Sunday, December 21, 2008

Until Next Year...

We're headed off for two weeks in Thailand tomorrow and will be back in 2009, the year of the Ox!  Happy, happy holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Great Santa Gig

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this about the local elementary school who wanted Jacob to be their "authentic" santa for their kindergarden program by presenting him with their Secret Santa File.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get off of work for the event, but was able to send my camera along with one of the teachers, who took some of the cutest images ever (yes, that really IS Jacob under all that garb):

I think Jacob's already been booked for next year.  We're hoping to branch out into the local malls as well.

Pounded Rice and Ninja Elves

The holidays are just around the corner, and we've been preparing in style at school this past week.  One of the coolest events we held was the traditional mochisuki ceremony, a Japanese New Year's event where mochi, or pounded rice cakes, is made in the old, two-person team style by bashing the bejesus out of a pile of steamed, glutinous rice in a big mortar.

Mochi can be found all over Japan, especially during New Years.  If you come to this country, you will no doubt become acquainted with these glorious globs of glutinous goodness soon after your arrival.  The stuff is prepared and served in a variety of ways, from sweet to savory, and is definitely one of Japan's most unique foods (in fact, where we have the Man on the Moon, the Japanese think that there are two rabbits on the moon pounding mochi)!  You can read more about mochi here.

The PTA moms, who graciously sponsored the whole event, were on hand to serve tea and roll the large, freshly-pounded mochi blobs into small balls before serving them up to the students and teachers.  They had every kind of mochi available, from daifuku (mochi stuffed with anko sweet beans) and kinako (roasted mochi dipped into a mixture of soy sauce, water, and sugar) to serving it in a variety of soups!  Pictured below on the left is mochi in zoni soup (a broth with vegetables and chicken) and on the right is oshiruko, or sweet bean soup:

I even had a go at pounding mochi, despite my worries of taking the little old lady's hand clean off!!

If you can't get enough of this zani mochi-making, check out the video I took of two professionals in action:

This week was also the English Club クリスマス (Christmas) party...a riveting time if I do say so myself!

We stuffed ourselves silly with delectable treats...

...sang Christmas carols and opened presents...

...and had a special appearance by Rudolph and Santa themselves:

The best ninja-esque Santa I've seen yet:

Christmas Eve will be the last day of classes, and incidentally, the climax of the "Japanese Christmas Frenzy" which began long ago, about two weeks before Halloween.  This is the day when all of the fried chicken and cakes get eaten, all the presents are given, and all the romantic dates are had (yes, that's right, Christmas is a romantic holiday here)!

Ahhh...the holidays in Japan...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmastime in Sapporo

Christmastime in Sapporo is proving to be all of the commercial goodness of home, with a few twists and turns.  The big to-do right now is the White Illumination, a colorful display of lights and tourists, in Odori park.  I used this little event to finally take a trip up Sapporo's famous Eiffel-tower-wannabe, the t.v. tower and waited for the magic lighting!

In the meantime, I was able to get a decent semi-panorama of downtown...this is stitched together with five shots:

And the nighttime illumination begins:

Sapporo's sister German city is Munich, and we not only share her love of beer, but her German Christmas market tradition as well:

Drinking some hot mulled wine and gnawing on some Rudolph-approved deer burgers!!  Yummers!

And since we won't actually be here for Christmas (Thailand, yay!), I wanted to share some Japanese Christmas observations from around town.  First up, some bizarre ad campaigns, where Xmas has proven itself as both a noun AND an adjective:

Let's decorating (!!) the tanuki (scary, rabid raccoon) with promiscuous lights:

This card does its best to scare children into being good for the arrival of both Santa and a chick named Eve:

When you think of a plethora of mini-Santas, do you also think Geisha strolling in Kyoto?

Of course you don't!!!  Everyone knows they're busy cleaning up Buddha at this time of year instead!!

Happy last-weekend-O'-holiday-shopping everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Powder Trip

We gathered up a few of our friends who had never hit the slopes before (like ourselves) for a skiing and snowboarding weekend in Japan's most famous resort of Niseko, three hours from Sapporo!  The Niseko area is best known for soft, deep, fluffy snow referred to as, what else, POWDER among those who flock here!

We stayed in a beautiful youth hostel lodge that looked straight out of Colorado,  and which just happened to be the home of one of my students!  Her father built it from the ground up!

The inside dining Aspen-moose-sweater style:

After-snow delight, which we made very good use of:

For all of those wondering just what Japan's army actually does, well, we finally found them:

Ski skoolin':

After hitting the slopes, a few of us went to an onsen to soak away our aches and pains in some good hot springs lovin (you can read about my previous praise of the onsen here)!  This one in particular was heavenly with a mountain waterfall cutting through the powder, and cold, white flakes falling on our hot faces!!  We had the place to ourselves, hence the contraband photo!

Toasty tootsies back at the lodge fireplace!

Yes, I'm from the Midwest in the States, and yes, I've seen plenty of feet of snow in my days.  But I'm still a sucker for fresh, muted, snowy mornings...especially in the mountains!

Day two...SNOWBOARDING and Santa hats!

I got pretty used to this sight by the end of the day:

たのしかったです!   It was an amazing weekend and awesome intro to skiing, boarding, Japan's luscious powder, and excruciating pain in every fragment of my bod!  Now we're gearing up for a different kind of white vacation as we're heading to the beaches of Thailand next Monday for a few weeks in the sun!  Sometimes life is just sooooo rough...