Little House In Ise


A Miracle Fruit Flavor Trip in Tokyo!
September 28, 2008, 21:58
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

I have been hearing about “Miracle Fruit” for a few months now and from the first story about these things, my whole family has wanted to give them a try. If you haven’t heard about them, they are weird and fun. The things are little red berries that you suck on for a few minutes. After spitting out the seed, other foods taste better. Apparently, your mouth becomes coated with a protein that reacts with acidic (sour) flavors and sends a sweet signal to your taste buds, effectively changing the flavor of what ever you eat in subtle and not-so subtle ways.

I googled for miracle fruit in Tokyo and found a place that had some. The whole family decided on the spot that we had to go try some the next day. So, off we went to the Sunshine City building in Ikebukuro. On the second floor of the building is an amusement area called Namja Town and, in one of the food courts in Namja Town, is the “Miracle Fruits Cafe” (ミラクル フールツ カフェ). Finally!

The menu is mostly curries (the Thai Red wasn’t bad) but they encourage people to try the fruit _after_ eating from the regular menu. The theory is that hot foods tend to wash the miracle protein away more quickly so it is a waste. The cafe serves a bunch of very sour deserts that become sweet after swirling the fruit in your mouth.

So, how did it work? Pretty well, but in a way, the atmosphere of the place made the experience disappointing. We wanted to try a bunch of different foods but the best we could find at the shop was the Jikenshitsu Pureito (Laboratory plate). Lemons were deliciously sweet, I found that vinegar was tasty but just about everything else seemed just kinda, so-so. I think the key to enjoying miracle fruit is to have more samples and more fruit and then really give it a good go.

For the record, the following were either interesting or excellent:
Lemon
Sudachi (a lime look-alike but taste-different citrus fruit)
Vinegar (drink it straight!)
Ume-boshi (pickled plum)

The following were of no interest all:
Tomato juice (V8 — ick!)
Aojiru (green stuff, excreted from a vegan’s blender)

That said, the one thing I really wanted to try was tequila. I have heard that after using miracle fruit a cheap (Mike, for you, “moderately priced”) tequila can taste like a good anejo. So, what would a little Don Julio 1942 be like, heaven in a glass?

Anyway, the fruit cost 250 yen a piece in the shop but you can buy a bag of five for 1200 yen (woo, 50 yen off!). We bought two bags and will try them on Thanksgiving when my sisters in law and their families come to visit. I think we can line up some more interesting things to sample than that cafe!



Too Deep
September 24, 2008, 18:21
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

I have seven stitches across the knuckle of my right big toe — one for each of the samurai virtues (more later). The details are boring so suffice it to say that walking is uncomfortable and the doc has side-lined me until he pulls the stitches out. So I am doing mitori geiko (見取り稽古: Training by taking what is seen) again.

As it turns out, Waka-sensei was also side-lined today and we hung out together. More accurately, we sat near each other and sulked. I did take the opportunity to clear up a mini-mystery. There is a high ranking woman whose Aikido is brilliant and whose ukemi in particular is beautiful. It had always seemed to me that Doshu picked her as his uke for specific techniques (shihonage and kotegaeshi) but not for others. Since he insists on relatively bland ukemi during demonstrations it didn’t make sense that he was picking her for her tremendous acrobatic skills.

So, I asked Wakasensei what was up. He gave me a funny look and responded: “She comes after the teaching staff and does what’s next in order.” In other words, no reason, it just lines up that way. I felt like newbie Japan-hand digging for deeper meaning in something that really had none. This time, the cigar really was just a cigar.

There have been dozens of times that I have heard newbie expats and visitors searching too deeply for meaning in things Japanese. I’m guilty of that myself. In other words, foreigners often look deeply for meaning in customs, designs and what-not and they don’t always have any depth to offer (the custom may just be another excuse to drink to excess and the design may just be pretty). Desperately looking for deeper meaning in everything in this culture is a classic Japan-o-phile experience. As such, I am sure that there are many instances of meaning being attached arbitrarily to things in order to give a veneer of depth or at least wabi sabi (侘 寂: simple aesthetic taste). In my case, the seven stitches in my toe hold some skin together and had nothing to do with samurai virtues until I started writing this …



Grilled Cabbage and Cheese Sando
September 23, 2008, 16:22
Filed under: Family | Tags: , , ,

As promised on Aikithoughts, here is Megumi’s killer grilled cabbage sandwich. No really, it’s good.

Ingredients:
Whole-wheat or multi-grain bread (whatever is healthy that your kid normally won’t eat)
Finely shredded cabbage (a handful per sandwich)
Cheese (American cheese-like-product works fine)
Ham or wiener chunks (small, finding them is fun)
1:1 mix of mayo and ketchup
Butter

Destructions:
1) Butter two pieces of bread
2) Pile cabbage on the non-buttered side.
3) Add mayo/ketchup mix to cabbage (Not too much, the cabbage gets juicy when it cooks)
4) Add meatie chunks to the mess
5) Top with cheese
6) Add final piece of bread.
7) In our house we have a sandwich grilling tool. It is like a metal clam that preserves the shape of the sandwich while cooking evenly and retaining heat. Pan frying as you would do for any old grilled sandwich is fine. The only point that needs to made is the cabbage needs to be cooked till it is squishy so that the kids won’t recognize that you’re trying to sneak something healthy(ish) into their diet.

Serve with a chilled 1994 Oregon Pinot Noir… er … sorry wrong recipe. Give them whatever you normally give them.

Itadakimasu!



Showing off for Sensei
September 16, 2008, 18:16
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

“You know… you show off for Doshu.”

That’s what a kohai told me recently. Of course, I immediately denied it but then had to back off and ponder a bit. So, with the troubling idea that I might be doing something dangerous when Sensei is watching, I dove back into my little well of Aikido musings and realized that she was right on the money. I DO show off.

“Showing off” has negative connotations for good reason. In the dojo, showing off at its extreme can mean recklessly endangering others. To me, that is the real definition of asshole. When training, uke entrusts their body to nage so that both can learn. When nage shows off by throwing too high, too hard or otherwise going beyond the ability of uke to take it, then what nage is really showing off is their inner asshole.

That said, “showing off” can also be seen as trying to be as polished and as smooth as possible in order to look good. If that is the case, then perhaps the additional focus and attention put into performing cleanly when trying to look good is a positive thing. Ideally, that is the kind of focus that should always be a part of training but it is true that sometimes we all slip into routines. So, if the presence of Sensei or the mere belief that Sensei is watching is enough to make someone focus and perform better, then maybe it isn’t so bad. Or maybe I’m trying to put a positive spin on something that is otherwise embarrassing.

So, I decided to do some active introspection. This morning I went to the dojo with the idea of training with the feeling that Sensei was watching constantly. My plan failed miserably. Sensei really was watching most of the time. I drew the short stick again — another tough old dude who liked to play rough. Warm-up was very hard kokyu-nage, followed by hard falls from irimi nage. I was the only one on the mat who was doing high falls. Our neighbors cleared out a little more space and I got thrown hard every damn time I stood up. Doshu noticed and moved in to chaperon. Unlike the Destroyer, this guy kept right on pounding even with Sensei watching.

It was a killer work out and I do not believe that the “quality” of either my waza or ukemi were particularly related to the fact that Doshu was watching closely. At least in this case, I was just trying to keep my ass firmly attached. I did not _try_ to throw the beast hard but the resistance he put up made all techniques either hard-core or ineffective. At least this time around, I was NOT being the jerk nor trying to be flashy in order to look cool. Today’s class was all about self defense. What a way to start off the week!

Anyway, I need to talk to that particular Kohai again but in the mean-time I will make certain that I am not acting like an Aiki-Jackass.



Looking in the Mirror
September 11, 2008, 18:57
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: ,

My partner had been one of the tough-as-nails old guys who inevitably leave an impression on me — often after using my face to make an impression on the mat. One of the other foreigner, morning class regulars asked what I had thought of him. As it turns out, I not only thought quite highly of the guy, I had given it bit of thought before he asked.

The fellow who had asked made an interesting observation about my partner, “He’s a mirror”. So, another well timed comment sent me down a rabbit-hole of Aikido related introspection. I’ve often thought that it would be educational to train with a clone of myself. My flaws and failings (flailings?), incorrect space and timing would all become obvious. I figure this clone would also be willing to redo techniques until we both were happy with the outcome. Each repetition polishing the techniques until they were smooth and “correct”.

That’s not what this particular mirror was about. He was a mirror of energy and intention. The energy you put into your attack was exactly what you would get out on the other end of his technique. Slow and direct attacks would yield slow and controlled waza. Fast and hard attacks yielded fast and hard responses including a lot of atemi. His was an excellent example of deeply martial Aikido.

Looking into this kind of mirror is beyond rewarding. It is truly educational.



Overheard in Tokyo
September 5, 2008, 10:05
Filed under: Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,

I’ve never really liked going to doctors or dentists in Japan. This has nothing to do with concerns about how skilled Japanese medical practitioners might be but rather due to my expectations of how medicine “should be” practiced.

Once, years ago, I had a painful ear-infection and went to an ear, nose and throat specialist. His office was one large room with chairs along the walls for waiting patients and a chair in the middle for the one being examined. Everyone in the room could watch and hear what was being said to the person in the chair. Though I knew he wasn’t going to tell me that I had an STD or anything embarrassing, it was still uncomfortable being examined in front of an audience.

As a result of that and other similar experiences, I have resisted seeing health professionals except when my need was clear. But when you do need to go, how do you pick? In my case, I pay attention when people offer advice about their doctors. The other day, I overheard a conversation between three guys talking about their dentists. One had just tried a new one and wasn’t impressed. The second remained loyal to his because of an attractive hygienist. The third, older guy offered up the following:

“I have been going to the same dentist for years. I hate him, he’s terrible!”

“Then why do you go back?”

“It’s never crowded so I don’t have to wait in line…”

😉



Ass Kicking
September 2, 2008, 18:27
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

I don’t know how much longer I can take all this ass kicking. My ass that is.

The other day I trained with a slight, fragile-looking young college student. I spent most of the class making sure that I wasn’t hurting her (arms are just NOT supposed to bend that way no matter what she said about it being “normal”). At the end, I may have made a slightly vain wish to train with a strong partner or two. The Aikido Faerie must have heard my wish because this week it has been granted — in spades.

Yesterday, I trained with an older fellow who, like me, had not arranged a partner in advance. He led me into a crowded space in the center of the mat and then indicated that I should strike. As I’ve mentioned before, the first technique in Doshu’s morning class is usually shomen uchi irimi nage (正面打ち入り身投げ) and this was not an exception. I lined up, targeted and swung at his forehead. Apparently, in some circles, that is the signal to unleash the dogs of war and open vast cans of whoop-ass. First contact sent me into a barely controlled high-fall in a tightly crowded space. After that only a couple more high falls were required to keep my head attached.

I followed my partner’s tempo thinking that I probably had better wind than he did and that turned out to be true. Though he did finally slow down he didn’t really relent, he just started to throw in more atemi (strikes). At one point, I missed my footwork on a kotegaeshi (小手返し) and he launched a wicked side kick into my guts. Whew! It felt just like my commute.

The next day I partnered with a younger, taller, stronger, more athletic foreign fellow who I had wanted to work with for some time (I had liked the guy until I typed that description — sheez!). He was much more gentle than the older fellow from the previous day but I was way out of my league in the stamina department. This guy was able to maintain his remarkably fast pace from start to finish. By the end of class my form was limp as my gi and I was barely able to roll. It was a _great_ practice and tough. I look forward to training with him again when the weather cools just a bit more and he is significantly older and slower (kidding).

Though in two days I have gotten more hard-core Aikido than in I had in the previous week, I don’t know how much more my butt can tolerate being kicked this week. Whew! Perhaps the Aikido Faerie will bring me a tired old shihan who just wants to teach? Hint, hint…




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