Saturday, January 28, 2012

Of Fireworks and Farewells

16th August, 2010 - Our last night in Sapporo for 2010. It's been a wonderful summer, and it's come to an end all too quickly. And perhaps it's somewhat fitting to end our trip to Sapporo with another family fireworks session, this time using up all the ones that we had left over. Fireworks being the quintessential traditional childhood thing in Japan during summer.

Final days are always spent nervously - though still without much fanfare. We all know that our time is coming to an end. After all, we've been packing suitcases for the last couple of days in preparation. Yet each moment with obaachan and ojiichan are precious. And especially for them. This is their last chance for at least another year to spend with their grand-child... and they hold on to each and ever second.

And it's also the time they can be simply grandparents. After all, skype may be wonderful technology - and so much better than phones. But it doesn't replace a warm embrace, or a gentle guiding hand on a shoulder. Nor does it transfer the smell and heat of summer's fireworks. L-kun gains so much from these trips. Not just in terms of his Japanese, and his cultural awareness (also very good for myself)... but for connecting again with his Japanese family. And that's an important part of why we go again and again.

So with the candle slowly burning down for 2010... our story moves location. Sapporo may have come to an end, but Tokyo here we come.

Farewell Sapporo... until next trip!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sushi Magic... What's Your Going Away Food?

16th August, 2010 - There's one thing that we all enjoy at T-chan's home... great takeaway sushi. Of course, there's great sushi every where in Japan (and I suppose a few dodgy ones as well), but Hokkaido is home of fresh seafood... something for which I'm eternally grateful. 

T-chan's parents always manage to organise a good meal of osushi, and especially before we head back home. Always a huge selection... but you can bet there's not much if anything left on the plate after we've finished eating. But the one sad thing about having sushi for dinner (whether take-away or eating out), is that it often signifies the end of our trip. And therefore, each mouthful comes with a slight bittersweet taste of tears to perfectly complement the sweet taste of well as deliciousness.

I thought I'd throw up some totally self-indulgent sushi photos.... hmmmm, I can't be sure that I've got all the fish names in the right place, or that I haven't missed anything out.... but at the end of the day... who cares. Bring on the Sushi! It's hard to pick a favourite - but I think it's hard to go past a good maguro (tuna)... but the aburi (seared) salmon is delicious too... and the ikura (roe) is just devine. I love 'em all!
Front/right: ikura (salmon roe), middle: ebi (prawn), right: saba (mackerel). top/left:,  engawa (dorsal fin muscle from the halibut), top middle: kani (crab).

Bottom: Another otoro sake (salmon belly), ebi , maguro (tuna), and uni (urchin)

Bottom left: kani, centre: salmon (yum), top: toro tuna.

Right: toro (underbelly) tuna, left: sake, salmon, top/middle: unagi (eel), top left: engawa  and very top left: hotate (scallops).

Left: aburi sake (seared salmon), right: tuna, tuna, tuna!

Now of course, if you've been living in a cave for the last thousand years, you may not know the deliciousness of good sushi... and unfortunately, a lot of the sushi you buy in your local shopping strip just doesn't quite cut it. Actually - to be honest, 10 years ago, I most probably wouldn't know good sushi from a wet sock... I was such a culturally and gastronomically challenged lad. So I don't think it's particularly bad if you don't eat sushi, and the thought of raw fish turns your stomach... I'm a very good example of someone that (given the right push along) can become quite a fan!

Though it is difficult to find really good sushi here... perhaps because it's hard to get the same range of fresh ingredients, and I think difficult to find sushi chefs with the authentic technique. I guess that's one of the reasons we always fill up before coming home. Of course, this is take away sushi ... so I suppose it's fitting as a parting gift before leaving Sapporo... If only we could pack every spare inch of our suitcases with sushi, but I suspect we might not like the welcome home when we arrived back in Adelaide.

What's your favourite sushi, and what dish (if any) symbolises the end of journey to Japan? Or do you have other food for other favourite destinations?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Summer Reflective Thinking and Not-So-Reflective Playing

15th August, 2010 - No... it wasn't the revenge of the killer whales; instead it was one of the great little pools in one of the many good childrens parks in Sapporo. And what better place to spend your summer afternoon (a hot, muggy afternoon at that) than to go splashing in the pool? This wasn't the first time we'd visited here. The park is known as Noushi-Kouen (check the link for a map), and L-kun, T-chan and her parents had visited in 2009. Of course L-kun remembered it very well.

Actually, we were here to meet up with some of T-chan's web-friends (from her blogging days) who lived in Sapporo. Let's just call them G-man (the Aussie) and S-chan (Japanese), with their son S-kun. Actually, it turns out that they were quite good pals of some of our Adelaide Aussie/Japanese couple friends whom had stayed temporarily in Sapporo a few years ago. Talk about a small world! And of course for L-kun and S-kun, none of that mattered. It was just a good excuse to go for a run in the pool.

And lets face it - when you're 3 years old (as L-kun was at this stage), pools are wonderous things.Water... so much water. And you can run around in it without a care in the world. Freedom to do what you want. Free, that is, to stick your head in the pool. Coz that's just the sort of thing that you have to do... though I'm not exactly sure why. In fact, I'm not sure that L-kun knew what he was doing at this point either. Water can be so attractive. Ah, for a child's perspective....

It was interesting to meet this family - for the first time. I have to admit that I'm always envious of people that have had a chance to live in Japan for an extended period (of course, S-chan was a native girl from Sapporo, so she was much more excited about Australia). The longest single stay I've had in Japan was about 2 months. I know it must be a very different experience visiting a city/country with your partner, than living there. And whilst I've spent a good amount of time in Sapporo, I can't claim to really know the city. But it's also a strange environment in Japan for foreigners - especially for mixed families (and mixed, or hafu, children). It sounds like it's a largely un-real experience, which doesn't quite follow the same rules as you would normally expect. And it can be a pretty care-free whirlwind experience indeed. And by the sound of it, after 10 years, it can be very hard to consider leaving. Imagine trying to re-build a normal life after a decade of being abroad without necessarily being able to directly use any of that employment history. It's a hard call - and it sounds like many gaijin in Japan struggle with the both the uncertainty and practicality - and possibly even fear - of returning to the everyday existence in their homelands...

The biggest impediment for us to move to Japan is my career... it's hard to consider putting a career (which you've spent a long time training for) on hold for 12 months - let alone 10 years. Yet, it's a sacrifice my wife made in coming to Australia (and more so, as she left behind her family). International marriages are often built upon such tough choices - where there is more times than not, no one right decision. We each of us have to muddle our way through, not only trying to pick the right course for ourselves, but also for our children. As a I write this, we are expecting our second child in about 5 weeks. More difficult choices are coming our way... but also many more exciting and amazing times. Home, after all, is not just where you hang your hat, but also where you raise a family. Wherever that is... and sometimes, that can be in more than one place....

Friday, January 6, 2012

May The Force Be With You and Your Photographer - Shichi-Go-San

15th August, 2010 - In Japan, there is a celebration for just about everything, and one of the more popular ones (for young families) is the 3-5-7 celebration. Well, it's not so much a celebration as an opportunity to spend some money down at the photography studio (which I hasten to add are not particularly cheap in Japan... but we don't have a price comparison in Adelaide). It is a time when all young padawans must learn to harness the force, and all Jedi parents must learn to suffer the pains of child photography sessions with a smile.

Actually, the celebration Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3) does date back to antiquity (i.e. before I can find any real references - though in reality it was in the Edo period some time, after 1600AD). It comes from Chinese traditions of uneven numbers being auspicious, and also a good smattering of Japanese aesthetics, to celebrate special or sacred years of childhood. From the survival of early childhood (at 3 yo... which was likely no mean feat), to the leaving of infanthood (at 7 yo...). In fact the child's spirit was said to belong to the gods until age 7, at which time the child would formally be added to the "population books" and ujigami-sama. Ok... if it sounds like I know a lot, I don't. This is from Japan: How We Breathe and How Our Hearts Beat.

At the age of 3, the tradition entailed that children changed their hairstyles, wearing it on top. Well L-kun has never had much hair to do much with, so a costume change was going to have to suffice. We took him down to the photography studio - and spent a good couple of hours there. We only went with 2 costume changes (a traditional kimono and a western suit)... though I'm sure there were countless other styles we could have tried.

I think he looked particularly dashing in the suit - with...

Or without jacket....

And he was such a ham away from the professional's camera. But I have to admit that in front of the real camera, it was a different story.... and no, we couldn't bring in our camera to the studio area (just the changing area... which is a little strange). In fact, he developed an instantaneous affectation of sticking his tongue (unconsciously) out the side of his mouth. He'd never done this before - but today, he couldn't stop himself. I guess this was a stress reaction... even though the photographers at the studio were great and very friendly. It certainly is a testament to the professionalism, and the brute inner strength that the photographers (and their assistants) have... and I'm sure that L-kun wasn't the most difficult by a long, long way.

So the following photos are taken from the supplied cd (of I think 9 out of the total of 100 photos that were taken). Speaking of stress - it's very stressful having to down-select photos from a studio (something I'm assuming they are well aware of, and depend financially upon). The package that they offer is a number of photos in an album, a calendar, and a number small photos. All good presents for the grandparents.

Note - I do not hold the copyright to these photos - which is held of course by the studio - but I hope this constitutes reasonable use. Doesn't it?

Anyway - L-kun was 3 years of age at this point... and now he's 4. We're already planning his next visit for his 5th year. May the force (and the savings plan) truly be with us!....