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Cold, wet, and windy Kujukuri. Feels like home!

If I can help it, I refrain from the checking the surf forecast for the weekend until some time on Friday. I do this out of fear. If it turns out that there will be no surfing over the weekend, I’d rather not know about it until later. The prospect of work without the reward of surf is more than I can be bothered to bare.    Sometimes you just have to go and give it a try though, even when wind charts are telling you to spend your Sunday morning in bed. It’s a daft form of denial I suppose, especially when it’s going to drag you out of bed at 4 am and into the cold and wet dark. Still, one of my favorite things about getting up for a surf is stealing out of the city on empty highways with a good CD playing in the car. It’s one of the few times I listen to music through speakers. There are indicators I look out for on route to the beach in Chiba which give me some idea of what the ocean will be like. The first is a river seeping into Tokyo Bay. From the bridge I check the surface of the water; if it’s glassy, that’s a good sign. Today it was a little bumpy, but not really giving too much away. Of course, it’s not until you actually lay eyes on the ocean that you know if you’re going to be surfing or not. There is, however, one more advanced indicator that is rarely off; the old geezer that attends to the car park by the beach. This morning he greeted me, “Daijoubu kai?”. A kind of eyebrow raised, Are you alright?. Not a good sign (we still can’t see the ocean at this point). Then he nailed the coffin shut, “Ki wo tsukete ne!”.  Take care, alright!.  Now, he only ever says that when the ocean is rougher than a hangover. So there and then I knew that the surf was likely a no go. (Don't know what he's looking so happy about!)This morning I probably should have turned around immediately and headed for home. I decided to hike around for a bit and get soaking wet, instead. This kind of weather reminds me of home though (even after plenty of years in Japan, it still isn’t home) and it felt nice to be out in it. The scruffy desolation of a Japanese beach outside of season and in grotty weather also has the look and feel of mid-winter seaside resorts back home. In the end, despite getting soaked to the bone, I enjoyed snapping some pics of beach (sorry, this is the Fudodo area of Kujukurihama, by the way). I took these with my pretty out-of-date iPhone (Are they ever in?) and played around with some filters when I got back. Kujukurihama, Chiba on a foul Sunday morning then: (Wind swept)(I snapped this as I was racing back to the car to save from getting any more wet)(The other side of the road that runs parallel to the beach; houses that look like they've seen better days)

Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

Perfect Japanese Karaage { から揚げ }

Make this karaage. Even your Japanese MIL will love it. It's THAT GOOD. Promise.(To be clear, I promise that it's delicious, not that your MIL will like it, or you...)I spent my first year in Japan trying to recreate dishes from Australia as I best I could with the ingredients and utensils available in Japan. This year, I am making an effort to embrace Japanese cooking and it’s a lot of fun! One of the first things I learnt to make was karaage, Japanese fried chicken. Karaage is available everywhere. At convenience stores, restaurants, markets, cafes, you can always count on karaage as a safe option for fussy eaters (like me!).Karaage is a popular dish in home cooking too. The ingredients are affordable, and the chicken pieces are a good size and last well for lunch the next day. Well, when I say ‘last well’ I mean they are just as delicious the next day – I can’t promise that there will be leftovers…A lot of recipes are overly complicated, with extra ingredients and preparation time. My recipe is as simple as I could make it. My husband says it’s his favourite karaage! That boy has eaten a lot of karaage. We spent three years living in Imabari, a town famous for chicken.Honestly, this recipe is so easy and tasty, you should definitely make it. Be sure to make a lot because it’s too easy to eat it all. You’ll find yourself breaking into the container of leftovers and snacking on them cold. Perhaps try my sisters trick – wrap them in foil and shove them to the back of the fridge – though I don’t know if that is as effective at hiding them from yourself as it is from hungry siblings who ignore such a nondescript bundle. Good luck!JAPANESE KARAAGE RECIPEINGREDIENTS:The quantity of ingredients is for 1 cup of cubed chicken. If you use two or three cups of chicken, simply double or triple the recipe.Chicken Breast – 1 cup Potato Starch – 1/2 cupVegetable Oil – to fill an inch in your saucepanSoy Sauce – 1/2 tablespoonGinger – 1 teaspoonGarlic – 1 teaspoonChicken Stock Cube – 1 cubeServing:Salt & PepperLemonIf you're making this outside of Japan, you can try to substitute potato starch with corn starch but it will change the texture of your karaage batter. This is an example of what to look for in the supermarket if it's your first time searching for potato starch. The brand isn't important, just look for the three main kanji. METHOD:Finely grate the garlic and ginger. It should be paste-like in consistency.Place in a bowl with the soy sauce.Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks, about an inch square.Put the chicken pieces into the marinade, mix well, let sit for at least 10 minutes and no more than 30minutes.In a small bowl, mix potato starch and chicken stock cube. You can add salt and pepper to taste if you like.Heat an inch of oil in your saucepan.Coat each piece of chicken in the starch and cook in the oil. Fry for about 4 minutes, rotating each piece while cooking to ensure it cooks evenly.When cooked, remove from the oil and place on a wire rack to drain.Sprinkle with salt and serve with a slice of lemon.TIPS:Use the ginger. Even if you don’t like ginger. You can barely taste it, and it really helps remove the gamey taste of the chicken.Leave some skin on the chicken pieces if you can. It cooks nice and crispy. If you are worried about the extra fat on the skin, well, maybe this recipe isn’t for you, you’re about to fry it in oil after all. I coat the chicken pieces one at a time in the starch. If you tip the starch into the bowl with the chicken and marinade it will have a stronger soy sauce flavour and your chicken pieces will be a darker colour too. Both methods are delicious!Make sure your oil is hot enough when you put the chicken in or the coating will be greasy not crispy. To test the oil, I put my wooden chopsticks into the pot and check that bubbles rise small and fast as the air leaves the wood. Don’t use plastic chopsticks! Duh.Lastly, you must place your karaage pieces onto a rack when you remove them from the oil. If you don’t drain the oil from the chicken straight away your karaage will be soggy. I also put my cooked and drained karaage pieces into the oven toaster to keep warm while I cook the next batch.  Happy Cooking!{ Ashes }P.S. Leave a comment if you make this recipe and let me (and everyone else) know how awesome it turned out! I have faith in you. But uh, don't tell everyone how annoying the cleanup is... Oil. Flour. Everywhere.

Packing Truths I Wish I'd Known Before Moving To Japan

Don't pack it. All the things you think that you need, you don't. This is me packing for Japan. Every. Single. Time. Don't be this way, learn my lessons. I know, I know. You're feeling all the feels about your stuff. You need all the things. You don't know what you'll be able to buy here in Japan, let alone if products will suit you or if clothes will fit you. I'll let you in on a little secret:People live in Japan, if not happily at least successfully, every day. Every thing that you need for your new life in Japan is already here. Why not take the opportunity to embrace the Japanese lifestyle wholeheartedly? Let go of worldly possessions from your old life and start fresh when you arrive. In saying that, there are a few comfort items you may choose to pack...I've travelled between my home country and Japan quite a few times in the past several years. I always over pack. Always. Without fail. I am THE foreigner lugging the biggest suitcase (recently I discovered I was allowed to take two bags and OMGosh...) around the airport. However, over time, my packing priorities have changed. At first, I filled my suitcase with a whole new wardrobe. Why did I do that? Well there is this persistent rumour that foreigners can't buy clothes in Japan. So I packed everything plus doubles of my essentials. Brand new work outfits, gym clothes, party dresses, underwear, pajamas... Guess what? The shopping is better in Japan. Yes, sizing is different, things don't always fit perfectly and you'll need to shop around, but I need to do that in my home country anyway. What space was left in my suitcase I filled with toiletries; toothpaste, makeup, face wash, deodorant, moisturiser, sunscreen, etc. Do you know how much those things weigh? A lot! Know something else? You can buy them all online! Websites like iHerb, Amazon JP, and StrawberryNet are just a few that supply toiletries. That's if you can't buy your favourite brands here in Japan anyway. Better yet, you may discover new ones you love more. Don't go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. You can buy clothes here, obviously, Japan is not a land of naked people. If you wear larger sizes, check out international stores like H&M or shop online at ASOS. Clothes bought in country will suit the climate and for Australians, clothes are so much cheaper here!!! Do pack a couple of loved items or unique pieces to comfort you when you're homesick.You might be wondering, what, if anything, do I pack these days? Here is a my basic list. For my husband (who lives off nothing and believes that even putting butter on your toast with peanut butter is extravagant): ToothpasteJocksSocksDeodorantThe end.According to him...For my baby:Teething gelPain reliefFood sachetsEnglish toys and booksOnly bring these items for immediate use. You can order more from iHerb and Amazon JP, but it saves you needing to tackle the local baby store and drug store amidst settling into a new country.For myself:Pretty shoes (my feet are 28cm, but I buy men's joggers here because they're cheaper and really nice)Briefs (by choice for my comfort, you can buy briefs here, yes in large sizes too)One of each key beauty product; face wash, deodorant, foundation, shampoo and conditioner for curly hair (again, buy more from iHerb or settle in to your new country and try their products, my favourite face wash and foundation are now from Japan) Birth control (yes, you can get it here, but it takes up minimal space in your luggage and is one less immediate hurdle to tackle in Japanese)Cooking supplies! These are my new favourite essential. Pack items that are light, small, and go far; spices, gravy, marinades, powdered soup mixes, rubs, sauces, jelly crystals, etc. If you've got luggage allowance, throw in a couple of plain cake mixed too, cake is awesome in Japan, but not as awesome as people will think you are if you can produce a homemade batch of perfectly risen cupcakes. Snacks. You think you'll share them, but you won't. That 1kg box of Cadbury Favourites you packed to share around the office? I give it a week before you've convinced yourself that your Japanese friends and colleagues are happy with the touristy pens you gave them and that what they don't know they're missing won't hurt them. Go on, slip into your pajamas and eat your treats. That's it.According to me anyway. Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow my blog to hear more from my whitty, informative self. { Ashes }P.S. If you have any packing tips or favourite items be sure to leave a comment below this article. Better yet, note down anything you regret packing. Obviously for me it was clothes. Why on earth did I think I needed so many clothes...

Living In Japan Makes You Fluent In Japanese

What would I have like to have known before I arrived in Japan? Well...There’s this crazy idea floating around – kind of like when you step in dog poop and the smell lingers with you all day… It’s that nasty. The idea is that living in Japan magically gives you fluency in Japanese. Sorry to burst your bubble (how is it in there with the rainbows and unicorns?), but no, it doesn’t. Shall I lecture you about why?No expectations. Japanese people don’t expect you to speak Japanese. In fact, sometimes they are disappointed when you do! So, gestures and single words are enough to survive in daily life. Why study more? A quick look at my weekday routine; walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket at a machine), stop at the convenience store on the walk to work, teach all day in English, converse all day in English with my colleagues (as per the schools request to maintain an 'all English' teacher), walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket on the train because it's a small stop with no machine), stop by the supermarket on my walk home, arrive home to my fellow foreign husband with whom I speak English. Now not everyone will live like this, but how many times do I get to use Japanese in a day? I say good morning to my local convenience store staff and comment on the weather, buy my return train ticket from the conductor on the train, and say good evening and again comment on the weather to the supermarket staff. That's it. Each of these conversations can be avoided or completed with minimal Japanese. I have to really push myself to use Japanese even though I live in Japan. How do I learn anything? I spend my weekend with Japanese friends and talk as much as possible to them.  But... On to my next issue...Japanese people can speak English. Whether or not they ‘do’ is another story. But with the people who do want to talk to you, you may have to fight a battle of languages and wills to see which language emerges victorious. Basically, you have 30 seconds to wow them with your Japanese before they decide their English ability is higher and switch the conversation to English. Thus ensues your capitulation into the comfort of speaking English, or an awkward exchange between their English contribution and your stubborn insistence on using Japanese. Good luck…Active listening takes work! Yes, you are surrounded by Japanese all day but it is too easy to tune it out. You actually have to train your brain to recognise Japanese speech as words, until you do that it is no more than background noise like birds or cars driving past.Comfort of fellow foreigners. Because let’s face it, no one will understand your complaints, your humour, and oh boy your sarcasm like your foreign friends will. Try not to fall into the trap of the security and familiarity they offer. Put yourself out there and make some Japanese friends.So if living in Japan doesn’t make me fluent in Japanese, then why in the world am I trying so hard to get there? Because living in Japan provides you with the best opportunity to become fluent. It is up to you to use that opportunity. Just like any other tool, if you don’t pick it up and use it, it won’t do anything for you by itself. Unfortunately this particular tool doesn’t come with a user manual.If your goal in moving to Japan is to achieve fluency in Japanese, you may need to consider making a plan to get yourself actively learning and using Japanese. Here are a few strategies I find have helped me:SHADOWING:This method of study involves listening and repeating Japanese phrases after a recording. Whether it is single vocabulary words, basic greetings, or longer phrases and conversations, repeating after a recording of a native speaker can help increase your speaking speed, improve your listening skills, and also help you pick up on the nuances in tone and accent. You can begin shadowing before you come to Japan to be as prepared as possible to begin speaking when you arrive. I have used the 'Let's Speak Japanese' series and love it!TV:Don't underestimate the power of repetition. When you arrive in Japan, get a TV. There is a fee for owning a TV but aside from entertainment think of it as an investment in your studies too. Every day, listen to the same morning show and the same evening news program. You might surprise yourself with how soon you begin to understand greetings, the weather, locations, and other daily life vocabulary. Not to mention, you'll have conversation topics in common with your colleagues or students because you'll be watching the same TV shows they do.LABELS:Really. Label your house. Label your bathroom products, label your handbag contents, label your pantry contents, label everything. Before you come to Japan learn to read some basic products and items and it will make your daily life so much easier. Don't worry. there will be plenty of vocabulary words remaining for you to master when you get here.Overall, you will have more exposure to Japanese being IN Japan than outside of it. But I think many people arrive with lofty expectations and are disappointed. How hard I'd need to push to live in Japanese is something I wish I'd known before I came to Japan.{ Ashes }

Easy Yaki Onigiri Recipe { 焼きおにぎり }

焼きおにぎりYaki onigiri are something I always order at Japanese pubs! Grilled coated in soy sauce, served hot with a dab of melting butter, yaki onigiri are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and a pleasure to eat. So overpriced in pubs, but nothing compares to the smoky flavours the onigiri picks up from meat or fish previously cooked on the same grill. Mmm…Recently I received glorious news from a teacher at work – you can freeze yaki onigiri! Say whaaaat??? Not that I ever have leftovers on the rare occasion I make yaki onigiri, but today the craving struck me and I headed straight home after work to make a double batch!In case you are wondering, onigiri are those little triangle shaped rice balls, a super popular lunch and convenience food in Japan. ‘Yaki’ means ‘grilled’. So yaki onigiri translates as ‘grilled rice balls’. In my opinion, all the best foods in Japan have the word ‘yaki’ in them; yakitori, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, teriyaki, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, yakiniku…Yaki onigiri are super simple, once your rice is cooked, you can whip up some yaki onigiri in ten minutes! Below I’ve shared a recipe for making basic yaki onigiri, and instructions for freezing and reheating your yaki onigiri. Go on, give it a go.YAKI ONIGIRIEasy Yaki OnigiriINGREDIENTS* Cooked sushi rice or short grain rice* Soy sauceOptional:* Oil or butter for grilling* Butter for serving* Salt for plain onigiriMETHODCook your rice as per instructions.Shape into onigiri triangles. It is optional whether you salt your hands or not as you will be putting soy sauce on your onigiri later.Heat the grill to medium temperature, lightly grease with butter or oil if you like, and place your onigiri on top. Let them grill for several minutes on one side. Don’t move them. If you’re worried about the heat grill them on low for longer.Turn your onigiri over and grill the other side for several minutes. Again, let them rest, don’t check constantly and move them.Baste one side of your onigiri with soy sauce. Don’t drown them!Grill the onigiri again, basted side down. Repeat steps 5 and 7 with the other side of the onigiri. If you prefer a strong soy flavour to your onigiri, continue to baste and grill each side until it is as you like it.Serve your yaki onigiri hot off the grill with a dab of butter.TIPSGrilling your onigiri after you cook meat or fish in a pan adds an absolutely amazing flavour! If you think of it, next time you cook meat freeze some drippings and use it to grease the grill when you make your onigiri. You can use other sauces instead of soy sauce. Soy sauce is most common, but yaki onigiri would be delicious made with any smokey, salty sauces. I’ve heard that yaki onigiri came about as a way to enliven day old rice balls that had gone slightly stale and crunchy. Don’t hesitate to grill any onigiri, regardless of the filling, and turn them into yaki onigiri. No need to put a dab of butter on onigiri that you plan to freeze. You can add it when you reheat them to eat.How to freeze yaki onigiri:After cooking your yaki onigiri and while they are still warm, wrap each individual onigiri tightly in cling wrap.Place the wrapped onigiri in a zip lock bag or seal-able container. Freeze.How to reheat yaki onigiri:Reheating your onigiri is easy. Simply microwave until warmed through. Most microwaves have a warming setting. Do leave each onigiri in the plastic wrap while you reheat them otherwise they will dry out.Whatever you do, don’t leave your onigiri to thaw! Whether you plan to eat your onigiri immediately or later the same day, you need to reheat them in the microwave from frozen. Microwaving them preserves the texture of your onigiri. If you let them defrost, the outside will be crunchy, and not because you grilled them, and the inside will be mush. You can thaw your onigiri in the microwave, pop them in your lunch box and eat them later in the day for lunch at work.  I’ve always been impressed by the busy teachers who stay at work until 9pm yet still have cute and delicious looking onigiri in their lunch each day. Lies all lies! Apparently the secret is making a whole batch of onigiri on the weekend and freezing them to microwave each morning and pack in bentos for lunch. They look so moist and lovely, I’d never have guessed. The secret is out and now we can all enjoy yaki onigiri whenever the craving strikes! Cheers also to making lunch more convenient, and fooling everyone into thinking we’ve totally got our lives organised.Happy grilling!{ Ashes }P.S. Make yaki onigiri for your food cautious friends when they visit you in Japan. I've yet to have anyone decline or not finish their homemade yaki onigiri!

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!


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