Friday, July 13, 2012

The Miyajima O-Torii and Itsukushima Shrine

A sign in a restaurant showing the times of the tides.  Depending on when you go, you can walk out to giant torii, or see it "floating".
This was major.  I had looking forward to visiting this shrine and seeing the giant “floating” torii since we moved to Japan two years ago.

So imagine my disappointment when this is what we saw:

What rotten luck! 

It turns out, that just a week or so prior to our visit a tremendous wind storm tore through Miyajima and severely damaged the Torii.  残念!This is what we should have seen.  Though disappointed, we visited the shrine and walked as far out to the Torii as the tide came in. 

Itsukushima Shrine is a stunningly beautiful shrine with a fascinating history.  I strongly recommend anyone visiting Japan to spend a day on Miyajima. 

This summer we will be studying Japanese for the entire month of August in Aichi Prefecture.  This is significantly closer to Hiroshima and Miyajima than Saitama Prefecture, where we live.  Perhaps we’ll take a break from studying and go back to the island to see the Torii.  This time without a cover. 
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Miyajima-The Daishoin Temple

The end of our hike down the Mt. Misen.
Hot and tired from our two hour hike down Mt. Misen, we quickly zeroed in on the only restaurant in sight.  When we finished powering-up on delicious unagi, we made our way across the street to explore the Daishoin Temple. 

A sign depicting the layout of the Daishoin Temple.

During our two years (so far) in Japan, I have seen quite a few temples.  This one turned out to be one of my favorites.  We were fortunate to be there during the spring when the flowers and trees were blooming.  The colors were vibrant and beautiful. 

The main temple.
Beautiful Buddhas.
This room was undeneath one of the smaller buildings.  People spin the little balls and put coins in front of the god or goddess to whom they are praying.  It smelled amazing in there-incense was continually burning. 
My favorite building.  So beautiful!
A pathway through the complex.
A beautiful pond.  You can't see here, but koi are swimming in the pond.
As you walk upwards, you spin the rollers.  I think prayers are written on them.
The sign as you leave the temple.

Though I love reading and learning about the history of the temples and shrines I visit, I have a difficult enough time just remembering their names.  I almost never remember any information about them. 

In some (many, actually)  cases it is very difficult to learn anything as most of the signs are in Japanese only.  Though my Japanese skills have significantly improved over the past two years, the kanji characters (the ones from China) continue to prove a constant challenge. 

Luckily, at this temple there was an English pamphlet full of interesting information.  If you are unable to find an English speaking guide (there are a surprising number of volunteer English speaking guides at popular tourist locations throughout Japan) look around for English pamphlets.  They might be there. 

Our day on Miyajima was coming to an end….but we still had an extremely famous cultural icon to visit. 
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Sometimes, you just need some sweetness in your life.

Every once in a while, throw caution to the wind. 

I have been doing so well lately eating well and living an active lifestyle.  (I have lost twenty pounds over the past eight months!)  I feel amazing. 

But here’s the thing-I love baking sweets.  LOVE it.

But I refuse to gain weight and eat an unbalanced diet.  Again.  (I am soooo over that phase.)

So, I have come up with the perfect solution for still occasionally getting away with eating not so healthy (but incredibly delicious) food:  Host parties.

Karl and I live in “the inaka” (Japanese countryside)  and most of our friends have a ways to travel when they visit.  Because of this, we usually end up with overnight guests.  I have no problem with this.  When I have a bunch of friends over to share with, I can get away with baking a pie, or cookies, or…

…this delicious bread.  Ever since I saw this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, Joy the Baker, I have been mentally drooling. 

Finally, last month, I tried it.  Three weekends in a row.  It really makes for a perfect weekend breakfast.  Especially the morning after a party when you have friends with whom to share it.  


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Monday, July 9, 2012

Yamasa: Take 2

Here’s a question:  Am I the only one who feels that no matter how much I study and practice a new language, I just will never learn enough?

When we moved to Japan two years ago (I know, right!?  Two years already!), I knew next to no Japanese at all. 

That was daunting.  I feel slightly less daunted now…but it took basically the full two years to reach this point. 


Last year we invested two weeks of our extremely hot and sweaty summer to studying Japanese at this wonderful place called the Yamasa Institute.  Though I feel my Japanese skills significantly improved during our two weeks stay, I found myself wishing I could stay much longer. I felt (and still feel) that I had just barely scratched the surface of understanding. 

Yamasa is a language school specifically designed for foreigners to come to Japan and study Japanese.  A variety of courses are offered.  We did the SILAC program last year and are signed up for it again this year.  All courses offered are intense immersion classes-almost no English (or any other language) is spoken. 

Besides the primary classes, private and smaller classes are also offered.  This year in addition to the SILAC course-which is around 23 class periods per week-we are signed up for  three CALL seminar classes per week.  Also, instead of staying in the dorms or apartments, we have signed up for a homestay.

I am hoping that with all of the classes, the homestay, and the studying, that my Japanese will significantly level-up during our four week stay. 

It’s time to get my Japanese game on! 

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Party for a Cause

What do you want for your birthday?

The question that, when asked of my husband, never yields a simple answer.   He is one of those people that is just difficult to buy for…he never wants anything. 

But why should I complain about that?  I will instead count my blessings and tell you about what I did for him as a birthday gift. 

Remember back a few months when I was talking a whole lot about our trip to India?  Well that trip left a huge impression on us.  We often think about the people we helped and want to continue helping them.

So, I threw a party.  For Karl.  It was an Indian themed extravaganza.  All of the donations we collected are being sent over to Chevuru to help buy materials so that they may continue building homes.

I threw a similar party last December before leaving as a fundraiser.  It was extremely successful.  So why not do it again, and make it a birthday party?  

Here is what I made:

1)    Saag Paneer-This was a first for me-making cheese!  I was puzzled though, because the finished paneer had virtually no flavor.  It also completely fell apart and basically became a very thick cream when I stirred it into the saag.  But every cloud has it’s silver lining-even though this dish (my ‘experiment’ dish) turned out nothing like I thought it would, it was the favorite!

2)    Butter Chicken-Butter chicken is delicious because, well, it has an obscene amount of butter in it.  I made this for the last Indian themed party I threw and it was a major hit. 

3)    Dahl Mahkhani-The world of dahl in Indian cuisine is positively daunting.  When we were at a restuarant in Agra, India, I took a chance ordering something I had never heard of before on the menu.  It happened to be dahl makhani, now one of my all-time favorite Indian foods.

Find the Dahl Mahkani recipe here.

4)    Chicken Tikka- If only I had a big enough grill on which to cook these!  I opted for the baking method this time, which turned out well.

5)    Saffron Biryani Rice- There is nothing particularly special about the preparation method for this rice.  I used some spices we bought in India, stirred them around in the rice and water before cooking them.  Unfortunately I do not have basmati or jasmine rice, but sushi rice works in a pinch.

6)    Naan-By far one of my most favorite things to make, regardless of the cuisine.  Who doesn’t like bread fried in butter?

I have used this recipe multiple times and it hasn’t failed me yet!  Find the recipe here

To bring the whole Indian theme together, Karl, a friend who also went to India on our trip, and I all dressed in our traditional Indian outfits.  Our friend was also kind enough to offer her services drawing henna onto peoples feet and hands.  

In India on New Year's Day.

Our friends who came to the party donated generously.  We will be donating $500 USD to Chevuru as a result of the party.  This was the only present Karl wanted…to help those less fortunate then us.  (This is partly why I love him so much!)

Happy Birthday, Karl!

Note: If you would also like to help the small village of Chevuru, India build sound homes.  Please visit this website.  Go Longitude is an organization that partners with Ravie Kumar and his team the Association ofRelief Volunteers (ARV).  They do amazing things.  Check them out!
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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Miyajima Part 1: Mt. Misen

Just 30 minutes from Hiroshima by train, there is a famous island.  It’s name is Miyajima-宮島。 It is a popular day trip destination from Hiroshima. 

Though a small island, there is still lots to see and do.

We started the day on Miyajima with a ride on the rope-way to the top of Mt. Misen-the highest mountain on the island.  Mt. Misen is part of Seto Inland Sea National Park.

After waiting in-line for about an hour, we were on our way up the mountain.  The view was amazing.  Fortunately for us, it was a gorgeous day.  The sea reflected the stunning blue of the sky. 

At the top of the rope-way, we still had about a half-hour hike to get to the top of the mountain.  We took a little break when we reached the temples.  A word to the wise-make sure to bring your own water on this hike.  They sell water a the top, but be willing to pay extra for it. 

The building on the right houses the Eternal Fire, which has been burning for 1160 years.  That's  a long time.  The Peace Flame (number 18 on the map shown on the link) in Hiroshima's Peace Park was lit from this Eternal Flame.
Bad fortunes received in the temple are folded up and left behind. If you receive a good fortune, you take it with you.
 After just a little more hiking, we finally reached the top.  We soaked in the view and had a snack of ice cream (that was for sale at the top) before beginning our long hike descending the mountain. 

View from the top of the mountain.  The panoramic photo on top of this blog is also taken from this place.

Next stop, a temple and a shrine. 

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