Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lights of Sapporo

I have no idea where these lanterns were in Sapporo. They weren't next to the Ramen Yokocho though.

Lanterns and Yokocho

The Ramen Yokocho is a collection of many ramen restaurants in a narrow corridor. As big as the sign was it took me awhile to get to the right place. There is a newer Yokocho that threw me off. It wasn't nearly as good as the original but I never planned to eat there anyway. I ended up having some delicious ramen that night. Miso butter corn ramen to be exact. It was heavenly.

IMG_0092_hokkaido 12-2011

I then drifted out into the night and ate ice cream in the frosty Sapporo air.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rain Keeps Me At Bay

I haven't been out much lately due to the rainy season. So what is there really to say?

I finally got my film developed on the roll I started in December.  It has taken a long time to shoot the whole thing because it was over 72 exposures. My trusty little pen did the work. It has some interesting light leak issues. I might try taping the back and see what happens on the next roll.

For the time being I'll be mixing in pictures from that roll to all the other stuff that comes in. I still have to scan all the film so there could be some nice gems in the lot. I hope you enjoy the fire kid!

Fire Kid!

 I think I took these somewhere beneath Sapporo. That kid is very upset that he can't use fire or carry dangerous objects. I won't consider the other possibilities.

Friday, June 22, 2012


About 6 months and 17 days ago, I discussed one of my goals here.  I decided I no longer wanted to be crippled by the fact I could only read Japanese kanji but not write. Today is a good point for reflection on that goal.

At first it was very difficult to keep a regular pace because everyday I review hundreds of kanji compounds. I write almost all the reviews I look at so it takes a considerably amount of time each day. I look at the meaning in English and Japanese phonetic guide to recall and write the characters.

For example, the front side of my card displays the following:      

Washing machine - せんたくき

I then try to write the kanji for せんたくき(sentakuki).

The backside of my card looks like this:


I repeat this process over and over until I have correctly remembered and written all reviews for the day. I have grown to enjoy my kanji study time. The satisfaction of recalling characters and then writing them out is very rewarding. My writing study has helped me remember vocabulary even better.

So what is my progress after about a half year of relentless study?  I can write just about 1,000 characters. These are the 1,000 characters I have more or less mastered to this point.


I'm not just learning single characters but compounds of these. So in reality I can write some several thousand character combinations. That is the real challenge anyway. Learning these individually would not be useful because so many words are made up of 2 or more kanji. 

扇子、爆弾、驚嘆、義務、全体主義、疲労、濃霧、北極、悲観的、警察署、息吹、and on and on. You get the idea.

The outlook is good. No stopping now!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Barbecue: A Slight Disambiguation

Yesterday I finally decided to tackle my next challenge. The almighty barbecued pork shoulder. 

I'll repeat, barbecued. Not grilling. Barbecuing is an entirely different thing. The word comes from some Caribbean islanders who used it to describe their method of roasting meat.  That method was indirect cooking on wooden poles.  There was nothing about fire searing meat. It was the heat and smoke that did the cooking. In it's most original form, this is barbecue. Most think that barbecue means an outdoor party or simply grilling meat over open flames. So when I tell people I was barbecuing they get the wrong idea.  It's necessary to disambiguate the meaning. I guess I can't blame everyone entirely as barbecuing means grilling in British English and many Americans probably think the same thing.

I never really liked when people said, "Let's have a BBQ" because the food served didn't remind of a BBQ restaurant with smokey pork and beef. I always thought it was just a cook out or grilling.  I has come to mean that so I don't put up much fuss. If someone asks me I'll gladly tell them but I don't waste my breath otherwise because who really cares anyway, right? People just want to have fun and eat.

In Japan my barbecue options are rather limited. I like yakiniku just as any other bearded man but I miss the opportunities for slow cooked smokey meat.  What else to do than make it myself. I started toying with barbecue back in the early fall of last year and have learned a lot. With the addition of my 40 dollar smoker and some clever adjustments I have had great success. The last tasty morsels were 5 hour cooked spare ribs I did several weeks ago. That was so good. I felt like I was back home licking the glistening globs of sauce off the bones. The only difference is that I had the Shikoku mountains outside my house. I digress. On to the pork shoulder we go!

IMG_1774_6-16 Pork Shoulder

My work area is quite the mess of random objects. You can see my smoker unit filled and ready for hot coals. The trick is to fill it up and let the fuel light slowly during the long cook time. If you want to become a more patient person you should learn how to barbecue. It will test you. 

I estimated 9 to 10 hours cooking time for the 4 1/2 pound hunk of meat. I started at 9:05 and went right up to about 6:35PM.  9 1/2 hours was just about right. 10 hours would have been better perhaps. After that long and painful waiting game. You end up with something beautiful.

IMG_1782_6-16 Pork Shoulder

I didn't lift the lid once during that whole time to check the meat. So when I saw this I was so happy. "But it's burnt Blaine!" you probably thought. It's not burnt! That black coating is the wonderful caramelized rub that went on before cooking. That 'bark' as it's called in the BBQ world is delicious.  There is not the slightest taste of burnt flavor anywhere on this block of pork. You grab it off the grill and whisk it for the sacred moment of pulling.

IMG_1791_6-16 Pork Shoulder

Would you look at that. That's glorious. Hog heaven you might say. The meat shreds apart into long ribbons. It's juicy and moist. The smell is intoxicating. It's almost impossible to stop from sampling the meat. Holy pig!

IMG_1802_6-16 Pork Shoulder

I made a simple cole slaw and barbecue sauce to accompany the pork debauchery. I would have loved some nice kaiser rolls or buns but I'm limited on options in the countryside. White bread was good enough. Mounding the pork on the plate with a bit of sauce was excellent anyway.

IMG_1805_6-16 Pork Shoulder

This was ace. I would like to do some full spare rib racks next. If you wish to donate slabs to my cause you can get them for 2,000 yen each. I'll be waiting.

But if you can't be pressed to do that you might just have to go on the waiting list for people who want to be my friend...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Inaka Citadel

The monuments of man are sometimes never that far away no matter where you go.

Citadel Inaka

Trust me. If there hadn't been a locked gate I would have been out there. I would have been dreaming of keeping watch from my valley fortress. My personal inaka citadel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


I made simple Italian sausage yesterday for pizza.  Today was supposed to be pizza day but I got so lazy the night prior that I didn't make the dough.  It really wouldn't have been much trouble to make it but I lost all my motivation from earlier in the day.  Maybe cleaning my stairway took it out of me. I woke today with faint aspirations to put my body into physical submission. I briefly racked my memory of places and 平家平 came to mind.  Last fall, I believe, I went to that area in search of a waterfall.  I probably went about 1/4 of the way up the mountain trail until I couldn't find the waterfall nor move forward.  There was grass as tall as me blocking the path.  10 minutes prior I had almost stepped on a venomous mamushi so I wasn't going to take my chances in tall grass. I returned home that day but told myself to come back and hike to the top of the mountain. The only snakes I saw today were this kind and they are harmless. S for snake. How fitting.

IMG_1666_6-10 Heikadaira

I pulled up to the trail head area and it was littered with cars.  I wasn't quite expecting there to be an extravaganza.  I stashed the car in a little clearing and lugged my bag onto my back.  Today I was taking no chances so I brought a large brush knife with me.  That thing weighed a ton.  I'll try not to haul that up a mountain with me again.  As it turned out the trail was recently cleared so it was unnecessary. Looking back I should have put the knife somewhere along the trail so I didn't have to carry it all the way up.  Yet, I have been packing my bag heavier and carrying things I don't really need recently. It's part of my training regimen. I was huffing and puffing and decrying the steep trail portions along with my bag. A little more than half way up the trail I met the first group of hikers and sailed by.  Then not much farther ahead I met a massive group of elderly Japanese plodding up the trail. They let me by and I shared some brief words with the pack leader.  I think she tried to ask me if I had heard about the girl who died in Yellowstone the other day but her question didn't connect with my brain till I was much farther along and at the top.

IMG_1674_6-10 Heikadaira

The name of the mountain makes sense. It's very flat on this part of the mountain.  I never get tired of the grass up there. Never.

IMG_1680_6-10 Heikadaira

I wandered around the top for a few minutes and took in the views until I proceeded west. I looked out to the next peak on the ridge which was 冠. I had hiked all the way up and it was too soon to descend. Would it hurt to set out for the next peak? I lolled on the nearby rock for a bit and watched a man disappear into the shallow depths of the ridge.  I was amazed how quickly he vanished.  I decided to follow and the views looked better up there anyway.

IMG_1725_6-10 Heikadaira

The trail went up and down for what seemed like way too long. The thick grass plants obscured the trail and I slipped again and again. The flies were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Surprisingly it wasn't that annoying. I just wanted to hit the next peak though.  My water supply was running rather low and the sun was baking my skin.  It was partly cloudy at times which saved me from being too roasted.  After who knows how long and waiting for a 45 person group to pass me on the trail, I arrived.  I traversed down the backside of the peak and found a crag to sit on while I ate an apple.  I watched the clouds slowly rolling up against Sasagamine in the distance.

IMG_1734_6-10 Heikadaira

I thought about going on to the next peak but with hardly any water left I knew I would be far too tired and drained for the long trip back.  I watched a man stumble along the trail below.  I wondered where he was headed and where he had come from.  People inevitably wonder the same thing about me.  Who is this boy walking these remote hills?  Just a boy who loves the splendor of everything around him.

IMG_1705_6-10 Heikadaira

Plus, I fit the part better than anyone out there today. Enough said.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Mound

I keep returning to the same places time and time again because I tend to find new things.  The other day was no exception.  In the middle of the valley was a large rock formation. On top of that was a peculiar little assembly of stones.

Mystery Mound

I've seen lots of rock walls and other similar scenes of rocks.  I have never seen a rectangular and uniform pile of rocks in the middle of any forest in Japan however.  When my eye first caught a glimpse it was surprising and then afterward I started to feel a weird sensation.  Maybe it was just the wax build up in my ears echoing my heart beat. It was definitely mysterious in a way.  The sun had just then broken through the overcast skies and was illuminating the leaves. The strong yellow green glow was surreal.  As I inched closer it felt like I approached a sacred grove.

The Burial Grove

I got close to the mound and checked to see if I could figure out its purpose. It was extremely suspicious being in the middle of this remote valley.  As I got to the side and looked at the top, I had strange feelings.  I felt a bit scared.  But what was there to be scared of? It was just a pile of rocks or was it? Due to the omniscient aura hanging in the air I had to leave.  I may never know its purpose and I find it better to just imagine.

No More Laughter

So let the ages pass and let the metal rust.  Nobody will ever know what has been left behind.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Eerie and Maybe Odd

Why do I keep thinking its spring?  It's clearly closer to summer.  I guess the weather needs to melt my body before I feel like its summer.  The nights are rather cool still.  I can't get enough of it.  

I was able to see the Venus transit not once but three times today. No matter how blue and beautiful the morning sky is, I often have to put up with its ashen over tones by early afternoon.   Alas, I just find a forest to hide in and I won't know the difference.  I found myself back in one of my favorite areas today.  I still haven't nailed down the finite aspects of the terrain in my mind.  That was apparent when I descended too early to the bottom of the valley.  I was traversing slippery ledges and rocks when I realized where I was.  It was fine.  I love breaking a sweat and clambering over random terrain.  I'm not sure what I was hoping or expecting to find today.  Perhaps there wasn't anything of great importance other than the fact of being out.  That is usually what my excursions are about.  No purpose in particular other than to enjoy what is all around me, the things not many others seem to care much about.  I often run into locals who don't give a care about mountains or nature.  While we were desensitizing ourselves to modern cities, those individuals were doing the exact opposite.  I can't say I would turn out the same and I like to think I wouldn't.

Imagine It Anywhere

That image could have been anywhere. Sometimes being alone in the forest is creepy.  I think it's the traces and reminders of what was once there.  Sometimes it's just the completely peculiar object or thing that seems so out of place.  Glowing bark is a new one for me.

Electro Bark

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Who Notices?

It's hard to think that it's June now.  The rainy season will be upon us all.  Most people don't like the continuous rainy weather.  I surprise people when I tell them that I like it.  It's some of the most splendid sleeping weather ever.  The sound of the river murmuring outside is soothing.  The frogs and insects hum and croak.  The fresh cool air gently blows through the windows.  Even if I can't get outside during the day, I can rest easy at night knowing the simple attributes of nature are there to lull me away. 

As we grow up we probably forget to pay closer attention to everything around us. 

Everyday when I'm on my way home I make the effort to really look at everything.  Sometimes I have moments that make me very happy even in the smallest of ways. There is a small shed for baseball and other equipment outside the school.  I happened to notice earlier in the week that a small frog was hanging out in the gutter of that shed.  I thought it was strange the frog was in there.  On Friday I checked to see if it was still around.  Sure enough it was.


Even in a grimy gutter you might find something unexpected.  Always keep an eye open.