Monday, December 18, 2006

Temporarily leaving the blogosphere

This is just a quick little post to let you know that we won't be around for a few weeks as we're going to Hawaii. I can hardly curtail my excitement. We have lots of fun things planned like cycling 38 miles down a volvano (you only have to pedal the last 400 yards!), taking a rafting tour of the Napali coast where Jurassic Park was filmed, snorkelling, horseriding and generally having lots of fun.We hope to return in one piece although I am a little worried about the man who got his hand bitten off by a shark in Maui in September - I think the baking, blogging and photography skills would be seriously hampered if that happened to me. Hopefully I'll be alright and return with plenty of pictures and tales from our adventure.

We took a brief interlude from the packing and whizzed down to Peace Boulevard this evening to snap some pictures of the fantastic illuminations on display. In true Japan style there are many wild and wacky creations but they look wonderful. Unfortunately, I didn't get great pictures due the fear of being run over by a cyclist if I stood in the same spot too long. Cycling in this country should be called an extreme sport. Anyway, the packing awaits me.

Lots of love, Martin and Therese,xx

PS. I hope you all get very merry and eat plenty over the next couple of weeks!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just another ordinary day

Well I thought I'd better move on from the embarrassing discovery that my musical taste matches that of a NASCAR driver - Martin reckons it was all the Dixie Chicks and Gretchen Wilson CDs in my collection that did it. Not much happened today, we both got our haircut (not matching), went to the swimming pool (where I momentarily popped out of my tankini), cycled to the supermarket, then snuggled up on the sofa with a bar of Dairy Milk and watched ET in the afternoon. At the moment Martin is busy in the kitchen making some homemade burgers and wedges for dinner. So there you have it, just another ordinary but cosy Sunday in the McCloskey house. Now I must scadaddle as dinner is ready.
Love until I have something more interesting to post,

PS. The picture above shows the spider sculpture "Maman" by Louise Bourgeois outside of the Mori Tower, Roppongi Hills. There is also a copy outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fish tales

Every morning at the crack of dawn Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is alive with the noise of trucks ferrying boxes of fish around, fishmongers wielding knives like Samurai warriors and auctions selling Tuna valued at £5,000 per fish! One of the world's biggest fish markets, 2,300 tonnes of fish pass through Tsukiji every day and you'll be able to find salmon from as far away as Santiago, eels from Taiwan and crab from Brazil. The auctions start at 5 in the morning for the wholesalers and at 7am the restaurateurs of Tokyo arrive for their pick of the day. Most of the action is over by 8 so you have to get there early. Although we had been shakin' our stuff to U2 only a few hours earlier we still got up at 6 to see all this madness - the things we do in the name of food!

You can choose from over 400 different kinds of fish.

The tuna fish are frozen solid and look like shining silver torpedoes ready for action. At £5,000 per fish the bounty on the trailer below must be worth around £35,000!

The poor man operating the ice machine spent all morning lifting huge blocks of ice onto the conveyer belt, he wasn't even wearing gloves.

The market covers 56 acres of land so there are plenty of fish stalls to peruse...and plenty of ice to slip on too! I slipped once and almost fell straight into the path of oncoming forklift, from then on I held on tight to Martin.

Some of the fish were so fresh they were still moving. I got a bit of a shock as I walked by the squid and it was still moving around!

Outside the market there are lots of wonderful stalls selling some of the freshest sashimi and sushi in the world. Many commuters stop off on their way to work for a breakfast of fish and noodles. Apparently, the tuna sashimi is melt in your mouth good.

If you go to Tokyo you must visit this place but watch out for the men driving the forklifts - they're more concerned about the fish on the back than the people in front!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lambs and legs

While waiting for dinner the other night I said to Martin,

"I'm so hungry I could eat the lamb off the leg of God."

Martin said I was wrong and claims that it should be,

"I'm so hungry I could eat the leg of the Lamb of God."

Can anyone clear up this trivial misunderstanding?!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Place Thursday:Tokyo Food Town

If you want to open a restaurant this is the place to go. There are streets upon streets of shops where you can buy sinks, plastic food,big knives, tills and menu signs. It's amazing. I bought a quiche tin, bun tin, mini muffin tin, a loaf tin, scone cutters and a glass cake stand all for under 15 pounds. Martin bought a plastic piece of brie which also doubles as a fridge magnet. (We are not opening an restaurant but I do like to bake. I also like quirky tourist attractions.) Everytime we walked past a shop full of empty display units I thought the shop must have just closed down. Then I realised that the shop was actually selling display units!

Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures, I had to be conspicuous as the shop owners get a little fed up with all the gaijin laughing and taking pictures of plastic pizzas and fake fish.

(Note how the forks are suspended in mid-air. I love it.)

Plastic food is a big deal in Japan. There were several shops in the area selling the stuff and it is really expensive, this is largely due to the fact that it is handmade and painted. Outside of restaurants there will usually be an arrangement of plastic food matching that written on the menu. When the food arrives at your table it is identical to the plastic food on display outside. I have always wondered whether the real food is modelled on the plastic food or vice versa.

The noodle bowl store.

Fancy buying a menu board?

Everything and the kitchen sink!

PS. It is really cold here today, it has rained heavily all day and it is so dark I've had the lights on since I got up. For lunch I treated myself to baked beans on toast with my friend Ailsa. (I'm not poor it's just that baked beans are seriously expensive and really hard to find-you'd think they were contraband or something!) Roll on the sunshine of Maui, Kauai and Oahu!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Part 1: Sensory overload

We got back from Tokyo last night feeling very, very tired. With only two days in such a fascinating city I think we are suffering from sensory overload. Everything was so much bigger, brighter and trendier than Hiroshima and all this made me feel very much the country girl. Looking back I think I was unprepared for how different it would be to Hiroshima, Tokyo is a world city just like London or New York. When we were having lunch in Roppongi the menu was in English and the radio was tuned to Virgin FM - I felt right at home. With all this familiarity I almost got reverse culture shock and it was lovely just to be able to read a menu in a flash and not have to worry about speaking Japanese.
Most importantly though I finally got to see U2. It was so surreal and as I was two rows from the front I felt like I was watching them on TV rather than in person!

The best things about the concert were:
1. When Bono asked all the Japanese people to sing Pride, 40,000 people screamed Pride. When he asked all the Irish people to sing Pride, a handful shouted Pride. It was nice to be among that handful.
2. Their performance of "Bullet the Blue Sky" was fantastic and the first time in the concert when I really felt I was watching U2 at their best.
3. Hearing thousands of people sing "Erebation" as opposed to "Elevation'', the Japanese have difficulty pronouncing the letters "V" and "L".
4. During "Mysterious Ways" the band brought three Maiko on to the stage. It was so cool and really fitting for the song. I will never forget the three of them dancing down the catwalk staring straight ahead, waving their fans and looking deadly serious. Then all of a sudden it got too much for the one in front, her eyes lit up and she flashed this big, bright toothy grin across her deathly white face. When they are dancing they shouldn't really smile or show too much emotion but I think the enormity of the situation and all the adultation overwhelmed the poor girl. They were so beautifully turned out, the colours of their obi and kimono were really dramatic and just looking at their perfect hair and makeup was truly amazing. For me it was the highlight of the concert.

I met with a Japanese friend today who asked what I'd been up to over the weekend. I told her I went to see U2 in Tokyo and when she found out that it was my first time to see them she laughed very heartily. I asked her what was so funny and she said "but you are from Ireland and the first time you see U2 is in Japan!" Indeed, life is very unpredictable sometimes but that's what's good about it. My friend Iddya has since reminded me that although she is Puerto Rican she only learned to Salsa when she came to Japan.

NB. In case you were wondering, Maiko are trainee Geisha and we can tell them apart because Maiko wear white makeup but Geisha do not. Maiko also wear a little red bun in their hair as a sign of their purity. If you want to know more I really recommend reading "Memoirs of a Geisha", although entirely fictional Golden's research is meticulous and the book gives you a great insight into an otherwise closed society. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the movie, it is beautiful to watch but it is also pure Hollywood.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Too much excitement

Tomorrow we're heading up to Tokyo to see U2 play at Saitama. It's only 26 hours until I see Larry Mullen Jr. in the flesh and I am so excited I think I am going to scream. All this excitement reminds me of my fourth Christmas when we were heading down to midnight Mass in the car and I got so excited I vomited all over Daddy and my new red velvet dress from the "club book". Daddy and I had to go straight home. Let's hope we don't have a repeat performance tomorrow. Anyway, when I have calmed down I will be back to post plenty of pictures of the "city of blinding lights" that is Tokyo.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The green bullet lives again!

Hey, two posts in 24 hours! I must be running away with myself.

Anyway, it's back. A little letter from the police arrived telling me that the green bullet has been tracked down and that I could go and pick it up. Now I can get rid of Wendy. Martin thinks this is most unfair and that I am turfing her into the night like an unwanted lover. C'est la vie Wendy!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thatched cottages and Autumn colours

After a brief trip to an English cottage via the blogosphere we're back in Japan to look at thatched cottages Nihon style. For the final part of our trip to Northern Japan we visited Takayama, a lovely town tucked away in the mountains. Traditionally, houses in this area were built with thatched roofs made to withstand the heavy snowfalls in the winter. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful houses were destroyed in the 1960's to make way for a dam, however a small number were taken apart and rebuilt at the Hida Folk Village (a bit like the Ulster American Folk Park!) just outside Takayama. There you'll be able have a peak inside 19 of these houses that are beautifully maintained and give you a glimpse of the way life was in rural Japan up until the mid 20th century. I particularly enjoyed looking at the marvellous array of sleighs they used to nip around in, they looked great craic. We visited the valley in the early morning to avoid the onslaught of Japanese tour guides, who always seem to wield large megaphones and umbrellas to keep their groups in tow. Visiting at this time was a wise idea as a lovely soft mist enveloped the area and showed the Autumn leaves in all their splendour. I'll leave the pictures to do the rest of the talking.

The red, golds and yellows of the trees were really breathtaking and everything seemed so calm, bright and peaceful.

Finally, a rare picture of us to prove that Martin and I really do live in Japan and that we really do visit all these places.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Goodbye little house

After many months, sleepless nights and a few tears too we have finally sold our little cottage and the new owner moved in on Monday. Although we are really happy to have sold it we are a little sad too as it was our first house, the house we lived in when we got married and we have many, many fond memories of it. Even though Martin was away most of the week working in Germany I never felt lonely living there and I always felt that the house had a really happy feel to it. We spent a lot of time decorating our home and to our friends we became known as the DIY King and Queen, as a result we often had many a stand up row in Homebase over "Farrow & Ball" paint colours and other such frivolities. Like the incident in Homebase where I failed to understand why we couldn't just fix a floating shelf to the stud wall in our kitchen to hold a ton of cookery books.

Here are some pictures of no.95 and a few of our memories to share, I hope you enjoy them.

When I looked at the picture above I had a really good laugh remembering the day we bought the enamel jug you can see on the worktop. Whilst on holiday in Cornwall we decided to hire some bikes and cycle fron Wadebridge to Padstow, which is only a 12 mile round trip and very pleasant. Unfortunately, I was not the accomplished cyclist then that I am now and we had a few hairy moments along the way. At one point I heard a surge of cyclists coming behind me and looked back to see how many there were and whether I should pull in. I needn't have bothered as my looking back caused me to swerve and I ended up in a heap in the ditch. Up front Martin heard a scream and looked behind to see me laughing my head off with a bicycle lying on top of me.

We got to Padstow at lunch time and as we were a little tired we decided to take a seat on a park bench and admire the view of the harbour. After our rest we got up, walked around the village, did some shopping (where I bought the big enamel jug) and stopped for a Cornish pastie. In hindsight Martin remembered a group of people laughing at me but he thought nothing of at the time. It's a really pretty little place so Martin decided to take a picture of me in front of the harbour. Here is the picture.

After this picture was taken I turned around and Martin told me that there were big brown horizontal stripes on the back of my top. I checked Martin and he also had the same brown stripes on the back of his top. We'd sat on a freshly painted park bench! I swear we nearly wet ourselves laughing.

It turns out that the painters had gone off for lunch and conveniently forgot to put up a sign. We tied our tops around our waists and got ready to cycle home but the jug wouldn't fit in Martin's backpack so we had to tie it to the straps. I will never forget the sight of Martin cycling all the way back to Wadebridge with this huge enamel milk jug swinging from side to side.

We spent lots and lots of time painting our house and as you can see from the pictures every room had exposed studwork. (In my ignorance of listed buildings when we first viewed the house I asked the owners if they did the studwork themselves and I was met with very strange looks. Oops.) I think we kept the masking tape industry in business for that year alone. On average we used six rolls of masking tape in each room. I'm amazed Martin and his Dad didn't break their necks when they redid the hallway - it was masking tape hell!

Our first and only Christmas there was a very happy and cosy one. As I came down the stairs on Christmas morning I heard the crackle of the fire, smelt the turkey in the oven and smiled at the twinkle of the fairy lights in the dining room. All this excitement caused me to miss the last three steps of the stairs so I slid down them hurting my bum really, really badly. Martin had to help me to the sofa where I spent the rest of the morning reading while Martin cooked the dinner. (All wives out there this is an excellent idea to get out of cooking on Christmas day - the bum was fine by the end of the day.)

I can't believe we ate that much food, Martin has just looked at this and said "that was some feed". I think it is impossible to cook a Christmas dinner just for two and we were eating turkey and ham for weeks. Seriously, we were. However, we would really appreciate a slice of ham like that now.

Since our house was so small every piece of furniture we bought had to be measured exactly right. We had been on the hunt for a pair of leather armchairs for the living room for a long time and I found some on the internet that looked and sounded like they would have fitted perfectly. They arrived... and they were huge, the internet had given the wrong measurements and since they couldn't be returned that day we had to live with them for two months until they could be sent back. They were so big they actually cast a shadow all over the room and sucked all the light out of it. Of course if they were scratched or marked we wouldn't get our money back so I spent the next two months living in fear anytime anyone sat down on them. Fortunately, we found the ones shown above and they were perfect for sitting and reading a paper on.

During our 18 months there we had lots of weekend guests who came to sleep in our little spare bedroom with the "not quite double but not quite single either" bed, it was 4ft wide. I always enjoyed the fondue nights with Stuart and Marianne, lazy Sunday mornings with Anne and Paul and lots of Balderdash with Steve and Louisa. Jimmy, I'm sure you remember the time Martin spent all afternoon cutting and measuring the end panel for the kitchen cupboard only for it to be cut way too short! Boy, did we laugh, unfortunately Martin was not so amused.

I know it might sound cliched but it is all these wonderful memories and experiences that make a house a home.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the road again

Following a few days of sightseeing around Hiroshima we packed up the car and headed north towards the Japanese Alps. 450 miles and a gazillion tunnels later we arrived in Kanazawa. The top sights to see in Kanazawa are the Kenrokuen gardens (one of the top three in Japan), the castle and the old Geisha and Samurai districts. Kanazawa is a really beautiful, cosmopolitan city and I wish we had more time to spend there, it actually felt really European with lots of lovely little boutiques, museums and coffee houses to wile away the hours in.

One of the best things about Kanazawa was visiting the Ninja Temple,it's the only one of its kind in Japan and from the outside looks like an ordinary temple, but lurking inside were secret hiding places for the guards and a donation box which also functioned as a pit trap. It was so cool and well worth the guided tour even though it was in Japanese. It actually has nothing to do with Ninjas and more to do with Samurais but so called "Ninja" because of all its tricks. Those Samurais were really sneaky, they managed to build all these nifty little tunnels, concealed doors and even hid an entire fourth floor inside the temple. When you go down the stairs you can even see the secret space where guards with long, menacing spears waited to jab the legs of intruders through the paper screens between the steps. On the fourth floor was the suicide room where the Lord would disembowel himself if the temple was overun by enemies, once you shut the door it could not be opened from the inside so I guess your time was really up.

Four is a very unlucky number in Japan as it is very similar to the Japanese word for death. Hence the suicide room on the fourth floor consisting of four tatami mats. Many hotels in Japan even skip out the number four in their rooms. As luck would have it Martin and I live on the fourth floor of our apartment block, there are two apartments on each floor and the one next to ours was empty for the last year - I wonder why?! Anyway, armed with the luck of the Irish and a bottle of holy water we've always been very happy in apartment 401.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The McCloskey's in Japan

As Therese mentioned, Mum and Dad came to visit us in Japan. After a mammoth plane journey via London and Dubai they were tired and jet lagged, but soon recovered to enjoy two weeks of sightseeing across Japan. First up were the "must see" sights of Hiroshima, namely the Peace Memorial Park, the old town of Takehara and Miyajima Island, home of the famous Torii gate.

We also visited our favourite noodle shop in Takehara, home of the famous soba noodles served on a hot roof tile (previously featured on this and other blogs!). Mum and Dad bravely tried all the Japanese cuisine we encountered on the holiday but I don't think either sashimi, sushi or tofu will be making it on to the menu in Limavady.

Takehara is a lovely little place to go for lunch and wander around the streets popping into all the little craft and antique shops.

After a few days in Hiroshima we then set off on our road trip to the Japanese Alps.