Monthly Archives: June 2011

Binks’ Sake

Once again my plans to waste the evening doing something more or less productive were thwarted by an impromptu invitation for a sake tasting event. Opportunism kicked in immediately. As for this post, it is published a week later than the actual occurrence. I really need to get it out now in order to be able to focus on other things, such as Juhannus.

Considering the tickets for a large tasting event offering 450 different brands of nihonshu from all over Japan normally cost ¥3500, free tickets were gladly accepted and put to good use. With a fellowship comprising of 6 Finnish trainees we made our way to Ikebukuro to Sunshine City, and ventured deeper into the labyrinth until we found the designated tasting area. We were all given small sake cups with a nice smiley face drawn on the inner bottom. Whether inner bottom is a universal concept or only exists in my imagination is a matter of debate.

I smile for your sake!

Liquor & Guessing

The layout of the tasting hall was incredibly plain, yet practical and very efficient. Long tables housing dozens of bottles of sake each were laid out by region around the exhibition area. We were given pamphlets naming all regions and sakes. Unfortunately, even with our combined efforts we only managed to decipher the readings for about 20% of the text offered to us.

Tasting factory

Near the entrance, a young attendant overheard us speaking demonic and made a vague attempt to help us, enthusiastically pointing at Kyushu bottle number 2 while yelling “zwanzig!” in my face. Clearly he had lost his mind. Later on, I attempted to gain insight to which of the sakes were supposed to be better than the rest. I asked one of the most connoisseur-like (read: tipsy) looking people and he pointed me to a sake brand from Yamagata prefecture, called the Juuyondai (十四代), one of the few names I could actually read. Unfortunately, as it genuinely was one of the more famous brands at the show, all the bottles were empty.

As with all self-respecting wine tastings, there were spit buckets available. Unfortunately, using those equals immediate relinquishment of Finnish citizenship, so we needed to stomach all the content we tried. This wasn’t too hard as the instrument used to measure sake into the cup was a pipette.

It's super effective!

No matter how hard I tried finding subtle taste differences between brands or even regions, a task that became more an more difficult upon ingesting a significant amount of alcohol, the only thing I could be certain of at the end of the journey was that they were all, in-fact, sake. I need more practice. After having had our share and tried everything we collectively could, we decided to continue the evening at a nearby izakaya. Kokutou umeshu was involved. Fin.

-Antti

Deer Diary

Eventually, I came to the decision that despite having been there before, there was no way to skip going to Miyajima, being as Hiroshima and Miyajima traditionally work as a team. Like Batman and Robin. Or Starsky and Hutch. I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. I was reluctant to pay for another night at the hotel, so a plan was established to head to Miyajima immediately after the workday ended on Thursday. Leaving my gear at the hotel and swiftly switching footwear to the godly FiveFingers, I was ready to undertake the 40-minute tramride to Miyajimaguchi. One additional ferry trip later, I disembarked at Itsukushima (Miyajima).

You shall not pass!

The view was inherently different than the last time I visited, in January 2009. At around 18:40, there was nobody to be seen on the island. The once abundant snack shops on the coast had vanished, and all restaurants were closed. One lone deer was wandering in front of the ferry station. I immediately preferred this scenario to the tourist-saturated daytime. Watching the sun slowly set, listening to the birds singing and talking to the deer felt almost therapeutic compared to the hectic nature of peak times. I was getting hungry, but decided that if I were to attempt climbing Mt. Misen I would need to do it as soon as possible to avoid getting lost in the dark mountainous forest, or sylvan mountain depending on the point of view.

Ca va être tout noir!

Ta gueule!

After having chosen one of the three available paths (Daishō-in) and hiked until about halfway towards the top, I realized that it was going to be pitch black in about ten minutes and there were no lights anywhere on the path. At that point I came back to my senses. A steep mountain path, in the forest, on a remote island, a couple of kilometers from civilization where nobody can hear my screams is not the place I want to be at when darkness comes. Although I guess from that altitude my screams could have been heard pretty well.

Unfortunately, they would most likely only have contributed to creating a legend, a local equivalent to the bête du Gevaudan, if you will. Then years later, when my bones are found, investigators would determine that I was killed by the aforementioned beast, oblivious to the fact that I was the beast.

I lost my train of thought and can’t afford another ticket.

After the quick descent, I walked through the empty residential area before stopping for some scenic photography involving the famous floating torii.

Well, it was low tide so it's not really floating

Unlike I had previously thought, there were some souvenir shops still open well after 7 pm, most selling the standard tourist crap and culturally mandatory omiyage: Momiji Manjū. I ended up buying a couple packs for the office. The ferry back to mainland was empty and to my misery I discovered that the dinner buffet would be over by the time I arrived back at the hotel. Luckily, an Ippudo branch shop was found a couple blocks from the Crowne Plaza. The rest is history. As well as indigestion.

Here’s a local curiosity, taken in front of the toilet at the Miyajima ferry port. People stared at me for photographing a toilet gate. Thrice. What’s wrong with that?

I dread the day when some knobhead will decide that this is discrimination

-Momiji “Antti” Manjū

8:15

In spite of having hit the hay relatively early, the suimin busoku gathered the night before prevented me from getting up for the breakfast buffet. Obviously I would have had to pay for it, skipping free meals just is not my style.

On the way to work, I noticed a hairdresser called “Loves hair”, a name which my weird mind found slightly disturbing. It would seem to imply that the owner has such a fetish with hair that customers do him a favor by letting him keep their scalps as some kind of macabre trophy. Or claim the hairbrush afterwards and pet it like a cat. I tend to believe that the intention in the name is different, but my vivid imagination will not let this thought out of my head anymore. How would it feel if a practicing proctologist called his establishment… never mind. While sniffing around for ramen, this was also found:

The title of a new hit TV show in Finland?

As promised, I returned to the buffet again that very evening. The discovery that nothing had changed was a source of both joy and frustration. The sasebo steaks were still there, but on the other hand I had to go through the exact same array of condiments to satisfy my hunger for variety. The only innovations were found at the dessert counter, and I have a strained relationship with the thought of eating sweets right after a complete and satisfying meal. I’m not sure if the personnel have began watching my movements yet but if they have, they must have labeled me “the guy who comes in looking ronery and tries to eat us into bankruptcy”.

Ice Cream & Sadness

Wednesday morning made me reiterate my trip to the Peace Memorial Museum, originally made two years prior with a merry group of friends. I remember us being less merry afterwards. The experience is so sinister that it’s difficult to accurately describe, which is probably why I didn’t even attempt the feat after the first visit. There should be a complimentary showing of Tonari no Totoro at the end, to repress people. Repress is the opposite of depress. So it has to be positive. My blog, my logic, my vocabulary.

On that day, 66 years ago.

Quite similar to the profound sadness you feel when seeing Littlefoot’s mother die in The Land Before Time, walking through the Peace Memorial Museum makes you realize you have a soul. And that soul is vulnerable. By the end, merely hearing the date of the bombing sent shivers down my spine. I’m actually shivering as I write. I ended up spending a good couple of hours walking through the museum, zigzagging between excited middle schoolers and cursing at the obvious shortcomings of my N95′s camera. In order not to deviate from the path proper to man, the Aioi Bridge and the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotion Hall were chosen as the next destination. As always, the Genbaku Dome was an impressive sight.

Unreachable Haikyo

I also discovered one coffee house that was located dangerously close to the Peace Memorial Park. The proximity of Café Ponte to the touristical Holy Land had hardly_any_causative relationship with the inflated prices in the shop. A cup of joe cost ¥450, and Japanese coffee is, in general, almost as bland as Finnish coffee. It made me chuckle. I subsequently trekked back to the hotel for a pit stop and continued on to… the office.

Later that night, in my effort to learn to complain about things, also sometimes called giving feedback, I confronted the steak chef regarding why the steaks were so much less tender on Wednesday than they were on the two previous nights. He apologized and cooked me three rare ones on the spot, out of which two turned out perfect. I like it here.

Syö, juo ja ole iloinen. Huomenna laihdutamme!

-Antti

 

Paradise Awaits

The sunken city of R’lyeh

The shinkansen arrived at Hiroshima station sometime after 11, and having checked the itinerary to the assigned location beforehand I chose to trek the remaining 2 kilometers instead of looking for the right train. With all my luggage, feeling like a heavy weapons guy was unavoidable.

My observations from two years ago were still valid; Hiroshima is a rare Japanese city where one can actually find something similar to espace verts, and in addition, the streets are wide and pleasantly organized. The initial joy I drew from the physical aspects of the city was quickly lost as I realized that the internet at my special outpost was non-functional. One conbini lunch and a lot of cursing later, I managed to get everything connected and was actually able to begin working. Besides the challenging start, the rest of the day at the empty office was dull and uneventful.

Wide Island

After checking in at ANA Crowne Plaza and checking out the gym thereof, I opted to try the casual dining buffet of the hotel. It was very reasonably priced at ¥3000. A well kept secret among westerners with a huge appetite is that the energy & micronutrient / yen ratio is always superior at a tabehoudai or buffet, given that the stomach capacity of the attendee exceeds a certain level. There is a very complicated mathematical formula for choosing the optimal place to eat, but tonight I clearly made the right choice.

Truth be told, since solving the internet issue at the makeshift embassy right after my arrival, I’ve been all smiles. Smiles, that, once again, I have utterly failed to conceal. I was grinning to the elevator mirror on the way to the restaurant before noticing the security camera watching me. Someone at the other end had probably already began suspecting that the Joker was still alive.

There's wild Pokémon in the tall grass!

Quand l’appétit va, tout va!

When in a hotel, do as the rich people do. Eat. And never stop. All things considered, the buffet was sublime. I began with several servings of different salads and cold entrees, after which I quickly discovered a huge bloc of parmesan cheese and a young chef grilling sasebo style steaks in a corner where nobody dared venture. Don’t ask me what a sasebo style steak is, I have no idea. But it was delicious. I didn’t initially believe my luck so I needed to confirm with the chef whether these really were part of the buffet menu. His nonchalant answer allowed all hell to break loose.

Relinquishing all sense of shame I returned to the steak counter 4 times and tried most of the other foods in between these cherished beef moments: hakata gyoza, crab korokke, beef tendon, shrimp sushi, roasted chicken, horse mackerel, mozzarella tomatoes. This is really beginning to resemble the diary of a hedonist, which it is. I felt like going on forever but decided to quit while I was ahead and chose one funny looking piece of green tea spongecake along with a dangerously large espresso to close the deal. My only cause of distress was that I left my phone and only camera in my room on purpose, thinking “I’m just gonna eat, no point to immortalize anything”. How wrong I was. I would label the whole evening as epic if it didn’t involve paying the jar. And tomorrow’s dinner venue calls the kimeta rule function.

-Obélix

Hiroshima へ

Morning of the Journey

Waking up at 5 am is rarely a treat, yet this particular dawn it all felt like a necessary evil that would prove well worth my while in the long run. Or even the immediate run, depending on your perception of time. Not even staying up until 3 watching the 4th season of the Big Bang Theory could have deterred me from jumping up unprompted at the first rays of sunlight to scavenge the fridge for anything of value in order to prepare me for the long train ride ahead. This great nutritional treasure hunt included two packs of natto and the humble remains of the only reasonably priced full fat yoghurt I’ve ever found in the land of the rising sun. Also coffee and butter. Don’t ask.

The streets were relatively quiet at that ungodly hour, but similarly to last week’s Tsukiji visit, both the Seibu Line and Yamanote Line consisted of man’in densha from as early as 6 in the morning, an epiphany that made me cringe, though silently. At Shinagawa after buying the shinkansen ticket, I noticed that the potassium iodide pills from April had completely disintegrated inside my wallet, forming something not completely unlike cocaine both in color and texture. I should know, I have cocaine in my wallet all the time. The remnants of the pills had to be disposed of, rendering me vulnerable once again to the exaggeratedly deadly winds of Fukushima. A few moments later I boarded the train while making sure to avoid the smoking car, a skill I had learned through trial and error a few years earlier. Nothing compares to paying ¥18000 for a 4-hour smoke-in-your-face experience.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Nozomi shinkansen bound for Hakata.

To be perfectly honest, it only took the sentence above to divert my thoughts from the original target city and contemplate continuing all the way to Hakata, Kyushu, in order to sample the eponymous thin noodle tonkotsu broth ramen in its natural habitat. And not only for the ramen, either. It turns out that despite having lived in different parts of Japan for well over a year in total I still haven’t set foot outside of Honshu. Luckily, the responsible side of my brain, which is noticeably small, was able to stay in control. Thus, I soon relented and continued the journey to Hiroshima as planned. Old MUCC songs collected from my ex-roommate as well as the more recent Fairy Tail soundtrack kept me company.

Camaraderie, adventure and steel on steel. Or rather, EMIT on control point.

In non-local news, there is now less than a fortnight left before the traditional Jukola orienteering event and I am currently gathering anxiety in relation to the fact that I’m unable to attend possibly one of the most legendary sports events of (not) my life. Marko has been able to whip the team into shape and get people to commit at a level I could never have dreamed of, so clearly there is much to yearn for. Hopefully the deer in Miyajima will help me overcome this loss. I hereby refer everybody to the valiant adventures of Team HeiaHeia.com, the most versatile tongue-in-cheek yorozuya sports team in the world.

-Antti

Trickshoth

It’s been a while since I wrote something really inspired, but this Tuesday offered plenty of topics. After a nice sleep of 13 hours I was completely revitalized after my weekend mishaps and decided to browse local outdoor basketball courts. What drove me to this was my lack of proper conditioning which could prove fatal to the Epic ASM’11 Basketball Team in as little as two months’ time. A harsh training routine was therefore in order. Thanks to courtsoftheworld.com, two locations were quickly identified: the famous Yoyogi park as well as a more obscure and smaller Jordan court in Mitake.

I had my doubts about the latter, and although it was slightly closer to work, I was fully prepared to go to Yoyogi, were Jordan park to turn into a disappointment. My fears were not completely unwarranted, as a despicable standard practice in Japanese society raised its head. The Jordan court was only open during work hours, i.e 10 to 5, after which the caged streetball court was closed, locked and left to rot. I walked around the court a couple of times cussing loudly in disbelief. I did it all in Finnish so it accidentally opened a portal to hell. Moving on. Basketball courts are already a rarer commodity in Japan than cheese, yet decision-makers feel like preventing people from using public facilities more than 7 hours a day. What the fuck, honestly.

All work and no play makes Jack... pretty damn irritated

I subsequently resumed my scouting trip and headed to Yoyogi park, a supposedly bulletproof option. On the way, I crossed the path of the Girls’ Generation marketing bus that was playing the Japanese version of Gee Gee at full volume in the streets of Harajuku. I cycled beside it and stopped in traffic a couple of times to take pictures, effectively strengthening my established position as possibly the worst nerd ever. In my defense, there were many local otakus around trying to claim that very spot. As far as actual music was concerned, the Japanese version couldn’t hold a candle to the original.

Gee Gee Gee Gee Baby Baby Baby Baby (sit se luuppaa)

After that brilliant coincidence I finally made it to the Yoyogi basketball area where lots of Japanese several years younger and many times more adept at the sport than me were gathered to shoot trickshoths. Lacking a ball of my own, I sneaked in to play with some koukouseis who claimed to be beginners. Their definition was, amazingly, correct, and not just false modesty. It was uncharacteristically cold and windy for late May, and my sleeveless second hand shirt was not enough to keep me from freezing, so after a few 3 on 3s and OvDs I was back on my way. Although I then proceeded to go to the weekly Muteppou dinner and head straight to the gym afterwards, I’ll instead post an anachronistic picture of the Tetsuya shouyu ramen meal from a few weeks prior. It was delicious.

I am gonna miss these so much in two months

The updates have been erratic and shorter than usual for a while but I’m going on a work trip to Hiroshima on Monday so that should open some fresh blogging topics that may, or may not interest anyone.

-Antti