Nihao

Today the boss and I had lunch at Kouyou, a great little Chinese restaurant in Sakauecho, Tajimi, near Fukuryuu (see map). I called to invite the friend who originally told us about this place, as it’s one of his favorites, only to catch him on the other end of the line sunning on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa. Needless to say, he couldn’t quite make it for lunch.

We usually have the very filling and reasonably priced ramen chaahan/karaage (¥650), always on the weekday menu, but today opted for the ¥500 higawari daily special, which happened to be butaniku shogayaki (ginger pork). Includes pickles, egg drop soup and, as always, free refills on rice. And a slice of melon to top it off.

The atmosphere is always welcoming and casual. They’ll even teach you a little Chinese if you want. Once they find this place, businesspeople, blue-collar workers and couples or groups of twenty- and thirty-somethings all keep coming back for more. Customers tend to be pretty much regulars. One older gentleman sang an old song to everyone as he left. Not sure if that’s how he was paying for his lunch or what.

Jabberwocky

Something has been nagging at me since Saturday’s okonomiyaki party. One person brought up a certain practice, for lack of a better word, and one by one most of the other people admitted to doing it or having it done to them.

Though it’s not, as far as I know, something Americans do, it apparently has quite the following in Japan. It must have taken up a good half an hour or 45 minutes of the conversation at the table.

As I tap this out on an iPhone and try to deal with ambient sound, I can’t seem to concentrate well enough to find a crafty or delicate way of referring to it, so I’ll just ask readers if they’ve had the experience here: A playful but completely unmitigated fingerpoke into the middle of the behind. The Japanese term they used for it translates in no uncertain terms to a medical procedure we sometimes do in preparation for a digestive tract examination.  It was seriously tossed around as a name for a certain performing group some of us happened to be forming.

People fell into two categories: the doers and the doees. And the doers were women and the doees were men. The depth and breadth of forethought that goes into tactics and techniques made me wonder if there isn’t some secret ancient martial art order at work here.  Let it suffice to say, as an example, if you don’t turn the other cheek, your assailant may just do it for you.

To What End?

I just wonder why Japanese women take such glee in surprising their partners with these random acts of digital derrière daggery. And is it a recent trend? Or is this why the Yamato Nadeshiko sensibility includes a woman walking a few convenient steps behind her husband? Kapow!!

Any pointers on how to diplomatically skirt these ambushes, or at least take them in stride, would be most welcome. And would allow me to once again walk with a sense of security if not dignity in the presence of the other gender. In the meantime, it’s likely contingency plans to lobby for men-only cars on the Nagoya subway system during peak hours will continue to gain steam.

For Your Coffee Only

Today is Respect for the Elderly Day. Lest we forget the giants whose shoulders we may stand on, let’s try to remember to emulate their sacrifices.  They gave up a lot and it’s only fair that we give our share too.

Lunch today was at the ever popular Hinatabokko. Getting there to line up by about 10:45 would have guaranteed a table at opening time. Parking in the lots directly adjacent to the quick-filling main lot seemed to be ok though not marked for the resaurant’s use. Kind of a minna de akashingo thing. As it was, arriving at about 10:50, my friend and I were the second party in line after the first batch of customers were seated, meaning we could sit in tiny chairs while waiting. Many more customers stood or strolled outside in the balmy midmorning sun for their wait.  Unsolicited word origin open question – Just what quality of balm might such weather have anyway that it uses its name like that?

My friend had the September special (C lunch, above), chock full of Fall harvest yummies, while I went for the traditional A lunch with quiche. The focaccia B lunch was unavailable by the time the second set of customers could order.

As always, it was worth the wait. And I’m not normally one to go to eateries with long lines.  Atmosphere, presentation, taste, healthfulness and no scoffing at real-world serving sizes either. It was my first time there since the remodeling which saw the zakkaya move upstairs to make room for more diners.

If you have a chance and a five yen coin, you can pay a little respect to the elderly or whoever needs it at the shrine near the intersection.

Later on, at Tully’s Coffee at a packed Toki Premium Outlets, a former student of mine and I were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves sitting next to each other when she brought coffees to the table beside me that her friend, not knowing me, happened to have taken. That made three teachers who went to the Outlets on such a crowded day just for coffee (we do shop there sometimes). Nice to know I’m not the only one.  Laugh if you will, but hey, it’s guaranteed non-smoking, pipes pleasant hard bop through the speakers, and you can do a little people-watching while you relax with a latte as long as you like.  All in our own back yard.

Turning Rice into Seaweed into Yen

Continuing with yesterday’s Ja-pancake theme, last night I went to a takoyaki party and had a ball.  Well, several, actually.  I was surprised when about half the people there actually preferred soy sauce to okonomiyaki sauce on theirs.  I was skeptical but tried a couple that way, but my verdict is still sauce.  Instead of flakes, the katsuobushi was as fine as sawdust and of course a similar color.  I only now recall we went nori-less, which, darn, kept us from decorating our teeth the color of my mother’s 1968 Plymouth Satellite (in a retro mood since surfing vintage TV commercials on YouTube.  It was a tossup between that and our ’72 Ford Country Squire wagon.  My sister’s late-sixties Mustang was more like wasabi).

I’m thinking back to earlier in the week when I went to the sampuru koubou in Gujo, and a girl who worked there showed me the aonori, dried seaweed flakes, as I happened to be there when they were making plastic takoyaki to be displayed in a restaurant window somewhere.  It was so realistic. She explained how aonori is a by-product of “rice”-making.  You can make your own replica tart or tempura there too.  Besides being famous for the summer dance festival that had ended the week before, Gujo also produces a plethora of plastic food “samples” used in displays and novelties.

Another culinary controversy flared up at the party when the hostess insisted on putting the gu, the octopus et al, into the hemispherical griddle grooves before pouring in the batter.  Her interprefectural marriage and Gifu-Shikoku relations in general were saved when all turned out well and we could actually see the cephalopods we were popping in our mouths, where they’d been largely hidden from view in her husband’s traditionally prepared first batch.  Viva variety.  I just learned, by the way, “octopi” is one of a tentacleful of possible plurals for the multitalented mollusks.

More word origin questions came up when someone asked why the namaharumaki we all took turns rolling (some more skillfully than others: you have to become one with the disc. Or was that Frisbee?  Or was that okonomiyaki at the moment of flipping? By the way, can someone tell me where I can get a real Wham-O Frisbee in these parts?) is called that.  The haru, or spring part, I mean.  Some of the filling ingredients were such that I’d rather not divulge them, to keep the hosts’ original recipe a secret (sorry!).  But it should inspire everyone to try their own combinations no matter what the season.

Our hostess served up a delicious agedashi-dofu that made the okra it was made with go down just fine for someone like me who tries to stay away from sticky neba-neba foods.  Someone also brought some tofu so sumptuous it could have been a main course served chilled with nothing but a little wasabijouyu.  From Nakashima Tofu in Nakatsugawa. An all-around good time, good for a whole nuther blog in another day or two. Stay tuned.

Bonito Beckons

I should say in this blog we’ll just have a theme of  “around Tajimi,” whether it be introducing restaurants, shops, businesses or people, making idle observations or musings, sharing sights seen or whatever.  Neighboring towns won’t be off limits either.  Send your ideas too if you have some.

Yesterday for lunch I had one of my favorites, okonomiyaki, at Arima on Nagase-dori.  All three of us had the nikutama okonomiyaki set for 650 yen.  It includes miso soup and onigiri, or an alternative if onigiri isn’t available.  The proprietress is also known to work at her sisters’ and mother’s oden restaurant in town, which we’ll also try to cover in the blog sometime.

This filling flapjack is lovingly made and brought to your table fully cooked on a griddle plate in its own wooden tray.  I love okonomiyaki, but for no particular reason, I rarely have it.  I used to have it all the time in Tokyo.  Nothing like mixing, drizzling, flipping and sprinkling at your own table.  Tell me, if you’re a foreigner, what did you think the first time you saw dried bonito flakes (and had you ever heard of bonito before coming here, and while we’re at it, what other English have you learned only since being in Japan??), those shavings wiggling and waving on top of hot okonomiyaki?  It’s Alive!?  Special effects for your own homemade horror movies? Attack of the killer crepes? Peeling, burning flesh?  Halloween gag?

And just what writhy fishy phenomenon is going on there anyway?  Any practical applications?  And do you shave your own?  And do you prefer canned bonito or canned tuna?  And can you believe the price of canned peas in Japan?  And what does that have to do with price of peas in China?  I’m just full of questions today.  Better stop this stream of consciousness before I ask “regular okonomiyaki or Hiroshima style?” “Mayo or no?” “Do you still use aonori when no Japanese are around?” “Do you…

It Came from a Porcelain Pod, or The Gecko That Ate Tajimi

It started out innocently enough.  But then so do certain tropical island moths, small farming nations named after Italian explorers with whose every hiccup the world economy comes to reverberate (tsk – those incorrigible hiccupping Italians and their vesuvial vino), and green blobs from Cleveland.  There have been no recent nuclear tests in this general area that I know of, nor has Toho Films begun filming the latest mutant enemy to be vanquished ineffectually fended off by plastic army people painstakingly created to look like Self Defense Force members by digitally displaced aging hobbyists snapping at the chance to once again display their neglected handiwork. So, perhaps a slight retracing of footsteps in order of occurence may be in order, in order to find a cause for this ceramic calamity.

What’s in an Order?

It was after a lunch of shio ramen and Taiwan chaahan at Fukuryuu (photo above, view Map) in Tajimi, where my Japanese cohorts and I had discussed origins of place names (which made me ask “why is Nihon or Nippon named what it is?  Nothing to do with the Land of the Rising Sun?”  They didn’t know, which gave me a certain sense of satisfaction (revenge?), knowing they might be better able to understand those times when I can’t answer something about my own native language or country.  They couldn’t readily explain Tajimi’s derivation either). They said Taiwan ramen, also on the menu at Fukuryuu, is only called that because it’s spicy hot, not because it’s from Taiwan, where apparently the locals have never heard of such a thing, and it isn’t even well known outside of Aichi and Gifu.  We passed on the taberu raayu condiment, which looked good, but whose garlic we deemed would compromise our sociability for the rest of the day.  Call us quaint, but we interact and network the old-fashioned way.

And it was after we came back to the office and, at Reverie et French restaurant located in our building, chatted over coffee and tea (normally only meals served) with friends of friends of friends visiting from India (the southern state of Kerala, which I learned means coconut, which every yard there has for the yummy taking and surprisingly mild currying).  I was pleased to learned Tajimi is not outdone by Kerala in high temperature, at least where these folks live, a kerala’s throw from the ocean (ok, a kerala-cannon’s firing from the ocean.  Think the Professor defending the island from a band of eternally-at-sea pirates’ descendants anchored just offshore while Gilligan and gang (save Mrs. Howell, ears plugged with white-gloved fingers) pass fibrous ordnance bucket-brigade style and the Skipper inevitably gets conked on the noggin as birds tweet around his head).  Didn’t see that episode?  Didn’t think so.  I just figured since this was my first foray into the socioblogosphere I should get the word “tweet” in somehow.

F(r) = (λ/r↑s) – (μ/r↑t)

It was some time later, on making use of a certain facility in a certain restroom, that I first espied the rascally reptile in question (see photo).  Yes, I speak of none other than the yamori, that formerly obscure star of the commercial screen capable of gravity-defying fleet feats of foot, authentic British accents on demand, and, superstition would have it, bringing good luck to homes it calls home (hence its name, meaning protector of the home). The Japanese gecko.  Maybe Tajimi is having a job fair for out-of-work TV ad actors.  Perhaps the creature came to inspect some specimens of Tajimi’s famous ceramic ware and got confused, I don’t know.  I’m not sure who was more surprised when we each saw something the other didn’t expect.  Neither any of my actions (somewhat to my relief) nor standard flushing, nor, eventually, the considerable passage of time seemed to stall its steadfast determination in holding its clearly slippery ground.  Subsequent intensive research A quick wikicheck revealed that some reach lengths of 60 centimeters, some females are capable of reproduction without males, and the famous stick-to-itiveness (except to Teflon!) may be partially due to the somewhat mysterious van der Waals force (see formula above), which it turns out has many interesting applications in its own right.

Is this the first trickle of a larger, more insidious invasion, or simply an isolated incident?  And was it brought about by some serendipitous synchronicity of Nagoyan Chinese for lunch, South Indian coconuts for tea, and the Maldivian sea cucumbers that sprouted up in a conversation later in the day? (You can get those freshly imported in Tajimi, you know.  That’s why they came up).  In fact I speak now not of the lavatory lizard, but of this very blog, of which this is the first entry, and of the tajimi.mobi website.  Only time will tell, but we hope to stick to it and hope you will too.  Your comments and condiment recipes are always welcome. I offer my apologies and a few (non-mobile-specific) links for what may be obscure references to American pop culture. I thought this (true) gecko story was not in the best of taste, but my boss insisted on going with it, so there it is.

Now it’s time to geckoing.

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