October 2003 Archives

Scented Day

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creative.jpg Scent is a very powerful sense--can't you conjure up a lot of memories by recalling the smell of fall leaves, pumpkin pie or wet wool sweaters? Today we'll tickle our noses and see if our creativity is enhanced.

I'm not much for wearing perfume, but I love fancy soap in the shower. So for me, a quick way to give myself a change of perspective is to put on some scent that lasts all day. Since I don't have any "real" perfume, I use essential oils.

I apply it to my hair, brushing a drop or two in thoroughly, so when I swing my head around, I catch a whiff of lavender or rosemary. It's more traditional to dab your perfume onto your wrists and other pulse points and that works beautifully , too. If you'd rather not wear the scent, but still want to try exciting your nose for the day, carry it with you on a handkerchief that you can sniff.

If you usually wear perfume, do something different today. Be daring! Try your sexy nighttime scent at the office, or trade scents with a friend. Pick up a sample of a new scent at your favorite department store or wear your husband's cologne.

Any man brave enough to wear his wife's perfume gets applause from me!

Tod's Soft Ginger Snaps


recipe thursdayJust in time for Halloween or some early holiday baking, I'm offering you my recipe for the world's best ginger snaps.

This is a tried-and-true recipe handed down from Tod's mother, though I don't know where it came from before that. I've baked them a few times a year for the past 14 years. Absolutely scrumptious and easy to make.

Tod's Soft Ginger Snaps
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 t salt

Combine the shortening, egg, sugar and molasses. Add the remaining ingredients. Chill for 1 hour, then shape into 1" balls. Roll the balls in sugar and arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with a little bit of cold water to help keep the cookies moist and to form cracks on top. Bake for a scant 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven. They come off the cookie sheet much more easily if you let them sit for a minute after they come out of the oven. Makes 6 dozen, but it's never enough...



One of the Japanese members of the Foreign Correspondents Club asked me to explain "raincheck" to him today. He sometimes pops into my office while I'm working and asks me to help him understand idiomatic English. I'm glad that I usually know the meaning and also the origin of the phrases he asks about.

A raincheck is a promise to deliver a service after a postponement. You might get a raincheck if the supermarket runs out of the toilet paper that's on sale. They give you a voucher that allows you to buy the toilet paper at the reduced price when it's in stock again. Or you might say "Can I take a raincheck?" if someone invites you out to dinner on a night that you are busy. This means that you hope they will invite you again on another night.

The original raincheck was a special ticket issued when a baseball game was cancelled due to bad weather. The raincheck allowed you to come to another game instead. Rainchecks have been around since 1884.

Assisting friends and colleagues with language is par for the course* around here. Tod explained "that old chestnut" to Ota-san today and even UltraBob recently needed some help translating muchi to ame (literally whip and candy) into "carrot and stick."

* yet another idiom--this time relating to golf.

Chopstick studies


Boston University School of Medicine researchers tested 2,500 Beijing residents over 60 years old to discover that the repetitive motion of using chopsticks causes degeneration of the joints and causes arthritis.

I'll bet that they got a lot of money to do that study. And what's the point? Nobody's going to stop using chopsticks. We all know already that repetitive motion of many sorts causes damage to joints and ligaments.

Maybe they'll come study my typical repetitive motions: typing, mousing, and flipping the bird at stupid researchers.

Praying Mantis


While I was being winked at by this praying mantis, Jim & Yuka were documenting park outing more fully. Read all about our afternoon in the wilds of Kosihikawa Botanical Garden over at Wirefarm, and see the 1 minute video Yuka made. Yes, I am hugging a tree...at least there wasn't any footage of me whittling branches or chewing sticks.

Indian community

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Last night, Tod & I attended a party to celebrate the Indian festival of lights, Diwali (aka Deepavali). Murali, one of Tod's colleagues, planned the party for the Indian IT folks working at several of the investment firms.

The party started at 6; we arrived at 6:15 to find a nearly empty room. Nalnish greeted us with a chuckling explanation, "Everyone is running on Indian time and will be here an hour late!"

Sure enough, by 7, the room was full of people. Diwali is a happy celebration, though exactly what it celebrates depends on what part of India you're from. It really doesn't matter--Diwali is a excuse for fun.

A dozen children dressed in party finery ran around playing games, while two dozen men and women mingled or sat in laughing groups. Young mothers dressed in gorgeous sari, glamourous salwar kameez, and stunning gold jewelry collectively watched over the children, keeping them out of harm's way and ensuring that they all played fair.

We played musical chairs, bingo, and a challenging game of "Guess the Hindi Song." We feasted on curries, poori, biryani, carrot halva and sweets and then set off fireworks along the river.

It was, in many ways, a pretty typical family-oriented social event. But it was different, too. Not because of the curry dinner or the exotic silks and gems but because of the relationships.

It's difficult to write about this without sounding either sappy or like a clueless ethnologist. I envy the Indian community in Tokyo. It is a real society of families and friends.

Perhaps the practice of arranged marriages fosters a larger, tighter social network, since couples aren't burdened with the wrong-headed notion that their partner is the one and only person they will ever need to rely on. All of the couples seemed to care for one another, but they were equally connected to their friends.

By contrast, the "foreign community" that I belong to is mostly unmarried or childless couples like me and Tod. The bonds among our set are much looser than those I saw last night. Whether it's the lack of children or a general difference in culture, I don't know.

I like the idea of a very close group of friends, but I don't know if I'd like to live in one. I'm set in my ways and those ways include a lot of time alone. Distance. Sedentary separation. Focus on work. Momentary irritability when someone changes my schedule unexpectedly. Well, I exaggerate. I used to have a house where people just dropped by whenever. And I loved that...

Next weekend, there is a Diwali party in Futako-tamagawa where 2,000 people are expected to attend. Maybe I'll be among them as part of the larger, looser circle of the Indian community.

The scent of clean

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This week, we switched dishwashing liquids. Our usual brand was out of stock and Tod picked up an American brand that smelled like flower-scented petrochemicals. I'd forgotten that "fresh plastic" smell that so many American cleaning products have. Just thinking about it makes my nose twitch.

We replaced the "Ivory Ultra" with our regular brand the next day.

This got me thinking about all the chemicals in our life, in general, and the smell of cleaning products in particular. Japanese cleaners and soaps often smell like citrus. Underneath, I'm sure the chemical composition is just as harsh and manufactured, but it certainly smells better.

I went around the house sniffing soaps and potions. As I expected, a lot of them smelled like a fantasia of orange and tangerine - sort of like baby aspirin. I was a little bit surprised to see how many different products I have for such a small household.

Brand Mfg Use Scent
Joy P&G Dish detergent Orange
Grease Cut Magic Clean P&G Kitchen cleaner Citrus-y plastic
Glass Use Savings Glass cleaner Flowers
Sink Mawari Cleaner P&G Steel sink cleaner Orange
Attack P&G Laundry soap Orange
Muse P&G Anti-bacterial hand soap Orange with nutmeg
MyPet P&G All-purpose cleaner Plastic
Ofuro Clean Lion Bathroom cleaner Orange
Ofuro Polishing Clean Lion Tub cleaner Orange
Toilet Magic Clean P&G Toilet cleaner Minty
Kabi Killer P&G Mold/mildew remover Bleach

Why is it that Japanese society equates clean with citrus and American culture thinks plastics smell clean?

Shift work


creative.jpgToday's creative assignment: pick a day next week and shift your schedule by one hour.

You can shift forward or back--I'm a morning person so I'll get up and go to bed an hour earlier than usual. That means I can also get to work an hour earlier--leave an hour early, too! Take lunch at 1:00 instead of 2:00. Have an earlier dinner.

It may not seem like a big change, but you'll encounter a different world. Your commute will be more or less crowded. Maybe you'll get in on a timely lunch special you normally miss, or eat from the early-bird dinner menu. If you watch TV in the morning or evening, you'll see different shows. Maybe you'll see the sun rise--or catch the sunset from street level instead of inside your office.

Fannie Farmer Brownies


recipe thursdayFannie Farmer was one of the first "scientific" cooks. Her landmark cookbook used precise measurements. When I make this recipe, she probably turns in her grave. I often stray from the strict measures and add various options and surprises. No matter what I do, they always turn out delicious.

Fannie Farmer Brownies
3 oz unsweetened chocolate (or 9 Tblsp cocoa + 3 Tblsp butter)
6 Tblsp butter
1.5 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 t salt
3/4 cup flour
1.5 t vanilla

(optional: 3/4 cup walnuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits or 1 t flavored liquor)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9" square pan. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Spread in the pan and bake 40 minutes, until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Cool 15 minutes and cut.

For chewier brownies, double the recipe and bake in a 9x13" pan

NK lobs missiles into sea

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On Monday during the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Bangkok as leaders debated the fate of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, North Korea shot a test missile into the Sea of Japan. It was a surface to ship missile, apparently part of an annual military exercise, and came nowhere near Japan.

On Tuesday there was a report on NHK, based on US intelligence, of another test firing. You have to wonder how well defended we are here when you read a quote like this from the Defense Agency a couple of hours after the missile was launched, "We are aware of unconfirmed information of that nature. We are now trying to confirm it."

South Korea says there was no second missile, though everyone agrees the DPRK did fire one on Monday. I wonder what the truth is here?

Some reports on the subject:

Al Jazeerah - North Korea had right to test-fire missile: Putin
MSNBC - S.Korea says no evidence of 2nd North missile test
Tribnet - orth Korea rejects U.S. offer as 'laughing matter'
The Toronto Star - North Korea tests anti-ship missile as leaders meet

Oh, nigari


About a month ago, MJ visited her in-laws and got caught up in a new diet fad. Now she puts a few drops of nigari, liquid magnesium salts, into her Diet Coke. She claims that it has helped her drop several kilos.

Perhaps I should have been insulted by the implication, but I was surprised and pleased when Tod brought home a bottle of nigari yesterday. You can buy it in any grocery store--it's used to coagulate soymilk into tofu. He remembered our conversation about nigari from a few days ago, I guess.

Well, I did some poking around. Magnesium is a good mineral. It helps bind calcium to bones, it makes you regular (think "milk of magnesia"), helps your heart, and studies indicate that migraines might be caused by a magnesium deficiency.

So for the next few weeks, I'll try nigari in my coffee. The first sip confirms that it does change the taste, but it's not unpleasant. More like brewing a different kind of bean than taking medicine.

I am a little concerned that this is going to start some horrible chain of fad dieting--I shudder as I recall the difficulties I've had cooking for guests who were on no fat, no carbs, mostly rice crackers, only oat bran, no sauces, and exclusively protein diets over the years.

But perhaps a few drops of nigari is more like taking vitamins than eating an unusual diet. If I lose weight, find myself headache free and feel healthier, I'll report back.

Accounting the Os

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October's holiday saw a lot of things that began with O. Here's a list by city.

Oasis Tower Hotel
On (a favor or kindness)
Oita-ben book from Sayaka

Otera (temples)
Observation tower
Oven (a wood fired pizza one at La Porto)
Owls (marking theDokohaku tourist info)

Ouen (assistance) from strangers

Winding up the holiday


One final leisurely morning and a scenic boat ride around Osaka's waterways, then we were on the Hikari shinkansen and on our way home from our vacation.

We had a fabulous time touring the O cities. I haven't returned from a holiday this relaxed and happy in years. Why was it so good? I'm not sure, but here's a clue: unless you count the interactive museum displays, I didn't touch a computer for 8 days.

Of course, here I am freshly returned and already at the console, but even 2049 spam messages or the pile of work that awaits my attention can't dampen my happy mental state.

I tried to jot notes while I was on the road but my handwriting is wretched. Still, I will get the backlog of weblog entries done shortly, so look for photos and tales of Oita, Onomichi and Osaka.

Niko niko!


Today we finally met Niko, Zoupi's host in Belgium last summer. We met him for lunch and he spent the day doing silly things with us.

First we went to the Osaka Sewerage Science Museum. Sounds weird but we wanted to visit the last time we were in Osaka, but didn't make it. So of course it was on the top of our sightseeing list this time.


Zoupi liked this exhibit--it shows where the zoo sewage is.

What else is at the Sewerage Science Museum? Explanations of how Osaka treats its wastewater, examples of how it's reused after it's cleaned, and a lot of exhibits feature water--vortex spinners, rain simulators, wave motion generators and a quiz at the end.

Probably better than the museum was where we ended up afterwards. The train dropped us back in Umeda, the same area we'd had dinner the night before. Rather than head into the tick of things, we threaded our way into the back alleys behind a temple. And found a wonderful little izakaya presided over by this man:


His wife called him "Master" and he certainly was an excellent cook. We went in for oden, and ended up with a variety of foods, included the best goma-ae I've ever had. He served it over simmered greens and chilled green grapes. I regret not asking him for the recipe.

Here is some of the Osaka-style oden that I was eager to taste. It's a big block of tofu, simmered in a lightly seasoned broth and topped with a sheet of paper-thin seaweed. Yum! We also had simmered diakon served with grated yuzu, and a kyouimo a greyish, sticky potato I'd never had before.


I was having such a good time that I failed to take any photos of Niko. But he took one of us (in fact all the photos in this report are his) at our nijiikai. Tod is looking up the kanji on the waribashi wrapper. Tod looked up the kanji on everything during this trip--he even had to change the batteries in his electronic dictionary. He loves kanji and never passes up the opportunity to look them up. I try to be patient...can you tell in the picture?


On to Osaka

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We made one last trip up the hillside in Onomichi, then boarded the Shinkansen for Osaka.

Upon arrival, we alighted the subway at Temmabashi station. As we looked at our map, trying to decide which station exit was closest to our hotel, a woman asked if we needed help.

She was not the last person to kindly offer assistance while we were in Osaka (something that rarely happens in Tokyo), but her directions were the most striking:

"Go up those stairs there, and turn right. Then another set of stairs and turn left and go into Matsuzakaya. Go up to the seventh floor and the hotel entrance is there. Or maybe it's the sixth floor..."

Hotel on the 7th floor of a department store? Well, why not. We lived above a shopping mall in Singapore. When we got to the seventh floor, we had to ask a sales girl where to go, but sure enough, back behind the children's books was the entrance to the hotel.

After checking in and asking the front desk staff to look up a phone number for us (I saw the concierge Googling and felt nostalgic for my computer), we went out wandering. Tod had the brilliant idea to go buy a gourmet guide book at the convenience store. We made very good use of it. We found an Indian restaurant for dinner and searched out lunch the next day with the book. Yeah for Tod! Yeah for Hanako restaurant navi books!

Viewing Onomichi

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Onomichi is one of my favorite places in Japan. It's just a little town, with a harbor on the Seto Inland Sea, a run down shopping arcade, and a hillside dotted with temples and monuments, but it speaks to me. I like the atmosphere of slow decline, the cracks in the tiles underfoot, the slow pace of life, the sea air.

And I love the view. We spent the greater part of the day gazing out from vantage points on the hillside--the ropeway to the hilltop, observation platform, the lobby of the art museum, an abandoned carnival, the literature museum, the street above an old pagoda--and catching glimpses between houses and trees as we walked back into the lower part of town. Then we sat at the quay and watched the ferries before retiring for dinner.

I think the view speaks for itself. Click to get a much larger version:



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onomichi-mikan.jpgToday we went mikan hunting.

I'd seen a sign for mikangari when we were driving around Oita and it struck me a fun activity. The Seto area is known for its mikan farms, so upon arriving in Onomichi yesterday, we went to the tourist information center to ask. They gave us a map and some phone numbers for the mikan farms on Mukaishima, the island across the harbour.

This morning after breakfast, Tod called around to find one that was open, and we took the ferry over. It was a longish walk out of town to the mikan farm and we might have been the only people on the island who were walking. Everyone else had a car or a bicycle, but I was not going to spoil my holiday by riding a bike.

An older couple was sitting in a shed, weighing, trimming and taping bundles of aonegi, green onions. They were prepared for our arrival, but I don't think that a lot of Westerners arrive on foot at their farm to pick oranges. But we did and they were gracious. The woman handed us short, curved blade scissors and a plastic bag as the man explained that he'd take us up to the grove.

"It's 500 yen for all-you-can-eat, and 600 yen if you want to take them home in the bag." he told us. Then he straddled his bicycled and rode slowly up the lane, asking a million questions to Tod. The mikan grove was at the top of a hill overlooking the sea. It was fabulous.

onomichi-mikan2.jpgAfter a quick lesson on how to select and cut the mikan, we were on our own. We spent a very happy half hour crawling under the diminutive trees hunting for the tastiest mikan. As they ripen, dark green gives way to brighter green and yellows, then becomes progressively redder until reaching a brilliant orange. Fortunately for us, partially ripe mikan are also delicious, if not quite as sweet, and we gathered a half a bag to carry back with us.

Instead of walking straight back to the ferry, we opted to make a loop around part of the island. It turned out to be a long dull walk, but enjoyable for the exercise and the chance to breathe fresh air. Tod kept hoping for a bus, but they only run four times a day, and there wasn't one when we needed it.

By late afternoon we were back in Onomichi, and visited the Motion Picture Museum, which features the films made locally. All of the tourist maps have the key roke, filming locations, marked on them but they are all for films we've never seen--old Japanese dramas and period pieces. The museum wasn't much, but it had photos from all the films and a display of old cameras and projectors. The museum's own theater (ironically, the only theatre in Onomichi) screened some clever short films made in a local contest, and a history of film in Onomichi. Made me wish I'd brought my video camera.

Testudo no Hi

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It's Rail Transportation Day and the nation's railways are celebrating. We joined in the fun by taking trains from Oita to Onomichi.

First we travelled on the Sonic to Kokura. The Sonic has one of the nicest interiors I've ridden in. The seats are taupe leatherette, there's plenty of legroom and the windows are nice and big. Yesterday, we rode on the "Family Wonderland" version of the Sonic between Beppu and Oita, and the interior was done up in primary colors but just as posh.

At Kokura, we transferred to the Shinkansen. From here to Hiroshima, we rode on the sleek Nozomi. It announced when it was going 300 km/hr (186 mi/hr). The landscape flew past so quickly. We were in Hiroshima in no time. Actually, it was about 45 minutes but it seems like no time at all.

Our journey continued on another Shinkanesen, the Kodama. The Kodama trains are the slowest of the Shinkansens, and they stop at all of the stations. This one took us to Shin-Onomichi. We had Car 4 to ourselves for about half of the 45 minute trip.



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We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary by being buried in very hot sand. Suna yu is a sand bath, and there are several in Beppu, the famous hot spring town nearby Oita. I was eager to try this but Tod wasn't so sure. He agreed to come along and wait for me while I bathed. But when we arrived and he saw the charming seaside location he relented. It turned out that he liked it. Lying under a heavy pile of 41 degree sand is utterly relaxing. Ten minutes passed in the blink of an eye (or 40 winks in my case), and then we had to wiggle our way out to make room for the next people.

After our sand bath, we walked up the hill to the jigoku. Jigoku means hell, and it's what the very hottest springs are called. There are 9 of them in Beppu. All are too hot to bathe in, and have been turned into tourist traps. But interesting ones...this one says "Danger, if you fall in the pond you will be boiled."


We visited three of the jigoku. At the first one, the steaming water turns white in contact with air; at the second the water was salty and claimed to prevent you from going to hell if you drank it (I had to think a long time about that, but took a tiny sip to taste it so I'll probably end up in purgatory); the third boiled like mad and threatened to splash anyone who got too close.

When we'd had our fill of Beppu's hot water, Tod treated me to a delicious and luxurious French dinner on the 21st floor restaurant of our hotel. There were five pairs of silverware bracketing our plates. We love to eat well, but don't often splash out on a ritzy meal like that. It was a treat. And the bottle of 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape was a very good wine to toast our long marriage.

Rice and rain

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Sayaka and her husband Masahi picked us up from the airport and chauffeured us around their prefecture for Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. I could hardly believe their generosity. Although Sayaka and I have a very friendly correspondence, we've only met once. She really is a fantastic person.

Masahi works for the Oita department of agriculture and fisheries, so he is familiar with the loveliest parts of the countryside. We drove around the Kunisaki peninsula on Saturday afternoon. The color of rice as it matures for harvest is the most vivid yellow-green.


We stopped at several old temples and drove through countless tunnels and admired all of the farms and local produce. We even went past Usa, where legend has it that the clever Japanese had a lot of manufacturing plants in the 1950s. Instead of stamping their plastic toys "Made in Japan" they put "Made in Usa" before exporting them to America.

Sayaka came out to dinner with us and introduced us to several Oita specialties: toriten, tempura-style fried chicken; kabosu, a sour citrus fruit that's great in sauces or in drinks; and chicken sashimi. I was really surprised at how delicious raw chicken is...actually it's cooked tataki style, seared on the outside and raw in the middle, then sliced very thin. Mmmmm.

Sunday was a day of intermittent, intense downpours, but it didn't stop us from heading to the Oita coast. Masahi drove us to Saiki and then we boarded a ferry for the tiny island of Oonyujima. We drove around the island twice, stopping once for a terrific seafood curry lunch (We had to wait a while as we arrived two minutes after a group of 30 who had been on a fishing tour) and once for soft cream (soft-serve ice cream) while we waited for the ferry back to Saiki.


Sayaka and Masahi treated us royally. They came prepared with maps, guidebooks and pamphlets for everything in English. It was truly a treat to see so much of the countryside, though I'm afraid I was a terrible conversationalist during our rides. I was too entranced with gazing at and thinking about the passing landscape to devote much brain power to talking. If I had talked I would have been babbling all the things I was thinking--memories of other rural places, wondering about growing seasons, comparison of architecture. I think it was better for everyone that I kept all that in my head. :-)

Back in Oita city,Tod & I decided to go for a walk after dinner and while we were out, encountered a grandmother and her two grandchildren catching crabs along the castle moat. She showed us her technique: quickly press down on the back of the crab, then pick it up by the sides of the shell. I was too slow to get the pressing part, but she was really skilled at it and caught one for me that I got to hold. I'll bet she's been doing this since she was a kid. It was heartwarming to see her passing the torch to her granddaughter and grandson. And to us...

Changing time zones


Our unusual household schedule works pretty well under normal circumstances. Tod works into the wee hours so that he can connect with colleagues in London; I rise early because I function best in the morning. We each get some quiet time alone to focus on our projects and we enjoy lunch and dinner together on most days.

But today we begin our holiday. Tourists in Japan are expected to rise early, see the sights before 5:00 when temples and museums shut their doors, then retire for drinks and dinner.

So in about 60 minutes, Tod will be wrenched back into the local time zone. I'll try to do it gently, with a hot mug of coffee and a kiss on the forehead, but it's going to be a rude awakening regardless. Tod will be sleepwalking until we reach Oita, and feeling jetlagged for a couple of days even though we're not leaving Japan.

We figured out that Tod lives on India time. Maybe next year, we'll travel there and I'll be the one making the adjustment.

A dozen details


creative.jpgEven though I try to keep my desk tidy, there are lots of things on it. Most of them don't merit a second glance; they are just the things I use every day.

To open my eyes, though, I'll take a close look. You follow along. Grab something from your desk now...what did you pick up? I'm holding my dictionary.

Here are a dozen questions to get you started. Of course you'll see more details than this, so don't stop here...

  1. What does it weigh?
  2. Does it make a sound?
  3. What scent does it have?
  4. Does it have the same texture all over it?
  5. What color is it?
  6. Is it in good condition?
  7. Is it warm or cold?
  8. What size is it?
  9. Where do you keep it on your desk?
  10. How does it move?
  11. Can you taste it?
  12. What do you call it?

1. My dictionary weighs about the same as my half-full coffee mug. 2. If I flip through the pages quickly, it sounds like a bird in flight; if I hold it by the spine and flap it, it makes a flop-flop noise like someone running. 3. A light sniff smells sweet, probably from all the candy that I nibble at my desk. If I open it and take a good whiff of the pages, I'm transported back to my school library. 4. It is a little bit tacky on the covers, and the edges of the pages are soft and dry. 5. The cover is dark dark navy blue with white and yellow writing ad bright red, green and yellow designs. On the back cover there is a pale green and pink sample entry. 6. I've used it a lot, so the edges of the cover are burnished white and the corners are bent and curled back. The pages are turning darker at the edges and there's an accidental pen mark on the outside. The pages from vernier to vision are folded at the bottom corner; from amity to ante are folded down at the top. 7. The book is warm on the outside where I've been handling it, but the pages inside are cooler. 8. Its height is exactly the same as the length of my left hand from wrist-bone to the tip of my middle finger. 9. It stands to the left of the Japanese dictionaries and to the right of the Final Cut Pro manuals. Before I had the manuals on my desk, it was next to my wooden card file. 10. If I sit it spine down, it opens itself to page 564-564, pitch to plane. If I pitch the book across the room is decidedly un-plane lake. Not a bit aerodynamic. 11. I hesitate to actually eat my book, but I can imagine it would be slightly sweet and salty with a strong taste of acid from the cheap pulp paper it's printed on. 12. I only have on English dictionary, so this is just "the dictionary." But it calls itself "The OXFORD Paperback DICTIONARY & THESAURUS" which is entirely too long for daily use.

Goma-miso dressing

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recipe thursdayThis salty-sweet and slightly nutty dressing is good with all sorts of vegetables--raw or cooked.

Goma-Miso Dressing
2 Tblsp toasted sesame seeds (goma)
2 Tblsp white miso
1 Tblsp sugar
2 Tblsp mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 t soy sauce

Grind the sesame seeds into a paste. Mix in the other ingredients. Serve as a dipping sauce or drizzle over salad or cooked vegetables.

Mmmm, oden


oden.jpgMy appetite for Japanese food, maybe food in general, gears up when the weather cools. Last week we had our first oden nabe of the season.

Oden is a soup made of protein-rich foods and root vegetables stewed in a salty clear broth. Most of the nuggets in our pot, which is sitting on a portable gas burner on the dining room table, are made of fish paste.

Fish paste sounds a little weird, but it's delicious. It's made of scraps of white fish, ground together and mixed with flavorings. It's economical and definitely peasant food. Of course, we buy ours at the grocery store just like most everyone in Tokyo.

One of my favorite items in oden is chikuwa. Fish paste is wrapped around a bamboo pole and toasted. Then the pole is removed, so you end up with something that looks a little bit like a hollow marshmallow.

This oden included all sorts of things wrapped in fish paste--quail eggs, shrimp, burdock root--and plenty of flavored fish pastes, too--crab, liver, burdock. Sometimes people add hot dogs, fried tofu or eggs to the pot. Daikon often makes an appearance along with strips of wakame seaweed tied in knots.

Oden nabe is one of my favorite wintertime dinners.

Speed test: Google vs Shinkansen


Get yourself to Shinagawa station this week for an unusual intersection of computing and trains.

Google Japan is holding an event at the new Shinagawa shinkansen station until Friday. Go to the Virgin Cafe and take a quiz; if you get the correct answer, you'll win a Google prize. Everyone gets a Google keitai strap.

Now if only you could Google while on the shinkansen...then I'd pack my laptop for our holiday for sure.

Domestic travel

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Soon Tod & I will be taking our autumn holiday. This year, we're staying in Japan and touring cities that begin with O--Oita, Onomichi and Osaka. We'll fly to Oita, then take trains on the way back towards Tokyo.

Having just paid for our tickets and hotels, and thinking that it was an awful lot of money for domestic travel, I was wondering what a comparable itinerary in the US would cost.

So using Pittsburgh as our starting point, I priced a trip to Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati with 8 nights in hotels similar in quality to the places we'll stay in Japan.

Japan (yen) USA (dollars)
Airfare 60,600 344
Trains 56,740 362
Hotels 141,000 900
Total 258,340 1,606

If you convert the yen to dollars, then it's easier to see that our Japan holiday will cost about $750 more than a comparable trip in the US. Pretty crazy...but the experiences will be worth the money. I love getting away from Tokyo and seeing other parts of the country.

And of course, if we wanted to travel to the US, it would set us back a few thousand dollars, so in the end, it's less expensive to travel domestically for our holiday.

Sunday afternoon computing

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Jim from Wirefarm and Tod geek out with laptops on the living room floor. Are they Apple poster children, or what?

Jim grew up in Dunmore, PA, about 40 miles from where I lived as a kid. He and I might be the only people in Tokyo who know what heyna means.

Argh, Spam!

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For the past few weeks, I've been trying to think of something clever to write about the spam email I receive. How it forms spontaneous, found poetry in my Trash folder, or how the From addresses are getting to be familiar like the names of long-forgotten friends.

But I am unable to say anything amusing or witty about this plague. I receive between 250 and 300 spams every 24 hours. My filters sometimes make mistakes, so I have to scroll through looking for real mail that's been marked as spam. This is extremely irritating.

A few years ago, one of my Tech Know columns was on stopping spam (Kill Spam in Metropolis issue 376). It was a good article, but plenty of what I wrote no longer applies. Those [insert expletive here] [insert additional expletive for good measure] spammers know a million ways to trick the system. I thought I had a pretty good arsenal, but in reality I know no ways to defeat them.

Breakfast for dinner


creative.jpgTonight, put on your PJs and turn on the Cartoon Network. You're going to spark your silly side by having breakfast for dinner. In my household, a sit-down breakfast is usually only a weekend event. But if we pretend, we can have breakfast any evening.

Classic Breakfast: Pancakes, bacon, juice.
No-cook Breakfast: Cereal with milk, fruit slices, yogurt.
High Class Breakfast: Eggs Benedict, fresh fruit, mimosas.
British Breakfast: Fried egg, baked beans, toast, sausage, broiled tomato.

Be sure to yawn a lot, read the newspaper, or do whatever you like to do in the mornings. Best thing is, you don't have to go to work afterwards!

Rosemary potato wedges

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recipe thursdayI learned this one when I was working in an Italian restaurant while I went to culinary school. I was the lowly prep cook and the chef sang me love songs. A wretched place to work, but great food.

Rosemary Potato Wedges

potatoes cut into wedges (1 potato per person)
olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
garlic (optional)

It's difficult to give exact measures for this recipe, as potatoes vary in the amount of oil they will soak up. Put the potato wedges in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and toss until they are evenly coated. Sprinkle liberally with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss again to distribute the seasonings.

On an oiled cookie sheet or in a shallow pan, spread the potatoes in a single layer. Roast uncovered in a 375F oven for about 45 minutes. Again, this varies with the thickness of your wedges and the type of potato you use but when they are soft all the way through, they are done. You may want to turn them while they cook, to get them crispy on both sides of the wedge.

This dish complements just about any simply prepared meat or fowl.

Prize-winning books


Never judge a book by its cover. Good advice. But I think it's fair to judge a book by its prize.

Give me any Booker Prize winner and I'll enjoy it. The Bone People, Possession, True History of the Kelly Gang. You really can't go wrong with this list. These novels all have a very strong and individual voice. Quirky British books.

I've read the highest percentage of Nebula Award winners. A precocious child reader, I read all the kids' books in our small town library before I finished grade school. My parents turned me on to Agatha Christie and classic SF. I outgrew the mysteries, but still love science fiction.

So the Hugo award winners are also dear to my heart. These are the cream of the science fiction crop. Neal Stephenson's 1996 novel, The Diamond Age, ranks as one of my favorite books of all time. I've read it almost as often as I've read Alice in Wonderland (and I first read Alice when I was 8).

Pulitzer Prize novels are a mixed bag. With prizes given since 1918, thit's a very long list with a broad sweep--"fiction in book form by an American author and preferably dealing with American life." I hated The Shipping News, but it dominated the prize lists in 1993-94. On the other hand, who doesn't love A Confederacy of Dunces?

I've not read many of the titles awarded by PEN/Faulkner or the National Book Awards. Ha Jin's 1999 novel, Waiting, is on both and I found it a tiny bit slow but a worthwhile read.

On the other hand, I've never read a Nobel Prize novel that I liked but I'm sure that's my own fault. The prize is awarded to "the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency" and I ought to know that I prefer adventure to idealism.

I'm slogging my way through 2000 Nobel winner Gao Xingjian's "One Man's Bible" right now. It's really tedious, though I've read other novels about the Chinese cultural revolution that I've enjoyed very much so I suspect it isn't the topic but the approach.

As soon as I'm done with this stinker, I will reward myself with another Booker novel.

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