Have you ever had that feeling that you just might nod off with your chopsticks in your mouth? It’s a curious sensation, I can tell you that. Having been up working on a joint presentation until past 4am yesterday, I was really tired by the time I got back from school at around 1pm. So tired, in fact, that I was in real danger of nodding off mid-lunch. Indeed, as I was using chopsticks for the delicate transportation of my lunch from my plate into my mouth, I reckon I ran a 25% percent risk of nodding off with the chopsticks in my mouth(1).
Any sensible person would at this point take a nap and call it a Spanish siesta. Not I, however, for if I did that, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep when the night finally arrived. Instead, I decided to follow the advice of some friends of mine, who way before Christmas recommended that I should visit the Koganei park. And so it came to pass, that I grabbed my camera and forgot my mobile phone, and set out on my bike for the Koganei park in a state of sleep-deprived delirium. Would could possible go wrong?
Well, nothing, in fact. I arrived at the Koganei park about an hour before sunset, and it really is a beautiful park. I mentioned in my last blog entry that I was turning this blog into a Japan travel photography blog, as I don’t have the time to write very often, and in keeping with that statement I will now post some photos from the Koganei park, as well as offer comments where appropriate.
1. 50% risk that it would happen while transporting the food from, or returning the chopsticks to, the plate, and 25% that it would happen while the chopsticks were resting against the plate
After an awfully long silence I figured it was high time to have another go of getting this blog up and running. The long articles don’t work, there’s simply not enough time for that. Which isn’t to say tat I don’t write, for I do, but I’ve decided I want to focus my writing time on fiction rather than blogging. I’m working on my first novel-length project – it’s been just over a year now – and I really want to focus what little writing time I have on that.
What, them, am I going to do with this blog? Well, I take a lot of photos, and that can also tell a story. So, I’ll try to post them here together with some limited commentary, and hopefully that’ll be enough for you to follow my crazy journeys here in Japan.
A couple of days ago, as I was biking back from Kokubunji to the dormitory, I came across this wonderful pond right between the railway tracks and a lovely little residential district with these beautiful two-storey villas. By the way, I can’t stress enough how highly I recommend exploring the neighbourhood as much as possible. Kokubunji is quite close to the dormitory so I’m often there for shopping and so on, but rather than taking the same route back and forth every time, I do my best to chose streets that I haven’t tried yet. It’s really fun, and you find som many interesting places doing this. Plus, going to Kokubunji never gets boring or repetitive this way.
Today, taking a break after studying kanji, I went back to the pond, which I had marked on the map on my iPhone so that I could find it again, intending to take some photos. Of course, on my first visit the sun had already set so I didn’t realise how devoid of colours this place is during the winter, especially with a bit of grey snow here and there. There’s still something about the place that I like, but I’m not skilled enough with my camera to capture those feelings in my photos. But it was fun trying:)
The sun is setting and I’m using that soft light to light myself and the scenery. I really love being out during the sunset. Sunrise would also be nice, except its too early and I’m too tired. Sunset is really nice though, whether you take photos or not, for everything appears so soft and clear in that soft light. Really nice, I love it!
I tried to do it again with some fill flash and capture my reflection in the water, but to no avail. My attempts to direct the light failed and I ended up with a very bright ground that I cropped out. A speedlight would be so cool…
On my way back I came upon this view which was simply too good to pass up. I love that there are so many open areas in the city. They’re fields, really, where people grow things, and its just really peaceful and harmonious. It also gives us these wonderful scenic views. I’m way too blurry, though;)
Well, that’s it for today. Until next time!
The spiders here are, seriously, gigantic! On my way to school every day I pass several of them sitting motionless in their webs, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting prey to get itself entangled mid-flight. While I have thus far managed to avoid the manned, or should that be ‘spidered’, webs, I have alas walked into a fair share of old, abandoned ones and I can tell you that the threads these spiders spin are tough! I almost expect to hear an audible ‘pop’ when they snap, but of course there is none. And then, having walked through one of these webs, you have the undeniable opportunity to experience first hand just how elastic and sticky they are. You definitely need to stay strong here, and that’s why I thought I’d talk a bit about food today.
A couple of days ago I took the train to the closest Yodobashi Camera store where I bought a piece of equipment that I reckon must be close to ubiquitous throughout Japan in all places where meals are prepared, not to mention a must-have for any student here. Although I could have bought the rice cooker closer to home, Yodobashi Camera usually have good prices, not to mention lots of different models to choose from. Besides, its name notwithstanding, they do actually sell pretty much anything electronic and tend to have things in stock that I have previously only read about or seen on the Internet or on television, so a visit to Yodobashi Camera is always good fun.
Of course, the idea was to make rice cooking easier than it is with a saucepan, and after three days it actually worked. Those first few days had me delving farther and farther into a manual filled with magnificently artistic but oh so unintelligible characters. I know about 540 kanji, but it didn’t take me long to realise that 540 kanji is nowhere near the amount that you need in order to read rice cooker manuals. So, I worked long and hard, my electronic dictionary on the iPhone running warm for hours at a time, and then after three days I finally nailed it: the secret was to watch a short video guide on youtube…
The machine I ended up buying is a Zojirushi NS-UB05, which cost me around 6000円. It wasn’t the cheapest one available, but I had heard much good about the manufacturer and when I asked a shop assistant for help in choosing a good but cheap rice cooker, this one was highly recommended. So far I have used it twice, and it really does do wonders with the rice, and although I haven’t tried it yet, it supposedly has a built in timer so that I can input a specific time when I want the rice ready. Using the machine is actually very simple, as long as I don’t want to use the more complicated features that require use of the menu. Basically, I wash the rice very carefully, add an equal amount of water to the amount of rice, let it soak for 10-15 minutes and then turn the rice cooker on. And that’s that.
Cheap rice cooker: Zojirushi NS-UB05, 5980 yen
- Wash the rice several times (put it in a bowl, add water. Whisk it about with your hand. Change the water and repeat) until the water no longer turns completely white.
- Add an equal amount of water to the amount of rice (i.e. 1 cup of rice needs 1 cup of water) and let it soak for 10-15 minutes.
- Repeat step 1 twice, then add an equal amount of water to the amount of rice and turn on the rice cooker.
While rice appears to be part of more or less all meals in Japan, it naturally doesn’t constitute the sole ingredient of those meals. Consequently, it was necessary for me to buy other stuff as well, not least of which were such essential kitchen equipment as a saucepan and a frying pan. This, it turned out, was not all that simple, because the stoves at Hitotsubashi International Village use modern induction heating technology. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s essentially a technology which operates in mysterious ways. The tricky part is that it only works with compatible sauce pans and frying pans carrying the ‘IH’ logo. Once I got hold of those (one frying pan and sauce pan cost me about 1700円), however, I quickly realised some of the benefits with this modern technology: it is unbelievably quick. While boiling the mirin I could observe the different between two heat settings within two or three seconds. That’s just amazing, and I rather suspect it will be difficult to return to my old stove back home when I return to Sweden a year from now.
The next problem I encountered, having secured an IH-ready sauce pan and frying pan, was getting hold of things to put in them. In the few cases where similar products to what I am used to in Sweden are available at supermarkets here, the packaging and visual presentation are almost certain to be so different that it isn’t until someone points out the products to me that I realise what they are. Of course, there are also some things that are just the same, such as onions, bell pepper and certain mushrooms, but mostly, the things I find here are different to what I’m used to or not available at all in Sweden. That makes grocery shopping both incredibly fun, and incredibly daunting. My solution was runnyrunny999.
Runnyrunny999 is the name of a channel on YouTube run by a guy from Japan who loves to cook. His recipes are easy to follow, don’t take too long to make, and generally don’t require a ton of specialty ingredients. With his help, I managed to make a bowl of rice topped with fried chicken, onion, bell pepper, an egg and a sauce made from fish stock, mirin, soy sauce and a little bit of sugar. Of course, in addition to that, I naturally had some miso soup and green tea to drink. It was delicious.
- 2tbsp – Honmirin
- 2tbsp – soy souce
- 1tbsp – sugar
- 3 1/2tbsp – water mixed to taste with dashi (fish stock).
- finely chopped chicken
- 1 bell peppar
- 1 yellow onion
- 3 mushrooms
- 1 egg
- olive oil (for frying the vegetables and meat)
- Prepare the rice and turn on the rice cooker.
- Prepare the vegetables: cut the onion and bell pepper into 1x1cm pieces. Cut the mushrooms.
- Sprinkle some olive oil in the frying pan and stir fry the onion until it turns translucent. Add the bell pepper and stir fry for approximately 1-2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir fry until they become soft and nicely brownish. Empty the frying pan into a bowl.
- Sprinkle some olive oil in the frying pan and stir fry the chicken until ready. Empty the chicken into the bowl with the vegetables.
- Add the mirin to the now empty frying pan and bring it to a boil (to get rid of the alcohol).
- Mix the soy sauce with the fish stock and add it to the frying pan.
- Add the sugar to the frying pan and let the sauce simmer until it has thickened slightly.
- Add the vegetables and meat to the frying pan again and mix it well with the sauce.
- Add the egg and mix it well with the contents in the frying pan.
- When the rice is ready, put it in a bowl and empty to contents of the frying pan on top of it. Add some nori (optional).
- Eat and enjoy.
Yesterday I left the hotel in Shinjuku where I had been staying since arriving in Tokyo on the 21st of September, and now I’m safely settled in in my room in the Hitotsubashi International Village. I was quite happy to find that I did indeed get my own room with my own private toilet. Kitchen and shower are shared, but I seem to have very kind and friendly neighbours indeed, so that shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m guessing that some of you who stumble upon this blog will be students about to travel here as exchange students and maybe even stay in the Hitotsubashi International Village, in which case you’re probably interested in the room. I’m therefore publishing both photos and a video here that showcases the room from various angles and perspectives. I should however, before we get started, like to say a few words about the bedding first.
Basically, you will have the option (unless they change this later) to order bedding in advance through the dormitory management prior to coming here. I decided not to do that, knowing that I would arrive ten days prior to the official arrival day and thus thinking that I would have time to arrange with cheap bedding while I was staying at the hotel. Turns out I brought a lot of stuff with me, enough so that I didn’t want to add bedding to my three already over-packed bags. Thus, I had start looking for bedding on there very first day here, and here’s what I found:
First of all, it ended up being only marginally cheaper than the package offered through the dormitory. Secondly, I ended up going to two different stores: Don Quijote and Konan. I was under the impression that Don Quijote would offer some very competitive prices, and so I headed there first in the hope that they would have everything I would need. Turns out they didn’t, and furthermore some of the thing like the pillow was actually a lot cheaper at Konan, even though I rather like the pillow I got from Don Quijote as it is filled with a much sturdier material. Lastly, I searched like mad for a duvet, to the point where I had to ask for help despite not knowing the word in Japanese. Apparently, duvets are sold together with thin mattresses, and that’s why I had so much trouble finding them – why, I thought they were mattresses!
So, do I then strongly recommend buying the package offered by the dormitory? Perhaps. It is certainly easier, and if you plan to fly into Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports the same day you move into your student room, then I would definitely recommend getting the bedding package. Otherwise it really depends. I actually quite enjoyed visiting both Don Quijote and Konan, even though they are in opposite directions from the dormitory. I also definitely enjoyed asking for help both at Don Quijote and at Konan, even though my Japanese was hardly understood and even though I understood even less of theirs.
Now then, let’s us have a look at the room.
I found the room quite spacious. Not maybe by Swedish standards, but certainly larger than what I had expected in Tokyo, with my bed being 210x100cm. There is a lot of storage space in the shape of drawers, cupboards, bookcases, on so on. There are even drawers under the bed, which is perfect. As you can see, I also have my own fridge and freezer. Internet is not covered by the rent and you’re really supposed to get a subscription through an Internet provider here in Japan, but I was fortunate enough that the previous tenant had paid for a few days longer than his stay, so I was able to log on as soon as I got here.
You can really tell you’re in Japan by the slightly submerged area just inside the door where you’re supposed to take off your shoes and change into slippers. Because I have European size 49, I decided to err on the side of precaution and bring my own pair of indoor shoes, in this case a pair of beach sandals as that was the only thing close to my size that I could find in Sweden. I haven’t been able to confirm yet whether it is possible or not to get hold of slippers in my size here in Japan, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The toilet was a nice surprise, first of all because I didn’t know if it would be a shared toilet or a private one, and secondly because the mirror is just fantastic. Notice, though, that there’s a window leading into the room, and also there’s no hot water. A nice and large toilet seat which is much taller than what I’m used to from my own flat in Gothenburg – that’s appreciated, as I’m over 2 meters tall. Again, the bathroom is quite spacious, although it obviously lacks a shower cabin. The showers are, as I mentioned earlier, shared and thus located outside my room.
Lastly, there’s another part of this room that I really like: the balcony. Yes, there is actually one. I’m planning to get a beech chair so that I may sit there and enjoy the view and early autumn temperatures. Notice also the net in front of the balcony, presumably there to keep the birds from flying straight into the room.
On both sides of the balcony, there are thin walls separating my balcony from that of my next door neighbours’. These are to be torn down and used as an escape route in case of fire or some other emergency.
I haven’t had time really to explore the neighbourhood much yet, but the dormitory is within easy walking distance from several grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stores/markets, a 100Yen store as well as the Hitotsubashigakuen train station and several corner shops such as 7-eleven and Family Mart. Needless to say, there are also several restaurants in the area. Also within walking distance, although not quite so easy as the rest I’ve mentioned, are a Don Quijote store and the huge Konan where I bought most of the bedding stuff. There is also a very nice nature walk alongside a narrow canal. Watch out for protruding roots after dark, though, and if hearing is overly sensitive you may want to bring some earplugs against the high frequency sounds of the local nocturnal wildlife, at least at this time of the year.
Yeah, I reckon that’s that for now. As always, feel free to comment, ask questions or just say hi.
My first entry ended up being a video blog entry instead of a regular written one. I’m basically rambling, but in the midst of it all are some thoughts on the VISA application process, as well as how I chose the flight that would take me to Tokyo where I am right now, writing this in my hotel room in Shinjuku. For a written account in Swedish, please visit http://utbytejapan.blogspot.jp/, a shared blog set up by one of my teachers back home.