Friday, June 12, 2009

"When I saw the break of day / I wished that I could fly away."

Two more things I wanted to say about the Kamakura/Yokohama trip:

At Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, walking up the main path, I heard this sparkly sound like a cymbal. I looked around for someone playing a drum - before realizing it was one of the food stands. The man stirred with a whisk a pot full of roasting nuts. Before he gave me the little bag, he asked, "These are ginkgo nuts - is that all right?"

He was right to ask - I didn't know the kanji so I just went by the pictures on the stand, which were stylized nuts-of-some-kind. We have a number of ginkgo trees around the school, and one of the teachers - eminently frugal, as always - spent last fall gathering the nuts that fell, spreading them in a box, and letting them dry in a sunny corner. Unfortunately that corner was near my desk, and I spent a good deal of time wondering what that smell like Socks Gone Evil could be. It was a great relief when she decided they were dry enough to eat. So I can see how they'd not be to everyone's tastes enough that the seller thought to warn unsuspecting tourists. What he couldn't know was that I was paying him more for the music he was making than the nuts.

With that in mind, I wasn't expecting them to be tasty. But they're not unbearable, though not the tastiest. Slightly bitter, something like walnut. The most unusual part was the color - bright yellow-green - and the rubbery texture. Considering the enormous ancient ginkgo tree on the premises, I figured it was an appropriate place to be eating them. Japan seems to often have sights-themed-foods like that - can you imagine some of the things you'd end up eating if we followed that pattern in American tourist traps?

(On a side note - why are my hands so chubby?)


On the road up to the Daibutsu, among the souvenir and clothing there was a free trade shop that I immediately diverted into because it's so rare to see something like that in Japan. For a culture of people who are so polite and caring to others face-to-face, there is a surprising lack of regard for the unfortunate that they can't see - as opposed to America, where we make a big fuss about charity for starving children in Africa and yet are total jerks to our next-door neighbor. There's almost none of the awareness I'm used to being from Seattle. For the speech contest last year one was on Unicef, and I was amazed how oblivious the girl I was training was about the subject. It's like she had never considered that there were children in the world who didn't have the advantages she and her classmates did. And it wasn't just the nature of a fifteen-year-old, as the adult English teachers working with me had the same reactions.

So I wanted to give the free-trade store a boost since it probably didn't get much business, but it was mostly Native American trinkets that I didn't have much use for. I bought some lemon peel cookies just for the principle of it.


The next day, in Yokohama Chinatown, I past a fruit store selling fresh lychee. Lychee is one of those flavors that I've become much more fond of in this country than the last, where I only found it in gel form that I wasn't a huge fan of. Here, lychee comes in such delightful and varied forms as cough drops and cocktails. I love fruit - have I mentioned that enough? - so I will try just about any new and unusual kinds I can get my hands on. This seller was also helpful, sleeping a round disk with a whole in the middle into my bag. "You use this to open the fruit," he said, and I did the "Un," nod that Japanese people use to show they are listening, and please continue. Unfortunately this guy took it as, "I already know what you are about to tell me," and stopped explaining. So I'll never know how the disk works, but I figured out it's not hard to open them just with my fingernails either. And they're so good! Almost exactly like lychee candy except a fruit - if that makes sense. if only all fruit candies were exactly like the fruit they're supposed to be - so juicier and a natural texture.

I sliced up some and added it to watermelon - a fruit salad with half the ingredients and twice the flavor, perfect for the increasingly hot weather.


Song of the Day:

Aya Matsuura was a bubble-gum teenage idol that has thankfully matured into a lovely, elegant artist. Although I still find some of her younger performances adorable, I'm a little ashamed for enjoying them. Here she covers Norah Jones with a decently subdued accent:

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