moving; commercials

it's officially winter! a few days ago I just got a notice to go to the immigration office and pick up my work visa. From now on I will officially be a company employee! my first official day of work is January 7th, wish me luck!
with that said I have to move on Dec. 29th! 
year after year, when i have to move, it's the same old thing. look at all my stuff... how am I going to pack it all... aaahhh... run away... and then a day or two before... crap! I am moving the day after tomorrow! how am I going to pack it all?! 
but this evening, I'm really going to do it! I'm just going to look at it a different way. 
is it really this simple? absolutely not, but I'm going to pretend it is. 
right after I finish this post.

and now, in the spirit of procrastination, here's some of my favourite Japanese TV commercials. can you tell what they're selling and/or promoting? (#1 contains a visual pun, it's for ultrabook [uru-tora book] and in japanese, "tora" means tiger... ha! ha!)


entry #349

The latest happenings with me involve sorting out details and applying for my visa; going to osaka; riding my bike around places and seeing the autumn leaves. (check out all of my fall photos on picasa)

so I have already applied for my visa! there is a lot of paperwork and a lot of complications in the application process... they have to ask my employer again and again about things >.< they also called me to ask about my job. so hopefully it all goes smoothly, at this point all I can do is cross my fingers and wait.

on november 10th I went to osaka... I went to a bike shop and rented a bike and rode it around; I figure I should get to know the town a bit better. now I can get around okay there, as long as I have my phone of course. I also saw a japanese movie with no subtitles in japan for the first time. it was Tsui no Shintaku... pretty heavy subject matter, it was about a doctor who euthanizes her diabetic patient, and is accused of murdering him (although it focused mainly on their relationship). in the end, it is revealed that after several years in jail, she is freed because he had written in his diary that he entrusted his life to her, and that served as a living will. anyhow I found it very moving... and overall an excellent movie. I had been doubtful about live-action japanese movies because I think the TV dramas here are awful, but this movie allows me to put faith in Japanese actors!

on nov. 18th I went on another bike ride around Arida district (over to a mountain in Kanaya and then back down to Yuasa and then back home). the main point of this ride was to go see the fall leaves! and they were lovely!
the stats of this ride were:
total distance 59.44km
total time 4h30min.
max speed 50.5km/h
avg speed 13.3km/h
expenditure 1278 calories
height climbed 598m

oh... I also took a short detour in the middle to hike down to Kurokura waterfall.

on Nov. 22nd I went to wakayama city. I dropped by wakayama castle to see the fall leaves. didn't go inside, just around the castle grounds. I hear the cherry blossoms are really beautiful there, and so were the fall leaves! quite breathtaking. peep these...

I also went to Don Quijote, the store with literally everything. there's one in Tokyo but I didn't think there would be one in wakayama. well, there is. so I'm quite glad about that.

on Dec. 2nd I went to Hidakagawa (again!? said Machiko sensei. (hey, I've only been there twice...)) just for fun this time, but also to see the fall leaves (again...). I was only planning to go to Matsubara, in Kanaya which is a part of aridagawa. but I ended up in Hidakagawa, in Hidaka district which is directly south of Arida district. anyhow I had been there in september when I went to Ryujin and I thought it was fun to compare the scenery in two seasons. Maybe I'll make a long trip next year during cherry blossom season and make it 3 seasons?

my... my precious...

so I just discovered my phone's camera has the OS6 panorama option... I love iphone's OS6!

anyhow, for todays stats.
total time: about 5h3min
total distance: about 66.25km
avg speed: about 13.1 km/h
top speed: 49.8km/h
expenditure: around 1400 calories
highest point: 346 m.
I also met this guy outside a Lawson convenience store when I was almost home! he is doing a bicycle tour of Japan. I was pretty amazed and inspired, because at some point I want to do something like that (or a long-term trip, perhaps to Tohoku or some such place) sorry the blog is in japanese of course, but I just thought I'd put it out there!

last but not least here are some bonus pictures of me
taken with my gopro while riding, oct. 21st
in tanabe city, oct. 21st

from today's ride


another recipe, this time for creamy stew.

I'm back with another recipe but first some updates on my very interesting life.

last month, I taught a lot of our classes alone, and this week until the 6th I am teaching alone again! it's all good fun though. our 3 9th-grade students are starting to study for their high school entrance exams. I feel kind of sorry for them because it's all they do over winter break... study for their exams (at least that's how it was with last year's 9th graders).
we also had two halloween parties, one at the Kibi (main) classroom and one at the Tsujido classroom in Arida city. they were fun. I dressed up as hen-na ojisan...
hilarious! he's one of my favourite comedy characters...
come to think of it, this is the second year in a row I dressed up as a man.. last year I was Chuck Testa hahaha. I remember when I was like 10 or 11 I went as one of the Thompson twins from Tintin, too. strange...

and I rode another 160 km on my bike (over 3 days)... on sunday I rode to wakayama city to buy two lights and a bike pump. but when I got to the bike shop it started pouring rain. nothing like I've seen in vancouver... this was almost typhoon style! so the nice guys at the shop told me to wait until it stopped :) and lo and behold, it stopped an hour later (also nothing like I've seen in Vancouver!) by then it was dark though, so the shop guy lent me a light so I could ride home more safely. the trip to the shop and back home is about 70 km apparently. but the next day I wanted to return the light. so I rode back to the shop again... this time I brought them some really nice persimmons too. mmm persimmons.. probably nature's most perfect fruit.

today  I rode way up a mountain road in part of Aridagawa called Kanaya. it's about 13 km from home.
took this picture from a bridge...
... the bridge in this picture! (this was taken at my lunch stop)
my bike had a rest while I ate a quick lunch in an orange field.

as for this week's recipe... in japan there is such a thing called "cream stew" which is basically like a creamy chicken-vegetable soup. the stew part comes in a box.
except I think I can make a better one, japanese style... and without using milk or chicken to boot!

ingredients (feel free to add your other favourite veggies)

- canola/sunflower/vegetable oil
- an onion, coarsely chopped
- a couple of potatoes (yellow or white, not baking), washed, eyes removed, and cut into chunks
- a carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
☆ oyster mushrooms or other mushrooms, cut into slices or coarsely chopped
☆ sliced lotus root [renkon], boiled
☆ julienned bamboo shoots, boiled
☆ your choice of tofu (I chose deep fried soft tofu blocks called atsu-agé. you could also use ganmo, deep fried tofu balls; or sliced usu-agé, deep-fried tofu; or crumbled firm tofu.), cut into easy-to-eat pieces
step 2
- a tablespoon of all-purpose flour (optional)
- naga-imo/yama-imo
- unsweetened, unflavoured soy milk with a high solid content (I'm sure any soy milk would do, or even unsweetened almond or coconut milk)
- salt and pepper
- for garnish: green onions and/or nutritional yeast


1. in a pot, sauté the onions in a tablespoon or two of oil until lightly browned. add the potatoes and carrots, add water, and simmer until soft.
2. meanwhile, prepare the ☆ ingredients. add to the pot and let them incorporate.

step 4
 3. after that, prepare the cream stew part. peel the naga-imo and, using a fine-tooth grater, grate it into a bowl. the end product should be the consistency of raw eggs. the peeled naga-imo feels like a wet bar of soap, so don't let it slip out of your hands!
to the grated naga-imo, sift in the flour. but I don't think you actually need it because the naga-imo will thicken the soup enough. you can always add flour after if it's too watery.
4. to the imo-and-flour mixture, add some soy milk. I think I added a cup and a half or so but it really depends on how creamy you want the stew to be, and how much imo you grated. I grated the whole thing, it must have been half a cup or so. mix this well and you should have something that looks like a batter. add some water to this if it seems too thick to you.
5. there should still be water left in the pot... add the cream mixture to it and stir well. at this point if you think you need the flour, add it so it can cook. simmer for a few minutes and add salt and pepper to taste. make sure that the mushrooms are cooked through and everything is soft and tender.
6. taste test and add more soy milk, salt/pepper, water, or simmer more until it's to your liking.
enjoy! I had this for dinner with some green pea rice I cooked this morning. all you have to do is make regular rice except add green peas and a bit of extra water too.


adventures in new wave japanese vegan cooking and cycling extremely long distances!

hi folks! it's getting colder these days... but around noontime it's still nice and warm, like a september day in vancouver. in any case, I'm gonna break out the winter blankets tonight because it's too chilly to sleep already.
I'm doing well. we are celebrating halloween in our english classes. people here love halloween but the kids don't go around door to door. it's just our classroom that organizes a door-to-door event.
I also bought a road bike and last sunday rode it to the beach in Tanabe which is about 65 km south of here. so that day I rode nearly 130 km total. I'm sure that if I left earlier i could go further though. maybe one of these days I'll go to osaka... or Nara. or even Tohoku! I bet on this bike I could go anywhere. here's a video of my ride back in september... I was riding my regular bike (the townie) but I still went 108 km. total.
I thought of the title because whenever i go deep
into the countryside on my bike, I get a lot of stares.
I guess they don't see many people like me on bikes!

my second adventure tonight was an experiment in cooking! have you ever thought, "I really hate pork, but I really love gyoza. I cannot accept such a cruel fate! alas!"?
you have?! wow, me too! so that's why I made up this recipe for vegan gyoza. it's easy to make and rich in protein. the measurements are extremely inaccurate (I used my eyes!) so just add as much or as little as you see fit.

15 round gyoza (potsticker) skins
50 grams okara* (soy pulp, a byproduct of making soy milk)
1-2 thirds of a nagaimo/yamaimo*
1 tsp. yuzu or lemon juice
a medium carrot, sliced with a mandolin and then finely chopped
a bunch of mushrooms, finely chopped (I used maitake, but you can use any mushroom, really!)
a stalk of green onion, finely chopped
a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I did not use this)
a dash of salt (I did not use this)

a small dish of water
water for steaming
oil for frying
ponzu (or soy sauce with lemon/lime/yuzu juice) for dipping

make the filling

  1. peel the skin of the nagaimo with a vegetable peeler. make sure all sides are peeled and that there are no dry areas left. when you are done, it should be more slippery than a bar of wet soap. get a fine-tooth grater and grate the whole thing into a bowl. when you are done, you should have something that feels like beaten raw eggs. mix the yuzu or lemon juice into this to prevent browning
  2. into this bowl, dump the okara. mix it around well until it is the same consistency of ground meat. this means you can make a ball with the stuff without it crumbling or dripping.
  3. mix in the remaining vegetables and mushrooms. the reason the carrot should be sliced with a mandolin first is because carrots are hard to cook through if they're thick at all, and this filling will be cooked from raw. so make sure your ingredients are small enough and then mix them well into the okara mixture.
assemble and cook
  1. take about a teaspoon and a half worth of filling and put it in the centre of a gyoza skin. wet the tip of your finger with the water from the dish and wet the skin in a ring. I don't know how to explain how to pleat the outside skin so I found this video for you. basically you hold the bottom part flat and fold the top part in several "Z" shaped pleats using both of your thumbs. she did two big pleats, but I did pleats of about 1 cm all facing in the same direction. do whatever works for you. it takes some practice. if the pleats start coming undone, just go back and press on the seam harder :)
  2. do this until you've run out of filling or skins.
  3. get a big pan and fill it with 0.5-1 cm of water and start to boil it. when it has almost boiled place the gyoza filling side down and pleats facing UP, all in a row so they are all in a tight line. steam for, I don't know, 5-10 minutes.
  4. when the water is gone or before they start to get too puffy, drain any remaining water and fry them in oil. I used the same pan. if you move them around too much, they stick to the pan and tear. just let them fry and the pan will take care of it. after a few minutes, take off the heat and they should come free with some coaxing.
*items can be bought at a japanese grocer or other asian grocer. nagaimo are regularly stocked at T&T but I'm not sure about okara. Fujiya carries both (along with aji-pon ponzu, the best ponzu in a thousand suns)! 
*okara might sound disgusting or bad when you describe it as "soy milk byproduct" but all it is is 100% soybean pulp and is naturally flavourless, and naturally good for you :) 
my dinner tonight (I had seconds of gyoza :3)


you know you've been in japan too long when...

instead of "yes" or "yeah" you start saying "yes yes yes".

today I have for you a simple and delicious mushroom gravy recipe! full of umami!

you will need
  • Mushrooms of your choice (I used 6-7 shiitake and 1/2 a bunch of shimeji but shiitake and enoki would also be good)
  • about 2 tbsp of oil, or enough to generously fry the mushrooms in
  • about 1 tbsp of pastry flour
  • about 2 tbsp of soy sauce, more or less (your preference)
  • half a cup of hot water--add to taste
1. Chop mushrooms as finely or as coarsely as you would like and fry in the oil until soft.
2. There should be oil left in the pan, so if there isn't add some more, and then sprinkle on the flour and mix well. Add the soy sauce and a bit of water soon after. Stir constantly until the sauce reaches a smooth consistency
3. Add more water, stir, and simmer until the sauce reaches the desired thickness and flavour
4. If you want it richer or thicker, add more flour or oil.
here is my creation: with coarsely chopped mushrooms. 
you could also try chopping them finely or blending them into a paste for a very meaty gravy. you would probably need to add more water.
serve with anything!


hey... better late than never, guys.

a trip to nagasaki.
(for fulle photo albume clicke here)
Nagasaki city is located in nagasaki prefecture on the westernmost point of kyushu island. and i think it's the closest point to south korea, too. but don't quote me on that.
I went there from august 7th-8th. so why am i posting this so late, you ask? i was editing this video... it's of hashima, the abandoned island. i'll get to that later...

so on the 7th i left hiroshima in the morning and went to kyushu by shinkansen! it's the new line that goes through a tunnel (chunnel?) under the seabed. and i got to my hostel in downtown nagasaki right around 1 pm. 
then i went to Dejima!! I had learned a lot about dejima in japanese history class... in early modern times, when japan had its "closed borders" policy dejima was, legally speaking, the only place where foreigners could trade. the dutch traded there, mostly sugar, apparently. but it was also the hub of western learning (science, engineering, language, etc.) in japan.
from history class, i was under the assumption that dejima was off the coast with not much trade going on, and the dutch people there were super isolated and poor. in reality, it wasn't that bad! in japanese dejima means "removed island" but it is no longer an island, with roads surrounding it on 3 sides. in early modern times it was more like an outpost (like Fort Langley) with a moat, except the moat was the sea. in fact, the dutch lived quite a nice life, with servants and good food... and it was very close to Nagasaki Station. I walked to dejima from my hostel in less than 30 minutes.

poorly edited attempted panorama of Dejima i took with my SLR. 

a model of the Dutch people of dejima eating dinner. notice that the room is all tatami mats and yet they are using western chairs and wearing shoes. to me that is unfathomable. after 9 months in japan, wearing shoes/sandals inside (let alone on a tatami mat) feels about as normal as walking barefoot in the middle of a highway!

all the kinds of sugar that were traded at dejima.

a model of dejima.

nagasaki has a lot of churches--this is a catholic church, the first church i've seen in japan

nagasaki is also famous for its city lights... i took this with my SLR with no tripod and no editing, by the way. aren't I fabulous?

many parts of town reminded me of europe, such as italy. it was as hot as italy too... even though i brought my 1-litre nalgene everywhere i still had to buy bottled tea :/

on the other hand, Nagasaki is not all european influence! I also came across a Confucian museum. and figured, why not check that out?
(Nagasaki is also famous for "champon"which is a chinese-influenced ramen dish. the other famous food there is Castella, a type of plain cake, which is from portuguese influence)

so finally, the piece of resistance! hashima... the abandoned "battleship" island
it was inhabited by coal miners, many of them foreigners, and their families until 1974. it's a tiny island but was home to over 5,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. it's quite isolated from nagasaki city--about a 1.5 hour boat ride. 
it had a elementary school, middle school, pool, market, and pachinko parlour. the sea surrounding hashima is very choppy with huge waves crashing against the sides of the island. notice the spray of water from a wave in the last picture and compare its height with one of the buildings. it must have been at least four storeys in height. the boat lurched heavily throughout the entire tour. luckily i have a stomach of steel or else i would have lost my lunch. 
here's the video i took with my gopro, although it's not very good.

after gunkanjima i went to the memorial peace park. it's quite moving! here is a picture of a plaque that made me quite sad :(
'"I was so very thirsty
upon the water floated something that looked like oil
I wanted water more than anything
so I drank it just like that"
- from the diary of a young girl on that day'

I think sometimes, the most valuable way to learn from war is to read about a single person's experience of it.