The Mists of Spring

After eating my big breakfast and doing some schoolwork/studying I decided to go for a walk. My host brothers were both working and my host mother had to work until the afternoon and the weather was really nice so I didn’t really want to stay in. Also I hadn’t really explored the place I was now living in yet. It was time to explore. I had seen a park some way away while driving past, so I headed in that direction. When I found the park I found out that that it was a treasure forest and spa reasort park, so getting in cost money. It turned out that I was quite lucky. As Golden Week was almost upon us I got in for free. There was an onsen there, that I didn’t go to but I did walk around the forest and along the river. It was beautiful and peaceful with only the birds, bugs and snakes as my company. I ended up walking around for two hours. I got my first sunburn that day, the sun being so much stronger here than in Finland.

Once my host mother was free we headed down to see the Hinamatsuri dolls. Hina-matsuri is girls day and usually on this day you take out this collection of dolls, that you put on display for all to see. There are different types of dolls on a platform covered in red. The dolls represent the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians. They are all wearing traditional clothes. P_20160416_155802

I saw some of the oldest Hina-matsuri dolls dating back to the 1700s. Many of the dolls were very beautiful with such small details. but there were even some really scary dolls. My work mates think that the western dolls are scary..

We popped over to a Herb Garden before coming home.There was a foot onsen there! My first taste of an onsen was fabulous with the warm water around my feet and a cool lavender soft ice-cream to eat. A little bit of heaven.

Before I came to Japan I went over to England for a few weeks. There I went to a museum with a friend of mine where we saw these wheelchairs that not only moved on their own but also wrote little notes that they then dropped onto the floor. One of them wrote “Over Asia – to the mists of Spring” This note my friend picked up. The one that I picked up read “ With tulips to the point of Terror” And this place had tulips to the point of terror. So many, all blooming in their different colours. The wheelchair could see into the future, or then it was just a bizarre coincidence…. but then I don’t really believe in coincidences. Everything happens for a reason… 

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Anyhow… the Herb Garden was beautiful with its massive carp in its pond and the flowers blooming like there was no tommorrow. I had A wonderful day though I turned red at the end of it. On Sunday I went out and bought some suntan lotion. + 50. That sould keep me from burning. ˆˆ

Kappabashi

Like I told you before, today is the day that we are going to Tokyo. I had to get up earlier than usual because my ride would be outside waiting to pick me up at 7.30. It would take around three hours to get to Tokyo and before that we had people to pick up. There were seven of us that went. We were going to a foodfair.

The trip there was fun. Once again I watched the scenery fly past this time the mountains and forests slowly growing smaller and turning into houses that soon towered over us. I saw some of the familiar buildings of Shinjuku. I saw the great Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree (picture below) and lots more.P_20160415_124913

The exhibition that we went to was called Tokyo Foodex Japan 2016 in a place called Makuhari Messe.It took us some time to find a place to park the car as there were so many people going to the same place as us.P_20160429_192138

I was given my own business cards. I couldn’t believe it. They really like using them in Japan, always giving them to new people that they meet. The card had my name and place that I work on it and I needed them to get inside. AS you can see it very clearly says Tarja Helen Airaksinen. 

There were so many people and so much to see. For some reason or other, taking photos was not allowed. They had food to taste, the machines that made the food on show, the packages that they wrapped the food in and lots more. It was amazing. There was so much that I would have wanted to buy and take back to Finland with me. It was a bit like the book fair with the Food and wine that we have back in Finland, but this one had so much more.images

We were given some free time to roam around before meeting up again. I want wandering off with a co-worker called Aihara Karin. We went off in search of wagashi but it took us a long time to find any and when we did I must say that it was worth the search. We also found some crushed ice that I have long wanted to try. Crushed ice with some flavoured sauce on it.  My ice was strawberry flavoured.

After looking around we went of in search of a place to eat, after which we went to a place called Kappabashi where they have lots of small shops that sell baking equipment. Had I known I would have brought some money with me so that I could have bought something. I really want to buy one of the branding tools so that I could start branding the cakes and bread that I make when I get back home. What bad luck.P_20160415_152025

Me and my co-worker Aihara-san with the Kappa.

We wondered around for a few hours some of us finding things to buy. We even saw  some Moomin mugs. Not the same ones that we have in Finland but they were cute enough. After we had gone through all the shops we decided that it was time to head back to Hokutoshi. Once again the trip back was fun and relaxing. The sun seems to set really early here and I don’t think that it get any lighter in the Summer, so by the time we got back it was pitch black even though it wasn’t even nine o’clock.

Here fully ended my first week in Japan and at work. Japan is an amazing country and I haven’t really had time to feel homesick. I actually feel quite at home here with the mountains and forests around me. This week has gone by really fast and I wish that time would slow down a bit. 

Kamome shokudou

I started my day with making dorayaki. These ones were a bit different to the previous ones. These didn’t have any brown sugar in them so that the mixture when cooked didn’t get any stripes. There are quite a few different dorayakis but they are all called dorayaki no matter what the filling is. There is also one that has a sakura anko paste filling. And that is good. So good.

These dorayakis were filled with the same soft anko paste but you add a horsechestnut to it instead of the butter. These also had to be a certain weight and you had to cover the horsechestnut with the paste so that it didn’t slip out from between.

Often while I was filling the dorayaki I was called to look at the mochigome being made. Mochigome is the rice topping for mochi. The rice is cooked normally in a ricecooker from which it is then moved to this machine that squished it together. This is done three times. It becomes smooth and squishy.  

When the mochigome was ready I went down to help them make kashiwamochi. Kashiwamochi is only made at this time of year. It’s made to celebrate the kodomo no hi which translates as children’s day. The truth is that this day is not really children’s day but boy’s day. This day is on May 5th. The girls have their own day in March. The entire week leading up to the boy’s day is known as Golden Week. Golden Week is a national holiday in Japan during which certain wagashi is eaten for example Kashiwamochi and Koinobori.

The Kashiwamochi is made by this cool machine. In one slot you put the filling: A hardish anko paste, and in the other slot you put the topping: mochigome. The machine then wraps the mochigome around the anko paste and it comes out in perfect dumpling looking balls.20160428_140436

The cool machine with my co-worker Aihara-san. I’m so going to sneek this machine home with me. It’s so cool!!

These balls are then pressed gently into shell looking shapes. Thin at one end and think at the other. This we did by hand. And there was a lot to do. We ended up doing around a thousand. It took me awhile to get the hang of it but luckily there was so many I got enough practice. And the others were patient and very helpful.

The Kashiwamochi is then wrapped into a kashiwa-tree leaf (thus the name). The kashiwa-tree is also known as the Japanese Emperor oak. Once wrapped the Kashiwamochi is ready.20160425_080056

We then finished off with wrapping the dorayaki and tidying the place up. Friday we wouldn’t be coming to work. We were going to go on a road trip to Tokyo. So my work here for the week was done. I must say that I had a lot of fun the entire week and I learned a lot. I have lots to still learn.

I was invited to watch Kamome shokudou at Ishi-sans house. A Japanese film that is filmed in Finland. In Finnish the film is called Ruokala Lokki. I’ve long wanted to watch this film and it seemed really fitting that I would watch it here. It was a really good film and I enjoyed the company.

The Inaka Manju

I was quickly getting used to the place and the people working here. Kira-san wasn’t at work today so I followed another co-worker Ishio-sa around and did what she told me to. First we started with the anko paste balls that I had made the previous day. We put a manjuu paste around it. Ishio-san made it look so easy,but in truth it was really quite hard. With one hand you push the anko paste down and with the other you push the manjuu paste up so that it slowly covers the bean paste. You need to make sure that you don’t make the manjuu ath the bottom too thin. It doesn’t need to cover it evenly. When most of the anko paste has been covered about half way you quickly, or in my case, very slowly start to close the anko paste in by pushing the sides together. When you have a smallish hole left you use your thumbs to pinch it shut. The end result looks like a white ball with some red trying to push out. Ater they are all covered they are steamed for around ten minutes after which they are left to cool down and dry.   Thus the inaka manju is ready.images

Once that was done I helped Sasamoto-san with making the dango- sauce. I triedThe sauce has sugar, potato starch, syrup, soy sauce and water that has had a kind of seaweed boiled in it. First you mix the sugar and potato starch together in one bowl. in another you mix the syrup, soy sauce and water together. Once the syrup has dissolved into the mix you add the sauce to the sugar mix. You mix it well and then move it to the stove and bring to boil while all the time mixing. When it’s thick and boiling the sauce is ready. You then dip the dangos into the sauce and put them into their cases. Then all is done.images

The dangos are made the previous day. It’s made out of riceflour and water that is just mixed really well together. They mixture is then weighed out into 35g peaces and rolled as round as possible. They are then left over night. Before coating, they are cooked on both sides until a nice crispy looking brown.

I then went with another co-worker to watch her make koiyaki. It’s a long pancake like wagashi that is filled with a bean paste that is then folded. Once it is folded you use hot iron to burn marks into it. the end result looks like a fish. A koi ( a carp).

The rest of the day went with wrapping those items that had been made. Theyhave a very special way of wrapping everything. Everything must be just right.Every sticker in the right place, every bend the same lenght. It’s all very precise

Hanami ˆˆ

I must say that the start of the day sure woke me up. I got to work to find the gate to the garden was closed. Just as I had worked up the courage to open the gate it opened! The scare that I got was so big that I jumped back and let out a small squeak. Kira-san was behind the door laughing at me. I’ve always thought that I jump way too easily and just to prove it later that day I jumped at the toilet lid moving by itself and then flushing by itself. What is it with Japanese toilets….?

We started the day by popping into the room where they make anko. The red azuki beans are soaked in water overnight so that small red beans grow to three times their original size. After that you take as much water out as possible and add around 40 kg of sugar. Then you let it turn in the big bowl for around two hours while steaming the bowl at the same time.

I then went to help finish packing the previous days kasutera. After that was done I went to help with making, filling and wrapping the dorayaki. They name it dorayaki because it looks like a tiger and in Japanese tora means tiger and the dorayaki that we did had stripes like a tiger.20160412_161048

The dorayakis are filled with a soft anko paste and butter. 40g of the anko paste filling after which the top is put on and pressed gently down. They are then packed into their small bags with the stripes going to the side. They are very precise with everything that they do which I really like.

At 12 o’clock we stopped work, changed clothes, took a whole load of food Yamaguchi had made and went of for a picnic. It was a welcome party for me and a hanami at the same time.a hanami is a party celebrating flowers. We were really lucky with the weather; the sun shone with a small wind to cool us down. We had soup, sushi, tempura and onigiris with a little bit of chocolate cake for pudding. It was beautiful and the company was great.

Coming back I went to continue my work with the dorayakis. We ended up making over a thousand in the end and I didn’t eat any though I wanted to many times.1461396766741

Me working on the dorayakis…. You can hardly see my face, but you can see everyone elses. They say it’s because I have such a small face..     Once all the dorayakis were filled and packed and the place cleaned I went back to the main building to help out. There I weighed a harder anko paste that I then rolled into balls. They weighed 33g. They would be the filling of a manjuu made the next day. After all the work was done we cleaned up and finished work. Another fun day over.

My first day at Kinseiken

I don’t think I have ever been so nervous as I was when I went to work this morning. But I was also so excited. My host mother and brother watched me leave and wished me good luck. I quickly popped over to the shop to buy my lunch; a traditional onigiri (riceball). Walking towards work I could see my host mother on the roof waving goodbye. Seeing her made me relax a bit.

Kira-san was waiting for me at the door. Wishing each other good morning I headed to the changing room to change my clothes. A white cooks jacket and a white hat to cover all my hair. Once changed he showed me where my time card was and then introduced me to my other co-workers. We didn’t stay there for long. My first day was a orientation day so we jumped into the car and headed to Kinseikens second base for a meeting. During the car trip we played a word game in Japanese where you have to start your word with the previous words ending. That was a lot if fun and I learned some new words.

The second base looked more like a factory and according to Kira-san it only packaged the products from other bases. Here I once again introduced myself to everyone before continuing the orientation.

The next place where we went only made one product; shingen mochi.

We quickly stopped by at the main Kinseiken branch where I would come to work. There I watched them make kasutera what looks a little like a sponge cake. Once Kira-san had what we needed we were off again. This time we went to a park with some stalls. We went to the Jindai Sakura the oldest and biggest living sakura. I must say, it was amazing.1461396755394

After walking around for a bit we returned and the orientation was over. I was then allowed to help with kasutera. As we came so late it was mostly getting the kasutera ready for packing. You had to be really gentle with them and pick all black bits off. I quickly got the hang of it. After lunch I was allowed to help with making Dorayaki which is pancake like and filled with anko paste. It has egg, brown sugar, sake, honey, water and flour. The egg and sugar are beaten together. You then add the honey and the sake and mix it again after which you add the flour. This you mix until there are no lumps of flour left. Then you let it rest overnight.

Then it was back to the kasutera. After all were packed it was time to clean the place up.

The day ended up going really fast and I had lots of fun. Everyone were really kind and helpful. They tried their best with English and I tried my best in Japanese, and somehow we understood each other. I couldn’t wait for the next day.

I was really tired when I got home. Luckily there was a nice hot bath waiting for me after which we went out to eat Ramen with my host family.

A new day, A new adventure

We left the hotel early in the morning hoping to buy our breakfast before the train left. Thanks to all the walking that we had done the previous day we knew our way to the trainstation well. We got there without any trouble. The only time consuming thing that happened was looking for the platform that our train went from, and in the end it turned out to be really close to the entrance. There wasn’t any lift so we had to drag our bags up the stairs. Once at the top we were finally able to relax. Some of us when of to buy breakfast for everyone and then it was onto the train and wave goodbye to Tokyo. Our time in Tokyo was way too short, but it was time for us head out to our new destination; Kofu.20160409_101836

The traintrip lasted about an hour and a half. I watched the tall building of Tokyo slowly grow smaller and trun into woods and mountains. Soon we left the big city behind and before us the countryside was wating for us. It was breathtaking. Sadly I didn’t sit next to the window and the person next to me blocked any chance of pictures.

When we finaly came to a stop at Kofu we were all starting to feel nerveus again. We would soon be saying goodbye to one another. It’s funny how close you can get after such a small time.

There was a warm welcome waiting for us. Our host families had come to meet us and there was food and drinks for us too. After a round of introductions, food, drink and small chat it was time to say goodbye, go our seperate ways and start our own adventures.

I went off with my host mother and Kinseiken boss Kira-san. It took us about an hour to drive to the town of Hokuto which is a very small town that is surrounded by mountains. Amazing!!!!

The first thing that I did when getting to Hokutoshi was go and see my new work place with Kira-san and try this anko paste I have heard so much about.20160418_074311Here I was given a dorayaki. It’s pancake like wagashi with azukibean paste, know as anko, in it. And it was GOOD. So good. Kira- san was so happy and relieved when I told him that. They all were afraid that I wouldn’t like it. The previous student that they had had hadn’t liked it.

Kira-san then showed me around. There was no one making anything as it was a Saturday. It was a big place with many rooms. Once he had shown me around, we walked to the shop from where I could buy my lunch after which we walked back to the Tsuruya Ryokan. There I said goodbye to Kira-san and I was showed to my room.

The place that I am staying at is a Japanese styled hotel; the Tsuruya Ryokan. My room is had a tatami mat and I sleep on a futon on the foor. Yay!P_20160409_173500

In the evening I met one of my new host brothers and we went out and had some really good sushi. I was really tired when we got back, but I couldn’t help being excited about Monday, my first day at work. But first I got to try the futon out. ˆˆ

Yookoso Nihon e

Who would have thought that it would take me almost ten years to get to the land that I have always dreamed about. The knowledge that I was really going hit me while I was sitting wating for them to start bording the plane on Thursday the 8th of April from Helsinki-Vantaa to Narita.

There were six of us going to Yamanashi-prefecture. Some of us knew someone or other, but others knew no one. I was one of the later. Sitting waiting for the plane I decided to look for lost looking students and quite soon I found three of the five. The other two we found once we landed in Japan. The two important things we had in common were that we all were going to study in the Yamanashi-prefecture and None of us had been to Japan before.

The fight over was the longest flight I have ever been on and it only took 9 and a half hours. None of us slept much during that flight.

We landed in Japan at 8.55 on Friday morning. Landing was really exciting. We could see the sakura (cherry blossoms) out of the window and oooh how beautiful it was. I must have looked like a child at Christmas as the person next to me asked “Is it your first time in Japan?”

The bus trip from Narita-airport took about two hours. during that time we saw lots. One of the most beautiful sights was a park full of sakura:

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Sadly the truck was quicker than I was….

I felt so small when we arrived in Shinjuku Tokyo. All the buildings towered over us. Looking for the hotel took some time but we made it! No one felt tired so we did what anyone would do: we went exploring! We went to Shibuya and saw the Hachiko statue. We ate Takoyaki ❤

We also noticed that the later it got the more people there were.

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The entire day was amazing. We walked around until around 22.30 local time and then decided to head back to the hotel to sleep. As I told you before we had hardly slept and we had an early start the next day: The train trip to Kofu, Yamanashi and new adventures. ^^