Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Hanami in Hirosaki, Part 2

May 3. Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan. We came back the next day, too, because the weather had improved...

Unlike the previous day, May 3rd was also an official holiday, rather than one that people take off to get a continuous week of vacation time. Thanks to the weather, this meant that it was rather tricky to maneuver through the throngs of people populating the park.

We also came craving lots of greasy food, and had the good fortune to be first in line for some deep-fried, battered, butter-flavored potatoes straight from the fryer. All I can say is that I'm glad my blood pressure has always been fairly reasonable. I would have taken a picture, but I was too busy clogging my arteries.

Out of nostalgia Hiromi felt compelled to buy a couple of bottles of sickeningly sweet ramune soda from some charismatic vendors... they asked which flavor we wanted... I believe the choices were regular, pink and blue. She chose the colorful ones... they tasted... well, pink, and blue. And sticky.

We also had some "amai amai" corn, which is pretty much like the corn Americans of my generation grew up with. Since the average sugar content of American summer sweet corn has been hybridized to near candy-like extremes, I wasn't all that surprised by it, but Hiromi was impressed at how sweet it was.

Sunny

Sunny

Peek-a-boo

Peek-a-boo

Pink!

Pink!

White!

White!

Yatai

Yatai

An oyaji day off

An oyaji day off 

The birds enjoy the blossoms, too

The birds enjoy the blossoms, too

Matsuri folk dance and music

Matsuri folk dance and music

Extra-goofy Jason

Hiromi and botan

Hiromi and botan

Boy, is this ever twisted 

Boy, is this ever twisted

The wind picks up

[YouTube:4-NKEJfnKTU]

When the wind picked up, the cherry blossoms went flying...

See Part 1.

Short trip to Mashiko

We made a little trip to Mashiko on the weekend before coming back to Seattle.

We went, in part, so that I could replenish my ever-shrinking ceramics collection on YuzuMura.com. I was also looking for some new artists to consider for later in the year.

Minowa Yasuo passed away a couple years ago, so I haven't been able to buy anything he made for a long time. Besides, my original plan to sell my ceramics to galleries morphed into a mostly web-based sales model. My previous habit of buying a few remarkable pieces per artist doesn't work very well on the web, since the burden of photographing something I only have one or two examples of becomes rather exhausting. By next year, I expect I'll have fewer choices but a better ability to handle larger orders for them.

Large bowl by Akutsu Masato

Akutsu Masato large bowl

During Golden Week, Mashiko has one of two annual pottery festivals, so many artists and production kilns were out showing off their wares. We made our way to my favorite galleries first, and we were pleased to stumble upon a show by Akutsu Masato and the rest of his family at Moegi. I hadn't done much advance planning on this trip, so it was a good coincidence... I discovered that I brought the wrong contact information for him anyway, so if it hadn't been for the show at Moegi I might not have been able to get hold of him.

Masato's father, who is incredibly charming, also had some very nice pieces at the family show, and Masato's mother's work is very compelling as well, so now I'm considering importing work from the whole family... While all three seem to work from a related palette, they each have very distinctive styles.

I also discovered some Minowa Yasuo pieces at one gallery, and I was so surprised by that that I ended up buying a number of pieces. It will become increasingly difficult to find anything else he made, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Fortunately, the gallery was kind enough to extend me a reseller price, which means I'll be able to offer the new pieces at roughly the same price as similar items I still have in stock. I was expecting I'd have to dramatically raise prices on the new pieces, but it doesn't look like I'll have to.

One unfortunate side effect of my good fortune on this trip was that I didn't have time to meet up with Senda Yoshiaki, and I couldn't buy any of his pieces on this trip. I am almost completely out, so I really need to do something about that. I think I'll send Hiromi to Mashiko once before fall to remedy that.

I didn't buy a huge amount of ceramic pieces on this trip, but enough that it wasn't possible to transport things on my back... so I have to wait a few weeks before things arrive. I'm looking forward to it...

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Osaka diversion

Sachi and I planned to meet briefly after work today, so I checked out and left my baggage with the hotel. I went to Osaka during the daytime, mostly wandering around Umeda without much of a real objective, even as a tourist. A Korean import/export company representative whom I had hoped to meet in Osaka still hasn’t responded to a mail I sent last week, so I didn’t have much of a business agenda anyway.

I ended up eating at an Italian place for lunch where they had a conspicuous sign in Japanese saying they could cater to customers with allergies, which I took as a sign that my vegetarian habit could be indulged. It turns out that the Japanese mushroom pizza that I ordered doesn’t have anything non-vegetarian in it anyway, and the salad and bread weren’t anything to worry about either. The food was simple and pleasant, though basically unmemorable.

My favorite thing to do when in shopping districts is observing the foods being hawked in department store basements (depa-chika). This proved the most interesting part of the day. I can’t say there were many differences from department stores anywhere else in Japan, but one stand specialized entirely in “curry bread”, in this case a slightly fancier, fresher version of a long-lived staple of Japanese bakeries. The department store experience is somehow a little more welcoming than in Tokyo… somehow the heavy Kansai accents and gravelly voices of the men and warmer, less formal sound of the women hawking various wares makes the energy of the place seem more sincere. Or maybe I’m imagining all of that.

Somewhere I stopped for a maccha-white chocolate cake and maccha ole.

Unfortunately, my friend Sachi got stuck with some overtime work today so our hopes to meet for an hour or so before I ran off to the airport were dashed. After finding the cafe where she suggested we could meet if she was able to escape, I searched for something more substantial, and finally found an Indian/Pakistani restaurant near the station which I hadn’t noticed in previous wandering. The place was completely devoid of customers, but I had one of the nicest palak paneer (or saag paneer) dishes I’ve yet tasted in Japan.

I arrived just about midnight at my dodgy hotel in Yokohama. The room is incredibly small… I think there are never more than 12 inches of space to put my feet. It’s noisy, my cell phone doesn’t seem to stay connected longer than 45 seconds, so completing plans with a friend I’m meeting tomorrow has become complicated… and I am incredibly sleepy and now a little irritable, but I guess it’s just a place to sleep.

More from Shin-Marunouchi Building

April 28: Just after my first brief visit on opening day, Hiromi and I made our way back to the Shin-Marunouchi building again in search of a late breakfast. It was still a madhouse.

Point et Ligne Bakery, Shin Marunouchi Building, Tokyo

We couldn't help but buy a lot of bread here. Point et Ligne bakery carefully illuminates the bread, but prefers to keep the staff as a background feature, assiduously assembling your order.

Yes, you want these olive-oil anko-filled baguettes

Many bakeries in Japan skip over the savory breads in favor of sugar-laden pastries... There's some sweet stuff here, but I was pleased that even the sweet treats like these olive-oil laden sweet red-bean paste baguettes avoided sugar in the bread itself in favor of an ama-sioppai experience. And there are some savory mini-baguettes just to the left of these for those who want to go straight for the butter...

Oven porn

 

Point et Ligne's extremely open format doesn't hide the guts of the operation. I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for keeping those beasts sparkling clean...

Contemporary wagashi at Kanou Shoujuan

Ume zerii presented at Kanou Shoujuan, Japanese apricot jelly, available for takeout in a bamboo-shaped cylinder. We took some home to Hiromi's parents, along with a matcha jelly.

Monaka

 

Monaka, typically sweet bean paste-filled crispy cakes (the outside texture resembles an ice cream cone), also from Kanou Shoujuan.

14 Juillet Debutante

All dressed up for 14 Juillet's second day of courting new customers.

Cassis eclair at 14 Juillet Tokyo

Black currant eclair. You must have one. We did. We will never be the same.

14 Juillet Sorbet

In case pastries don't suck you in...

1F Cafe that spells like Emeril

Although the photos of their coffee look pretty, I can't bring myself to go inside a place that spells espresso like this. And no, I don't think it's a Japanese mistake... it's far more difficult to make an "ekkuspuresso" sound in Japanese than to say "esupresso." Some highly paid consultant is clearly responsible.

 

A very clean and busy final day

Hectic, but productive… my last day in Tokyo involved checking out of an Ōmori hotel and rushing to a 10:30 am meeting with at the Shimbashi-area office of a Japanese soap company. Their most distinctive product is made with white cedar extract (also known as Japanese cypress) and Japanese charcoal. I also got to look at some of their other stuff, including a thick, soft soap that is made with soy milk, sesame or almond “tofu” and packaged in cute little containers that look like “oborodōfu” (soft tofu) and covered with a “wata” style paper top. They are still hand packaged, so production capacity is so limited that I probably can’t get any for 6 months.

After a couple of hours of conversation, I came away with wholesale rates and reasonable terms for modest orders. Mostly I’m happy with the terms, though I’ll probably revisit some requests for additional concessions when I have meaningful volume for them. On the airplane I ran some numbers so I can start thinking about some sales scenarios and maybe an initial order.

Before heading off to the airport I wanted to grab a little lunch, and a very aggressive staff at a Chinese restaurant near the JR Shimbashi station came outside to encourage me to eat at the restaurant whose menu I was eyeing. When I told them I don’t eat meat or fish in Japanese, they said “oh, ok, we can do a special order for you” in English. I went inside. I ended up with ma pao toufu made with meat after all… when they asked if it tasted ok, I said “actually, I don’t eat meat” and they said “oh, you should have told me you’re vegetarian.” Go figure. Anyway, they promptly replaced it and I had a nice side dish with chingensai (bok choy) and garlic.

Apparently this restaurant has recently changed ownership. I watched the woman who handled most of the order-taking chat with every customer and aggressively solicit feedback on the food… Many complained that the food was too sweet or “usui” (literally thin or more naturally translated as weak or bland). If they had the slightest of complaints she whisked away their food and arranged for a replacement. In my case, I specified at the beginning that I didn’t want sweet, and I ended up with pleasant, very simple food. I got the feeling, though, that the aggressive, overly accommodating customer interaction was more bewildering for their Japanese customers than it was satisfying… as

I arrived at Narita a little later than I had hoped, but that was because I wandered around slightly confused at Ōmori in search of the hotel and then, when I returned, I had some trouble finding the reservation window to buy a Narita Express ticket. Anyway, the day starts all over again when I arrive at home… It’ll be Monday morning when I arrive.

One of the natural consequences of the end of my trip was a slightly increased level of anxiety… Over the last few days, I have had tinges of worry: not doubts, exactly; just nervous energy and the predictable consequences of more carefully analyzing the risks and possible outcomes of decisions I have to make very soon… I still have confidence that I can carry everything out but I know there’s an awful lot of work ahead of me.

When I return home today, I’ll get some rest, but tomorrow I also have to make some final arrangements for my new life, and I have a lot of logistics trouble to worry about. I’m looking forward to figuring everything out.

Kyoto Weekend

In front of Kyoto station
Hiromi and I departed to Kyoto Saturday morning... it was a trip full of amazingly close calls. We arrived at the Haneda airport just in time, after missing a connection. We had a few other complications involving catching buses, trains, and even the airplane back... Hiromi went to retrieve some items from a locker in Osaka station, which she had trouble finding because we turned out to be on the wrong side of the station. Already on a tight return schedule, I further messed things up when Hiromi and I were readjusting the two pieces of luggage, camera, and two shopping bags we were carrying back to Tokyo. Somehow, a strap on my backpack or maybe Hiromi's camera bag caught my eyeglass frame as I was removing heavy things from my body inside the train... My eyeglasses popped off my face, slid across the train car floor, and landed in the gap between the train and the platform, essentially unreachable to the most dexterous and skinny of human bodies. The station attendants suggested we wait for the train to depart before retrieving the items, and we lost about 10 minutes between trains, missing a monorail connection, and again arriving just in time for the return flight.

As for the trip itself, it was both pleasant and reasonably productive. We stopped at a yuzen fabric dye and painted fabric decoration workshop, and chatted with the someone who makes pillows, purses, and other fabric-based crafts. Although I suppose these items would be quite expensive if imported in the US, I like the work and would like to try to find a way to make it possible to bring into the US.

The labor involves traditional dying and decoration processes but the look would fit in with contemporary lifestyles. Hiromi bought a purse (pictured here) that has a pretty interesting cut and looks pretty good when worn...

Our first night in Kyoto was a kind of multicourse meal involving fresh yuba, skimmed by hand from the surface of thick soy milk. We had yuba in various preparations, yubadoufu, and other pleasant things. The entire meal was pleasantly sappari, although we decided to tempt fate and order a sort of spring roll made with yuba as the skin and what turned out to be typically Japanese processed cheese inside. This was pleasant, though if I did this back home I think I'd probably be using some camembert or raclette cheeses.

We met up with Sachi, who visited me in Seattle during Golden Week, Sunday afternoon, but not before a breakfast that included a soy milk warabi-mochi. Warabi-mochi are a chewy confection which I think are actually made with kuzu (arrowroot) starch. Hiromi discovered the shop in a guidebook, and when we arrived, we realized it should have been in Fremont, were we in Seattle and if the King County Health Department didn't have an aversion to pets in restaurants. The shop was actually mostly selling dog toys and baked items for dogs, and the cafe was just there as a diversion for their customers. We had two orders of Warabi-mochi, and some Japanese interpretations of the Korean drinks soo jeong-gwa (persimmon punch with cinnamon and ginger) and yuja-cha (yuzu tea). The rest of the short menu was multiethnic and rarely Japanese. The soymilk smoothed out the texture of the warabi mochi and what we had were much creamier than the typical confection by the same name... I suppose that might be meaningless to most folks who don't spend a lot of time eating Japanese sweets, but it's the best I can do to describe it... Our dish was adorned with a maple leaf and dressed with kuromitsu (black sugar honey syrup) and kinako (toasted soybean powder).

With Sachiko, of course, we spent most of our time walking across the Kumo-gawa river toward Gion, eating nibbles at other Japanese confectioners and senbe-makers. We even sampled some usu-jio umeboshi that are typically sold for something approaching JPY 300 each (a shy $3). She had to head off within a couple of hours due to a fairly long train ride back to her home in Wakayama, and, I think, trying to match the schedule of her friends that she had visited Arashi-yama with earlier in the day.

After wandering around in search of an exciting dinner option, we backtracked to Gion and picked a restaurant where we had more tofu and yuba dishes, in addition to some stuffed Kyoto eggplant (almost Italian), grilled mushrooms with butter, salt, pepper and garlic), and some salt-roasted ginnan nuts. We had a nigori-sake (unfiltered) which was slightly effervescent, and some excellent pickled daikon served with a little grated ginger. 

Monday, we made a pilgrimage to Del Cook, in Nose, a rustic area in the north end of Osaka. We were perhaps too focused on eating and enjoying the view to take any photos of the food, but it suffices to say that everything was as beautifully presented as the rest of the scenery. We had the fancier of the two available lunch courses, and mine was altered to be suitable for a vegetarian. We started with a small bowl of chopped persimmons served, in my case, with unsweetened yogurt, some black sesame seeds, and, I think, ginnan or similar nuts. A little coarse salt provided a little contrast to the light sweetness. 

We had a creamy gobo (burdock root) soup with a little bit of milk foam, served in cute little cups and small spoons, providing a bit of an espresso machiatto deception. Some naturally leavened breads made by Del himself provided a nice accompaniment, which we soon devoured and of which we declined an offer for a second serving. The next course was a baby organic leaf salad, served with some charcoal grilled fish for Hiromi, and some similarly prepared Kyoto-sized eggplant halves in my case. Hiromi also had a course of risotto and grilled hotate (scallops), and mine was a similar risotto and some grilled matsutake mushrooms which had been hand gathered by an older woman who operates a similarly rustic Japanese restaurant next door.

Before dessert we had something of a palate cleanser course of black currant sorbet and finely chopped pears in a light syrup. A rustic apple tart was accompanied by chestnut ice cream.

After our lunch, we were able to stop in Del's kitchen and chat a bit. There was no dinner meal planned for the evening, so he was able to talk with more leisure than otherwise, although it was clear he was exhausted. He also gave us a sample of some very nice yuzu mascarpone sorbet which went out on the dessert plates of those in the second seating.

Hiromi and I took a little walk with Del and his dogs, meeting the neighboring restaurant's ducks and walking past a backyard garden. We had a beautiful view of the Nose valley facing down the hill. One of the dogs jumped into a reservoir and swam a bit, then delighted in shaking off the water as close to his human companions as possible. As we returned to the restaurant to gather our things and settle our bill, we saw the obaasan (granny, respectfully) who runs the neighboring restaurant ride up on a motorcycle after apparently running some errands. Del says that she's been known to dive for abalone herself and share the bounty with his restaurant.

Jason, Del & one of the assistant chefs de dog

The neighbor ducks

Nose valley

 

Souzai and kurogoma-doufu

We had a leisurely morning one day and decided to stay home for lunch. We took advantage of some food Hiromi's parents had sent us away with, all acquired at a supermarket.

The souzai (side dish) set, ready to eat, included several small portions of simple dishes that are easily prepared in bulk, but rather time consuming to do in small quantities. At home I've made some variation of almost all of these dishes, but rarely all for the same meal.

I don't usually buy a lot of convenience foods in the U.S.

Some sweet-savory beans, tamagoyaki, kabocha no nimono (simmered squash), one aemono, a little hijiki with moyashi, and two other simple nimono. One contained gobo (burdock root), daikon, carrot and ganmodoki. The other is a mildly seasoned satoimo (small taro potato) dish with scallions and a little bit of yuzu peel.

We also had some black sesame, starch-thickened, gomadoufu, which came with a little sauce packet. 

We only needed to prepare a little rice to accompany this to have a fairly decent everyday meal.

 

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Charcoal man sober, dinner in Yokohama

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Michiko and I had made arrangements to speak with Takeshi-san again today to arrange for some product samples that he had promised while slightly intoxicated. In the morning he was pleasant but a little different in demeanor than the previous day, and so we weren’t sure what kind of quantities would be acceptable to ask for.

Actually, he did get in touch with a couple of his colleagues, one representative of the company that does the actual manufacturing for the charcoal pellets for growing plants, and one from the soap company. So he was attempting to be helpful, but we started to feel a little uncomfortable with him for various reasons that are hard to articulate.

We spend the afternoon chasing down the Japan office of the freight company that I had opened an account with in Seattle. They were raising all sorts of issues that I had been assured would not be a problem by the Seattle office, and a sales representative came to meet us in the afternoon in Ginza. He was worried because we have multiple suppliers for ceramics all inexperienced in export, and none of them wanted the slight complication of preparing export documentation. I got a quote for an approximate quantity of ceramics that I expect to ship, and an agreement for the carrier to act as the exporter of record for the relatively small initial order. I was trying to avoid export agents for the ceramics products because they always get a substantial percentage of the transaction for relatively little work; in this case, I was tracking down the suppliers by myself, so they would be doing little more than document preparation… in fact, just document assembly. Anyway, I was relieved that something which sounded like it could have become extremely complicated was resolved quickly and inexpensively.

Lunch was at an Indian set-meal type place and was decent… fresh-tasting, pleasant, inexpensive.

I met Hiromi for dinner and we ate close to her home at Torafuku, a well-funded three-unit restaurant in some recently remodeled building near the station. The food was good enough that very few people were smoking, even at 9pm. We had a fresh tofu dish with three “flavors” of tofu including one with yuzu and one which was actually gomadofu (sesame tofu). We had some freshly-skimmed yuba. We had yasai no sumibi-yaki, charcoal grilled vegetables. We also had some takenoko (bamboo shoot) rice. We drank tea and I had a glass of yuzu-infused sake (for me) and Hiromi had a kabosu drink with sprite (kabosu is a citrus fruit which, like lime, is typically used unripe) and presumably some Japanese shochu (a neutral spirit). The meal was all very sappari… no flavors were very strong, but the natural flavors of each of the ingredients were highlighted. I’ve probably had more impressively sappari dishes, but overall it was fairly pleasant food.

Tomorrow I have little on my calendar, so I’ll just take care of sending some email and doing a little research.

Kiri-tampo

A specialty of northern Japan, and particularly popular in Iwate and Akita prefectures, Kiri-tampo are usually made with uruchi-gome, which falls into the category of everday rice. The other two categories of rice are mochi-gome, the pearly glutinous rice, and saka-mai, which is riced used for brewing sake.

Miso-dare kiritampo

Kiritampo on a stick, with miso-mirin sauce

We stopped at a small lake-front gift shop while between cities in Aomori. We weren't in any hurry to do any actual shopping, but we started looking at the types of things offered as fancy Aomori omiyage so that we could be suitably jaded by the time we were actually ready to buy.

I was sucked in by a little storefront window where a woman was busy grilling kiritampo over hot sumi, Japanese oak charcoal.

We had to have one. Each.

Although breakfast was heavy, we hadn't really eaten a real lunch, so this was a nice light snack, and very reasonably priced. We placed our order and the obachan handling the grill suggested we head upstairs to sit down, where we could sit in relative comfort facing the lake.

Middle of nowhere, Aomori

Middle of nowhere, Aomori prefecture, Japan

Five or ten minutes later, our kiritampo arrived, dressed with a sweet-salty miso flavored tare (sauce). It was far more than we ever hoped it to be.

We found, but did not make use of, this helpful device...

Tabletop fortune-teller

For just 100-yen, you could use this old-school tabletop device to obtain an all-knowing omikuji, complete with horoscope.

 

Some indulgences, part 1, Tokyo, March 2006

Biwa

Biwa1

Mountain peach, loosely. A bit out of season.

Sakura kintsuba

Sakura Kintsuba

Wagashi filled with cherry blossom seasoned shiro-an.

Nagare-zakura

Nagarezakura

Painted, sculpted shiro-an with a cherry blossom theme, filled with koshi-an.

Three kinds of umeshu

Umeshu-nigoriKokutou umeshuRyokucha Umeshu

Nigori (unfiltered) umeshu, kokutou (black sugar) umeshu, ryokucha (green tea) umeshu. No, I didn’t drink them all; we went to a restaurant in Futako-Tamagawa, Tama-no Baiken, that featured a lot of house-made umeshu variatons and each of us ordered a different one. Mine was the nigori on the far left, and I stole a sip of Hiromi’s kokutou, both of which I would recommend.

Umeshu, frequently mistranslated as plum wine, is made by infusing a kind of green Japanese apricot in a neutral spirit such as shochu or vodka.

Nanohana and hamaguri

Nanohanatohamaguri

Hiromi and her mother ordered this clam and nanohana (rapeseed plant) dish.

Haru no yasai no tempura

Haru-no-yasai-no-tempura

Fuki, bamboo shoots and other spring vegetables, prepared as tempura.

Kuromame tounyuu toufu to yuba no nabe

Kuromamenabe

Black bean “soymilk” hotpot, with custardy tofu, yuba, leeks, and greens. We were wanting the benefit of some yuzu-koshou to enhance the experience, but this is basic Japanese homestyle comfort food with a bit of a twist.

Kisetsu no nimono

Harunoyasai no nimono

Spring vegetable nimono (simmered vegetables), with some not-quite-so-seasonal kabocha and satoimo.

Agefu

Agefu

Deep-fried wheat gluten.

Tsukemono no moriawase

Tsuke-moriawase

Pickled napa, Japanese cucumber, mustard eggplant, aka-kabu (red turnip), daikon.

Nama-fu no dengaku

Dengakunamafu

Broiled “fresh” wheat gluten, with a sweetened miso sauce. On the far right is one with yomogi (mugwort) and a dark miso. 

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