Places

Rain and a mine

JR Hokkaido has various discount tickets, one of them a ‘foreign student pass’. It allows you to travel with any train on Hokkaido – including express trains- for three or five days. Also seat reservation is free of charge. I decided to get the five day pass because so far I haven’t done much travelling.

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All aboard...

The first day I went to Yūbari. There I wanted to visit a coal mining museum as well as a waterfall park with a waterfall power plant near by.
My train from Sapporo Station left 10:18am and it took about an hour to get to Shin-Yūbari from where a local one-wagon train led to Yūbari. So far everything went well.

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Like most mining towns Yūbari experienced a massive decline in population as well as financial difficulties when the mines closed down.

Then I had to wait about an hour for a bus, unfortunately it went in the exactly opposite direction so it took another hour instead of a few minutes until I finally arrived at the park like area where the museum was supposed to be. But I couldn’t find it. After walking around for a while I finally found someone to ask. Meanwhile the light rain that had been falling suddenly turned into a heavy downpour and by the time I finally reached the museum I was completely soaked.

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At a café/art gallery near the museum

It’s not particularly big, but seems to cover all important aspects about coal, coal mining and the Yūbari mine. Also it has some information plates in English which I greatly appreciated. The ground floor is all about the formation of coal and it also covers some more earth history and geology. The story above starts with information about the usage of coal –for energy, fertilizers, plastic, etc.- followed by a lot about the history of the Yūbari mine. Intersecting with that was some general mining history, like how tools advanced over time.

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The entrance to the museum area

And then it had an elevator leading down to the mine. By this time I had lost hope to actually get to go underground many times, especially since the museum closes at 4:30pm.

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Miner at work?

It started more as a smooth concrete tunnel with scenes from different time periods displaying how mining used to be done. The generally had a lot of dolls involved especially in the underground part. (And with quite impressively real looking faces as well.)
After they showed a few bigger machines, some in action, visitors were given helmets with head lamps and the route continued in parts of the mine. Most spots were still fairly well-lit though. Also in this part they used dolls and machines to show how work was done although I remember mostly modern equipment.

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Miners at work… a few years earlier I suppose.

After leaving the coal mine I went back through the rain to the station. I figured it would be faster to walk than to wait for another bus. It took me about 40 minutes, including stopping several times to take pictures. Then I had to wait for one and a half hours so I went to a nearby restaurant and had some hot noodle soup and tea to warm up.
Since it was already quite late and I didn’t want to miss any last trains I decided not to go to the waterfall.

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The town hosts the annual ‘Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival’ and there’s a lot of film posters everywhere.

Also the reason there aren’t many pictures from the museum is 1. I wasn’t really sure if taking pictures was allowed and 2. Museums (and mines) don’t tend to be too well-lit and my camera doesn’t like that (and I don’t like flash, ew).

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And the train keeps rolling…

Also also because someone apparently is interested in food stuff, here’s what I had today.

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-Pumpkin okara karintō. Store bought and quite nice.
-Bagel sandwich. Just some vegetables I had in the fridge with some sauces. Nothing special.
-Udon noodle soup with onions and soy sauce? Again, didn’t make it myself, so not sure.
-Fried carrots, egg-plant and tofu, all fried in sesame oil and some soy sauce, I put black pepper to the vegetables and fresh grated ginger on the tofu. Also fresh paprika and baby corn.
-White rice and hijiki-salad with edamame, carrots, aburāge and sesame seeds. Again, added some soy sauce as well as vinegar and konbu dashi.
-Bluberry bagel. I’m boring you, aren’t I?

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Culture

A new year has begun, congratulations!

New Year is a big deal in Japan. Like big big. So big that the waste collection gets three days off which –as far as I can tell- is the first time since I came here although there have been national holidays. But those don’t really matter; most shops are open on holidays except maybe the post office or banks. Unlike New Years. I’d say it is one of if not the biggest holiday in Japan, in many ways similar to Christmas in many ‘western’ countries.

First and probably biggest similarity is that you spend the days with your family and eat a lot. It’s also quite common to give money to children. Traditional food is amongst others soup with mochi and various dishes that are in some way preserved because their origin reaches back to the days when most households had no refrigerator. New Years decorations include arrangements of straw, bamboo, pine branches, little figurines, tangerines or two round mochi with a tangerine on top, called ‘kagami mochi’.

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Blurred miso soup with mochi, konbu kelp and shiitake mushroom

Wikipedia says that at midnight Buddhist temples ring a bell 108 times to symbolize and get rid of the 108 sins or worldly desires. ‘Though one of the many temples near me either needs to adjust their clocks or had another reason to start 20 minutes early. By the way: One hour of individual bell rings is not as annoying as one hour of fireworks and nearly not as dangerous. (Also not as pretty.) ‘Though as I stated in an earlier post, each year some people choke on mochi.

The ‘firsts’ of each year are of some importance. Like the first visit of a temple, the first sunrise, the first letter, first bath and so on. Thus, many people go to a temple after midnight or sometime on January first and stay or get up to see the sunrise, preferably on a mountain or by the sea. Right now there’s a ginormous line of cars in front of my window and I’m not sure whether they’re heading to the sea, a mountain or a temple or something else. It’s 02.18am on 1/1/2014. Quick update: It’s now 14 hours later and there is still a LOT of traffic outside. Another quick update: It’s now two days later and the traffic jam commences.

There are a bunch of traditional Japanese games that are played including one where you have to piece together a face from paper cut outs blindfolded called ‘fukuwarai’. It’s fun and you can find templates on the web or create your own face. More entertainment is provided by choirs performing Beethoven’s Ninth all around the country or you can listen to it in the supermarket when they stopped playing Christmas music.

The Chinese New Year is still celebrated in some parts of the country but the Gregorian calendar seems to be more important in general. The Chinese zodiac however does have a big influence and since this year is the year of the horse you can get all kinds of horse related things. Also New Years postcards often picture the animal of the year. The Japanese post hires many students to help during the holiday season as they guarantee to deliver those postcards in time.

And as always I pretty much just copy and pasted this whole thing from Wikipedia and Tofugu.

Happy New Year to y’all!

*header info* The picture displays six wagashi which may well be New Year related since I’ve seen them popping up the supermarket just after Christmas. The consistency of the clear stuff makes me want to puke (says someone who’s ok with slimy nattou) and they’re all disgustingly sweet (says someone who eats buttercream frosting for breakfast). Left to right: Azuki beans and mochi; azuki beans with anko; sweet potato or chestnut mash; anko and bits of something white maybe chestnut; azuki beans and chestnut and no idea what the last one was. I could be wrong the other ones as well. The clear stuff is agar, which is a traditional gelling agent since it’s made from algae or seaweed and so has always been widely available in Japan.

Now please excuse me while I’m being sick.

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Food

To make you hungry (or not)

Ok, let’s talk about something interesting. Food. Not Sushi, that’s boring, ‘cause you already know it. If you don’t: Where the heck have you been the past century?

Let’s just start with nattou. Most people hate it. It’s fermented soybeans and like most fermented foods it has quite a… unique flavour and smell. It’s also REALLY slimy. But it’s supposed to be super healthy and it’s quite cheap over here. ‘Though if you’d like to have a try outside Japan be prepared to pay at least ~2€/ 2.7$ which is about three times of what a pack costs here. I have it every morning with a bit of soy sauce and a bowl of rice. Which is apparently a traditional breakfast. Other popular ways of eating include with mustard (most versions actually come with a tiny bag of soy sauce and mustard), raw egg (‘cause why not make it more slimy and gross?), mayonnaise, kimchi (a Korean dish: spicy, pickled cabbage), as nattou sushi (the only kind of sushi widely available that doesn’t contain fish or egg), in soup or as a sauce for pasta, just to name a few. Wanna see more? Watch this video.

nattou

Probably one of the least repelling pictures of nattou on the whole wide web.

Next soybean thing on my list is koya dofu which is dried tofu. Because it’s dry it doesn’t need to be cooled and takes up less space. Just throw it in some hot water, preferably with some flavour and it’s good to eat. It’s more spongy than regular tofu and has a little more intense soy flavour. By the way: regular tofu here is what is considered silken tofu in many parts of the world other than Asia.

tofu

It’s tofu. Doesn’t taste interesting without flavouring, doesn’t look interesting without filter.

Another tofu product is aburaage. Slices of tofu being deep fried and you can cut them open and they’re a pocket and they’re awesome. They’re great in soup but personally I like to stuff them with loads of things to take to school. The skin is extremely thin and durable so you really can fit a lot in there.

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Bigger on the inside.

Made from this is inari sushi. Aburaage filled with sushi rice. Available at any supermarket or convenience store and super delicious!

inari

They also come in smaller sizes or combined with other sushi.

And while we’re on the soy things I’d just like to mention the crazy amount of soy milk flavours there are. I’d guess about 20. My favourites are black tea (which doesn’t really taste like black tea), macha (fancy green tea powder) and sakura (cherry blossom). ‘Though I’m sure the cherry blossom one is just called like that ‘cause it sounds cool, it doesn’t really taste like flower if you ask me. All the flavours are quite sweet which is sweeet ^.^ There are some types which are just natural in one way or the other at least not sweet. There is even one kind made to taste like cow’s milk and I think it seems to be quite popular. At least it’s the only kind I’ve seen at every konbini so far and it’s also the only kind that comes in a 0.5l pack. As far as I can judge it’s quite accurate except a hint of soy taste. Also now I’m sure that I’ll never drink milk again and it makes me wonder why I ever did. Bleurgh.

There’s a great post just about the soy bean products of Japan by Tofugu. You should totally read it.

Onto some more beans, azuki beans to be specific. They’re usually prepared as a sweet paste –anko- which is used for everything. Well, everything sweet. You can find it stuffed into bread and cookies and of course as one of the many soy milk flavours.

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Pancake with anko. Delicious.

It’s also eaten as soup -oshiruko- especially during winter time. On one of my curious trips to the supermarket I came across a round waver like thing filled with slightly purple sugar stuff. Judging from the picture it was supposed to be turned into soup but I’m not quite sure whether I interpreted that correctly… Thankfully azuki soup also comes in powder form, as a pressed block, in a can or you can just make it yourself.

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The whole sugary thing on it’s own wasn’t that bad, just kinda dry. But the water made it… well very watery. And it wasn’t a lot.

But it’s mostly prominent in traditional Japanese candy -wagashi- which you can admire and attempt to recreate here: Wagashi Maniac. One type of wagashi is daifuku, mochi stuffed with anko.

daifuku

This is the plain type, ‘though there’s many more.

Now what’s mochi? It’s a dough made from sticky rice or sticky rice flour. Some people call it rice cake but I think it’s kinda misleading. While it is cooked (or steamed or microwaved) it’s still very chewy similar to pizza dough. It is in fact so chewy that every New Year when it’s traditionally eaten with oshiruko some people die by choking on it. So please try it if you get the chance, but don’t give it to toddlers. Mochi comes in many shapes and flavours and it isn’t necessarily sweet. You’ll find it for example in soup, maybe stuffed into a pocket of aburaage.

dango

Dango: Mochi on a stick. These are with matcha and roasted sweet soy flour (kinako).

Another thing made from rice which I love is amasake. Maybe you’ve heard of sake, rice wine. Amasake translates to sweet sake and is only halfway fermented so pretty much alcohol free. Of course you can buy it in liquid form but it also comes as instant powder or in a pressed block.

amasakeblock        amasake

Just pour hot water over it.

Let’s start talking about fruits. Umeboshi –according to Wikipedia- is a dried, pickled fruit similar to apricot (‘thoug often translated to plum) and tastes “extremely sour and salty”. Umezuke is the non dried version. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried the latter since it was refrigerated. Definitely agree on the “extremely sour and salty” bit and won’t buy again but it’s not the worst thing ever.

ume

Most umezuke and definitely umeboshi are more brown than this kind.

Talking about fruits, did I mention that fruit and vegetables are freaking expensive over here? At least at the normal supermarket. There are little shops that offer cheaper stuff, but unfortunately not exactly near me. (Though it’s a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, strolling ‘round the town, getting food and at the same time saving a few yen.) The cheapest apple I’ve come across was 50¥ but it’s not hard to find one for 300¥.

A pleasant exception to this are persimmon or kaki. I’m sure they aren’t exclusively Japanese but they are quite popular. There used to be one of those fruit-shelf-islands-thingies full of them during autumn but now they’re getting less and less, being substituted by tangerines in 10kg boxes. They’re super sweet and juicy and I love them. (Both kaki and tangerines.)

kaki

Size of a medium apple and you can eat the whole thing. Even the peel ‘though it’s not that pleasant.

Myouga is the beautiful bud of Japanese ginger and it tastes like a flower. Not in a good way. The only reason I would use it is as decoration but apparently it’s usually shredded and put on top of things.

myouga

If only they tasted better I’d have that every day. Just look at it!

Okura again is a thing that’s not unique to Japan. Even the name comes from the English okra. But I’ve never seen it before and it is quite popular over here. I tastes kind of “green”, if you get what I mean and very mild. It also has hairy skin and is really slimy inside. Yay for textures!

okura1      okura2

The seeds contain a lot of oil wich is supposed to be healthy.

And once again sweet potato isn’t a native Japanese thing. But it is very popular, making up quite a section of the vegetable aisle. They’re even sold on the streets from a van which plays a fried sweet potato song that made me think there was a mosque in front of my house. And they taste an incredible lot like chestnut which are equally popular.

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Things like this make me want to study chemistry.

Lotus roots are a thing all over Asia I think. Harder than carrots and taste like nothing but they’re cheap. And they look nice.

lotus

Featuring aburaage filled with mochi. Also soy sauce, lotus roots are naturally white.

Curry is Indian, I know, but I couldn’t not mention it because it’s just so popular. There is just as much instant curry as there is instant noodle soup which means a freaking lot (like a whole aisle in an average supermarket). Read this whole article about Japanese karee.

kare

Usually eaten with rice, but Soup Curry is a thing up here in Sapporo.

This of course isn’t everything. I will surely discover more delicious treats and write about them, but in the mean time I’ll leave you with this:

Tofugu: The Famous Foods Of Every Japanese Prefecture [North, East, Central]

Tofugu: The Famous Foods Of Every Japanese Prefecture Part 2 [West, South]

Tofugu: Fruit You Won’t Find Outside Of Japan

runnyrunny999: How to make Dango

runnyrunny999: How to make Kinpira Vegetarian Lotus Root

TheTofuGuru: Mochi Ice Cream & Geekery

TheTofuGuru: Sushi! (Part One)

TheTofuGuru: Sushi! (Part Two)

Check out runnyrunny and The Tofu Guru’s channel, they do some interesting cooking over there!

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Random

Omfg it’s an oven!

Breaking news: Just found out that the “oven” setting on the microwave actually refers to an inbuilt oven-thingy instead of just a higher wattage. The only thing that could make me any happier now is a cookie recipe that doesn’t turn out all dry… anyone? Also, if there was any hope left of me learning things here it’s gone now. ‘Though I could make kanji-shaped cakes… it’s a pain to just write them with pencil but yeah, why not ^^

(Only drawback is that it smells funny. I’m tracing a pattern there.)

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