Plain Talk

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 29 MAY 2015
Soy Sauce, From Bean to Bottle by Elizabeth Morris

In kitchens around the world, you find soy sauce, or shoyu, the ubiquitous savory brown sauce that imparts salty, smoky and sharp tones to everything from soup to pasta to roast and baked meats.

The label tells you that it is made from wheat, soy beans, water and a generous amount of salt. But what does it take to make this versatile condiment? My friend and business owner, Takashi, is the scion of a soy sauce brewery in Chiba Prefecture. He invited my friends and I to make soy sauce from scratch in a process that was laborious and insightful.

First, Takashi explained to us that he had prepared the mash ahead of time, a process that takes a lot of precision and patience. To my surpise, an equal amount of boiled soy beans and roasted and crushed wheat kernels are mixed together with koji, the magical mold that takes some time to inoculate the mash, called moromi.

Takashi prepared for our workshop plastic PET bottles, bags of the fragrant moromi and sea salt from the nearby coast. Like any good brewing, water source is important. We drew water from the soy sauce factory's own spring.

It takes a lot of energy to mix by hand the salt and spring water until the brine looks clear. Then, it's another laborious mixing of the moromi and brine. We capped our PET bottle soy sauce brewing, enjoyed a barbeque and then took our PET bottles home.

At home, daily shaking of the PET bottle in the first few weeks, and then periodic shaking to mix have resulted in a rich brown coloured thick paste. Takashi cautioned me not to screw the cap on the bottle tightly, as gases from the fermentation process can make the bottle explode, with gooey, messy results.

My batch of soy sauce is now seven months old, and I am bracing myself for the shibori part of the process in another month. In factories, the mash is pressed to extract the soy sauce, but I will put my small batch in a muslin bag hanging above a pan to let it drip out.

Is it edible? Takashi cautioned me that wild yeasts and organisms might live in it. Soy sauce is often pasteurized, but some people like nama, or raw soy sauce. I think I'll cook mine and taste test it against store -bought varieties. So far, when I catch a whiff of it, it smells sharp and something like whisky.

世界じゅう、いたるところのキッチンに醤油がある。どこでも見かける塩気のきいた茶色のソースは、スープからパスタ、ロースト/ベークドミートまで何にでも塩味、香味を加えおいしさを引き立たせる。

ラベルよれば、成分は小麦、大豆、水、塩でだと書かれているが、この万能調味料の基になっているのは何だろう。友人であり商売をいくつかしているタカシは千葉県にある醤油醸造蔵の御曹司である。タカシは私と友人たちを蔵内部に招き入れてくれ製造工程を見せてくれた。

最初に、タカシは 原料行程の仕込みにはかなりの時間を要すると教えてくれた。驚いた事に大豆を蒸煮し、小麦を焙煎し割砕してから麹を加え混ぜるまで同様の時間をかける。こうして発酵してできたものがもろみである。

タカシは講習会で私たちがもろみや海塩を入れるPETボトルやビニール袋を用意してくれた。醸造を成功させるには、水は大切だ。醤油蔵設置の井戸から水を汲んだ。

塩と井戸水を手で一生懸命こね塩水を透明にした。さらに骨の折れる作業が待っていて塩水にもろみを混ぜた。私たちはPETボトルに醸造する液体を詰めてからバーベキューを楽しんだ。そしてPETボトルを家に持って帰った。

家では、毎日PETボトルを降って数週間を過ごした。振って混ぜて過ごすうちに中身が茶色のペースト状になっていった。タカシはPETボトルのふたをきつく締めつけないようにとアドバイスしてくれた。発酵作用でガスが発生し、ボトルが爆発し、あたりにベタベタして悲惨な状況になるからだと教えてくれた。

私の醤油は7ヶ月になる。あと一ヶ月で絞り行程へと移る。蔵では、もろみを圧搾して醤油を取り出すが、私は自分のもろみをモスリンの袋に入れてつるし、ドリップする醤油を鍋で受けようと思う。

食用に適するかって?タカシは生の酵母菌や微生物が含まれているかもしれないから気をつけるようにと言ってくれた。醤油は低温殺菌されるが、生醤油が好きな人もいる。私は自分が醸造した醤油を煮立たせてから、店で売られているさまざまな醤油と比べて味覚テストしようと思う。今のところ、漂ってくる香りは、段々シャープになってきて、なんだかウィスキーのようだ。

 


Plain Talk

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 15 MAY 2015

The Walls of Politeness That Keep Us Apart by Kohei Usuda

You walk into your local Starbucks in Japan, and between the time it takes to place an order and get your latte, you’re greeted with a torrent of “arigato gozaimasu” from the baristas working behind the counter as they obediently manufacture their smiles and bow their heads. Unaccustomed to receiving such royal treatment after living abroad for a number of years, I used to feel like a minor celebrity just by purchasing a cup of coffee.

Not anymore. Such excessive hospitality or omotenashi can sometimes go to your head. It was a French friend of mine who once exasperatedly confided in me that, living in Japan, he feels as if there’s a “wall of politeness” that separates him from the rest of the Japanese population, an invisible wall that he can never quite get through.

You try your best to make small talk with retail staff, so as to establish common ground, or at least some sort of rapport that is not simply based on a consumer-server transaction. Invariably, however, their responses tend not to stray far from the rigid customer service “manual”, the code of conduct that they’re trained to enact, even when you try to modify that very imbalance of power. Regardless, you’re yet again greeted for the umpteenth time with that impersonal phrase for welcoming customers: “Irasshaimase!”

It’s always dangerous to reductively pass judgment on a certain nationality as such and such. Nonetheless, I get the impression that the Japanese tend to value the “appearance” or the mere “surface” above all else. Philosopher Roland Barthes commented in his observation of Japan that the supreme value here lies in what emerges on the “surface” of things, rather than the layers beneath it. It could be the “wall of politeness” that you encounter in retail stores; it could be the purely visual act of bowing to show one’s gratitude. On the other hand, this centuries-old belief in what emerges on the “surface” can sometimes create beautiful things, such as the exquisitely intricate rock formation of the Zen garden at Kyoto’s Ryoanji that you can contemplate for hours on end, or the playfully innovative “pleats” fabric of Issey Miyake in fashion that plays with the shapes and dimensions of garments.

In other words, the common belief in Japan is that you can tell the content of the book by its cover without it being considered superficial, whereas in much of the West the exact opposite is the case. (Hence the negative connotations attached to English idioms such as “keeping up appearances” or “barely scratching the surface”.)

In the Japanese interpretation of things, a mask is not a mask, as in Noh theater. So that everything appears as if it’s inverted. This is the madly lopsided worldview that’s permeated the Japanese culture. Take for example the ambiguous expression “sumimasen”. It means, literally, “sorry” or “excuse me”, but in reality the same word is widely used to thanking someone, so in Japanese, “sorry” can mean “thank you” as well!

日本でスターバックスに入ると、カフェラテを注文してから受け取るまで、カウンターの向こうにいる礼儀正しくお辞儀をし笑顔をふりまくバリスタから「ありがとうございます」攻撃をうける。海外生活が長く、大尽振舞を受ける立場に慣れていなかったせいか、以前はコーヒーを一杯買っただけで自分がまるでマイナーな有名人にでもなったかのような錯覚をよく覚えた。

もはやそうは感じていない。そうした行き過ぎたホスピタリティ(あの俗にに言う「おもてなし」)は時に判断力を鈍らせる。ある時フランス人の友人が僕に打ち明けたが、彼曰く日本で生活していると時々まるで彼と日本人の間に「礼儀正しさという壁」が立ち上ってくると。それはまるで透明であって、しかし突き抜くことができぬ壁だ、と。

例えば、客と販売員という売買するだけの関係ではなく、何かしら人間的ふれあいを求めてある店に入りその店のスタッフと雑談しようとする。しかしだ、レジの向こうからは相変わらず堅苦しいサービスの「マニュアル」(しかも訓練で教え込まれたとしか思えぬ行動基準を充たしたもの)通りの反応しか返ってこない。この不均衡な関係を何とか変えようとしているのにだ。それでもまた別の店に入ってみる。またもやうんざりする程聞いたあの非個人的としか定義できない「いらっしゃいませ!」の挨拶がまた降りかかってくる。

ある国民性を概括的に語ることは、もちろん偏見を伴う危険なことであろう。だが、個人的に振るい落とすことのできない印象を述べると、日本人にとって、何にも増しての大切なものとは一言で言うと「外観」(appearance)ではないだろうか。哲学者ロラン・バルトがかつて日本文化について観察した際に書いていたように、日本における最上の価値とは「物事の表面」に横たわるものであると。「表面」(surface)の層の下に現れるものではなく、むしろ例えば店で出くわす先ほど述べた「礼儀正しさという壁」であったり、頭を下げてお辞儀をするという純粋に視覚的である行為だったりといった事柄だろう。何世紀にも及ぶこの「表面」への信念は時には究極の美を創造することを可能としてきた。例を上げるならば、京都の龍安寺にあるその前で何時間でも瞑想できるであろう優雅に入り込んだ禅の砂庭のパターンや、現在であればファッションにおける三宅一生の斬新的で遊び心に溢れたファブリックを形状と寸法とで戯れた「プリーツ」の衣服といったものだろうか。

言い換えれば、西側諸国では全く正反対に解釈される所が、日本文化においては中身を読むことなく本を装丁で判断できるという通説が、それが浅はかだったり上辺だけの考えとはとらわれずに設立されるのだ。(逆に英語のよく使われる表現である“keeping up appearances”(平静を装う)や “scratching the surface”(核心に触れない)等、「外観」(appearance)だったり「表面」(surface)といった観念は欧米ではネガティブな意味を伴う言葉となるだろう。)

つまり日本的な物事の解釈では、能の劇のようにお面はお面ではないということになる。まるで全ての意味を裏返しにしたように。ここに日本文化全般に浸透している極めて不均衡な世界観が凝縮している。あの曖昧な「すみません」という表現を例に取ってみよう。文字通りの意味では言うまでもなく「ごめんなさい」か「失礼します」といった意味合いだが、興味深いのは全く同じ言葉が誰かに感謝をする時にも日常的に広く使われている点だ。と言うことは、日本語では「ごめんなさい」も場合によっては「ありがとう」と意味することになる!

Unfinished business

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 12 DECEMBER 2014

HACKETTSTOWN by David Gregory

Boxing Day, raining hard on the two-lane highway winding between dark cliffs, our headlights poking snow piled heavy on fir trees, Yoshi driving, Naomi and Tomoe talking in back, following red tail lights streaming ahead, toward home, all tired after a long Whistler skiing day. “Dave, what is your best Christmas memory?” Tomoe asks me, switching to English.

Ah, Christmas...probably, with Aunt Roberta, about 1993, I think. Hackettstown, New Jersey. The best gifts show people you know something about them that they do not know themselves. That was one of those times.

Hackettstown snuggles up to the Appalachian foothills in the wilderness corner of New Jersey. Aunt Roberta is alone. She has lived most of her life in that big, old house that needs something done to that peeling gray outside. If she had the extra cash. She lost her husband when he was 35; her only son, Richard, in a construction accident a year after he returned from Vietnam; and her later longtime special friend, Joe, to cancer, just before the Christmas I went back.

She has not traveled in nearly 10 years due to her health. But, she holds her head high. Those strong blue eyes that have cried so many times still look straight at you, with love. Her soft voice calms you. Her fine silver hair is casually brushed back; she only takes care of things that really matter.

How does she keep going? She has a way of becoming attached to other families. Allison, next door, loves Aunt Roberta as she had loved her own mother. Allison’s little boy, Kaleb, calls Aunt Roberta, “Grandma”; he never met his own real grandmother. Eric and I always thought of Aunt Roberta as one of our grandmothers, too. She always told us to open her small packages before Christmas day. She knew little boys.

That Christmas in ‘93 I came in from Japan to meet Mom and Dad at Aunt Roberta’s. “Too far away,” she sometimes complained. But, she had always said, “Go.” Find out. Tell her about it. She would be waiting, back in New Jersey. “Write about it.”

The New York bus dropped me into Hackettstown’s snow and cold in front of the boarded up movie theater on Main Street. Mom and Dad came in from Chicago the next day, and we sat around the old table in the warm yellow brown kitchen. It looked like the usual Christmas Plan: early dinner out, gifts, visit Grandma the next day... lots of slow sitting... a routine more than a celebration. Yes, good to be with family, but... then the telephone rang.

Aunt Roberta called from the living room, “David, it’s your friend... he’s in the City... .”

Steve! With Heidrun! They made it... at Kennedy, just in from Germany. Can make a quick stop on their way to Buffalo tonight. “Finally, we’ll meet!” Mom said. After almost ten years, she would have a face to match the name of my good buddy from our early career trainee days at GE. Then, Mom and I sensed a chance. Why not invite a few others, too? Aunt Roberta would love it. I picked up the phone. Of course, Allison said. And with Jay, her husband, and Kaleb, and the new baby, Yeshua.

Allison and crew were already with us when Steve and Heidrun’s headlights finally swung into the driveway. We welcomed them in from the frosty night with hugs. Then, I popped outside and crossed the snowy yard to pull Angie out of her kitchen. “OK, but just for a few minutes,” she promised. “Angie Our Angel,” we called her. She often looked in on Aunt Roberta. Her eyes twinkled.

Coats and scarves piled in the kitchen, we packed into the living room. The party sparked to life all by itself. “So, you are...?”, “How do you know...?” Glasses of juice were poured, plates of baked sweet breads were passed around, fingers poked into bowls of spiced nuts. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard about... ”, “Where do you...?” No music, no special lights, no decorations. Not needed. Only the stuffy sofa and armchairs encircling us.

And the old gray house had never seen such a potpourri of people! Look at tall, German-blooded Steve, with his German girlfriend Heidrun, educated in France and the USA. Allison, from Trinidad, descendant of Native Americans, sitting on the sofa. Jay, son of Indian parents, standing taller than us all, a little shy in the big group. Angie, on the other hand, daughter of Italian immigrants, squeezing her happiness into other arms or hands. And Mom, Dad, Roberta, and myself, the instigators, maybe looking like old timers in the New Country, but with roots that also went back to others brave enough to leave their homelands, in our cases Germany, England, Scotland, and maybe Wales. Who knows? It didn’t matter anymore where anyone was from.

“Ah, I’ve always wanted to....”, “How do they celebrate...?” Yeshua just smiled, cradled in Allison’s arms. Kaleb bounced around, greeting and investigating everyone his bright-eyed way, and finally, exhausted, flopped down into Grandma Roberta’s lap.

Swirling, glowing, an hour passed, filled with chatter, munching, and laughter. The old living room had never been so alive. And, in the middle, Aunt Roberta sat, quiet, soaking it in. Just smiling. But, if you looked behind her glasses, you would see teary eyes. “All these people, from so many places... came here... just for this,” she said to me in her soft voice. “You don’t know how happy I am. Oh, it’s just... .” She squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head.

You see, Christmas is not always a happy time for Aunt Roberta. Richard was born on Christmas Eve.

Then, almost as fast as everyone had come together, it was over. Angie had food in the oven. Steve and Heidrun were still long hours from Buffalo. Yeshua was already asleep. Kaleb slumped like a rag doll over his father’s shoulder as they walked out. We waved good-byes from the back porch door and slowly returned to the suddenly empty living room.

Over, so soon. But, we made it happen, one magical hour, that year. For Aunt Roberta. She still asks me to write about it.

“My best Christmas memory? That would probably be from Hackettstown, in 1993... .” The four of us watch the wipers swish away the dark rain, the snow piled heavy on the fir trees. Hackettstown had lots of snow that Christmas. I’m wondering, now... how maybe I, too, received a best gift... one time... many times... in Hackettstown... .

******
The earliest version of this story I printed in my 1998 end-of-year holiday letter; a revision I read at the “Tribute to Roberta Lyon” memorial service in Hackettstown on 6 January 2001. Special thanks to Eric Gregory for editorial assistance.
******
Copyright (C) 2014 David Gregory. All rights reserved. Chiba, Japan

 

Tokyo Fab

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 29 MAY 2015

More Japanese Colors by Joshua Lepage

I wrote about color coordination last week, so this seems like a good time to teach all of you more traditional Japanese colors (along with a dash of history). Use them in conversation -- your Japanese friends will be amazed, I promise.

Gofun-iro (胡粉色): Gofun, which literally translates to "foreign powder", is the name of an off-white pigment used in paintings since the Nara period (710-794). It was first made with white lead powder, then with sun-bleached and powdered seashells. If you see women's faces painted white on old woodblock prints, it's most likely gofun. Interestingly, the "go" in "gofun", meaning "foreign", is also used to write the words "goma" (sesame), "kyuuri" (cucumber), and "kurumi" (walnut) -- all of which were imported to Japan from other countries.

Nezumi-iro (鼠色): Simply translating to "mouse color", nezumi-iro is a nice medium shade of grey. It became huge in the middle of the Edo period (18th century), when muted greys were so popular for kimono that a slew of "nezumi" color names were created to differentiate between the shades, including su-nezu ("basic mouse") and naka-nezu ("medium mouse"). Before being known as nezumi-iro, grey was often called "pale ink" or "chestnut", because it was produced using dye made from chestnuts.

Kinari-iro (生成り色): This one translates to "ecru", the very light beige color of raw, unbleached silk or linen. It's a much more recent color name than the first two, first coming into use during the Showa period (1926-1989). And interestingly enough, kinari-iro became popular because of backlash against rapid economic growth and increasing pollution in Japan -- wearing bright chemical dyes went out of fashion, and subtle colors like kinari-iro started rising in popularity instead.

Kuchiba (朽葉): The color of rotten leaves -- a dull brown. It's been in use since the Heian period (794-1185), when it was popular with the aristocracy. Texts like The Tale of Genji mention the "forty-eight colors of rotten leaves", hinting at a large number of greenish, yellowish and reddish variations. You may be familiar with the word "cha-iro" for "brown", but that term only came into use centuries later, during the Edo period.



What’s App With You?

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 28 MAY 2015

Duet Game:

This simple app revitalizes the rhythm game genre by putting the player in control of two vessels, red and blue, that move in sync on a black background. Touch either side of the screen to twist your vessels around and simply avoid everything in your path. It's much harder than it sounds, but the smooth gameplay and excellent soundtrack will keep you playing until you have the hang of it. While the app isn't free, there are nine chapters to play through initially, and more chapters can be unlocked or purchased along the way. This app has won a slew of awards from The New Yorker, PAX, Kotaku, Intel Level Up, and more, so make sure to check it out!

Sunrise Calendar:

If you're looking for a calendar app to replace the standard, not-so-impressive one on your phone, Sunrise Calendar is one of the best options out there. This app syncs in real time across your devices and is compatible with Google Calendar, iCloud, and Exchange. The simple design makes it easy to add new events and appointments quickly, but it has a host of other features -- Facebook events and birthdays, reminders, timezone support, weather forecasts, location tags, and the ability to connect multiple Google Calendars. A new feature, Meet, even makes it super easy to schedule one-on-one meetings. Give Sunrise Calendar a try and you'll never forget an appointment again!.

Tokyo Voice Column

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 29 MAY 2015

Groceries in Japan by Corrina Stagner

One of the most common beliefs about Japan (and especially Tokyo) is that groceries are expensive. My American friends often email me to ask if I’m eating well on my student salary. The truth is, if you know where and when to shop in Japan, even fruits and vegetables can be incredibly cheap.

The first thing to note is that stores in Japan often have sales at least one day a week (the grocery store near my dorm had two). It’s easy to spot - it’s the day of the week when the store is flooded with people and you can’t walk two feet without bumping into somebody. On those days you walk out of the store wiping sweat from your brow, feeling like the victor of a legendary battle. Once you know when the sales are, be sure to get there early before everything sells out. Nothing is worse than getting to the store after the shelves are empty.

Stores will also have sales at night. I first discovered this in a bakery near my dorm. Items can go on sale for 1/2 or ? of the price! You thought you couldn’t get delicious french baguettes in Japan for 100 yen? You thought wrong. The same goes for some fruit and vegetable stands. As a student, I do most of my shopping at night.

Finally, you may have to shop in multiple places to get the best deal. I buy my meat near Jujo Station, my fruits and vegetables in a small Korean market near my house, and everything else at my local supermarket.

If you keep an eye out for the best deal, groceries in Japan can be surprisingly cheap!

日本(特に東京)について大きな思い込みがいくつかあるが、そのうちのひとつに食料品が高いがある。アメリカの友人からよくメールをもらうが、「学生のアルバイト代で食べていけるの?」とよく聞かれる。実際、日本ではいつ、どこで買い物をすればいいか知りさえすれば、野菜、果物でさえも驚くほど安く買える。

まず日本の店ではたいてい週のうち最低一日は特売日がある。私の住む寮の近くの店では週2日特売日がある)。すぐわかる。店が買い物客で一杯で人に当たらずして進めないほどだ。こうした特売日では、まるで伝説的な戦いの英雄になった気分で額の汗を拭いながら店から出ることになる。特売日がいつかわかったら、売り切れてしまわないうちに早めに店に行く事だ。商品棚がすべて空っぽの店にいくなんて最悪だ。

夜に特売をする店もある。初めて夜の特売を発見したのは寮の近くのパン屋だった。パンが半額かそれ以上?値引きされていた! 日本でおいしいフランスパンが100円で手に入るなんて思いもしないでしょ? でも手に入る! 果物屋や八百屋でも同様な事が行われている。学生である私にとって、買い物は夜するに限る。

最後に安く買い物をするにはあちこちいろんな店に立ち寄ることだ。肉は駅の近くで買い求め、果物と野菜は寮の近くの小さな韓国系食料品店、その他はスーパーで買う。

注意深く特売品を求めれば、日本で食料品は、驚くほど安く買える!


Strange but True

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 28 MAY 2015

Artist sells someone's Instagram picture for 11 million yen

New York artist Richard Price has drawn a lot of attention and ire with his recent exhibition New Portraits in Gagosian Gallery, which featured 37 inkjet prints of other people's Instagram portraits. The artist bypassed copyright laws by removing the original captions accompanying the pictures and putting his own on them.
One of the Instagram users, Lime Crime CEO Doe Deere, stated she would not ask Price for a share of the $90,000 (nearly 11 million yen) he made by selling her picture.
Price was unsuccessfully sued by photographer Patrick Cariou in 2013, when UK courts ruled that his small additions to Cariou's photographs constituted fair use.

Woman shoots herself in the head while taking selfie

A 21-year-old woman in Moscow, Russia, accidentally shot herself in the head while taking a selfie with a gun she had found in her workplace. The 9 mm handgun had been left behind two weeks earlier by a security guard.
According to reports, the woman shot herself in the temple at close range and was admitted to Sklifosovsky hospital in a serious condition. The owner of the gun could face up to six months in jail for negligent storage of weapons.
It has definitely been a bad week for "creative" selfies, with a Singaporean man, also 21, dying just a few days ago after trying to take a selfie from the edge of a cliff in Bali.

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No.1 Travel

We go the extra mile for you. International air tickets and hotels.

Japan Group of Consultants

Lawyer consultants, Visa, company establishment & office rentals.

Narita Immigration Legal office

Let us solve your visa problems!

Niitsu Legal Visa Office

Free consultations even at midnight.

Nissato Legal Visa Office

Licensed immigration lawyer & certified public tax consultant.

Iidabashi Japanese Language School

Group lessons from ¥1,700 & Private lessons from ¥2,800.

American Pharmacy

English speaking pharmacy since 1950.

Tokyo Skin Clinic

EU-licensed multi lingual doctors.

Tokyo Speed Dating

1st & 3rd Sat. at Australian Bar Quest.

TMA

Japanese women & Western men.

Book Off Shirokanedai

Second hand English books from ¥200.


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50 Shades of Yikess