Monday, February 23, 2009

That Sushi Thing

Our Friday pizza nights have turned into Friday yakitori nights - hey, Domino's is about $30-40 a pizza and it doesn't fill us up! But we can get loads of yakitori from the yakitori man who sets up a stall outside our neighborhood grocery every Friday. This past Friday, we added a plate of sushi to the dinner table. Everyone asked Chris and Michael before we left - "Are you going to eat sushi?" The answer is of course, yes! How can you live in Japan and not eat it?

Chris is the most adventurous of our boys, and eats the sushi I can't eat. The first photo is Chris eating salmon egg roe sushi. Michael is more cautious and would rather eat yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer - yummmm). His sushi choice was the scrambled egg, which I have to agree is kind of yucky - I don't know what is added to it, but it is sweet.  Sam is being surprisingly daring, too. His sushi of choice was shrimp - always a safe option. Sam is becoming quite a fan of wasabi.

So these photos are for my mom and for Dick Moore, who must have their sushi experience through the Johnson boys! Enjoy.

And thinking of the Moore family, I have added a poll to my blog. I recently had a western food attack and bought a case of Diet Coke for the sum of $30. Please fill out my poll - would you be this crazy?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Taiko Drumming at the ELC

This past Wednesday was a national holiday in Japan, National Foundation Day. Chris and Michael had school, but Sam's school had the day off with a special presentation of taiko drumming for the children.

I had never seen taiko drumming before. I knew that it was supposed to be quite an active and athletic performance, but that's all I knew. There is a troupe of taiko drummers that periodically visit the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, but I have never been motivated to go - frankly, it looked very serious and dull.

What we saw at the ELC was anything but serious and dull. It was joyful, entertaining, funny, and exciting. The taiko drummer troupe used large drums, smaller drums, handheld bells and rhythm instruments, plus many different types of flutes and recorders. The children loved it!

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There were traditional songs about springtime, comic interludes with the players portraying animals, and foot tapping songs driven by enthusiastic and energetic drumming. After the performance, the players were very generous and allowed the children to drum on the largest drum they brought.  They were a very child friendly group, and a good introduction for those of us who had never seen taiko drumming before. The players gave the name of each instrument and demonstrated each one, which really helped us understand everything more fully.

If I had to compare taiko to anything I had seen before, I think I would say it was most like traditional commedia dell'arte, with the combination of storytelling and music. My friend Sheila compared it to Native American musical performances - and I can see that, too. 

Sam commented that he could feel the drumming in his chest. I think his favorite part of the day was the playtime with Aidan at our apartment afterward!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We visit Tokyo Tower

In the middle of Tokyo stands a red and white tower that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Eiffel Tower - except for the red and white part. Everytime we pass it or see it from a distance, someone announces, "There's Tokyo Tower!" I admit it, it's usually me doing the announcing, since other than the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, it's the only building in Tokyo that I recognize from a distance.

This past weekend we decided to give the boys a break from shopping and to do something fun and touristy. 
After lunch at the Tokyo American Club and a visit to the TAC library - library books were due - we visited Tokyo Tower. A very cramped elevator ride up to the observation platform gives you a stupendous view of the city skyline. I know this is a big city, but when you see it from Tokyo Tower and it stretches with no break as far as you can see, it really slams into you, this city is BIG.

Ironically, we ran into a school friend of Sam's, an acquaintance of Nick's from TAC, and a graduate of the University of Delaware (Nick was wearing fanwear) when we went to the Tower - it's a big city, but a small world.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Tour by Chris

Chris took this video on his camera and since it is too big to email, we're posting it here for everyone to see! 

A tour of chez Johnson of Yoyogi-uehara, Tokyo, Japan.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Omochi Pounding at the ELC

We are very lucky, I think, that we moved to Japan at this time of the year. The Early Learning Center (ELC) of the ASIJ starts their Japanese culture unit at this time of year, so we are all getting introduced to Japanese culture through Sam's school. 

At the New Year holiday, the Japanese traditionally eat mochi rice
treats, a special dish made from omochi rice that is cooked, and then pounded with mallets in a large wooden pestle until it is smooth and gooey and sticky.

This past week as part of the New Year festivities, the ELC students had an omochi rice pounding day.  A couple of men from the neighborhood of Azabu-juban came in to demonstrate and show the children the rice pounding. It is a workout! These strong men pounded rice for over 3 hours. It's the man working in the wooden basin that I admire - he takes warm water and moves the omochi rice with his hand in between every mallet smack. But they have a rhythm and he never got his hand pounded.

Then the mochi rice is pulled into balls, and served three different ways: with powdered soybeans and sugar, with soy sauce and nori (seaweed), and with sweet red bean paste. It's not bad, but the texture takes some getting used to. Raw bread dough comes to mind - it is very chewy and elastic!

The children were dressed in "happi" - festival short coats -  and headbands. Then they counted in Japanese, "Ichi, ni, san," and then they all had a turn with a mallet. Then some of the parents gave it a try! Sam did a great job pounding, I'm not so sure how I did - that mallet is heavy.
And those of you who know Sam remember that he is the pickiest of my kids as far as food goes. Well, he ate every piece of mochi rice on his plate and asked for seconds on the ones coated with soybean powder and sugar! Go figure. I guess if you present something in a fun way, he'll try it. Or just coat it in sugar!