Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jenny Does Japan 6: Hiroshima

Oohhhh man... I am SO far behind on this bad boy, I don't even know where to start. I apologize for not updating sooner, but this past month has been a whirlwind of planning, teaching, and vacationing with the fam (among other things!). Fortunately for me (not for my blog) it doesn't look like it's slowing anytime soon, so it's time to get my butt/fingers back into action on the blog and keep updating! I know it's probably pretty difficult for ya'll to sleep without knowing what I'm doing every waking hour I spend in Japan. Just kidding - I seriously do try really hard to leave out the mundane details and keep to the significant stuff - but, there's just so much to say!

So, without further ado, let's go back to a time when that sibling of mine, Miss Jennifer Moersfelder, was visiting. A time when time flew like the peregrine falcon and destination cities in Japan were written on the horizon (and in my planner).

Hiroshima was a city I've always known I would visit in Japan. There are many events and topics you learn about in History or Social Studies throughout the years in public education. Some occurred so far back in history, that they are considered prehistoric or ancient. Interesting, but often irrelevant. Some occurred within the this millenium and are considered more recent and perhaps more relevant. Some events are significant in retrospect, some events are recognized as significant the moment they happen. Although I was not alive to experience WWII or the A-bomb, I know it directly effects my life and is especially relevant to me as a teacher. I wanted to learn more and experience what I could of what remains.

On August 6th, 1945, Hiroshima was the target of the world's first atomic-bomb. The immediate and long-term effects locally, nationally, and globally are jarring. This is a picture of the A-bomb Dome, which remains a symbol of the destruction.

The Motoyasu River runs through the now rebuilt city of Hiroshima.
After taking in the A-bomb dome, we strolled through Peace Memorial Park to check out all the memorials. This was a statue inspired by Sadako, who was a 10 year old leukemia victim after the war who folded 1000 paper cranes. The custom is that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wishes will come true. The crane symbolizes longevity and happiness in Japan.
People around the world are still inspired by Sadako's story.
A clock memorial.

The best 5o cents of the trip was spent here, at the Peace Memorial Museum. I learned some really incredible things I never knew before and got a chance to reflect on the entirety of the event.
Explaining why Hiroshima was chosen, with a copy of Einstein's letter of explanation.

Walking through a hall of artifacts.

A child's bike and helmet after the explosion.

A concrete wall after the acid rainfall a few days after the bomb dropped.
It was really nice to have the time to really indulge in these facts and stories and chat about it all with my sister, someone I respect and unfortunately don't get a chance to talk about these issues with all too often.
For lunch, there was no doubt we'd have to try a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki (egg-based savory pancake). Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite Japanese foods and we make it with all different kinds of ingredients up in Gunma. But down south, there is a whole different method: instead of mixing all the ingredients together, they're layered. And, Hiroshima style have a fried egg on the bottom and yakisoba (fried noodles) included as well... not my preference, but the meal was filling and tasty nonetheless. The hardest part was choosing which out of the 30+ okonomiyaki restaurants in the complex to go to!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jenny Does Japan 5: Instant Ramen Museum and Himeji and Kaiten Sushi!!!

There are two ramen museums in Japan; one in Yokohama and one in Osaka. Yes, ramen museums. I don't even really like ramen, but the mere concept of a museum dedicated solely to instant and cup noodles was intriguing to me. We went to the far superior "Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum" in Osaka, which allows you the opportunity of making your very own instant ramen, from scratch! Appealing to everyone and anyone (except one Miss Jenny Moersfelder)!

Being the good little tourists we were, we got there exactly at our reservation time and got to see the Museum staff doing their little pre-workshop set-up and pep talks. I was so giddy, it was ridiculous.

Then we put on our cookin' aprons (like all good Japanese housemakers) and bandannas to keep things sanitary and all. Jenny's smiling here...
...but this is what she was doing most of the time.
Check out these pics as we go through the steps of making instant ramen:

- After combining the oil and water to the flour, we kneaded the dough.
-Then it was time to roll the dough.
Keep rollin' rollin' rollin' rollin' what?

-Next: slice the dough up into noodle strands.

-Then we weighed the noodles to the exact weight for instant ramen packages, and watched as they deep fried the mold.
-Then we designed our own Instant Ramen Noodle Packages. Clearly, the cute little kids next to us had much better designs that us. The little girl was all about using her English skills too, which was cute.
Then we stuck the noodles in the bag and zipped 'em up airtight. Even though I didn't understand a word the instructors were saying or any of the video that was played, those were two of the coolest hours I have spent in Japan. It was awesome to see how instant ramen was made and it doesn't get much more "hand on". Plus, it was a nice little snack later on for Jenny on the shinkansen.
Oh yeah, massive cup noodle!

Another "interactive" element they had here was the "make your own cup noodle" factory where you got to choose the flavor of broth seasoning and 3 ingredients. So... Mother's Day was coming up, and I'd already gotten my Mom all the little Japanesey gifts I could from here for her b-day and Christmas and wanted something unique. I wasn't even sure if she liked ramen either, but what better gift from your 24 year old daughter can you get than your very own, specialized instant ramen cup!?!?! Yeah, it was genius. Although, carrying around a huge blown up protective bag for the remainder of the trip was a bit of a challenge.
Onto the museum part, where there is: The Instant Ramen Tunnel!!!
and a display of the first astronaut to consume instant ramen in space!
There were tons of other cool things here, but I'm afraid you're probably as receptive as Jenny was to this and so I probably bored you enough through the last 17 pictures and will move on.
What a wise little boy.

Next stop: Himeji Castle. There are many castles in Japan, but Himeji is unanimously acclaimed as the most splendid castle that remains standing. It is also one of few that has survived in its original form. It was built in 1580, but enlarged about 30 years after. Himeji has had 48 successive lords.

Getting cloooooooser.
Passing through the main entrance.
One of my favorite things in the castle was this model of Princess Sen in the room she used to occupy of the Kesho Tower. It was the only model in the whole castle, but I wish there would've been more. Really helped visualize what life would've been like back then.

There are rectangular, triangular, and circular openings like this one throughout the walls of the castle. They were used for firing guns and shooting arrows at defenders. There were also openings made specifically for pouring boiling water or oil onto anyone tricky enough to make it past the defensive slits on their way up to scale the walls.
The five-story main donjon (heavily fortified central tower) and the three smaller donjons to the left.

Here's a video pan of the castle and the city below.

There wasn't a whole lot to actually see inside the tower. A lot of barren space and plaques that said "there used be guns here". But, this was one of my favorite things: a painting of Bodidharma. It was interesting to me because we "Daruma Dolls" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daruma) are a specialty of Gunma. There are big festivals selling them and it's a big event when they get burned once a year. They're almost cartoon looking... well, like a mix between being cartoony and being a weeble wobble. So, to see this painting of the actual person it's meant to represent was pretty crazy.
My pictures from inside the castle turned out horrible... so what do I always do when pictures just don't cut it? Steal from Alex!!! Thanks, Alex!

A kinshachi (tiger headed fish) gargoyle on the roof.

That night we had to do another classic Japanese food night. So we started out with one of Osaka's most well known foods: takoyaki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takoyaki). It was more of a 'had to do it to do it' thing than a craving for takoyaki, and neither Jenny or I reallllly liked it. So we moved onto my hands down favorite food in Japan: SUSHI!!! Of course, we already ate this once after the fish market, but we each only got like one thing and were super rushed. So in Osaka - we did it right: kaiten sushi!!! Conveyor belt sushi, baby; with every type of sushi your little heart can desire all at a buck a plate. With cold draft beer on the side, this is my ideal meal. There were a lot Jenny wouldn't try, but the things she was going for were bizarre. Seriously, our tastes in foods are complete opposites. I think the highlight of the night was her accepting to try the raw beef, with raw egg and chives atop vinegared rice... it was not an enjoyable attempt, and she left it there all mushed up and staring at us for the rest of the meal. Some of the dishes were new to me, but a kaiten sushi first for me was seeing a 4 foot fish brought in and them slicing it up right there next to us for the dishes. That's about the time Jenny insisted we leave.
Following up dinner with a crepe, of course!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jenny Does Japan 4: Kyoto to Osaka

Day three in Kyoto got off to a late start with all the laundry having to be done in the microscopic washer. I wanted to get off the beaten path a bit, so we headed to a shrine that wasn't on any of the tourist maps. Alex's friend Mariko highly recommended it.

"Off the beaten path" is definitely what we got looking for Enjitsu-ji. We found ourselves wandering through residential areas, past marshes, up massive hills, and in the heat of the day we wondered if we'd ever find it.

Several people confirmed we were headed in the right direction, so we kept on truckin'. We finally made it and a beautiful array of flowers greeted us.
The temple was originally an Imperial villa built by Emperor Gomino in 1639, but today is most visited for it's dry landscape garden. The whole complex was TIIIINY, but cute. There were only two other people there though the entire time, so I found it very relaxing. There were butterflies and other little creatures scurrying around the moss covered garden and the view of Mt. Hiei in the background was perfect.

Next we headed to Osaka: the working heart of Kansai. I have wanted to go to Osaka since sometime back in 1999, when I got a limited edition Aerosmith concert poster from the fan club (that's right, certified AF1 member here - not ashamed to say it!). I didn't get to see my main man struttin' his stuff on stage this time around, but I did get a feel for the down-to-earth Osakans and the cuisine it's oh so famous for.
Where there's a city in Japan, there's salarymen (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaryman). And where there's salarymen, there's food on the go. One of the most common quick fix food cures is a standing noodle shop. Quick, easy and cheap way to have a meal - but not what we were looking for.

Instead, we headed to the Minami (southern) area of Japan to check out Dotomburi, known as Osaka's liveliest nightlife area. It's reminiscent of Tokyo, but doesn't feel so built up. It has the neon, restaurants, and pachinko parlors, yet it's so much different than Tokyo. Hard to pinpoint how. Of course, we had to be touristy and get a picture with the infamous Glico running man from the Ebisubashi bridge.
I don't know how or why they became so popular in Japan, but Ferris wheels are all the rage. Here's Osaka's oval and neon take on the Ferris wheel.
Dotonburi, baby!!!

There was never any question about what we were having for dinner here: okonomiyaki (http://japanesefood.about.com/od/holidaytraditionalfood/a/aboutokonomiyak.htm)! Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite Japanese foods and we've had many a nights at Alex and Laurel's making our own renditions. It's prepared differently regionally, so I knew had to try some in Osaka and Hiroshima. There were a gajillion and one places serving okonomiyaki here, so the choice was tough. But, I was happy with our pick in a quiet place on the river with fun chefs, a semi-English menu, and massive serving sizes.

Mmmmm, okonomiyaki as I like it!