Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Today’s coffee: Peru

It’s spring in Ishikari. This means that it doesn’t snow (much), and if I shovel the snow from on top of the garden to the sun-warmed driveway, it will melt. Here and there little green points which are probably daffodils (I planted various things last fall) are poking up through the snow, and flowers are blooming in the planter box.

The thyme and lavender plants survived the winter. Looking forward to daffodils!
We looked for stuff other than pansies, but there's not much selection this early (??). Also, the Lenten rose is known as Christmas rose in Japan. It definitely doesn't bloom at Christmas in Hokkaido... and Lent might be a bit early too.
And yet, it’s still very cold. I rode my bike to Tokumitsu today, and I made the mistake of not wearing gloves. I find that I’m making a lot of typing mistakes…

Today is Good Friday, and I’m having coffee. I confess I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year. If anything, I tried to cultivate a heart that listens to God, but that’s something I’ve been wanting for a long time. Another confession: I have struggled with daily devotions for a very long time. Takahashi-sensei made a suggestion that actually worked: no Bible, no breakfast. I thought I couldn’t do it; I like breakfast a little too much… and yet that is exactly why it worked. At first, I was “just reading the Bible so I could get to breakfast,” but gradually I began to enjoy the time spent reading, praying, and listening.

This morning, I read this:
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24, NIV).

I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds lately. Takahashi-sensei is preaching through Matthew; in the last few weeks we have heard sermons from Matthew 13 on the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Weeds. Jesus grew up in the inaka (that’s the Japanese word for rural area); he would have been familiar with farming customs and techniques. At one recent meeting, we ended up joking around with Takahashi-sensei about which kind of dialect Jesus would have had if he had spoken Japanese. Aomori-ben? Maybe Fukushima-ben?

We’re renting 20 tsubo of farmland this year—I actually don’t know how many square feet or meters that is, but it’s twice as much space as last year. Keith is excited to grow melons. The living room windowsill is filled with tiny pots with tiny seedlings; I’m still waiting for a few, but most have already sprouted. Looking at the little plants is another thing I like to do during my daily devotion time. It’s amazing to see each one changing and growing and putting out new leaves; I am already excited to taste the vegetables which will come from each tiny seed.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.” Of course, Jesus was talking about himself. Today we remember how he died to bear much fruit—the fruit of lives changed and filled with hope, love, and joy. I’m waiting expectantly for that fruit too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I can't really say...

Today’s coffee: Kona (yay!)

It’s Saturday night, and I’m at home. Keith, having finished his sermon preparations for tomorrow, is watching some stupid variety show on TV. I’ve been busy with various cooking projects today; currently in progress is a revamp of a couple of our takuanzuke (daikon radish that's been pickling in rice bran since mid-November). Did I mention that they were a success? Third try!

I said last week that I was going to write about something other than shamisen, food, and tea ceremony… and I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen. I have a lot of stuff that I want to write about, but it’s not stuff I can publicly post on my blog. One of the stories I want to write will probably end up in an upcoming prayer letter, and the other I will probably call up a friend and vent about. We’re fine; neither of the situations directly involve us. However, they involve people I care about. It’s hard, but learning how to appropriately be involved or not involved in difficult situations is also an important part of our training. We’re thankful that we have people we trust around to help us process what we see and hear and to begin to think about how we will deal with such situations in the future.

So, that’s why the “heartfelt reflective posts” haven’t really been coming lately. Instead, enjoy some pictures of takuanzuke. Maybe I’ll post pictures of my miso-making adventures soon.

First step: dried daikon! They were hanging outside until it started snowing; then we brought them in.
Next we pack them tight in a bucket and fill in the gaps with dried leaves.
Add some kombu and dried persimmon peel for flavor. More leaves are packed in around the outside.
Cover the top with seasoned nuka (rice bran).
Fold down the leaves so the nuka is completely covered.
After moving the bucket to the entryway, which isn't heated, I put a couple of gigantic weights on top... 10 kg each. Then they hung out for a couple of months while we ate some other pickles (in the buckets in the foreground).
Opening up the bucket in early March...
... and success! But really, we should have started eating them sooner. Then I wouldn't have had nightmares about them getting moldy, perhaps.
Let me know if you want more details, since it's not exactly a recipe. Also, I'll probably tweak some things for next time.

Also, it was my birthday this week, and I had cake with my April-birthday buddies at Tea ceremony. Yay, cake!

April 3, April 9, April 8! Don't worry, we shared with Keith.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Shamisen, Tsugaru style

Today’s coffee: Kauai coffee blended with Peru and Brazil

Yesterday was a shamisen binge day. I practiced, then had a lesson, then I practiced some more. This lesson was for a different style of shamisen from the one I’ve been learning up to this point. I’ve been learning Hauta, which is a style of playing to accompany singing. I would characterize this style of playing as polite and refined, although certainly full of character. Tsugaru style, on the other hand, is loud and wild; I also use a larger (and louder) instrument. Thankfully the string length is about the same.

Holding the shamisen Tsugaru-style. It's big.
For comparison, this picture was from one of my first lessons in Hauta style, in January of 2012; my teacher took the photo to remind me how to properly hold the shamisen. This instrument is little and cute; as you can see, you don't hold it the same way.
My teacher for Tsugaru style is a friend of ours, about the same age as my younger brother. That’s a first; I’m not sure I’ve ever been taught by someone younger than me. Not that it matters, since he’s awesome. He came to our house; first we chatted about various things, and he admired Keith’s new guitar. Then we started the lesson: the first thing is “how to play loud.” Actually, the word “play” is probably not appropriate here. I would use the word “beat.” (Keith retreated upstairs.)

Since Tsugaru style is much more forceful than Hauta style, I had to adjust to using the weight of my whole arm to play… er… beat, rather than just playing from my wrist, like I would with Hauta style. That led to some flailing around and not a whole lot of hitting the string I intended to hit. After putting on a shorter bridge with more widely spaced strings, I started to do a little better… so why not learn a song?

We played a game of “repeat what the teacher plays” as I started to learn the song—no sheet music. I found more points at which Tsugaru and Hauta technique differ. I also learned the proper use of the word “惜しい” (oshii) which means something like “almost but not quite” in an exclamatory fashion. I took a video so I can remember what the song is supposed to sound like; it’s on my dad’s facebook page if you’re interested.

But the most “oshii” thing was that right after he went home, I started to be a bit more accurate with hitting the right string… I guess I just need some more practice!

I'll try to think of something to write about next week that isn't shamisen, food, or tea ceremony. Actually, I spend most of my time doing other things, even if shamisen is fun and exciting and it tempts me when I'm supposed to be doing something else...

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Today’s coffee: Ka’u (Hawaii) at home

I have a confession to make. I’m a professional musician, but I struggle to find motivation to practice if I don’t have concerts scheduled in the immediate future. I’m balancing the roles of musician, missionary, wife, etc., so sometimes I get distracted by whatever is most urgent at the moment.

As I type this, I’m looking at my shamisen case across the room, and thinking that I’d really like to play it. Last February, I received a shamisen with broken skins; the previous owner’s hands had become shaky enough to make playing impossible, so it came to me via the pastor of our previous church. After a period of not playing much, I took the new-to-me shamisen in for repairs… and a look inside the body of the instrument informed me that it was built in Meiji 25 (1892)! Shamisen are not like cellos; they do not appreciate in value, so it’s rare to find an instrument this old. I still think it’s cool to have an instrument with some history… and now that it’s been fixed, it sounds really good! In May, I’ll have a couple of opportunities to play it, so I’m looking forward to that. I also have a lot of motivation to practice!

After: new skins and accessories! Still needs a name...
Last June, I started writing Friday blog posts. I said I would write something every week. I’ve written most weeks, with the exception of some concert weekends and during our vacation time. It’s been really good to have a weekly space to reflect on my life… even when I don’t feel like it. Like this week. I’d rather be practicing my shamisen right now. Anyway, thanks for holding me accountable, dear readers on the internet. And I think I’ll go ahead and announce that I’m going to practice every day from now on, with reasonable exceptions allowed. Feel free to ask me how I’m doing. If you come to my concert, I promise I’ll practice really hard!

Next concert: May 6! I will be playing a very small part in this, but I promise I will practice lots in preparation! The main performers are awesome, so you should come if you are here in Sapporo.
Also: I'm playing on May 30 at Gateau Kingdom. If you live in the Sapporo area, you will know where that is. That performance is a "Spring Banquet" which will feature traditional music and dancing and food... but the food is expensive. I think it's well worth going to one of these sorts of events if you've never been to one before. I'll post a chirashi with more details when I get one.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Hawaii: time with family and little culture shock surprises

Today’s coffee: Ethiopia (and panna cotta!)

We’ve made a brief visit to our home country, although not “home” to either Seattle or North Dakota. We were on holiday in Hawaii for 10 days. It’s been 2 years since we last left Japan, and over a year since I last met my parents. Leaving Japan, I joyfully anticipated rest and uninterrupted family time; coming home, I joyfully anticipated starting my work afresh with renewed energy. This vacation was a huge blessing.

With the family at a luau!
Tea ceremony on the beach
On a crazy hike to the Blue Hole (Waialeale)
Yukata for everyone
Playing with Dad's underwater camera

Having been away for 2 years, the longest I’d ever been outside my home country, there were a lot of little surprises. Sitting in Honolulu airport with Keith waiting for our connecting flight, I started a private conversation with him in English… and then I realized that I was surrounded by Americans. Oops. Later that evening in the hot tub at our hotel, I barely caught myself before making a similar mistake. I hadn’t realized the extent to which English has become my language of “private conversations” while Japanese has become the language I use in public. Another surprise: hearing American accents all around us, I kept thinking I was hearing someone I knew. Weird.

I remember leaving Japan four years ago and being surprised by American portion sizes; I felt full almost all the time for the first month or so I was home. That memory did not stop me from being surprised again. I don’t remember the last time I brought leftovers home from a restaurant; having leftovers from a restaurant in Japan is practically unheard of. In the last week we have had both tempura and ramen; both of these are fairly oily, but this time I didn’t really notice. :)

While in Hawaii, we enjoyed tropical fruit and pizza and delicious pork and cottage cheese. I made some banana caramel sauce which turned out well. Still, we missed Japanese food. The soba and tempura we had the day after we came home tasted like heaven. Oddly enough, we also missed Japanese milk. I still can’t figure out how the milk here is so good while the cheese and ice cream are boring.

Banana caramel sauce and macadamia nuts over vanilla ice cream
If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ve probably realized that I’ve become something of a coffee addict. I was surprised to discover that I want my coffee quite a bit stronger than it is typically served in American coffee shops. One shop won me over by giving me an extra shot in my cappuccino for free. At Tokumitsu, I can choose to try any of about 20 varieties of coffee, roasted here in the shop, and ground and hand-poured immediately before serving. I was surprised that in the coffee shops I visited in Hawaii, I could choose between at most 3 varieties.

Searching for coffee with Mom and Dad
In Japan, at 5’5” (165 cm), I tend of be quite a bit larger than other women. I’m normally not bothered by this, but it was nice to have a short period of being average height and weight. :)

Bits of reverse-culture-shock here and there kept things interesting, but that didn’t hamper the joy of relaxed time with my family. I’ve included some favorite photos with this post; if you want to see more, I’ve uploaded others to a picasa web album, with a preview collage below. (There are a lot of food pictures.) Enjoy!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Time to listen and think

Today’s coffees: kona blend, kona not blend

I’m at Tokumitsu while Keith is at home writing his talk for tomorrow’s ochakai (Japanese tea party). He’s been thinking about it for weeks, but writing it now that it’s down to the wire…

My preparations are mostly complete; I’ve practiced my role as the host of the ochakai several times, with several friends receiving our hospitality. All that’s left is to pack up my tools, put on my kimono in the morning, and head over to the church.

Over the last few weeks, with many opportunities to deepen our understanding and appreciation of tea ceremony, I’ve also been thinking about rest. I’ve struggled with my own tiredness as I deal with life in my second language; I am often surprised to discover that a task in Japanese takes twice as long and twice as much effort and the exact same task in English. I feel unproductive, even lazy, as I need more rest than my Japanese friends, and yet I have little to show for my hard work.

But do I really “need” more rest than my friends? I think maybe the problem is not so much that I need more rest as that my friends need more rest than they are getting. The students in the youth group at church look just as exhausted as we do—between studying and sports clubs and constant pressure, even during school holidays, there’s no time for them to relax, rest, play, and think. Even Sundays at church can be very busy.

I make weekly trips… well, almost weekly trips to Tokumitsu because I need time to think and reflect on my life, and this is a time and place where I can do that. Tea ceremony lessons gives me a different sort of opportunity—a chance to be quiet, to spend time with friends, and to take in beauty and peace with all five senses. To me, both of these routines are 心の癒し (kokoro no iyashi—healing of the heart). If my mind is overly busy, I can’t hear God’s voice. I need intentional times and places and activities which give me the opportunity to stop and listen.

We’ve been talking about rest with the youth group and in other contexts as well. Resting and trusting in God’s care and provision seem to be an important theme in my life at the moment. I hope that as I think about these things, I can find ways to invite those around me to rest and trust as well. Somehow I think tea ceremony has a role to play.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tea party in a proper tea room!

Today’s coffee: White Day blend… a bit early perhaps?

The last several weeks have seen a lot of progress in our Cultural Education… and lately I’ve not had much time to write, since lots of things seem to be happening in Fridays and Saturdays. So, here’s an update with some pictures!

Last Tuesday was a national holiday, so we had a lovely day out with our tea ceremony teacher, Fujiyama-sensei, and our friend, Noriko, who is studying tea ceremony with us.

Although we’ve been served tea in various places and in various styles, this was our first time to have tea in a proper tea room… and this one even had a nijiriguchi—a tiny entrance door.

Can you see the door behind me?
Noriko in the doorway
Let me explain. In the sengoku (warring states) period, a tea room provided a place for even bitter enemies to peaceably talk and enjoy a cup of tea together. If you tried to enter the room with your sword strapped on, you wouldn’t fit through the door. Furthermore, everyone must crouch down to enter, bowing in humility. Once in the room, everyone is considered equal in status, if only for the short period of time spent in the tea room.

Before we entered the room, Fujiyama sensei led us through the process of preparing to enter the tea room. First we put on new socks—good manners when attending an お茶会 (ochakai—tea party). We entered the waiting area, then when the host “called” for us with a drum, we washed our hands and mouths and prepared to enter the tea room. I’m vastly oversimplifying here—there is a proper way to do each of these things.

This is the "garden" with hand-washing place. In the summer, we might go to a tea room in a real garden... but this is Sapporo in February.
The door was tiny. I’m not a large person, but I knocked my hairpin and the back of my obi on the top of the doorframe as I crouched to enter. Once in the room, I bumped my head on the rafters across the middle of the room as I moved around to observe the flowers, the scroll on the wall, and the kama (cauldron).

The kama sits in a hole in the floor, and is heated by charcoal. Don't try this at home, kids.
Although we were having a “proper” ochakai, Fujiyama sensei didn’t hesitate to teach. The host was a friend of our teacher’s; I imagine she is accustomed to serving tea to beginners. Her patience and grace put us at ease, even though there are still a lot of things we don’t know.

Our host prepares the tea
Waiting for our tea. The scroll on the wall says "wakeiseijaku" which means harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
After we finished our tea, we got to see some antique hina dolls. March 3 is Girls’ Day (hinamatsuri); some Japanese families put out an elaborate display of dolls in honor of their daughters and granddaughters.

Antique hina dolls

Then… a stroll through Odori Park to see Yukimatsuri, and lunch at a tofu restaurant!

The next day, we attended an entirely different ochakai. This time, Fujiyama sensei visited the preschool where Noriko works to give them a basic lesson! Each child served and received tea, then had a chance to practice making tea themselves. I was impressed at how the children sat quietly through the lesson and respectfully (and happily) took part. I helped out by preparing lots of tiny cups of tea.

Last night, Noriko came to our house to practice for our next ochakai, which will be at our church on March 1! Noriko and I will prepare and serve tea, and Keith will give a short talk. The ladies of our church will prepare sweets. I’m excited! I’m praying that each one of us will have a 持て成しの心 (motenashi no kokoro—a heart of hospitality) to welcome our guests; we’ve had some great examples lately!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Recipe: Matcha Latte

I'd like to share a simple recipe for the best pick-me-up ever. Sometimes I get pretty tired just from operating in my second language much of the time, but I'm thankful I live in a place with wonderful tea and tea-drinking traditions. Here's my own fusion of my favorite Japanese and Western hot drinks: a matcha latte!

This matcha latte is not what you get at Starbucks and other coffee shops. I dislike those; they are far too sweet. This version has twice the caffeine punch, but without giving me the shakes from too much caffeine and sugar. It's closer to traditional matcha, but with milk and coffee!

You will need a chawan or similar--probably a round cereal bowl would work too--and a chasen (tea whisk), although I have been known to use a milk-frother in the past. I’m assuming that everyone has access to a metric measuring cup. That’s just how I roll these days.

  • 100 mL milk, heated to 70 degrees C (160 degrees F)
  • 80 mL espresso… or very strong coffee
  • 1 tsp matcha (green tea powder)
Tools and ingredients: espresso, warm milk, a chawan, whisk, and matcha powder. I used a chashaku (tea ladle) to measure the tea--2 big scoops.

1. Put the matcha powder in your chawan or bowl, then pour in the coffee and milk. (I've tried adding coffee after whisking, but that killed all the bubbles. When making traditional matcha, there's no milk anyway, so this time I added the coffee together with the milk.)

2. Whisk vigorously with the chasen. Imagine you are making a cappuccino; that should give you the right idea. Lots of tiny bubbles will form on the surface, and the matcha powder will be thoroughly mixed in.

3. Drink your finished bowl of matcha latte! Add sweetener if you must. I find that the sweetness of the milk balances the bitterness of the coffee and matcha, so I drink it straight.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A Japanese Nabe (Hotpot) for Chinese New Year

Today’s coffee: Tokumitsu Valentine Blend

I’ve always been interested in learning to make foods from other countries. I learned some Swedish and German foods from exchange students and friends at church; when I went to college, I learned some Taiwanese cooking from my roommate, Janelle. Moving to Japan, I’ve had many opportunities to learn all sorts of Japanese cooking from friends; recently I got interested in meat pies and fruitcakes due to the influence of my English colleagues here. Sharing meals is a way to deepen friendships.

Yesterday was Chinese New Year; we had friends over to celebrate. It might seem odd to some that we were the hosts of such a party, but we count many Chinese people among our friends, so it’s only natural that we would want to celebrate with them. We also share their enthusiasm for gyoza (potstickers) and hotpot. There’s nothing better (in terms of food, at least) than sitting around a steaming hotpot with friends.

Before we made hotpot, we made gyoza! 120 of them. The flash reflected off all the steam in the air...
The Japanese word for hotpot is nabe (written 鍋and pronounced nah-bay); it is similar to Chinese and Taiwanese hotpot. It’s a similar concept to fondue: everyone takes what they like from a communal pot.

Last night’s menu was gyoza and nabe, with ice cream and mikan (mandarin orange) caramel sauce for dessert. I’ve written my recipe for gyoza here. Perhaps I’ll write up a recipe for the caramel sauce someday too; I used a failed marmalade as a base, so I’m not really sure how to explain that part.

Today I’d like to share the recipe for the nabe we had last night. It’s not really either Chinese or Japanese, but I like it so much that I decided to translate the recipe with my alterations; originally it came from Kyou no Ryouri (Today’s Cooking) magazine.

To make nabe, you will need a pot and a tabletop burner. We use a donabe (earthenware pot) and a gas burner, but anything is fine.

First you will need to make the soup base. This quantity gives you 3-4 hotpots, or you can use it as a base for okayu (Japanese rice porridge), pasta, or other soups. It’s not the most traditional, but I love it; I think it’s a flavour that will appeal to our friends in the US. If you’re in a major city, you should be able to find all of these ingredients easily—in Seattle, I think I could find all of these in a normal grocery store. If not, try an Asian grocery store.

Bacon miso soup base
  • 200g (~½ lb) bacon
  • 300g (~¾ lb) miso
  • 80mL (1/3 c) saké
  • 80mL (1/3 c) mirin (or substitute saké+a bit of sugar)
  • ¼ c sugar
  1. Cut the bacon slices into ¼-inch pieces.
  2. Fry the bacon until it is crispy.
  3. Move the bacon to plates lined with paper towels to drain the grease.
  4. Put the miso, saké, mirin, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the bacon and cook for about 3 minutes. (Be careful, as the miso splatters and burns easily!)
  5. Move the mixture to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
My favourite way to use this soup base is a slightly spicy hotpot. Here are some suggestions; hotpot is pretty flexible, so use whatever vegetables you like!

  • 2/3 c bacon-miso soup base (see above)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (We used an equivalent amount of homemade roasted garlic paste)
  • Ginger, a piece about the size of your thumb, peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp doubanjiang or kochujang/gochujang (Both of these are spicy fermented bean pastes—delicious—but you can leave this out if you can’t find it or you don’t like spicy food)
  • 3 c water
  • Meat: this can be meatballs (we used leftover gyoza filling), bite-sized chicken pieces, or thin strips of pork. Or you can do without, since there’s already bacon in the soup base.
  • Green vegetables: nappa cabbage, spinach, pak choi, etc. cut into large-ish bite-sized pieces (remember, they cook down). Kimchi is also a delicious option.
  • Green onions or leek, thinly sliced diagonally
  • Mushrooms: we like shiitake, shimeji, and enoki
  • Tofu: doesn’t need to be too firm. Silken is nice, although somewhat hard to fish out. Cut it into big chunks.
  • Shirataki noodles are nice if you can find them. If not, no worries.
  • Carrots, potatoes, and daikon are nice, but they need longer to cook.
  • Ponzu sauce (optional)
  • Cooked rice and/or udon noodles (optional)
  1. Put the soup base, garlic, ginger, and doubanjiang or kochujang in a large pot. Stir as you gradually add water so that there are no lumps of miso.
  2. Arrange the meat, vegetables, and shirataki noodles in the pot. Or don’t bother to “arrange;” just throw them in. Either way is fine. Don’t fill it too full, since you can always refill later, and if it boils over, it’s hard to clean up.
  3. Put on the lid and turn on the stove; if you’re using a donabe (earthenware pot), be sure to turn up the heat gradually (and you probably know this already, but donabe can only be used on a gas stove; they will break on an electric stove!) Bring to a boil; turn down the heat and simmer gently until the meat is cooked.
  4. Take off the lid… and enjoy!! If you like ponzu sauce, drizzle a little over the top of your bowl, but this hotpot is delicious by itself.
  5. Refill as necessary with meat and vegetables.
  6. When most of the meat and vegetables are gone, you can add udon noodles or rice; they soak up the flavour of the broth.
Soup base, ginger, garlic, and kochujang
Vegetables and meat arranged: meatballs in the center; clockwise from the left: shimeji mushrooms, chingensai (I think that's pak choi, but I'm not sure) tofu, leek, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, nappa cabbage, and bundles of shirataki noodles.
Eating gyoza while we wait for the nabe to cook...
Shirley takes off the lid...
Time to eat!!