Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cute Shit: Japanese New Years' Decorations

When we got back from the States it was obviously a little bit of a downer - you know, back to the land where I have extremely limited options for doing all of my own cooking, our apartment is always too cold and work is always sweltering, etc. - but one of the nice things was seeing these early that first morning, when I was on my way to work 7 hours after getting home. 

I'm posting about this before our American vacation itself because it's easier, and I'm not sorry.

I read online that in this region of Japan (関東) bamboo versions of these are preferred, but every single one in my neighbourhood was pine. They're simply called 門松 ("gate pines") and are put up for the first week of the New Year so that the New Year god (年神) will descend from the heavens and bless your home. And of course there are all kinds of other positive connotations and metaphors associated with evergreens and bamboo, too.

I put a tiny one like this on the Christmas gift I gave my grandparents.

Even though these things are being used in very different contexts, don't you think there's something relatable and comforting about seeing decorated wreaths on doors shortly after Christmas? 
Because the image is familiar but the decorations are rustic, primitive, and very Asian, they come off as very likable and charming instead of weird and unfamiliar. I thought about this while on the walking portions of my morning commutes; it's one of those things where the thought of, "wow, people are mostly just the same and a lot of what we do has a common root in the extremely distant past" really hits home.

Of course, many businesses are closed at this time.

As for all of these, they're called しめ飾り, and are made of rope and straw because of a legend about the sun goddess Amaterasu from one of the oldest surviving Japanese texts. 

One day she got all pissy and hid in a cave behind a boulder (Jesus resurrection story again, anyone?) after having an argument, and the other gods had to go in and get her after having tried everything else they could think of, finally using a rope to drag her back out to deal with her shit. While she was in there - because she's the sun goddess - the world was swathed in darkness and overrun by demons, so it was really pretty important that she clam her tits and get her life. They barred her from going back in with a pole of plated straw that was enchanted or something. I should probably remember more of this from college, but I often can't hear my own thoughts over the sound of my crushing student loan debt.

So in a nutshell, that's why there are always rope decorations at Shinto shrines and during occasions like this. They symbolise holiness and purification.

Here's the biggest of both types of decoration I saw in my immediate area. The cinderblocks aren't very attractive but many people use them.

You also see lots of these (well, like, the one on the left) in convenience and grocery stores, and presumably just about everybody has one at home. It's 鏡もち, "mirror rice cake", so named I guess because mirrors used to be large, round, polished stones.
(Sauce: Rinkya Blog)

Happy Year of the Monkey!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Yokohama Weihnachtsmarkt 2015

So I found out that there are a number of purportedly German-style Christmas markets around Tokyo and decided that, since the Pikachu event was so good and Yokohama is generally pretty fun, I wanted to go to the Red Brick Warehouse one.

I invited Rejon and Alex and he brought his friend Chase, and because I'm a dumbass they had to sit outside in the cold at the Sakuragicho Station Starbucks waiting for us for 40 minutes. 
Going anywhere in Tokyo basically just takes at least an hour, it's ridiculous. The damn city is way too big and spread out, but I know how long it takes to get to Yokohama and have no excuse. One of my New Years' resolutions is to be more punctual. At least I'm never late for work, I guess.. ><

It was also a pretty long walk from Landmark Plaza, which I hadn't realised either.
But I'd say it was worth it.

It was very reminiscent of Hamburg or another Baltic coastal city because of the red brick buildings. The atmosphere was nice, though it was a Saturday and there were about 8.4 million people in this one very small area, a single aisle of food and drink stalls.


Predictably, only one of these stalls was actually selling gluhwein, and it was 700円 for a tiny cup. Sigh. That boot cup you see is also kid-sized, and was 10 bucks. No thanks. ;(

Creepy Santa photobomb

We had a nice time drinking hot drinks and talking, though.

... Although a lot of the conversation was ranting and bitching about how Japan makes no sense and can't get its shit together, lol. Alex is only going to be here for about 6 more months and he's very ready to call it.

Hannes got me a bratapfel, which is a baked apple full of whipped cream and raisins. Between that and the lumumba I had after we first got there, I went way overboard with the dairy.


While walking back to Landmark Plaza with Alex (Rejon and Chase had other plans and left before us) I suddenly had extremely painful stomach cramps or muscle spasms or something like I haven't had in years, and had to sit on a railing for maybe 10 minutes. Then, when I started feeling better, we went to cross the street. While I was dead in the center of the crosswalk, my extremely poorly-designed new hightops tied themselves together and I ate shit, hard. I had enough time while going down to try to do something about my feet, realise it was impossible, turn to avoid having my face hit the asphalt, and lament the slow-motion tragedy of my mostly-full, overpriced cup of gluhwein dramatically flying out of my hand and disappearing into the black street
Hannes looked around before helping me up, seeing what had happened and not being able to think of anything other than someone having tied my shoes together as a joke. Some douche in the car with his girlfriend had the audacity to honk at me while I was being helped to the sidewalk, so I kind of flipped out, started yelling and swearing at him, etc.
The shoes have outward-facing hooks right where the laces are. So that one shoe can perfectly grab the laces of the other. Who fucking does that?! I took pictures because I still want to e-mail the company and be like, "Y'all done fucked up".

I tore my favourite pants in two places, lost it a bit, and went on a big emotional semi-drunken rant about how Japan fucking sucks and even when it's not Japan being directly retarded (which it very often is) it seems like we can almost never go out and have fun without it somehow turning to shit. 

But then a lady standing at the next crosswalk with her son saw my leg, gasped a little, and fished two Band-Aids out of her purse. She asked if that was enough and if I needed more. I told her two would be fine and thanked her earnestly.

Fucking emotional rollercoaster country, really.

Anyway, we had some fries and McDonald's before heading home, and I took a selfie because I wanted to feel cute in my cool thrift store sweater and not hideously embarrassed.

A few days later when it came up Hannes started laughing and was like, "All we did was go to the Christmas Market, and you hurt yourself in like, 7 different ways!"

It's true, I am pretty prone to sickness, weird accidents, and injuries, lol. My other New Years' resolution, though, is to stop stressing out about/being so angry about/hating living here, though, because that's obviously a waste of time and everything else.

Before going home I covered the shoelace hooks with mustache-print duct tape and have been trying to improve my attitude ever since. Finding out that I may be able to keep the good job I found helps a lot (visa issues, who needs 'em), and so did having Patrick stay with us for a week. This year I want to keep making bank while working less than full time and do Japan right. We already have someone else coming to stay with us in 3 weeks, and doing all the stuff I haven't had the chance to do in the 10 or so months we've lived here - like going to the Mori Art Museum and Kawaii Monster Cafe - with friends we haven't been able to make in this country is a good start.

Monday, January 11, 2016


And now gather round children, for ye shall hear, the story of our first Thanksgiving in Japan.

Last Thanksgiving was really quite awesome, and we decided it'd be worth it to go all-out for this one, too. Luckily, NiQui has both a Costco card and a Japanese drivers' license and is comfortable with driving and getting inexpensive rental cars here, so we were actually able to go all-out. 

Outwardly it looks like there are Costco locations in Tokyo, but the kind of floorspace they require is mind-boggling for Japan, so they're actually in West Tokyo and Saitama, each a tiring hour and a half away by multiple trains and a significant amount of walking. 
So getting a pie, turkey, and a few other things to lug back that way wouldn't have been a very good plan. Instead, thanks to NiQui, we were able to spend basically an entire day going to get them the weekend before we had our feast.

We put on the Octopouple + Le Crabe mix LP Hannes and I gotten from them at a show Rejon also came to a little while ago, and with her as a very sick copilot/navigator, we set out to get to Costco without using any toll roads or highways, which NiQui had calculated would have cost us an additional $18 or so each way. Because every time you turn around Japan just finds another way to fuck you and take more of your money for no good reason.

Some narrow back roads skirting rice paddies and close calls with brick walls later, we finally made it, and had a good day of shopping.

This was Hannes' first Costco experience.

lol sorry guys but NiQui made a really hilarious face here for some reason and I had to share it.

This about covers it even though we couldn't find stuffing or any gluten free mixes, right?
Hannes and I ended up polishing off that whole bottle of Smirnoff that weekend, lol.

We actually found quite a lot of good stuff; Hannes and I bought an enormous bottle of nice sake, a 10-pound box of oats, a big bag of Craisins, a jar of yuzu tea, the beef jerky you can see up there, and some pretty good obligatory food court stuff. NiQui and Rejon got bagels, castille soap, and some other stuff that's otherwise crazy hard to find. 

Skytree is ridiculous! How far away from it were were even?! 

We were also lucky enough to get a beautiful view of Fuji on the horizon as we crossed a large bridge on the way back, with verdant parks and sports fields and trees below.
"MAJESTIC. AS. FUCK." More Liberally Swearing Driving NiQui commented poignantly.

Aww, he passed out!

I was super cereal about getting ready for this and bought a cute little poinsettia in Ichigaya as a makeshift centerpiece. After seeing a really successful one posted in a Facebook group, I was also thinking that making holiday wreaths from pine twigs scavenged at shrines and a few other 100 yen shop bits and pieces would be fun, so I had stopped at Ikebukuro after work the night before looking for said bits and pieces, but I'm glad I didn't find anything. We definitely, definitely did not have time for that.

Begin preparations! On the way home I picked up a complimentary bottle of wine from our local Indian restaurant I'd had coming my way plus another one and a few thises and thats before making sangria, salad, and mashed potatoes until late into the night.

We woke up early, of course, and Hannes faithfully started mincing garlic.

Aforementioned previous night preparations, plus spinach! ALL the spinach!

NiQui had dropped her countertop oven off at our place after the Costco trip, and it was decided that she was the Turkey Boss. Rejon planned to make baked mac 'n cheese and allergy-friendly green bean casserole (with almond milk and cornstarch I have). She also ended up bringing a can of cranberry sauce and another of yams.

LOOK AT THIS. LOOK AT IT. Classic. Classic bullshit. Who put that stupid outlet up there, anyway?! I know I sure as hell can't reach it without pulling something.

But, okay, we got the turkey into the oven, and only one more run to the store had to be made over the course of the very long cooking and strong sangria drinking day. 
I'd put a persimmon, an apple and a grapefruit into our glass pitcher - which filled it completely - and added a pretty liberal amount of gin, so eating said fruit was definitely drunk-inducing, and we started putting a dent in that stuff at like 11 AM.

Cooking, waiting, cooking, waiting..
My mom had also wanted to Skype, so I had everyone say "Hi!" to her.

Hmm... Mhmm. Mhmm. Yeah. Yep. Looks like a turkey.

And finally, the finished product in all its splendour! I'll just tell you right now that we took a lot of pics of this glorious festive spread, and because my camera can barely take pics in dim light, NiQui and Rejon were super, super patient waiting to eat until I'd finished.

Oh right, and NiQui had also brought over this bag of bell peppers she'd wanted to use, so I just pan grilled them. And those mountains of spinach were for the soup you can see, which also has garlic, onions and chickpeas and was amazing the first time I made it but turned out pretty flavourless for this, sadly. Booo!

Waaaaa finally done cooking!

You can see the credits for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles rolling in the background there. It's the only actual Thanksgiving movie aside from the Charlie Brown one (which we also half-watched), I think, so I'd made a point of putting it on, but once again didn't actually end up watching it. Mostly it was Rejon sitting there with her sangria and her terrible lingering cold virus making comments like, "Ohhh my god, now the car's going to break down. Yep, it did. Buuuullllshiiiiiit."

Even though she was still sick, though, she looked good! I, on the other hand, look like I've died and been revived, because I'd taken crampy medicine that's basically a strong sedative (and had also been drinking all day).


Aw yiss. Even as a vegetarian (and supposed-to-be-gluten-and-soy-free-vegan now; just kill me) I can definitely appreciate how beautiful and perfect the turkey turned out. NiQui also made not only the gravy, but cornbread stuffing from scratch!



Om nom nom nom!

-satisfied sounds-
(yes that is a spoonful of butter)

It was glorious. Delightfully decadent! Everything Thanksgiving is supposed to be. This was also Hannes' first ever mac 'n cheese! It was so, so right. We worked and cooked and toiled and chopped and basted and ran out for forgotten things and assembled it for the entire day, then sat down and ate way too fucking much. NiQui made hot apple cider by heating up apple juice in a saucepan with a cinnamon stick in it, and we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, too. Perfect.

Oh, and then we ate the pie! Hahah! Maybe it was a little too perfect. This is the face of holiday binge eating regret and tryptophan fatigue if ever I've seen it. Wonderful.
The only thing we forgot about was the wishbone! Damn! Next year.