Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Fam Does Japan: Maebashi (my stompin' grounds)

We rolled into the 'Bash right in time to check into the hotel and see the sun set from the prefectural government building in the center of my "hometown".
There she is: Maebashi in all her glory. The city of Greenery, Water, and Poetry... or so the international tourism board says.
That night for dinner, I really wanted to take the fam to a cute little Mom and Pop owned and run Thai restaurant. Great food, beer, and atmosphere. BUT, they are apparently closed at their own convenience as of late. So, for whatever reason, a nearby okonomiyaki restaurant a friend had mentioned in passing last September popped into my head. I had never been there, but the fam had yet to try a staple Japanese food, okonomiyaki (despite their attempts in Hiroshima and Osaka). It was the best decision on a whim I had ever made I think.
Okonomiyaki is (in case you haven't kept up with my previous blogs and do not know!) a Japanese style savory potato pancake. The name translates roughly to 'grilled as you like it', so the ingredients vary from person to person, place to place. However, the batter is generally the same with an egg, sticky mountain yam, flour, and cabbage. Ingredients can include yakisoba (fried noodles), meat, seafood, mochi, vegetables and toppings are usually thin bonito flakes (which 'dance' on the heat), seaweed powder, okonomiyaki sauce, and mayonnaise.
The joint was on the 2nd floor of a very small building. The interior decorating was unique (to say the least) and there were little quirks left and right. I of course could not read the menu, or even really talk to the one and only owner/waitress in the place, but she was incredibly helpful in attempting to decipher it. We ended up getting a different kind of okonomiyaki each (which was WAY too much!), so we could all mix and fry up or own and sample everyone's at the same time. Here's the beef and mochi one.
The next step is to mix all the ingredients together. First, she demonstrated for us, making it look as easy as stirring chocolate powder in to milk. It was not that easy.
We made fun of Dad's stirring abilities the most, but his pouring skills get an A+!
Alllllmost ready: the okonomiyaki sauce has been spread in the perfectly clockwise circular direction and the bonito flakes have been placed exactly on half the pancake (some were opposed to fish flakes), the pancake has been cut into 8 equal pieces, and Dad is sampling it before anyone else. That's the sign that it's time to eat!

The next day was familial school visit day, so we started off at my 'base school' (middle school). This is me at my desk in the teacher's office. All schools have a communal teacher's office where teachers spend the 10 minutes in between classes, lunch time (if they don't have a homeroom to be in), and after school until 10pm-ish grading, prepping and planning.
First grade students in middle school (equivalent to 7th grade in the US).
My rowdy, misbehaved, entertaining second graders. There were two girls in this class that absolutely LOVED my Mom. They asked her a ton of incoherent questions and proceeded to shout "MOTHER... BEAUTIFUL" throughout the class... and the week to follow. I was very appreciative of their enthusiasm. And actually, there were a lot of students in the class I could tell were interacting with my Dad and brother that I very rarely see voluntarily participate in regular classes. Thanks again for subjecting yourself to the awkwardness that is my job, guys! They loved it!
Next us was a visit to one of my elementary schools. We visited a classroom that had been practicing their "interview questions" all semester. Students 'volunteered' (pretty sure the teacher arranged who would volunteer when ahead of time) to ask us questions as we sat in front. I think this picture might have been taken after a student asked, "Excuse me, Brother: What is your favorite animal?" To which he replied, "My favorite animal is a liger"... just kidding, but it'd be pretty awesome if he did, wouldn't it? I don't actually know what was so funny right there.

Next, we played a rousing game of karuta (read: pictures on cards, say word, students slap matching picture, fun ensues).
A group shot with one of the 6th grade classes at this school. Yes, there's another class, equally as large, with only one teacher.
That afternoon, we had some time to check out "the sites" in Maebashi... which include my apartment and two parks. The end. That's Maebashi Park below, and the pond is in the shape of our prefecture, which impresses me every time. Oh, and in the background is The Green Dome, which I have never actually been to.
That night I arranged for my Maebashi crew to meet us out at our favorite foreigner gathering restaurant: Mahatmas. It's Indian, and it's delicious. Even the critical tongues of Dad and Austin approved (or at least they said they did).
I also give Shyooma his birthday present; a panda bear bib and stuffed animal from Yokohama. He decided to play his new game of "throw the object handed to me on the floor so the adult has to pick it up" game, which I obliged to continuously. He thought this was HILL-ARIOUS!
The whole Maebashi crew!

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