Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

Seven Grass Porridge

2013年 1月 7日

Today is the Seventh of January which is the traditional day to eat nanakusagayu (七種粥・七草粥). Seven Spring greens are gathered and cooked into a rice porridge. Traditionally these greens are:

  1. seri (芹・セリ) – Japanese parsley, dropwort
  2. nazuna (薺・ナズナ) – Shepherd’s purse
  3. gogyo (御形・五形・ゴギョウ), also called hahakogusa (ハハコグサ)
  4. hakobera (繁縷・ハコベラ) or hakobe (ハコベ) – Chickweed
  5. hotokenoza (仏の座・ホトケノザ) – from the Chrysanthemum family
  6. suzuna (菘・スズナ) – Turnip greens
  7. suzushiro (蘿蔔・清白・スズシロ) – Japanese radish greens

As I wrote last year, the flavor is very grassy and not so popular with children. I think this is one tradition that is slowly vanishing. Even my wife, who had to maintain these traditions for the children under her care, has forgotten it this year.

Perhaps we really need to find ourselves a plot of land to grow things. Had I been preparing these in the garden and talking about them, surely it would be on her mind.

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Sweet Goya

2012年 9月 8日

Sweet GoyaGoya grow on climbing vines from just behind the flowers, much like a cucumber; however, they have a bumpy flesh that is generally known for it’s bitterness. Often prepared with scrambled egg, onions, and pork in Okinawan cooking, it is liked and hated by roughly equal numbers of people. In our hot climate, it has been trendy to grow “green curtains” of these vines outside windows in an attempt to stay cool. We opted to follow the trend this summer and have been treated to shade, good food, and learning for our efforts.

Sweet Goya seedsOne interesting point of learning is that, the bitter green goya are actually less than fully ripe. Allowing them to ripen past the normal harvest time, sees them change to yellow or bright orange coloring. Additionally, the bitterness is greatly tempered; in some cases, even resulting in a bit of sweetness. Harvesting this late can be a bit tricky in that the goya will start to rot on the vine and bugs or birds may take an interest in dining before the farmer.

Sweet Goya seedGreen goya seeds are normally carved from the inside and thrown out; although some will tempura fry them. In the case of a fully ripened goya, the seeds become harder but the flesh around them turns sweet and red – almost like jam.

Much to My Chagrin

2012年 9月 6日

Every March, when the school year comes to a close, it is common to receive trophies, letters, or other presentations from the students. Sometimes spontaneous movement of the children’s hearts prompts it. Other times, teachers assign it to get pupils to unwittingly practice their language arts skills. Regardless of origin they are always enjoyable to read: first, because they are moving; and second, because they are cute.

Definitely, children say the darndest things and one sadness is that I can’t afford to store all the cards, letters, and presents for posterity: partly for fire safety reasons.

Last Spring, at one of my favorite schools, each second grade class had a representative write a letter for everyone. Instructions from the teacher indicated that group opinion – rather than personal – should be expressed. I included one letter here from a boy who couldn’t resist slipping in a sentence about his regrettable memory from my class. He placed it in the middle and the teacher, busy wrapping up the school year, didn’t catch it; but we had some laughs when I showed it to her.

Image

Dear Erik, thank you for always teaching us so much more than English, like pronunciation and many other things. Your slightly ‘unconventional’ games are also very fun. “Recently when we played the board game, much to my chagrin, I came in fourth.” When you read picture books to us we really enjoy it. Everyone feels that when we play games or you read to us, those are the most enjoyable times. From Second grade, class 1

Back to School

2012年 9月 5日

School has started up again, but I won’t teach any classes until Friday. This can be the most boring time of the year when it seems that work has started but it really hasn’t. I am feeling a little anxiety about Friday because it will be open house. Nobody is ever certain who might show up to watch on those days and the students are probably still in summer vacation mindset.

Adding to the stress this year is the lack of preparation meetings. Real teachers were given extra time off this summer, so while I was sitting in empty school offices to not burn my remaining holidays, the teachers were off enjoying themselves and we couldn’t meet up to discuss how to approach the second term.

With all that time away from work, you would think there were lots of stories to tell; but, almost without exception, teachers here feel an aversion to ever admitting they were not busy or – worse yet – they enjoyed themselves. Asking about the holidays always nets some answer filled with vaguaries and mumbles which generally ends in whining about some professional development meeting they had one day.

Along with the new term, I will be turning a new leaf and trying to post more regularly again. Lots has been going on, including some travel, some learning, and some personal development.

Banner Day

2012年 8月 8日

Today is a banner day – that is to say, I updated the banner image today. Previously I had used an image of rotting fishing ropes, but was constantly troubled with how to make the text legible over that image. The new image is from the photo trip to Shinojima for their Gion festival.

I pulled a lot of the color and contrast out of the background using GIMP; hoping that this would make it easier to view the blog title. Also, for visual reasons I wanted the strong lines in the image to be nearly horizontal. Someone with a sharp eye will notice that flags rarely flutter horizontally and the image is rotated 25 degrees counter-clockwise.

Shinojima JK

2012年 7月 17日

Two photo societies took a joint trip to Shinojima (篠島) for their Gion Festival (ぎおん祭り) on the 14th and 15th. While shooting at the beach these seven high school girls made me promise to upload their photos to the internet. They were attempting to do a “jump” photo. Here they are:

Shinojima JK four jump

Shinojima JK seven jump 4

Shinojima JK seven jump 3

Shinojima JK seven jump 2

Shinojima JK seven jump 1

Two Straight Years of Increase

2012年 2月 17日

A title like this could be a sign for hope, if only the increase in question were something positive. Arriving at school this morning I found a memo addressed to all the Principals in Tsu regarding traffic accidents for Board of Education employees. The year ending March 31st, 2010 had the fewest reported accidents over a four year period at 62 incidents. Last year shot up to 95 incidents making it a record year, but a short-lived record. The purpose of the memo was to highlight the fact that figures through the first ten months of this year show 104 incidents, on pace for more than 120.

Following their typical pattern, the memo explains the trouble which will be caused by this trend and makes an appeal to change the problem. As usual their worry is not what people with common sense would focus on and there is no constructive evaluation of why the problem is occurring nor how to affect the desired improvement, merely a demand that the situation improve. Rather than concern about safety, increased costs to the school system, insurance problems, etc. the concern expressed in the memo is that students and guardians will have trouble trusting the Board of Education.

Since the change is so extreme – doubling in two years – I am very curious about the cause, and think it would be instructive in the process of reducing accidents. Has there been an increase in off-site business activities which increased the number of kilometers traveled? Has something increased the number of solo trips or trips using individuals’ vehicles? Has there been a change in time pressure applied by Principals?

While this problem is not pleasant, it actually does not come as a surprise since I often see dangerous activities and try to address them at the schools. In one case, I was almost struck by a Principal leaving a parking space without looking. I really wanted to discuss this incident; however, the Principal never mentioned it at all and I was afraid to bring it up myself since I felt his action was unacceptable. Generally, my observation is that our Board of Education is amply staffed with people who feel they are exemplary; hence there is little chance for honest discussion about improvement.

Gotta Catch’em All

2012年 1月 25日

Television systems and broadcasting methods in Japan are a complex mixture which I want to write about later; however, not today. We moved in September and it was not until this week that we are able to receive (almost all) the stations we want properly and be able to record them effectively.

Star Trek’s original series came on the air about the time I was born and ran until I was about five years old. Fortunately it was syndicated and during the 70s we could often watch re-runs. As a small child, I didn’t necessarily follow all of it but was fascinated none the less. Because I was watching in syndication, I have often wondered if I had seen every show. This month, Super Drama TV started showing all of the digitally remastered episodes in order.

Because I am not always home at the right time, and because I want to watch them at least twice, I am happy to have the recorder functioning. Unfortunately – after a little research – I found that there are 79 episodes. It looks like I will have to burn the programs to BluRay discs or my hard drive will get filled up on this alone.

Concurrently they are also showing three other Star Trek series and, on other channels, some of the movies. Japan can definitely be an all or nothing kind of country. Just have to find time to drink from this fire hose now.

Riding My Stocking Stuffer

2012年 1月 17日

Little behind the times perhaps, but here is a little Christmas update for the second half of January.

Japanese children sometimes get a visit from Santa, but it is not universal; which makes talking about Christmas a little tricky sometimes. Talking about Santa visiting the “good kids” is not a part of my discussions since, many good little kids in Japan don’t receive a present and I don’t want to be the source of their trauma. Also of note is that children who receive a present generally get only one. For the most part, children in Japan are curious to talk about the little fur-clad elf so December conversations are a lot of fun.

Also in Japan it is very rare for adults to receive Christmas gifts. When I show my stocking which I’ve used for 40 years, people are shocked – and sometimes upset – to hear that I am expecting gifts yet again this year. Not just one of course, but an overflowing stocking full of them.

Christmas morning, I started wondering about my position on the good kids list since my stocking was far from overflowing. My wife however is clearly in good standing with the jiggly-bellied one as her stocking was packed full and had various packages littered beneath it which clearly would not fit inside.

First impressions can be misleading, as I found while burrowing into my stocking. Three presents and an envelope revealed themselves: a book, two chocolate bars, and a note from Santa. As far as my recollection, this is the first time Nicholas has taken the time to put pen to paper for me. Getting to the bottom of his kindly prose, I found a message telling me he had stowed one more item in the back of our micro-van. Much to my amazement it was one of the three items I had been hoping for (but never expecting)… a unicycle.

My Flamingo has to be the largest stocking stuffer to date. Actually this is a present I have hoped for, going on 26 years, since I worked in Development at IBM San Jose. But, that is another story…

Coming of Age

2012年 1月 10日

With all the posts over the past several years, I am sometimes shocked by what is not there.  Apparently I have only made mention of the Coming of Age ceremony three times; and then it was only in passing. January 9th was Coming of Age Day (成人の日・seijin no hi) this year. Since 1948 there has been a holiday and it was originally set for the 15th of January; however, in 2000 they changed it to the 2nd Monday in January as part of a campaign to make three-day weekends.

Adulthood officially comes at the age of 20 in Japan. Young women usually dress up in vary ‘festive’ kimonos. Recently there has been a trend toward black-based fabric with shocking pink designs. Personally, I find the new style garish. I suppose this is ensconcing my reputation firmly in the crotchety old fogie category. Most young men will also dress up, but the number wearing traditional kimonos is small. The purpose of the ceremony is to recognize passage into mature adulthood, but like so many traditions around the world it is often more about a chance to party. One Japanese friend, of similar age to me, was upset with the irony yesterday when many people chose to celebrate their passage to adulthood by going to Disneyland for photo ops with Mickey.

Similar to America, rights of adulthood are not all inferred at a magical age.

  • Drinking age, 20
  • Smoking age, 20
  • Marriageable age, 20 (or with parental consent, 18 for boys and 16 for girls)
  • Voting age, 20 (debating lowering to 18 since 2007)
  • Military service, 18
  • Driving license, 18
  • Scooter (50cc or less) license, 16

Regardless of the overall meaning of this holiday, for most people it is another three day weekend. I spent my day getting my hair cut for the school opening ceremony today and taking care of paperwork and chores around the house.