Wednesday, October 28, 2009
So Sunday night was pretty crazy too. Went back into the city to catch a concert at Bar Standard, near one of the covered shopping malls in the city. Little hard to find the place, since the directions and street signs were all in Japanese, but I eventually found my way there. I knew my friend Ar was singing at the show, but what I didn't know was that one of the other bands from Totokin's night was headlining. Their name: The Bigdicks. One word. I love the Japanese. Every time the lead guitarist said their name, he'd look at me and flash a thumbs up. Vulgar anatomy references aside, these guys can play. For your viewing pleasure, I've included one of the videos I shot during their set. It starts off a little slow, but then he gets into his solo, and great fun ensues. Hope you enjoy!
A word on the local liquor. Most people in the States, when they think of Japan and alcohol, think sake. Interestingly enough, sake means rice wine and alcohol in Japanese, which sometimes makes it tough for me to know what I'm being asked to drink. However, what I've found is that the popular liquor down here in Ehime is something called shochu, which looks just like rice wine, but is actually much worse tasting and much stronger, usually around 25%. There are about four different types, distinguished by the nature of the starch which was brewed. The common types are rice, barley, brown sugar, and sweet potato. The one that I keep getting handed is the sweet potato type, which I'm told has the most kick and the strongest flavor. It's not the type of drink you take as a shot, instead you mix it into just about everything. Cold water, hot water, tea, fruit juice, soda, and even beer. Normally when it's been ordered for me, it comes in a glass of hot water. Let me tell you, this stuff sneaks up on you. I'll see what I can do about bringing some back into the States, but the problem, as you can see from the picture, is that the bottles are absolutely massive. The best, or perhaps, worst part about shochu is that it's about as cheap as water, which really helps at the end of the night once the bartender brings the tab. Tasty stuff, but I think I'll stick with my Suntory whiskey.
Sorry, my internet has been somewhat spotty as of late, so it's been a bit difficult for me to get stuff posted. To my dear readers, I apologize. Couple of great nights this weekend. Won't bore you with the details, but I'll put up a little overview of what went down. On Friday, I got to meet up with some of Satomi's old English teacher friends from England. The first picture is of the four of us. On the left is good old me, then DD, Kathy, and Satomi. We conducted our revelry in a small pub near the entrance to Matsuyama castle named Mirai Kanai. The bartender is another friend of Satomi's, and he's in the second picture. We started the night at about 8pm, and I don't think we made it home till well after 2 in the morning. Those Brits (well, Kathy is an Aussie, but she lives in Britain now) really know how to drink! Makes me want to visit Europe again. Great way to spend a Friday night/Saturday morning.
After waking up and slaying my massive hangover (I use slaying because this hangover was of dragon-ian ferocity) I headed back into the city to meet up with some of my friends from the states, who were in town as part of the cast of Blast!. For those who don't know Blast!, its basically drum corps meets broadway. If you haven't seen the show before, I highly suggest you check it out. This particular cast had been touring around Japan for the past three months, and as luck would have it their last stop was in my little city of Matsuyama. So I was treated to a wonderful reunion with my 2006 seat partner, Samia, who was part of the colorguard (sorry, visual ensemble). Got a chance to show her and her father around the city, and managed to grab a bite to eat before she had to report back to warm up for the show. Met most of the cast, including another one of my old marching friends in the colorguard named Julianne, and got a backstage tour before the show started. I've seen the production a few times, but this was by far the best performance of it I've ever seen. Standing ovation even before they finished the last song. Good stuff, brought multiple tears to my eyes. Seriously, see the show the next time it comes around to your area.
I'll leave Sunday for another post, since I've got a video for that one, and I don't want to overburden!
Friday, October 23, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
After the festival, Ayumi and Hirata-san took me to see their friend who lives in Niihama. He's a butcher and a florist (I know, odd combination) who also teaches taiko drumming. Has a whole warehouse filled with different sizes of drums. We jammed a little bit, I'll post a video of it, and then had dinner at his house, which is right behind his shop. It was just one big room, with tatami mats on one side, and a firepit on the other with places to sit. His wife laid out a huge spread for all of us, sashimi, salad, thinly sliced beef with garlic, tofu and tomatoes, and also some yakiniku. Without a doubt, it was the best meat I've ever had. This beef just melted in your mouth, and ever time I ate a piece, I sighed. Was like stepping into a warm bath. I don't know if it was because of where he cut the meat from, or if it was cooking it over the coals, but one of the best meals I've ever had.
Afterwords, we played with his new pet, which is a baby goat, if you couldn't tell from the picture. Great people, hopefully I'll get to see them again soon and drum with them again!
What a Saturday! Every year, Niihama holds a huge festival celebrating autumn, called the taiko dai festival. Each of the 55 neighborhoods in Niihama has a giant float, each weighing around 3 metric (that's right, metric) tons, and costing around 200,000 dollars. Ten men ride the float, four on the top, four on the legs to give directions, and two inside that beat a huge taiko drum. Each of these floats are carried by teams of 150 men around the city to different fairgrounds. Because I have some awesome friends here in Japan, I got a chance to participate at the biggest event of the festival.
Got to the staging area at around 10:30, and waited around for everyone to show up. Once our team all gathered with the float, everyone ate together. There was an entire pickup truck devoted to beer, I presume to make sure no one got dehydrated. We all had on jackets called hapi, which were bright yellow to represent our district. After eating and drinking for about an hour, I listened to some instructions from the main organizer for our group, none of which I understood. I grabbed a spot on the logs supporting our float, and off we went. We had to walk the float about 4 kms to the main area. Thankfully all we had to do was push it, there were wheels mounted on the bottom. Still, it takes a lot of force to move a 3 ton object. Every once in a while we would shake the thing, and lift it to show off the strength of our group. Usually happened when we were passing another team's float. The whole way we chanted, "Sodya, sodya." I'm told it actually has no meaning, just something to get the spirits up.
After about an hour of push and go, we finally entered into the main fairgrounds. Huge crowds, both in the stands and on the festival floor. There were about twenty of the floats in our area, each with its own crew of 150+ people. We put our float in line with the others, then we removed the wheels off the bottom, as well as removed some of the side panels, and filled it to the brim with balloons. Then 6 or 7 floats at a time would be carried to the front of the grounds and lifted together, while the crowd roared. You couldn't hear anything but taiko drums and the whistles of the guys trying to direct us. Like I said, crazy. And damn, was this thing heavy, even with 150 people supporting the weight. When our turn came to parade, we must have carried it and lifted it for around 20 minutes, but it felt like 2 hours. At the end of each section, the top opened up, and all the balloons were released. Great fun. We brought it back into the line, and put the wheels back on. And that was the festival. I have absolutely no idea what was celebrated, or what the floats mean, but I'd do it again anyday. Definitely was the only foreigner participating, I think my friends must have pulled a few strings to get me in. Wonderful experience!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Here's a little snippet of Ya-kun's band. I don't know the name, since it was written in kanji, but these guys were great. Sorry the video is short, but if it was longer I wouldn't be able to upload it. The sound is bad, but it was a small stage, and the mic on my little camera couldn't really take the barrage of sound. Oh, and according to Ya-kun, we're now brothers. What that means, I have yet to see. Funny guy. Great guitar player.
Monday night was pretty crazy. Azami took me to another show, but this one was very different from the night before. It was a jazz festival in Matsuyama, held in about 8 different bars scattered around the Okaido area. Every hour, the bands would switch out, so there was opportunity to hear a ton of different music. We stayed in the same bar, called Yah Man 33, for three hours. The first band was a bass, guitar, and drums combo that played some really groovy contemporary jazz. Haven't heard music like that in a while. Second band was called Taja, seven members strong. No drummer, but instead a metro 20-something who beat boxed the whole time. Kinda sounded like Christian music, but I couldn't tell because it was all in Japanese. Good stuff though, the main singer could really belt it out. The last band had played the night before, the main singer and guitar player goes by the name Ya-kun (think raccoon). The night before, when I was introduced to him, he said he played like Santana. Wasn't kidding. This guy could shred on the guitar! After that, Azami and I wandered over to another bar to catch our friend named Pon-chan's band. They're called the Brick Brothers. It's hard to tell from the picture I took, but they're actually a Blues Brothers cover band. Nothing funnier than seeing a fat Japanese guy in a suit dancing like a maniac while singing "Play that funky music, white boy." Crazy good, and crazy fun. We rounded off the night by going back to the first bar and doing tequila shots with Ya-kun and the whole Taja band. Really good stuff. Now that I know my way around, I'm definitely going to hit up these bars more to catch some fantastic music.
Side note: this last picture is of me with a cute bartender named Ar (pronounced Aru). Managed to get her number, only to call her today and realize that she speaks about as much English as I do Japanese! Makes trying to get a date somewhat difficult. I've really got to work harder at learning the language. Time to hit the books!
Sorry, been busy, so I've fallen somewhat behind on my posts. Had a fun weekend, here's the first of a few posts about my exploits. On Sunday, Azami took Lisa and me to a tribute concert about ten minutes away from the apartment. Tribute is probably the wrong word. Basically, this guy Totokin is a friend of ours, and he is a pretty damn good drummer. It was his birthday a few days ago, but instead of throwing a party, he threw a concert where he played with about ten different bands through the course of the evening. Each band got to play two or three songs, and then they switched out with someone else. Guy had mad chops, probably played for about three hours straight! Every type of music you can think of, from screaming metal to contemporary jazz to soft lounge singing. Azami sang three songs! Because I can't turn off the flash on my camera without the picture getting really blurry, I couldn't take too many pictures, but here are the two I did manage to shoot. The first one is the sign of the place the concert was at, and the second is Azami hiding in a conga case. Fits the night pretty well, I think.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Ok, this sign was on the door to the main campus health center, where I give one of my lessons. I have absolutely no idea what point is trying to be made by this poster. Maybe if you rub a cat on your face you won't get the flu. Or maybe if you dress your pet up in a cape. I don't know. Crazy Japanese...
Friday, October 9, 2009
Had my first unagi shop experience. For those who don't know, unagi is Japanese for fresh-water eel. There are entire restaurants dedicated to this animal. One of my lessons, Mrs. Kobayashi, wanted to take me to one of her usual spots, which was on the north side of the hospital. Per usual, I had no idea what the menu was saying, so she ordered for me. Above is a picture of what I got. Starting at the top left, I'll describe what each thing is. The first dish has some pickled cabbage and daikon, or radish. To the right is a cup of green tea, and next to that is some eel soaked in rice vinegar. The cup of soup on the top right is basically water with some sprouts, onions, and pig skin thrown in. Very light, but really tasty. On the bottom right is, you guessed it, a big bowl of rice. Next to that is some egg, with eel in the middle of it. And the main course, of course, was an entire grilled eel, basted in a sweet sauce. Delicious meal, I could eat eel every day if it weren't so expensive. Ran into a small problem though. You see in the main dish, the black piece on the top left. It's easy to tell in this picture that it's the head of the eel, but from my vantage point, I thought it was the tail. Yep, you guessed it, I ate it. You know, because the tail would probably be nothing but good meat. The pop of the eyeball in my mouth, and the crunching of my teeth upon the myriad of bones quickly alerted me that I had completely misidentified which end of the animal I was eating. But, because I'm so awesome, I chewed for a while and managed to swallow it down. Actually, it was because my student chose that moment to see if I liked what I was eating, so there was no way for me to spit out the head into a napkin. Oh well, next time I will be more careful to check for eyeballs before I put a piece of food into my mouth. Definitely have to go back to this place again for another great meal!
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
For those of you doubters, who think I don't get my daily nutrients, I thought I would post a picture of the excellent (if I do say so myself, which I do) dinner I made myself tonight. While appearing like a wet goulash, it was actually quite tasty. Beef, green beans, onions, chilies, and garlic all cooked together, layered on top of some mashed potatoes, which you can't see in this picture. So there, almost all the food groups conveniently located in one bowl. You can even see some green!
And yes, I know, more food, but seeing as how I have to work, and don't get to travel as much, most of my exploits, and consequently, my posts, deal with what goes into my stomach. But considering the great variety, I probably won't repeat myself ever. So at least there's that.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Alright, another great meal! This one is called yakiniku. It's a table grill, the restaurant provides all of the meat, and you get to cook it on your table. Most of the meat is from a cow, and it's every part you could want: liver, stomach, flank, tongue, etc. The first picture I posted is the grill, the second is the big meat plate, and the third is a picture of the cow tongue, which was seasoned, and then you dip it in lemon juice. Really good stuff, especially the stomach and the tongue of the cow. Stomach meat is pretty chewy, but it really soaks up the marinade. Everything is eaten with a big bowl of rice, and some tasty dipping sauce. The manager of the place seemed to like me, because he brought out four big cuts of some salt-rubbed steak for us to enjoy. I could definitely go back to a place like this. Oishii! (That means delicious.)
Side note: I love running into little kids over here, they do love to stare. I think I might be the first white person they've ever seen. Tonight, a little girl who must have been three kept peeking her head over our table and just stared at me the whole time I was eating. Didn't even glance at the other people who were with me. Occasionally she would be joined by her little brother, but no matter how many times I tried to smile and wave at them, they'd just keep staring at me. Half cute, half children-of-the-corn creepy. The best part is when they poke their parents and point at me. Must need some explanation. I'm still waiting for a little kid to throw food at me to eat, like throwing peanuts to the monkeys at the zoo. It's bound to happen, just a matter of time!
Went out again last night with my friends Hiro, Satomi, and Risa. It was a little place close to the train stations, tucked away. I love how most of the best restaurants are completely unobtrusive, you would never be able to find them if you didn't know where to look. Tried some interesting dishes tonight, along with some old favorites. I thought I would include a picture of one of the menu boards to show why I always need someone to order for me when I go to these places. I really need to start learning how to read Japanese! The sashimi was great. Apparently, they spear the head and the spine together to show that the fish you're eating is fresh. I imagine the pike's head starts to smell pretty bad after just a few hours. A nice touch though. The last picture is a bowl of some of the tenderest squid I've ever eaten. Really delicious, I'll have to find out how to cook it! Bon appetite!
Friday, October 2, 2009
Thought I would post a little bit about my local supermarket, called Fujimart! Here's some pictures of some of the aisles, basically my goal is to try everything in there. A little difficult, since I can't read the labels, but you can see for yourself! And oh my ramen choices!