Tofu workshop

I am so happy that I found the lovely Atelier-Cafe in Kamakura, a lovely group that offers workshops on food and culture, particularly vegan cuisine and shojin ryori.

We went along for a party-style tofu workshop, which, in a word, was excellent.

The first part of the workshop included a lecture on the tofu-making process. Tofu essentially has just three ingredients: soy beans, water, and a coagulant, usually nigari (magnesium chloride, produced from seawater). However, the variation in different types and quantities of the ingredients, as well as the temperatures and specific steps in the process lead to significant differences in the outcome.

We got to a sample a special selection of tofu from across Japan, both kinu (silken) and momen (cotton or firmer). There were two more to the right that didn’t fit in this photo—so a great variety was on offer!

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The next part of the workshop included a demonstration of tofu cuisine in action, showing unique recipes to make western-style dishes with tofu. Everything was gluten-free and vegan (no eggs or dairy), for maximum enjoyment by almost anyone (*almost*, because one dish had peanuts, and of course anyone with a soy allergy would be out of luck).

After the demonstration, we got to EAT! and discuss the awesomeness of tofu and vegan cooking. The photo below shows the spread.

The top left of the table has “crisps” made from abura-age (fried tofu sheets) and tofu-hummus, made only from tofu, tahini, and spices (and it totally tasted like hummus).

The back middle is the most impressive dish, which was like a Spanish omelette, with potatoes, onions, tofu, soy milk, rice flour, and spices. Gorgeous, and so tasty.

The back right isn’t very visible, but it was a lovely Thai-inspired salad with red onions, cucumbers, and atsuage-tofu (tofu fried around the edges) with a gentle chili sauce and peanuts.

The dish being laid out at the right of the photo is a feta and olive salad, except that the feta is tofu (momen-dofu) that was prepared by sprinkling salt, and then dressed with herbs, olive oil, and olives.

At the front is the “sandwich” station, with sandwich pockets made from fried tofu sheets, veggies, rice, and “egg salad” made with cumin, tofu, and dill (and probably some other stuff, but I forget).

There was also a black sesame mousse-like dessert (ok, I had two) and baked wafers made from okara (the fluffy tofu matter leftover from the tofu-making process).

The food was all amazingly delicious. And the learning aspect was also great, both in terms of traditional processes as well as versatile recipes and conversations about good food (ethically and nutritionally). Atelier-Cafe, I will be back for more.

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The Shindo scale

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I’ve felt three earthquakes over the last few days, as shown on the alerts on my phone. They were minor occurrences for Japan, but even though I know how common quakes are here, my heart always starts pounding like crazy and my only thought is instinctive panic when I feel a tremor.

But for those who are interested in earthquakes more objectively and scientifically, you might be interested to know about the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale, which uses a unit called shindo to measure the intensity of an earthquake. It’s different from the Richter scale, because it represents what an earthquake feels like to people on the ground, which, let’s be honest, is what we really care about.

A table from the meteorological agency explains the experience of an earthquake with examples from a human perspective as well as for structures (and I admit that it’s pretty scary). The shindo 4 earthquakes this week (which fortunately were not that close to me and therefore felt less intense) had the following effect indoors: “Hanging objects such as lamps swing significantly, and dishes in cupboards rattle. Unstable ornaments may fall.”

The screenshot below shows alerts I received after the terrifying succession of earthquakes in Kumamoto a few months back. From bottom to top, my phone shows an alert for a low shindo 6, a tsunami warning, two high shindo 5s, a high shindo 6, and then a low shindo 5. To paraphrase, people have trouble standing during a high shindo 6, buildings can collapse, and everything falls over.  The Great East Japan earthquake in 2011 was a shindo 7 at the epicentre. Um, in case you were wondering.

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Local ward mascots

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Mascots are a really big deal in Japan. I can really think of any organizations or entities that don’t have one.

I spotted this charming poster in a local government office that features the mascots of the wards of Yokohama (think boroughs or arrondissements). My ward is the saxophone-playing seagull, スウィンギー (Swingy). You can read all about Yokohama’s ward mascots here.

Weather warnings

Recent warnings received on the alerts and emergencies app on my phone. I took the screenshot before today’s earthquake (a very minor one).

Have a guess as to what they mean! (Answers below)

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The place name appears underneath, i.e., the prefecture, city, and ward if applicable.

Approximate meanings

  1. Evacuate because of flood danger
  2. Landslide danger
  3. Severe weather warning (heavy rain)
  4. Rain advisory (less severe than warning)

Temperature complaints

Having lived in a few different climates, I can’t help but roll my eyes, just a tiny bit, whenever I hear weather complaints. Here’s a bit of myth-busting and clarification to consider next time you want to complain about the weather.

Quick myth busting:

To the Canadians: yes, it gets uncomfortably coldish in Australia in winter.

To the Australians: yes, it gets uncomfortably hotish in Canada in summer.

To the Coloradans (of the Front Range): yes, it’s totally true that you have the most freakishly changeable weather, but this also means that you have the best weather. Only occasionally too hot, only occasionally too cold, loads of sun, and rarely humid. So no complaining allowed.

It’s all relative:

It’s so adorable when Perth residents freak out when it’s 0 degrees (32 F). To be fair, when you don’t have proper winter clothes nor central heating (or any heating, in many cases), 0 degrees is pretty darn chilly. I definitely felt very uncomfortable during winter there. BUT after my time in Montreal, I don’t consider it “cold” unless it’s under -15, and even then, I know that’s not cold by northern or prairie standards.

Poor Quebecois start moaning and cranking up the air conditioning when it’s 25 degrees (77 F). True, Montreal summers are pretty humid and hot, but the warmth only lasts for like 2 weeks max. Of the places I’ve lived, Montreal gets the worst marks for blatant air conditioner abuse. You won’t melt, people, I promise. If you want to experience real heat, go almost anywhere else, such as Western Australia when the sun sears down on you mercilessly as the temperature makes it’s way upwards of 40.

Japan:

My very limited anecdotal observation is that North Americans often tend to think of Japan as a hot place (I guess they think of tropical Okinawa?), and Australians think of it as a cold place (they think of skiing). In fact, Japan goes full out with all four seasons. Of course it also covers several climate zones for such a small country, ranging from the three snowiest cities in the world (i.e., among those with over 100,000 people) to the aforementioned tropics.

I’m crazy, I know, but I’m enjoying my first Japanese summer so far. The temperature itself looks pleasant, for example 30 degrees today (86 F). But the humidity is 90%. So that makes it feel like 41 degrees (105 F). Tomorrow’s forecast is 32 with 80% humidity, so it will feel like 45 (113 F). Nice.

For reference:

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Summer in the city

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I’ve just returned from visiting my family for a couple of weeks, and I found it rather difficult to answer the oft-asked questions “what’s it like to live in Japan” and “what do you like about living in Japan”? I didn’t have a concise answer prepared, but I will try to write more here to get to the heart of it.

In the last two weeks, the weather has progressed much deeper into summer, and now I finally get to experience the sticky season that everyone has been warning me about. I visited a dry climate, so the contrast is stark returning to 30 degrees (mid-80s F) with 80-90% humidity. I know it’s weird, but I like to feel warm and slightly sweaty; that probably has to do with my bad circulation which makes my hands, feet, and nose turn strange colours when I’m cold.

Being away from a place for a little while is great for enhancing your perceptions when you return, and I’ve been enjoying the discovery or rediscovery of various sights and sounds, such as the iconic cicadas in one of the parks where I often walk:

(Depending on the quality of your speakers and/or hearing abilities, this may just sound like static, or nothing, but trust me, I captured the relentless chirpy hum of cicadas!)

The sense of place that I notice the most is smells, but alas (or perhaps fortunately) I haven’t invented scent-blogging yet, so I’ll have to resort to words. I visited a land of mostly clear air with lightly scented pines, but in contrast, in the parks in Yokohama, there are so many smells of wet earth and every shade of green and flowers and ocean. The different scents stand out in turn as the slight breeze shifts or the rain starts to fall, but they all speak of warmth and life.

Long story short, I love summer: in dry climates and so far, in humid ones, too.