Rejection and Madras

Chip has had his first encounter with rejection. He seems unfazed. On Friday we went into Tokyo for his first modeling audition, for Fuji Film. (Does anyone still use film?) After lots of sweaty train rides into the city which featured lugging Chip in his stroller up and down several station stairways (apparently there is no ADA equivalent in Japan) we, along with ten other fair-haired blue-eyed babies, were escorted to an ad agency for the audition. It was exactly what you’d expect a Tokyo ad agency to look like: huge windows overlooking the city, tasteful interiors with blonde wood and LED track lighting, former ad campaign prizes on the walls. (Sadly no Don, Joan, or Roger roaming the halls–but I don’t have to wait much longer for that.)

Anyway, Chip-pu’s name was called, and all he had to do was demonstrate, in front of a roomful of people with cameras, that he could crawl and stand up holding on to something. Cake. Standing at the opposite side of the room with George Washington, I did indeed get Chip to crawl. The director looked concerned, however, and asked me if Chip always crawled like that, meaning his gimpy three-legged crawl. Yes, I declared proudly/defensively.

Chip didn’t get the job. Some other baby who better embodies the idealized notions of crawling that the media insists on perpetuating won the Fuji Film account, and I say more’s the loss for individuality and creative expression in the world. We did get 1000 yen for train fare, however. Do you think that’s taxable income?

Ad agencies makes me think of the 1960s, (have I mentioned that I’m unspeakably excited for the Mad Men premier tonight?), and that reminds me of an article that I read in the New York Times today about a little book called Take Ivy, published in 1965. Its genesis was apparently a Japanese photographer coming over to a few Ivy League schools to take pictures of American men’s collegiate fashion and bring the idea back to Japan. I think it worked–as with most American ideas, the Japanese take it, make it their own, and improve it. Syncretism in the vein of the lovely “Chicken, Lemon, and Salt burger” at McDonalds, the Honda Civic, the Coke-flavored Kit Kat, and the multi-function toilets. The Japanese are, to generalize, so well-dressed and I think that they have done their part to preserve classic American style while a lot of us actual Americans have gone sloppy. I’ve seen lots of unbearably hip young Japanese wearing Ray-ban type glasses frames, the other day in Hayama I saw Topsiders on sale for about $200, and I’ve noticed that J.Crew now has special instructions for ordering from Japan. The Japanese get such a kick out of Chip in a polo shirt, madras shorts, or his boat shoes. I’m sure the style current flows both ways across the Pacific, but I can’t imagine Americans adapting the kimono so widely and with the same aplomb the Japanese have made J.Press their own.


Lazy Bones

In true summer vacation style, I have been very lazy about many things recently, including updates. Not that I had that much to do in the first place, but I still have a vestigial desire from my teaching days to just stop doing anything come real summer weather. The rainy season is suddenly over here, and it’s like someone just flipped a switch: the air is clear, the sun is bright, and there’s a breeze again in the evenings. It’s hot, but it’s that good kind of summer hot.

Last week Rob was able to take some leave and, jealous of my recent trip to Hakone without him, wanted to go to the mountains. We stayed in the same place as I did with Mama, but the exciting development this time was that we found the Chip-sized Japanese pajamas. He looked like the cutest little Maoist insurgent you ever saw:

After several baths and lots of Japanese food (Rob ate sashimi!), we ventured farther afield. Hakone is locally famous for black eggs, and we just had to  see that. The eggs are blackened from hard-boiling in the hot sulfur springs in the mountains. We took another terrifying cable car ride to a mountain called Owakudani, passing over fields of belching yellow pools of molten sulfur. It looked like a cross between Yellowstone and something out of medieval illustration of Dante’s Inferno. At the top we disembarked to the smell of rotten eggs lighting matches. The landscape was otherworldly; the winds were high and blowing thick clouds over the mountain ridges. When the mists parted, one could see steaming yellowish streams wending through scrubby plants and rocks. We took a short hike to the egg-boiling pool, where one could purchase the black eggs. In true Japanese style one cannot purchase one egg, one must purchase a set of five. Fortunately we found some nice Chinese tourists with whom to share. Chip seemed to enjoy his black egg but Rob passed. Somewhat disappointingly, they tasted just like regular hard-boiled eggs.

See? They're black.

This contraption conveys the eggs up the mountain for boiling. I guess it beats hauling them up there on one's back.

This is the view we could have seen, if visibility had been greater than 3 feet.

After our descent, we went down the mountain to Miyanoshita where we stayed at the Fujiya hotel, something I’d really wanted to do. The Fujiya is a Japanese institution, with buildings dating from 1878, and a long history of hosting relatively famous people. Several buildings make up the complex, and all are in varying states of genteel decay. The Fujiya shows its age a bit, but was still so charming. We stayed in the mod 60s-era “Forest Lodge” (I tried to channel Betty Draper traveling to Japan–after she reconciles with Don of course, not with the guy she ran away with), but there were lots of older Western/Japanese lodge amalgamations, and an annexed old Imperial summer villa that the Americans added to the place while they occupied it in the years after WWII. The best part of the Fujiya was the dining room, where Japanese takes on mid-century French cuisine were served in silent and lovely splendor. My rainbow trout still had its eyes, teeth, and fins, and Rob’s chicken parmesan didn’t actually seem to feature any cheese. They were still great, and even better was the French toast the next morning.


The Flower Lodge

The dining room at the Fujiya.

A nice escape. Now Rob is back to the 15-hour work days. Another reason I have been distracted recently is the fault of a wonderful book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It takes place in turn-of-the-nineteenth-cenutry Nagasaki, where Dutch traders are confined to one small island in the harbor and Japan is still largely closed to foreigners. The details are so vivid and the characters are so real. It is an incredible story.

I am in love with this book.

A Perfect Day

Yesterday was perfect. Here is what greeted us in the morning as we went out for an early walk after a rainy night:

Fuji-san, back after a long hiatus

Almost all the snow is gone.

Yesterday afternoon we went to Morito beach, and it was a perfect day: sunny, breezy, pleasantly crowded. The Henry James quotation, “Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” ran through my head. Herewith, some photos:

Friends, Hayamans, countrymen, lend me your ear...

Morito Beach lifeguards. I don't know which is better: their beanie hats, or the fact that his shorts are skimpier than hers.

It seemed to be the official opening of summer. In addition to the lifeguards there was what seemed to be a very earnest beach cleaning contest in which teams of Japanese children pawed through the sand in a roped-off area, picking up and throwing away whatever they found.

Last night Rob and I went out to the beach bars in nearby Zushi, which is a bit livelier than sleepy Hayama. It was a big sailor scene, and it was the first time, too, that I have seen what might be considered debaucherous behavior propagated by Japanese people (I don’t get to Roppongi much). It was all pretty innocent, really, but there were not the usual amounts of conservative Japanese clothing being worn, and we definitely saw some heavy petting on the beach. Good thing Chip was home with a babysitter. It was great fun; we found a Brazilian bar and danced (sort of). It’s strange and wonderful to be in a thatched shack on a Japanese beach, listening to a salsa-fied version of Akon and watching the sailors and the Japanese men compete for the cute Japanese girls. Good thing the bars all close by 10 pm, otherwise real trouble could have broken out, and ruined an otherwise perfect day.

Cooking with strange vegetables

Last weekend, my Japanese neighbor (who was actually born and raised in Brazil but has come back to the motherland, and who speaks beautiful English) took me to the grocery store. Although I had been many times before, she finally unlocked many mysteries of the Union Motomachi for me. She showed me where the miso was and told me how to make miso soup, she pointed out where the beef ended and the pork started (and very gently told me what I had been buying thinking it was ground beef was actually ground pork…), and best of all she showed me where the ramen kits were. Not Cup o’ Noodles–the Japanese ramen kits have fresh noodles and a soup base, and one adds boiling water and the stuff on top: meat or tofu, sprouts, bamboo shoots, scallions, etc.

Rob had duty on Wednesday and I made myself a giant bowl of ramen and was a very happy camper. While making ramen for a kit might not count as mastering Japanese cuisine, it was a real boost of self-confidence be able to fix something edible from a package I can’t read.

By far my neighbor and I spent the most time in the produce section, home of the $30 watermelon and the $5 peach, durians (the spiky fruit that smells like rotting animals), individually wrapped carrots, exquisitely small cucumber and green peppers, edible chrysanthemums, purple sweet potatoes, and this:

The daikon radish, not actual size. This one measured about 16".

Perhaps you have already encountered the daikon, but it was new to me. I bought one, though, and to my surprise found a recipe for it in one of my favorite cookbooks: The Rolling Prairie Cookbook. Rolling Prairie full of great recipes for seasonal produce (it was the first proponent of CSAs I ever encountered, and it was published way back in the 90s before CSAs were cool) and as far as I know is only available in Lawrence, KS. So write my Mama if you want one.

I made this recipe yesterday and had it for dinner. Rob must have known, because he didn’t get home until 8:30 pm and therefore missed the presentation of the Zucchini and Daikon Salad. I felt so sorry for him having to work so late that I just made him a grilled cheese, hold the daikon. Anyway, I thought this was really good and if you find yourself the owner of a daikon, you should try it. The dressing is especially nice and I think could go on any vegetable-y salad.

This one’s going out to Betsy, my sister-in-law, who has lots of really good recipes for vegetables that I use often on her own website.

Zucchini and Daikon Salad

2 small zucchini

1/2 cucumber, seeded and chopped (or 1 whole Japanese cucumber, no seeding necessary)

1/2 pound daikon, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil (If you don’t want to buy a whole jar of sesame oil I think that 2 tablespoons of canola oil would work.)

Cut zucchini in thin slices and blanch in boiling water. “Zucchini should be just barely tender but not limp or soft.” Toss all vegetables together. Whisk remaining ingredients together, pour over vegetables, and toss carefully. Refrigerate for several hours and toss again before serving. Serves 4 to 6, or 1 vegetable widow for several days.

Confederates in the Food Court

So this idyllic boating scene was also in the food court with the screwy English signs in the previous post, and I just had to share. (And no, I don’t hang out at Japanese food courts all day. This one just had so much inexplicable stuff and Rob likes to take pictures for me…)

And yes, the site looks different. Do you like it? I thought it looked Japanese-y.

Independence Day

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day by visiting one of the unforseen and far-reaching consequences of July 4, 1776: the Denny’s in Hayama. It is a long and winding road from Lexington and Concord to a Grand Slam breakfast in  Japan, but such is the inexorable march of freedom.

Chip, Rob, and Freedom Toast

Egg sandwich, yogurt...and salad.

It was a very nice breakfast, although my egg sandwich had something resembling spaghetti sauce slathered on it. Notice, too, Rob’s side order of bacon: a single slice presented on a lettuce leaf.

The sun was shining, a remarkable achievement during the rainy season and further proof that our Creator has endowed us with an unalieanable right to enjoy the beach on July 4th. Chip and I did just that while Rob and the Navy neighbors took our non-American neighbors on a tour of modern American diplomacy–the Fightin’ Fitz and the carrier GW, which is home for the holiday weekend.

The flight deck festooned for the 4th.

That evening, we cooked out again with the neighbors, and Rob bought fireworks at the convenience store, something that one probably couldn’t do in the states. A complete fireworks set included bottle rockets, sparklers, fountains, and flare-type fireworks. We shot them off on the beach with the neighbors. No one lost any digits, and a good time was had by all.

I love the 4th of July. It’s always been my favorite holiday for many reasons: they read the Declaration of Independence on NPR, we always cook out, fireworks, no school, and it’s the birthday of two of my favorite things: America and my Dad.

So, happy birthday to a real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam! We miss you, Dad. And despite the fun of drinking sake at a cookout, we miss you America, too.

I thought that for the holiday I would celebrate with a round of Engrish, another consequence of America (although perhaps a teeny bit of credit is due the British).

At a food court in Yokosuka...


You're welcome and OK!

Sage advice from the Hakone-Tozan railroad

At a Hayama beach bar.