Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chuuka Soba

Back to the blog that no one reads but me! I was speaking with a friend yesterday (and come to think of it, I speak of this subject often) about wanting to write but never doing so. And thinking on it now, it seems that a blog is exactly the place start.

And so I will start back with an entry on my lunch. This plain looking bowl of ramen is from the chain restaurant 'Chikara,' which primarily sells udon.

Generally I don't much care for udon, nor is Chikara's fare all that great, but with only 30 minutes for lunch and this shop a block from my school, it made the most sense. And then of course I passed over all the various styles of udon and ordered 'chuuka soba.'
Looking at the picture, you might think 'Oh, so you had ramen.' and of course, you would be right.

Soba is the Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. Chuuka refers to Chinese cooking. The majority of shops selling the dish seen below call the same thing 'ramen.' So what's the deal with Chikara calling it 'chuuka soba'? Saying it this way is the equivalent of saying 'Chinese noodles' in English. And this brings me to an interesting concept.

The other day in a business class I was teaching, we looked at a news article discussing the Chinese Government's recent (?) decision to ban the use of foreign words in all official publications, from newspapers to radio broadcasts and web reports, the claim being that the use of foreign words corrupts and detracts from the purity of the Chinese language. Several years ago I read that France had passed similar legislation. These countries, instead of using a foreign word to describe something that may not have an equivalent word in their own language, create new words to suit the purpose, thereby maintaining the 'purity' of the language.
Back to ramen. As I said
before, most shops in Japan call this bowl of
noodles ラメン (This is 'ramen' written in the katakana alphabet, one reserved only for words of foreign origin).
The issue of somehow 'sullying' a language through the use of foreign words is an interesting one in regards to Japanese. As anyone who has ever lived here knows, katakana words are everywhere, sometimes with meanings entirely different from that of their origin ( one of my favorites is 'about' which means 'vague').

With so many foreign words floating around and new ones coming into common use all the time, it's a wonder that people don't get confused. But of course, they do, as do the foreigners who hear these words and assume the meaning to be the same as always.
While initially, it may seem a bit snobbish of countries to discourage the use of foreign words, when it comes to Japanese, I can see where sometimes the foreign alternative may be inferior to a Japanese substitution.

How about the role of foreign words in English? Some will argue that English has become the international language it is mainly because of the ease with which is subsumes foreign words. What do you think?

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011


It's a beautiful sunny Monday and I have found myself with a day have in compensation for having "worked" on Saturday (going to my school festival can hardly count as working, but definitely not complaints here!)
I suggest to V that we pack in the car and go look for a waterfall we've heard about. Driving west on Route 2 out of Hiroshima takes us to Ootake, and the waterfall is supposedly somewhere near the exit for the toll road. Not really knowing where to go, I take a wild guess and turn up a road along a river in the general vicinity of said exit. 2 or 3 blocks and a sign bearing the name "錦竜の滝" (I'm not quite sure of the reading, but (I think it's nishikiryuu).
We drive up a narrow road through a thick forest of cryptomeria, and beach, bamboo and hackberry Ferns blanket the hillsides, and kudzu creeps over everything. After a short drive we reach the end of the road and find a bridge spanning the river just in front of a river management dam. A trail leads up from the bridge, and we take it.
A short 15 minute walk takes us to a beautiful waterfall plunging into a wide pool perfect for a summer swim. The water feels amazing, and the setting is gorgeous.
I think I will definitely be here again.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Owls and parks

The other weekend we drove up to Miyoshi City in search of fireflies (last post). After arriving, we had a few hours to kill before dark, so we grabbed some food and stopped by 尾関山公園 "Ozeki Yama Park."

From the parking lot, the first thing I notice is a dry-creek rock garden. Huge boulders outline an imagined waterway bordered by hydrangeas and stone lanterns and crossed by several bridges. A large dormant waterwheel adorns one end. My first thought is how beautiful it would be were water actually flowing. But as I look on the garden bathed in the afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees, I begin to "see" the water that isn't there, and imagine what the designer wanted to suggest.

Heading past the garden and into the park, I look up into the nearby beech trees and spot a large bird standing vigil over the path. Immediately I recognize the outline of a small hawk or kite. But as I peer up, I notice its huge yellow eyes--not the angled, piercing eyes of a hawk, but the saucer-round staring eyes of an owl.
Having never seen an owl in the wild, I excitedly raise my camera and start snapping away, my subject benignly, if not disinterestedly watching, expression filled, I imagine, with the patient, ancient wisdom famed of his kind. He poses for a number of poses willingly enough, until I move in closer when, finally tiring of the imposition on his afternoon, he flies off.

Later, after a fruitless Google search in English for this bird, I have more luck with Japanese and find the bird is called an あおぶずく-- a brown hawk-owl. Common to South-east Asia,
the owl has features resembling hawks and kites, but shares the typical traits of its more distinctive cousins, like its large eyes and nocturnal lifestyle.

After my encounter with the owl, the rest of the park is pleasant, but ultimately uninspiring. We follow a path up a wooded hill leading to a wide grassy field at the summit. Cherry trees ring the outside, and a large, dilapidated stage sits off at one end. We sit in the grass next to a cherry tree and begin feasting on our lunch, while the denizens of mosquitos begin feasting on us. We quickly tire of the arthropodic assault and flee back down to the car, deciding its time to begin our search for fireflies.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Begins

In the last week or so, the rainy season has morphed into full-blown summer, and every day feels like a sticky, stifling sauna. But even though the summer heat in Japan still takes me by surprise, there are so many things happening that it's hard not to get excited.
Earlier in the week, we were discussing a possible trip to the beach to make up for a trip several weeks earlier that had been canceled due to rain. This time, again the weather report was calling for rain, along with possible thunderstorms and an approaching typhoon. We decided to take our chances.
The week progressed, our lives stayed busy, and we failed to make any definite plans, until late Friday afternoon, the topic of fireflies came up. I'd seen them once before in Kochi and also remembered reading somewhere that June is the month to see them. Realizing we only had one week of June left, I hopped on Google and soon had a trip to ホタル見公園" planned out.
We left around midday and drove north to Miyoshi on the Chuugoku expressway. It took us around an hour and 1900 yen to get there. The first order of business after arriving was to get some food. I drove all over the place looking for a supermarket, but apparently people in Miyoshi don't need groceries all that much. I finally found a co-op and grabbed something from the meager fare. From there we had a look on the map, and decided to go to 尾関山公園 "Ozeki Yama Park," where we feasted on our lunch, and the mosquitos feasted on us.
As the day started to grow late, we decided to go find our fireflies and again set out on the road.

Driving north on route 54 (then 62 and eventually 39) took us past incredible views of newly planted rice fields bordered by lush walls of vegetation. Every inch of usable land along valley floors has, I'm sure, but cultivated for centuries, until now, the areas all look very flat, with mountains suddenly shoot straight up towards the sky. The brilliant green of the new rice plants combined with the densely forested mountains creates a truly stunning view. Living in the city, it's easy to forget just how beautiful Japan can be.
We finally got to the general vicinity of where the firefly park was supposed to be, but I hadn't seen any signs. Passing an onsen, I decided to stop and ask. I inquired at the reception desk with a bored-looking who seemed happy for the distraction. She told me how to get to the park, but then said "The park is just about ten minutes away, but in fact, if you go up this road here, Kimita town is having their firefly festival tonight. I recommend that over the park. "
It goes without saying that we headed off toward the firefly festival.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Day Duck

For whatever reason, Father's Day always seems to catch me by surprise. Last week I realized it was already mid-June and the day must be fast-approaching. I checked the calendar, and sure enough, I had only a few days to go.
Feeling inspired by the raccoon I recently did, I decided that I would get out my prisma-colors and draw up one of Dad's favorite fine-feathered friends. I settled on a wood duck, googled it, and, finding a decent picture, got to work.
Thinking on it now, I'm not sure why I always seem to associate wood ducks with my dad. As a bird-watcher, I think he is actually more interested in song birds. Maybe it is I who thinks wood ducks are impressive and somewhere concluded that as a bird-lover, Dad must also like them. At any rate, the picture I chose was quite beautiful, and I'm happy with they way my drawing came out.
For the moment, I have just this cell-phone picture of it half-completed, but I hope to have a proper scan up soon as well.

Friday, May 27, 2011


When my sister and I were still quite small, we lived in a house bordered by fairly extensive woods. One year we had a family of raccoons come to visit us nightly on the back deck. We fed them dog food, and it was then that I learned that raccoons do not produce saliva and must have water when they eat.

This, I was told, leads to raccoons dipping their food in water or dipping their paws in and then rubbing it on their food.
Since then, I've learned that a lack of saliva is not the reason a raccoon dips (actually termed 'dousing') its food, but does it for other (researchers don't seem entirely sure) reasons.
At any rate, I had to laugh when I first heard the Japanese name for raccoon: araiguma, meaning "bear that washes."

My mom's birthday is coming up, and while thinking of something to do for her, I remembered that time as a kid and did this drawing for her card.

Chinaberry Tree

Walking around town recently, I started noticing a heavy scent in the air almost like lilacs. And then I started seeing along many of the roads through town, the trees were blooming heavily with clumps of small purple flowers.  
Curiosity piqued, I did a bit of googling and found that it is sendan-- Chinaberry trees.
I remembered a song off the second Mew album called Chinaberry Tree, and laughed, thinking how I thought it was something they had made up. But here it is, a real tree, and all over the place here in Hiroshima.
And it smells amazing.
Thanks Mew.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sentimental Flower

Growing up with a gardener in love with plants for a dad, I picked up a bit of knowledge about trees and flowers over the years. While this has never really developed into a personal interest in gardening, I have always enjoyed trying to identify the plants around me, especially trees and flowers.
When I was younger and spending my time in the forests around the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, I learned to recognize (generally) what types of plants make up a Pacific Northwest forest. Over my last few years walking through the vastly different forests of Japan, I've tried to learn a few of the plants here as well, this time, learning them in English and Japanese.
Over the Golden Week holidays in May, I went to Gokurakuji Shrine in the mountains just north of Saeki Ward in Hiroshima City. From the parking area there is a short, 10 minute walk through the forest leading up to the shrine. Guarding the entrance to this trail were two wizened camphor trees, one looking as if it had been wracked with disease or some other calamity, its trunk split in half and hollow, but somehow still supporting its heavy, tangled limbs. The trail went up through a forest made up of mostly sugi trees (cryptomeria) with kusunoki (camphor), and tsubaki (camellia) interspersed throughout.
But what really surprised me was seeing shakunage--rhododendrons.

Growing up, my dad always had rhodys of all hues growing around our yard, and running through the woods near my house, I remember seeing the wild rhodys deep in the forest, growing in massive tree-like bushes sometimes 25 feet tall. For whatever reason-- the association with my dad's love of the plants, or perhaps its status as the official flower of my hometown and the theme of the summer festival-- those massive rhodys always seemed special, and finding one somewhere deep in the forest always seemed somehow sacred.

Azaleas, a relative of the rhododendron, are quite common in Japan and you can see them almost everywhere. But in 8 years in Japan, I have hardly ever seen rhodys, and never in the wild. So I was very surprised to find these ones here along this short hike.
Seeing the first one, I thought to myself "Dad'll find this interesting; Let's get a picture." and snapped a shot of a smallish one along the side of the trail. But as I got up to the shrine itself and looked back down the trail, I was taking in the scene and noting what trees I was seeing when it struck me that the tree right in front of me, stretching close to 60 or 70 feet in the air with a trunk a foot thick, was actually a rhody! I had never seen one even half as large, or looking so distinctly like a tree, that I got excited and couldn't wait to give Dad a call and tell him all about it.

Sometimes it's funny, the things that can surprise you. I wouldn't say I particularly like rhodys, or even that that specific rhody itself surprised me. But on a day in May, half the globe and 20 years away, I found myself again as that wonder-filled child exploring the world around him, and then running off to tell his dad all about it.