamed rice in the large, stone, mortar. Pound repeatedly until it turns into a sticky, solid mass, resembling dough.

Continue to turn the pounded rice over upon itself, and pound. Pound, pound, pound!
Try to refrain from breaking the hammer, like I did.

Roll the giant rice dough ball into a flat sheet on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut into smaller squares. Fill the squares with sweet red bean paste. Roll into a small ball, with the red bean paste in the centre.

Your arms will become very tired from making mochi. Remember to stretch thoroughly before beginning.

Be careful not to hit your friends with the hammer. Mochi making is a fun Japanese tradition if you keep these simple rules in mind!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Christmas in Japan

Ok, so what is Christmas like in Japan?

Well, everyone is definitely AWARE of Christmas here. If you wander into a mall, you might even mistake it for a Western mall - pictures of Santa Claus and snowflakes on shop windows, etc. But culturally, it's definitely different.

Here, New Year's Day seems to be the most important family holiday. On New Year's Eve (my students tell me) mothers are very busy preparing special dishes to be eaten on New Year's Day. Christmas, on the other hand, is not a family holiday, but more like Valentine's Day in the West - a night on which you DON'T want to be without a date! Restaurants are packed, and often offer special 2 person set course meals.

We had to really work at creating a Christmas atmosphere in the apartment, but with the affordable video rentals (100 yen - about $1/week!), and mini Christmas tree, it was a solid success.
Ooh, one lucky boy got a guitar for Christmas!

One lucky girl got the cutest, fuzziest, little pyjama set you've ever seen.

And of course it wouldn't feel like Christmas without a traditional Christmas dinner. We don't have an oven here, but we were fortunately able to find a tasty roast chicken.

Incidentally, in Japan, Colonel Sanders (Yes, THE Colonel of KFC fame) is actually a Christmas icon. It's pretty rare to find turkey in Japan, but apparently with his chicken, white beard, and red logo, The Colonel has become a major part of Christmas in Japan. We fortunately did NOT have to eat KFC for Christmas, but many students have told me that to them… Christmas means KFC.

Wherever you are, I hope y'all had yourself a fingerlickin' good Christmas!

Superman in the Kitchen

One thing we don't find a lot of here is RICH food. So once in awhile we start to get a craving… real cheese, bacon, creamy rich sauces… mmmm….

So when Tara suggested making a macaroni and cheese casserole the other day, I couldn't resist. I have to say it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But that's just the kind of Superman, I am.

My new apron (acquired at a recent Christmas gift exchange) hints at my alter ego.
I was very surprised that such an accurate image of my real body would be printed on an apron here in Japan, but there you have it… Yup, that's pretty well what I look like under the apron. Now you know.