Archive for September, 2010

Japanese BBQ

What, two blog posts in one day? Well, I haven’t had internet access for almost a week you see. The two professors at the university have been at a conference in Brazil, and the prospects of going to the university seemed bleak to say the least. Of course my ever nagging conscience induced me to do a lot of work at home anyway – but enough about serious business; let’s barbeque!

First class Japanese restaurant. This is just a representative picture - the actual restaurant was a lot nicer!

Soon after my arrival in Japan I visited the research facility of NEG (Nippon Electric Glass) whom so kindly sponsors my apartment, transportation, tuition and current posh lifestyle. After this short visit where I made not a few blunders in Japanese etiquette, I had dinner at a first class Japanese restaurant with Prof. Yoshida, Mr. Yamamoto (senior vice president), Mr. Yamazaki and Mr. Shindo (both general managers) and a few lab rats forced to take care of me. Dinner, and especially the sake, was very delicious; after a few cups I was bashing soccer as the second most uneventful sport that I know of (topped by cycling, of course.) They gently informed that Mr. Yamamoto is an avid fan. Oh well, that doesn’t make soccer less boring.

In the end, probably I gave a decent enough impression. I’ve actually spent some of my spare time with the younger employees, and Mr. Yamazaki invited me to a barbeque party at his house, in order to meet his daughter. Yeah, I bet that part got your attention alright! I’ll delay no further, flash forward to barbeque!

Mr. Yamazaki attended to the grill for maybe five hours. You have to respect that kind of determination. However, I expected nothing else of someone who trained Japanese tea ceremony during his university days.

The barbeque was like a neighbourhood gathering of sorts. Seeing tab beer immediately made me feel at home. Apparently it is Japanese custom for the daughter of the household to pour alcohol for the guests. That makes it kinda difficult to be discreet about your consumption, so I decided to hold back a bit. Probably there was no need, everybody seemed drunk by the end of the party. So, what about the daughter you ask? Well, she was nineteen, studying agricultural science in Hokkaido, and not fond of talking English – she seemed quite capable of conversing though, so probably just shy. Now, relating to nineteen year old girls is hardly a specialty of mine (note to self: Ask Lasse to teach me), and my Japanese isn’t exactly fluent yet, so it was a rather fleeting encounter. This is despite*** Prof. Yoshida (!) telling me in advance that “Mr. Yamazaki’s daughter is very beautiful.” I am very sorry not to provide a picture for your evaluation, but I do not necessarily disagree with Yoshida-sensei.

Instead I spent most of the evening chatting with the neighbour’s daughter, Noriko. She lived in the States until age 12 and has the accent to prove it. She persistently flattered me throughout the evening, so naturally we became the best of friends. Probably we will go to Iga (ninjas!) together at some point. Oh, and a note for my uncle; Noriko is thirty and has a boyfriend, no need to worry!

I believe that there might actually be a moral to today’s ramblings: No talkie, no makie friends! This obviously entails that the movie Lost in Translation – which I of course have never seen – is pure bull.

This is known as “hamburger” in Japan. It looked utterly repulsive at every step of the process, yet tasted quite okay. Way to go Itakura-san!

Seto-san and Taro-chan making Takoyaki. Served with lots of mayo. Yummy!

Okay then, on to the next barbeque party in this way too long post! You may recall a picture labelled “Takoyaki party” in a previous post. Well, this is it! Takoyaki is a round cake resembling the Danish æbleskive, but with the nice surprise of a semi-raw piece of octopus in the center. Needless to say, I freakin’ love it!

We listened to Morning Musume, drank beer, sake, gin, and Irish coffee, and finally I ended up sleeping on four chairs next to my desk. Somebody woke me up at noon because he needed a seat…


The University

Don’t be fooled by the peaceful surroundings, the lab is a dark and gloomy place. Indeed I saw a hobgoblin yesterday. I swear!

Ah, The University of Shiga Prefecture, the lovely place where I pretend to be working some nine hours every weekday. On average I probably spend more time writing blog, e-mail, and studying Japanese than actual university related study. Oh well, nobody seem to be complaining.

It really is quite picturesque though. There is a forest covered mountain close by, and more on the horizon. The road to the university runs alongside a small river valley. At the moment there are quite a few dragon flies around here – which just happens to be the bug I hate the least, since it doesn’t bite, sting, rend, or fly into your face at every opportunity.

The pond near the dining hall, full of ducks, fish and probably dangerous concentrations of bacteria.

It isn’t a big university by any standard, but there are only a few departments, so in the glass science group we are actually more master students than in the entire chemistry group back home. They are nice people, we have a lot of fun together.

Takoyaki party!

Takoyaki party! Ota-san in the back drank one peach cider and his skin colour changed from light brown to that of a Native American caricature. I couldn’t help myself, and nicknamed him Momotaro (’momo’ is peach, and ’Momotaro’ is a boy born from a peach in a Japanese folklore.)

You may have notice the distinct lack of oppai in the picture. Well, there are only guys in the glass science group. From what I can gather, less than half of whom have girlfriends! Could it really be that the natural sciences are solely populated by geeks!? The shock and dread of this realisation was alleviated somewhat by the presence of the human nursing department close by. I seriously have to find some excuse to hang out over there…


Hikone Castle

Welcome everybody. Today we are going to learn a little something about Japanese history. Won’t it be exciting!? Haha, I kid, I kid – I don’t know jack squat! Generally I bluff my way through any conversation touching on the subject: ”Heian period? Is that a province in China?”

I did however join the mindless drones for a day and visited Hikone castle. I may not know anything about the place, but I did take an awful lot of pictures, and that entitles me to act like I know stuff – yay tourism!

This is Hikone castle. Just look at the picture and skip the post – I promise you that there is no additional information…

Pretty thing, isn’t it? Completed in 1622, and it looks brand new. I wonder if the walls are chalked white, and if so, how often they have to freshen it up. Actually, don’t you think the castle somewhat resembles a face? Now, I could make some joke about make up and Japanese women, but I won’t, I’m a gentleman – besides the point has already been delivered, just make up your own punchline.

Uh uh, there was a garden too!


And a moat, with black and white swans!

A politically correct picture of swans. Less than a minute later there was a drive-by*** shooting and the SWAT team called. What a mess! Apparently the white swan mooning the others was having an affair with the top most swan’s hispanic girlfriend (not shown,) who spilled the beans during a heated argument and… but I digress.

Seriously though, it was really beautiful. Somehow who built it slipped my mind, but this guy, Ii Naosuke did a lot for the place. He was a powerful player in the opening of Japan during the Meiji restoration, and was actually assassinated by some xenophobic group.  I thought that was pretty cool. Not the assassination of course, there are always close-minded people that will go to extremes in order to resist change. But this fellow willingly put his life a substantial risk to do what he thought was best (and wouldn’t hurt or kill anybody.) I really would like to have met him. Oh, and if anybody wants to put forward a case against the opening of Japan; my first argument would be what happened to China when they tried that route.

Last picture; the castle seen from the adjoining garden. It really is quite something, isn’t it?

The last caption really got out of hand, so I’ll refrain to comment on this one. Enjoy!

More pictures on facebook!


The Apartment

When I wake up late, I can see like a 25x25 grid of elementary school children dressed in white t-shirts and red shorts doing their morning exercise from the window. I wanted to take a picture, but would probably get arrested...

Certain people have expressed interest in my humble accomodations, and since a picture speaks more than a thousand words, here you go!

What you see is pretty much what you get. No table, bed, chair, or other modern contrivances – no no, I prefer an ascetic existence. Well, excluding the air conditioner, but even the most hardened abstainer could hardly swallow his uncooked brown rice in this heat! There is a pillow for sitting on and a futon for sleeping. Obviously I flee to the local Mos Burger and it’s familiar smell of cooking grease, comfortable chairs and pimpled employees whenever opportunity arises. It feels warm and comfy, much like a mother’s womb – nourishing too!
But really, the room is fine. I have been informed that it is 9 square meters, but it looks bigger in real life. It really does! Probably they didn’t calculate the plentiful closet space into that. The common facilities don’t bother me either, everything is clean, and the Japanese style shower is kinda fun actually. The dormitory dining hall is quite okay too. Japanese cooking is a bit too much on the bland side for my taste, but they do well under the circumstances – besides, it’s free!

I bet you could store at least twenty hacs in that closet...

Oh, and Moriyama City is located in the heart of absolutely nothing of oh-so-exciting Shiga Prefecture. End of post.


First post!

But hardly first arrival…

I have been in Japan for almost two weeks now, and it is about time that I write about first impressions – so, let’s get on with it!

In all honesty, I was quite reprehensive about leaving good ol’ Denmark for such a length of time, and in some aspects felt that I had unfinished business back home. Even though these concerns weighed somewhat heavily on my mind the decision to go to Japan had been made long ago – at least that was what I told myself, for no other reason that this kind of thinking always works for me.

The trip over here was horrible, but that shouldn’t surprise anybody that has spent any length of time on an airplane. Brooding in an airplane for twelve hours hardly improved my mood you can imagine. Though, just by getting into the train and seeing the beautiful scenery kindled my rudimentary adventurous spirit, and since that moment, everything has been fine. Really, it has.

Mountains mountains everywhere!

My general impression of life in Japan is quite good, more so that I imagined. Everybody is really nice to me, but in different ways. I expected to be met almost exclusively with the distant politeness with a sprinkle of fear that the Japanese are famous for. This certainly is the most common response to me, but I have also met heartfelt acceptance; sincere respect; and general willingness to surpass cultural, language, and age barriers. The immediate motive of Japanese people for contacting me always seems to be a desire to improve their English, but when they realise that I can speak conversational Japanese, and have a working knowledge of the culture – and perhaps more importantly a desire to learn – quite a few let down their guard. By the numbers it is not a frequent occurence, but is truly humbling when it does.

Well, now that the sentimental part is done with, we can get down to business. I will be posting about whatever I feel like; like trips, friends, Japanese culture or whatever. Stay tuned for more Tales of Interest!