Hiking and the hunt for the birthday cake

February has been fabulous! At weekends here, particularly the start of this year to keep myself busy I’ve been trying to explore my local area as much as possible and attend traditional events.

Near the beginning of February I joined two ALT pals on a trip up to visit another friend in Izumi which is up in the North of Kagoshima, Kumamoto is just over the border.

Our long weekend activities included hiking next to an onsen town (bath house town) in Kumamoto, eating fantastic food, dipping into a busy onsen, visiting Izumi shrine, encouraged into a flower arranging session, walking around Sogi falls, drinking red wine and going on the ultimate find a birthday cake mission to name but a few. I’ve been worrying recently about not always having a big trip organised because I have limited time here, and there’s a bit of pressure to use absolutely use all the available free time y’know. There’s definitely something to be said for mini-trips to lesser known spots with friends on a weekend for sure! So i’m not going to worry anymore :)

I’m by no means a writer at all so here are some photos instead of me waffling on. Thank you to Amber for inviting me along on this wonderful trip, Alice for hosting us to stay at your comfy, artsy apartment the whole weekend and Kendall for letting me celebrate your birthday with you. What an adventure. (Some photos by Kendall and Amber*)




C'mon and SLAM and welcome to Japan!

Happy New Year 2019!

To start the New Year off Scott and I visited a small shrine on Hogmanay to wish for good luck for the year. The tradition in Japan is to visit a shrine on the NYE countdown, and a lot of people seem to visit in the next few days following, sometimes visiting more than one. This is the year of the boar and the boar Shrine (Wake shrine) is just outside Kirishima city towards the mountains. Ridiculous cute illustrations of tiny wild boars can be found all over the place now, from NY greeting cards to packs of cheese in the supermarket (cheese is available here but in small, expensive lumps. Sometimes, even individually wrapped like a Quality Street).

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In Kagoshima there are two very highly ranked/regarded shrines close by to where I live; Kirishima shrine is a large, grand shrine about 10km away from the city. It’s surrounded by forest and one of the most popular shrines to visit at New Year. The other is Kagoshima shrine which is in the Hayoto area of Kirishima, it’s smaller but still has beautiful surroundings with a small river running around the stone step entrance and large trees dotted around the grounds, with forest located behind the shrine.

Kagoshima shrine has a good feeling about it, it’s my favourite, but the cold and the thought of crowds put us off going for midnight, it was pretty nice just going to a small shrine by ourselves in the end.

The next day we braved an early morning start and got up to see the first sunrise of the New Year, (about 7:00am so not too bad!) another well known tradition here. We headed to Kokubu beach; Scott was in his pjs (sensible!) and I was armed with a flask of coffee. I won’t lie though, the best part of the experience was seeing a woman walking with her very large cat along the shore, I wish I’d managed to get a picture, but the minute she saw our excited faces she picked her cat up and walked in the other direction..oops.

After going back home to crash out, we headed to Sengan-en, a Japanese garden attached to a former Shimazu clan residence who were rulers of the Satsuma region in Kagoshima. It’s also very pretty with a shrine, traditional house and chinese inspired zen gardens which overlook the volcano, Sakurajima!

On the 2nd of January we did an incredible hike around Oonami Lake on the crater ridge, this is in the Kirishima mountains in Kagoshima Prefecture. It was a gorgeous day but we did leave it a bit late to start walking..so it was also a race against time to make it back to the car before it got dark. We managed to do it though in just under four hours and really enjoyed it. If you visit Kirishima/ Miyazaki prefecture this hike has the most incredible views and interesting routes on the journey, I definitely recommend it. You could even go a bit further up to Mt. Karikuni which is right next to it if you want a bigger challenge and even more of a view.

We saw to see steam rising in the distance from vents and natural hot springs, although in return we had a pretty brazen eggy smell in the air the whole day. The ice on the trees melted as the sun followed us around the circuit, and to no surprise, that also smelt pretty eggy too..but it did look beautiful!

Scott is about to move up to Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture to start his new job..so he’ll be a bit further away that we’d both like, but, it means we can go and explore more places that we might not have done otherwise! Focusing on the positives. I hope it’s a great year and here’s to more adventures in 2019 :)

The Noodle Party (with added cats)

A few weeks ago on a chilly Sunday morning I made my way to find a local community centre here in Kokubu, ready to learn how to make soba noodles. Somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn but I did make friends with this very friendly kitten which in my eyes only adds to the experience:

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After a few more wrong turns, I found the right one and was greeted by my friend at the community hall door which slid open to one side. Steam from the already boiling water and work came rising out into the open air quickly and was cut off as I was ushered in to a warm hall covered in tatami and busy people already working on set tasks. While I was taking my shoes off and putting on the slightly too small guest slippers, I was given a bandanna and apron to get straight to noodle making.

The noodles we made were 100% soba flour and water, as far as I know you can also use a combination of buckwheat and wheat flours and I don’t know about the taste difference but I think these ones were delicious and it’s easier just to use one type of flour and water.

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The flour and water was weighed out and once it has been mixed by hand to a dough it should feel ‘together’ but not wet ( I can’t remember the proportions unfortunately but it I’m sure they can be found online).

What I really like about cooking (and baking) is that there are so many cultural crossovers of flavours and techniques. When I was shown how to mix the soba flour with the water, the flour turned into small pieces of ‘dough’. These small pieces were then rubbed together quickly, it was as if I was making a crumble topping for a rhubarb crumble with flour and butter. It was really comforting..that might sound weird but after living in Japan for five months, still a beginner in the Japanese language and slowly getting used to life here it’s really good to feel little a comfort from home in some small ways.

Once the dough was ready I was shown how to roll out and form the soba, ready to be cut into strips for noodles.

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We used soba flour to sprinkle over the dough and cover the rolling pin to prevent sticking, rolling out the soba dough into a circle to begin with, then the soba sensei (teacher) showed me how to wrap the dough around the rolling pin gently, and roll one side of the dough on the table to form a ‘corner’. We wanted four corners to form a soft edged square.

The dough was ready once it had reached this soft square shape and was about 2-3cm thick. I folded the dough so that when I cut it with my giant noodle knife it would form long noodle-y tasty looking strips. Of course the sensei set up the wooden block and knife for me (the block is used as a guide for cutting) and I then had to embarrassingly tell him I was left-handed so he proceeded to change it all around..oops. They are cut into strips about 15cms long and 1-2cms wide.

The noodle strips were gathered and boiled in a huge pot of boiling water stationed outside along with giant sieve-looking noodle scoops (I’m sure they have a proper name!) for only one minute. The noodles are so soft and made with simple ingredients and that’s all they need.

I didn’t expect the noodles to be turned into a full meal, I don’t know why, maybe I was still in U.K. mode and thought we’d just be trying the cooked noodles on their own? This soba noodle bowl is definitely one of the top meals I’ve had in Japan so far. I’ll describe the ingredients as best I can:

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In this soba noodle dish the broth is clear (pork based ) and the soba noodles are quickly reheated in the boiling water for 10 seconds before being poured into the broth once all the other ingredients are ready.

In this dish there is: finely chopped spring onions, the pink and white shape is ‘Kamaboko’ a cured surimi which is a processed fish product, used in a lot of Japanese dishes, hot or cold. The sausage is possibly fish…it was definitely processed but picked up all the flavours of the broth and vegetables. On the top the light coloured pieces are fried dough (I’m not sure what kind of dough..) and grated mikan (satsuma) and that orange flavour made this whole dish sooooo delicious! Honestly this was so fresh, the noodles were incredible and I felt a great sense of community taking part in making this dish for everyone to enjoy.

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I still can’t really join in with conversation right now with my non-existent level of Japanese, I still have a lot of studying and practicing to do, so I think creating something really helps me to connect with people. I can watch and learn, help out and join in even if I can’t join in with daily gossip. My other outlets have been the calligraphy club at High School and very recently a pottery class (and the pottery sensei makes INCREDIBLE food which I will definitely be writing a post about).

On the way back home I bumped into my old pal Mochi, a friendly boy who lives in many different houses and lives his best life, so it was a perfect end to my noodle making day!

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