My Favorite Places To View Hotaru

One of my favorite ways to spend a spring or summer night in Japan is to go out and watch the hotaru (fireflies) flicker on and off in unison. The Hotaru Festival in Kyokushi (North of Ozu in Kumamoto-ken) is worth checking out, and easy to get to. During this celebration, beef ranchers like the Otsuka family sell exceptionally delicious beef which is best enjoyed with a glass of beer and a bunch of friends.
This isn’t a hotaru, it’s a picture of a tiny bee that I took at Yamabuki suigen (Yamabuki spring). In daylight, the fireflies look like regular elongated black beetles, somewhat reminiscent of a cockroach. I took the next picture in the dark of a firefly in my hand from Kyokushi last year:
Such a sad picture… The bioluminescence and frequency of their flashing varies among species. The fireflies in Kyokushi blink slower and with a yellowish light, while the yamahotaru blink slightly faster in a bluish-white. I wonder if the color differences have to do with the membrane of the photophores (assuming this is what the light producing cells on fireflies are called) or due to slight chemical differences in combination with the luciferin and luciferase…
Anyhow, if you are in Aso-gun near Ubuyama-mura during mid to late June you can still catch the yamahotaru (mountain fireflies), well after the other species have mated and died. One great spot is south of Namino village, in a place called Shiramizu Taki (white water waterfall- pictured below). The waterfall itself is worth a visit during the day time, but it is truly magnificent at night illuminated by the stars and the fireflies. The lighting has a soft, magical quality because of the diffusing effect of the spray generated by the falling water. Apparently, the light on my cellphone is irresistable to yamahotaru, as one followed it back into my pocket. I watched in amusement as it blinked out a pickup line to my unreceptive D251.
Yamahotaru are more reliable to see than the other species, I have found, because they come out in rain or good weather, and wind tends not to be a factor as they tend to live in protected areas among the trees or cliffs.
My other favorite places to see them are in Ubuyama-mura in Hokubu. I was able to see hotaru at Yamabuki suigen, but had to turn back because it was pitch-black, raining hard, and I only had my keitai (with a low battery) to serve as a flashlight. Instead, I went to Ikeyama suigen which is more popular and easier to access. The hotaru were out in abundance in the mist and drizzle, lighting up the cedars with their halogen-white glow.

Rainy Weekend

This weekend I had to work, and so I missed the last hash with our group in Kumamoto. I hope it went well, and that you all had to swim through the brown dirtiness that is the Shirakawa River. It rained all weekend long, which was a good thing. I did more this weekend then I usually do on weekends with fair weather.
This is the elephant in front of Ubuyama Junior High School. I think it has a really nice ass, don’t you? In a purely asthetic sense, that is…

Continue reading Rainy Weekend

Chewing Through The Gag

Over the past year, posting stuff on Higo Blog is something that I have really grown to enjoy. It’s a much needed release sometimes, and helps me to stay sane in my relative isolation in the Japanese country side. I can’t imagine what it would feel like if the Japanese government decided to censor what I could and could not look at or post on the net, but I imagine I would feel a lot like Kevin and the other bloggers in Korea.
Instead of talking about my thoughts on the recent actions of the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication, I highly suggest checking out Big Hominid’s site and to explore the links and Korea blogger’s pages that he posts, and to join him and the others in saying “Fuck censorship!”.

Cooking With Green Butter

Avocados are only 100 yen right now, and so I have been using them a lot lately. My favorite ways to eat them are sliced with shoyu (California-nisei style), as part of a sandwitch/cheeseburger, or as guacamole. Fresh tortillas are worth their weight in silver over here, but tortilla chips are abundant and cheap and go the best with the guac. I will be experimenting with various indiginous Japanese foods to see if any go well. Here are some proposed dished:
nato, guacamole, and yamaimo with ice cold soba
sushi with a pad of guacamole under the bullet of fish instead of wasabi
grilled, salted salmon with guacamole
curry with pork cutlet and guacamole
basashi (horse sashimi) and guacamole
miso soup with essence of guacamole
guacamole soft cream (soft serve)
guacamole with asse
tantanmen with guacamole topping
Vietnamese spring rolls with rice vermicelli, sweet grilled pork, Vietnamese pickles, fish sauce, and guacamole (this is not Japanese, but I think it is one of the more promising combinations).
Some are destined for greatness, while others will be fed to unsuspecting friends. I used only ingredients that were readily available and cheap in the middle of Kyushu. Here’s my take on guacamole:
2 hass avocados
1/2 tsp. of fresh lemon juice
1 small tomato, diced
1/2 small onion, minced
2 cloves of raw garlic, minced
garlic salt
cajun seasoning
tapatio sauce
I ate this guacamole with pack of Pringles (sour cream and onion flavor), because sometimes they don’t have tortilla chips at the supermarket.
This is a very simple recipe and very easy to make. Caution: using raw garlic makes the guacamole spicy, and will result in breath that would cause one embarrassment in a kimchee factory in Korea.

Spy vs. Spy

Justin told me that he ran Ad-Aware and Spybot on Merin’s computer last weekend, and that he was shocked to see how much spyware (check out this article for more information) was on her computer. He said that it had so much crap on it that it crashed while he was running the anti-spyware programs. I just worked on my BOE’s computer with these same programs and here’s the results:
Is it me, or does the little bug icon look like the spider-shaped trackers that Spider-Man uses to track bad guys?
Ad-aware: 191 programs detected
Spybot: 88 programs detected
Total: 279 spyware programs on the first go. It is truly strange to be in a place where I probably have the most experience working with computers. “Scary” is probably a better word than “strange”, on second thought.
Results for the chugakko are as follows-
Ad-aware: 169
Spybot: 46
Total: 215
On this computer Claria/Gator was installed, and accounted for more than half of the spyware objects detected by both programs (and not all were detected on the first try).

Classroom Punishment

What ever happened to time out or setting up conferences with the parents of a kid who is having problems in school? In Japan, you hear many stories of how screwed up the educational system is, and how the pressure on teachers (to get their students to pass tests) and students (to pass the tests) really is. I can say for certain that if one of my teachers told me to write an apology in blood, I would walk past them and go straight to the principal and call my parents to help me sort this out.
I have been lucky enough to have nice teachers in my schools, in an environment where such behavior would most likely be immediately detected and severely dealt with. I have heard accounts of students being smacked by teachers, and even one case of a retarded student being put into a cage for the period because the teacher couldn’t control him. What ever happened to humiliating a class clown or smartmouth in front of the class, and trying to get to the ultimate cause of problematic behavior? Hopefully, a teacher’s class will be percieved as interesting or at least valuable enough to pressure the students to act in a respectful manner.
It also bothers me how common it is for teachers to have secret relationships with their students. Some teachers have no problem engaging in romantic relations with their students, and this really bothers me. It just doesn’t seem to be such a big deal over here for some reason.

Cooking With Goya

This weekend I cooked with goya(bitter melon) for the first time, and it turned out awesome! I first tried goya in Okinawa as a component in a chop suey-like dish, and made it with the help of a friend. After you try this dish, you might grow to love the bumpy-cucumber-like hunk of bitterness.
Goya Champura
1 goya, cored and sliced thin into half-rings
1 onion, cut into (half) rings
a few cloves of garlic, minced
one half a loaf of SPAM, chopped into thin slices
one block of firm tofu, cubed
four eggs, scrambled
one teaspoon of sesame oil
one teaspoon of olive oil
two heaping tablespoons of miso paste
one tablespoon of toubanjan (red chili paste)
Fry the goya, onions, and SPAM in the oil on high heat, until the onions become translucent and then add the garlic along with the miso and toubanjan and cook for a few more minutes. Add in the tofu and the eggs with some salt and pepper and cook until the eggs are done.
This dish shows off the versatility of spam, in its ability to tame a food as bitter as goya. Like it or hate it, but above all, respect the SPAM.
Due to the high sodium content of SPAM, I suggest going light on the salt. If you want to get seriously Okinawan, then you should eat this with a slowly stewed pig’s foot (this is so f*cking delicious that all negative connotations of pig’s feet will disappear once you eat it), grilled lobster and steak, a small, deep-fried red snapper without its filets (basically the head, bones, and tail), and some awamori, aged 20 years (100% kusu, of course!).
For more info on goya, and another goya champura recipe, check this page. Mmmmm… Goya Beer…

Genocide Cocktail

My sister Merin sent me this picture of a tank full of habu in awamori that she took while on vacation to Okinawa this weekend, in a place called Gyokusendo Kingdom Village. I wrote all about habushu and mamushizake in a previous post, and thought that they made this liquer with one snake per bottle, kind of like one worm per bottle of tequila. Sad, isn’t it?
But let’s end this post on a lighter note. Let’s enjoy some potty humor, again thanks to my sister:
Okinawa is, indeed, a place full of wonder…

A Gaping, Unfilled Niche

There are a few things that I used to depend on for everyday cooking and I still use many of them over here, but I sorely miss Mexican food ingredients. I miss the abundance of tortillas, both flour and corn (I can get flour tortillas at Costco in Fukuoka periodically, but it is a pain in the ass). Good cheese is also hard to obtain, because it is prohibitively expensive (except for at Costco, once again). If you want cillantro, you must grow your own, and it will not survive the cold winter of Ubuyama without a heat source (you can obtain it at the Kuju Hana Koen, labeled as “italian parsely”, as a potted plant). I also miss frijoles and canned chilli. These are the ingredients that helped to get me through college.
I was excited to find all of the components for making tacos, including cheap avocados, but there was one ingredient I couldn’t find- tortillas. I tried eating the taco ingredients on top of rice, but rice sucks as a substitute. The only worse thing I can think of is putting the taco ingredients on a slice of toast! I was so disappointed that I thought about making my own tortillas, and found these instructions. Sorry, that’s just too much work for something that I’m used to shelling out 39 cents out for, for a ten pack.
Maybe that’s what made eating Mexican food so great when I came back home last Christmas. I love eating tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, taquitos, nachos, and everything else that you can get at a taco truck, Tito’s tacos, Alerto’s, King Taco, and the other mexican restaraunts and taquerias that I remember.
I’m not sure about the rest of Japan, but Kyushu has almost no Mexican restaraunts that I know of, except for Plaza Del Sol in Kumamoto City. This place is pretty good, and the prices are reasonable, considering the rarity of many of the ingredients that they use. THey make decent tacos, burritos, nachos, and other dishes and the cooks are Mexican- again, something truly rare in Japan but not worth mentioning in California. One thing that did surprise me was their pickled vegetables (I forget what these are called in Spanish, help Dad!). The slices of carrots, jalapenos, and whole cloves of garlic are the best I have tasted anywhere.
If you are coming to Japan, and love Mexican food as much as I do I suggest you do two things:
1. Bring your own industrial sized bottle of El Tapatio (or Cholula for all of you rich people).
2. Eat AS MUCH Mexican food as you possibly can for the two weeks preceeding your departure.