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An alternative look at life in the Land of the Rising Sun, coming from its southernmost prefecture, the island of Okinawa.
Posted By Dave on July 8th, 2014

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/getting-healthy-in-leeds-with-v-physique-body-by-design/

Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying.  It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though!  But after a couple of months of being back in England […]

 

Archive for April, 2009

A sign from the Mitsubishi Gods

Posted By Dave on April 22nd, 2009

Call it an omen, call it impeccable timing, or call it a sign from the gods with the three diamonds, but this is scary.  Just days after my engine blows up I get a package in the mail.  Open it up to find a review copy of “How to Build Max Performance Mitsubishi 4G63T Engines” by Robert Bowen.  You couldn’t really make up something like that but it does start to make you wonder if someone has been putting sugar in my petrol tank!

My mind is still debating the intricacies of how I will rebuild the engine, but when I come up with something concrete I’ll post up on here.  Apologies for not posting as much as usual – have been hugely busy with car & work, and have been struggling with cold/SARS/man-flu for the past couple of days.

Posted in Cars

News Update on the Evo

Posted By Dave on April 21st, 2009

I return to the site with good news to report! I am happy to tell you all that cylinder 2 came out pretty well in the compression test! Cue the fanfare, balloons and minor parade passing by my apartment.  There is slightly worse news though: well, just read on.

Got the compression tester yesterday and knew I had to warm up the engine for it to be accurate. Wasn’t a nice experience, especially because as soon as it started up it was smoking out of the catch can, and if I took the oil filler cap off it was puffing out of there too. Left it for about 7 minutes to warm up and then shut it off to stop any further damage. Did tests with throttle plate closed and then open, and got the following results (note that 180psi would indicate a completely healthy cylinder and 150psi would be the danger threshold to tell you one’s going bad).

Cylinder 1: 145psi, 155psi
Cylinder 2: 155psi, 160psi
Cylinder 4: 140psi, 145psi
Cylinder 3: 0psi, 0psi

Signs weren’t good when I took the spark plug off piston 3 and smoke started coming out of it! So, as is said to usually be the case if a piston/ringland goes, it’s in cylinder 3. Hopefully the cylinder walls aren’t scored much and not much other damage has been done.

So I’ve got a rebuild on the cards earlier than I wanted and an unplanned one at that.  Due to my ongoing work situation, I don’t want to go all out on forged internals so I think I am going to do a budget compromise.  Am looking to get a set of Evo VIII or IX pistons & rods, and drop those in with a couple of other bits.  It’s sounding like the tuning shop might want to take the engine out so it’s not going to be a so cheap, but it will get me on the road again and give me a bit more safety with the power I’m making for the foreseeable future anyway.  So I’ve just got to find myself a set of late Evo pistons that don’t cost an arm & a leg to get sent to Okinawa.

Will report more on the full details of the rebuild soon, but thought I owed you an update on the situation.  It would have come earlier but have just been so busy with work and such.

Posted in Cars

I think I killed the car

Posted By Dave on April 17th, 2009

Driving home last night and put my foot down a little on one straight stretch of road close to home.  It felt unusually sluggish building up boost and had a bit of a misfire so I let off the throttle and cruised home, the engine sounding rough & misfiring.  Shut the engine off at home and opened the engine bay.  Can’t say I was ecstatic at what I saw.

 The engine bay was covered in oil, looking like it had come from the oil filler cap on the valve cover.  I cleaned up some of the excess oil, as well as cleaning the spark plugs and wires (as a bit of oil had gone under the wires and down into where the plugs were).  Crossed my fingers and started the engine.  The car was idling rough and trying to die on me.  My air:fuel ratio was also very lean (although the car was misfiring too, which can make the ratios very misleading).  Vacuum lines and everything look to be secure and nothing else out of the ordinary.

Started the car up this morning and almost straight away the exhaust and catch can started smoking.  Maybe serves me right for ignoring a coupele of puffs of smoke from the catch can a few days ago after I had been driving it hard.  Need to do a compression test on the engine this coming weekend.  That checks the compression level in each cylinder and will basically tell me if it’s something internal in the engine that has gone or some other part of the car.  Am hoping for the best but thinking I could have either cracked a piston or my ring lands.  Either way, it’s not a 5-minute, drop-in-a-new-part fix.

Just what I need when I’m supposed to be starting that part time teaching job from Monday.  That’s not going to be happening now as I’m rendered pretty much immobile until this gets sorted.  Anyone out there had any similar problems and can offer me a ray of light?

Posted in Cars

First Edition of the All-Japan Blog Carnival!

Posted By Dave on April 14th, 2009

Time for the first All-Japan Blog Carnival and I’ve had a relatively small selection of entries, but the quality is good.  So it’s kind of an All-Japan Blog Village Fete.  But there are some nice links here well worth a read.  So let’s start our little fete.

First off is Tony Alexander over at The Soul of Japan with a post entitled Plum Blossoms of Kairakuen.  Some good photography and an alternative look at one of the most beautiful public gardens in Japan.

Next is Carlie’s submission from Goddess Carlie.  She was lucky enough to visit the Ninja Museum near Nara in the Kansai region, and writes about it in Hanging Out With Ninjas in Iga-Ueno.  Who doesn’t like ninjas?  Well, except for pirates, going from some bizarre series of websites on the internet, nobody!  Well worth checking out

I will forgive Rick Martin for getting my hopes up hoping for a rendition of Livin’ La Vida Loca on his website, but only because he has posted an excellent article.  Sumo Celebrations: Nothing to get Excited About, posted on the GaijinPot Blog site is an excellent piece of writing about the recent controversy surrounding Mongolian sumo wrestler Asashoryu.

Billy over at Tune in Tokyo provided the next entry, Enson Inoue the Living “Yamato Damashii”.  I’m a recent convert to MMA and I watch the UFC events when I can but I’ve not heard of this guy.  Billy knows his stuff and has written about Inoue’s battles both in and out of the ring in Japan.  Will definitely be keeping my eye out for him in the future.

The impressively named Axel from website, Axel G, chimes in now with a look back to his experiences of meditating in Japan, appropriately titled Meditating in Japan!  After getting worked up about ninjas and sumo earlier, this is a nice read to come to and relax with.

Have to say I was surprised to receive an entry from someone at Scienceblogs.com, but I’m happy Greg Laden posted it up.  I really love his Akiko’s Perfect Gift, and I think it could be the first (and most likely the last) time I will use the word “heartwarming” on this site.  Be sure to check this post out.

And last, but certainly not least, is Annalyn Jusay’s post from Ajay’s Writings on the Wall…  A retrospective look at her time in Japan’s capital in Tokyo memories 2005.  In her own words, “Unforgettable memories of my trip to Tokyo in 2005, as portrayed in words and pictures”

And that’s it for now folks.  Hope you enjoyed reading some of these.  If you did, please leave a comment on their site and thank them for taking the time to post.  It will also help me to know if this is something you’d like to see continue in the future.

Blog Review: Thacko Photography

Posted By Dave on April 10th, 2009

Thacko Photography is the next site that I will cast my critical eye over.  First of all, as an English teacher by trade, one of the things I notice first when I read an article are spelling and grammar mistakes.  And this site is unfortunately full of them.  By no means am I being critical about people who might have trouble with spelling, but all common internet browsers these days have either spell checkers built in or available as add-ons.  Please leave a comment if you don’t have one of these and I will give you direct links to download one.  It makes the site look a lot more professional, as writing “u” instead of “you” just looks lazy.

Thacko Photography

Right – enough about spelling and grammar and onto the site itself.  This site is kind of a photoblog meets personal online journal and does a reasonable job of both.  Articles, minus the spelling and grammar mistakes, are clean and concise, giving full descriptions of work that has been done on the car.  One thing which could be a great help for people in the future might be to illustrate the work that is done on the cars.  This means that not only will people be able to read about what you have done, but also that readers will be able to see exactly what you have done which might help them with the same modifications.

Quite a few things are mentioned that have happened on other sites or previously on this site, but there are no links to find those related posts.  This is a good opportunity to keep users on your site looking at different articles, so they don’t just view the front page and move on.

The photos are very good but the site itself just needs a few finishing touches to it.  Get a WordPress theme made for 1024×768 screens, get a spell checker for when writing posts and keep on snapping away with the camera!

Have a look at Thacko Photography here: http://www.thackophotography.com/

If you want your site reviewing here with no catches whatsoever, then leave a comment below or check out this post for full information

Blog Review: I’m a Seoul Man in Tokyo

Posted By Dave on April 10th, 2009

Got a little time free today so decided to devote a few minutes to continue my “You Leave a Comment, I Review your Site” feature.  Next up is Jon Allen’s nicely titled, “I’m a Seoul Man in Tokyo“.  I don’t exactly go weak at the knees at a Blogger-produced blog, but they are popular so who am I to judge?  Actually, I’m the person reviewing the site, and so I will!

Clean looking site with just a plain white background.  Most people on a Problogger poll said they preferred a white backdrop for websites, but maybe a dash of colour wouldn’t go amiss here.  One of the first links I will check out when I review these sites is the “About Me” section.  It helps me to get to know the author of the site and who they are behind the posts.  I was interested to read about how Jon went from the UK first to South Korea and now to Japan.  The profile link just provided a list of further links to other sites.  To use a fishing analogy, he’d got the bite on the profile summary on the front page, but then failed to reel in the catch in the full profile.

I'm a Seoul Man in Tokyo

While the front page is easy to read, the sheer number of links on the right hand side can be pretty overwhelming.  I counted over 200 text links ad that is before we start at the social networking links.  While a number of links is good, readers tend to just start skim reading after the first 10-20 if nothing so exciting initially catches their eye.

Jon’s IT background is evident in his writing content, with the topics frequently covering technology in some aspect.  But non-technical minded folk shouldn’t be scared as he does a good job at explaining things.  There’s a lot of linking to other sites, but is sticking with the rest of the site and most of the time it is not so excessive.  The rest of the articles mention recent and upcoming social events in the Tokyo area, and I can imagine is pretty useful for someone living in Japan’s capital.

The site has some good information on it, and probably just needs to cut down on the number of links.  The categories are good, but consider putting the top 10 or so sites up there – the ones you really recommend to people.  Oh, and a bit more info in your background profile.  Nice work though, and I enjoyed reading through the articles.

Check out I’m a Seoul Man in Tokyo here: http://www.seoul-man.blogspot.com/

If you want your site reviewing here with no catches whatsoever, then leave a comment below or check out this post for full information.

Twists and Turns in the Job Hunt

Posted By Dave on April 9th, 2009

Barely days after I was offered an interview for the NGO, Peace Boat, that my trials and tribulations in finding work post-August have taken yet another turn.  I received a response from a private English school that I’d sent a CV off to yesterday afternoon.  Said they had read it and were interested in talking to me.  So I went last night and was chatting to the co-owner for over an hour.  He was telling me about the school and what they were looking for (ideally someone who would start no part-time and then it could maybe lead to more hours in the future).  The set-up sounded pretty good despite it being a small school and I said I was interested and would like to observe a class this coming week with one eye lokoing towards the future.

Got a call first thing this morning from the guy and he was asking if I would liek to start working for them part time starting from next week, teaching 2 evenings a week and on Saturdays.  The classes would be small numbers of adults who want to learn good English and pay decent amounts for doing so.  But the sceptic in me is just keeping me from jumping on it.  My issue is not needing work now but in August, although taking this job on might open things up for me in the future and would definitely help me towards paying the bills after my current contract expires.  They also said they were looking for someone to work for them long term (which they have not had in the past), and while that would be great for me, I do really want to keep my options open for other full-time work that I might be able to get (including the Peace Boat placement).

It’s a tough one, and needs some thinking about in the next few days before I meet this guy again on Sunday.  I can also use a clause in my current work contract to decline the offer but need to think about what is in my best interests, both now and in the future.  Apologies for this type of writing – I usually try to keep personal stuff off this site but it is always good to hear the opinions of others.  What would you do in my situation?

Top 10 Tips for Upgrading your Evo I-III/DSM

Posted By Dave on April 8th, 2009

http://www.biginjapan.co/biginjapan/top-10-tips-for-upgrading-your-evo-i-iiidsm/

Like many, you probably thought that once you bought your early Evo/DSM that it would be the end of money spent on it.  Sure, maintenance would have to be done but the car was pretty quick from the off and you surely wouldn’t want it to go quicker.  And then you upgrade one part and you can feel the difference it makes.  Your mindset then changes to one of “I’ll just get this one upgrade, and then I’ll be happy with the power/handling” and before you realise it, you’ve spend the GDP of a small country on the car.

But there are a multitude of upgrades available and knowing what to choose can sometimes be a daunting prospect.  I’d like to think I have done pretty well with my car (a mid 11s car in the 1/4 mile and full daily driver) and so wanted to give you my top 10 tips for upgrading your Evo I-III/DSM.

  1. Have a plan.  Before you make any real upgrades you should decide what you want out of the car and therefore the areas you need to look at.  For example, a car made purely for drag racing is going to have different requirements for power and handling to a car made for touge or gymkhana.  A lot of people just throw money at the car trying to buy every upgrade they can.  While this car give you a nice looking car which performs well, it might be a jack-of-all trades and master of none.  At this time, also determine if the car will also be a daily driver or whether it will be a weekend/race car only.  If the latter then you’ll be able to strip out the interior to save weight, but you’ll be losing a lot of home comforts.
  2. Maintenance.  Upgrading your car usually means pushing stock components past their normal operating limits.  In order to keep reliability high you’ll want to make sure a full service is done for the car (including timing belt change, if not done in the past 5 years, and balancer belt if you still have balance shafts).  Also, do a full fluid change for the car, which means engine oil, gearbox oil, transfer box and rear diff, brake fluid, clutch fluid and coolant.  That means everything is fresh and you know what time your service intervals start at.  I will talk about service intervals for your car in a future post.
  3. Get some air in your lungs.  One of the first things you should look to do is change the restrictive air filter that your stock Evo is equipped with.  A lot of people will go for the HKS Super Power Flow Induction Kit, and indeed I did have that on my car for around 18 months.  However, the foam filters do get dirty easily and the cleaning qualities of the HKS filter is not good, as shown by this set of reviews.  Plus I have read of the foam filters getting sucked into the turbos of some cars (not an issue with the standard MAF on the Evos but still something to consider).  I currently have the Apexi Power Intake (see right) and can highly recommend it.  Its filtering is excellent, offers a very nice increase in low and mid-range power, and does not have to be replaced unlike the foam elements in the HKS kit.  It costs a little more but works out cheaper after around a year of use.  The Apexi filter also comes with a nice heat shield to keep some of the engine bay heat (which does get pretty high in a bay containing a 4G63 engine) away from the intake.
  4. Adding fuel to the fire.  A car needs 2 basic things to function: oxygen and fuel.  We have helped the former immensely by getting a new air filter (and possibly intake pipe), but a steady supply of fuel is vital to keep the engine performing when you put the foot down.  A Walbro 255l/hr fuel pump is a very popular upgrade, and with good reason as it will support the power requirements for all but the most potent Evos.  Do be wary when you get the Walbro though, and especially if you buy from Ebay.  There are quite a few Chinese knock-off Walbros being sold as genuine at the moment, and fuelling is something you do not want to sacrifice on just to save a few pennies.  The last thing you want is the fuel pump packing up just as you’re flying down the drag strip, starving your engine of fuel and potentially causing serious damage.  One thing to be aware of though is that the new fuel pump (especially with a “fuel pump rewire) can cause too much fuel to flow through and it might overrun the stock fuel pressure regulator.  I can highly recommend a Sard fuel pressure regulator and fuel pressure meter.  The Sard can handle the most pressure and is the best performing of the bunch, and will ensure just enough fuel gets to the engine.
  5. Power is nothing without control. “What are you talking about brakes for?  I just wanna go fast!” is a common phrase from people who are starting out on the upgrade path, but is something that needs addressing.  After all, it is more important to be able to stop when you need to than to be able to go.  The Evos brakes are not too bad to start with, although on a circuit they will experience brake fade pretty quickly.  Put in some DOT 4 brake fluid, along with a set of decent brake pads (I use Project Mu B-Spec pads front and rear, and you can see them to the right) and your driving will feel much more assured.  If you want to go one step further then look at a set of braided brake lines (HEL and Goodridge seem to have the best deals for the Evo I-III) and a Cusco Brake Stopper and you’ll be more confident, meaning later braking into the corners and a much safer drive.
  6. Show your support.  Support and stability for the car are vital when you start upgrading, very much so when you are planning to throw the car around the corners but even for straightline drag racing too.  Tower strut bars can be picked up relatievly cheaply and you should get front and rear, upper and lower if you have the budget for it.  They stiffen the chassis up and once again will have you cornering with confidence.
  7. Extreme logging.  Am sure you’re getting frustrated and want to get to the bits that will make us go faster, but bear with me.  My tips are done in this way for a reason.  One of the reasons I have had relative success with my tuning and upgrades so far is that everything has been done in a balanced way, with close monitoring of my car’s health.  Boost and oil pressure gauges are pretty much a must at this point, and a wideband will help you in the future as you increase the boost and start tuning.  Alongside the standard gauges though you should really consider a datalogging device.  The best one I have seen for the early Evo is Pocketlogger, and it can be combined with a dirt cheap but compatible PDA from Ebay.  This little device plugs into your car’s OBDI diagnostic port and is able to log a number of variables, from rpm to ignition timing to the all important engine knock levels.  You can then view these logs on the PDA itself (see left) or download to your PC and analyse them there.  This provides an invaluable tool for monitoring your engine’s health as you do any testing.
  8. Breathe in… breathe out. What goes into your car must go out, and old adage is certainly true when we talk about gases.  The stock Evo exhaust system can be a little restrictive and money spent on a cat-back exhaust system (that is, one running from the catalytic converter back to the muffler) will result in a much more powerful sound coming from your car as well as an increase in performance.  I would go one step further and recommend that, if you can, you should replace the catalytic converter with a straight pipe, which is exactly what it sounds like.  I should note though that this modification may be illegal in your country, and I would recommend checking with the local authorities before removing the catalytic converter.  It could also cause you to fail the emissions test in your country.
  9. Boooooooooooost! Yes, we’re almost at the point where we can turn up the boost.  But how do you do it?  The answer is a boost controller.  There are 2 main types of boost controller, a simple manual controller or a more complex electronic boost controller.  The former are cheaper and have a strong following in the DSM community, where the Hallman Boost Controller gets some excellent reviews.  I opted for the extra features of the Blitz Dual SBC Spec S boost controller and haven’t looked back.  Four different boost settings, a boost warning if it gets too high, and very accurate control of your boost has made it a no-brainer for me.  The Spec S is also reasonably priced and is currently holding around 1.6bar of boost on my car without any problems.
  10. Baby steps.  Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for.  You’ll be able to increase the boost from the stock 0.7bar levels to around 0.8 or 0.9 bar and, providing your gauges and logger are not showing up any big problems, should be feeling a much quicker car.  But take things very slowly and don’t assume because you had no problems going to 0.9bar that you can immediately crank up the boost to 1.9 bar as things don’t work like that.  Keep things conservative, especially if the car is a daily driver.  You should be aiming for zero knock.

Obviously, this is an initial guide and I haven’t even started to talk about fuel controllers, blow off valves, standalone engine management systems etc.  But hopefully it’s given you a thing or two to think about.  Do you have any more tips you’d offer people starting on the road to tuning nirvana?

Should also add that if you’re looking to get hold of Japanese parts for your car then let me know.  Some of the prices that UK import companies charge for parts is extortionate compared to what they can be picked up for here (and example would be the Blitz Dual SBC Spec S boost controller: costs around ₤300 in the UK but only ₤170 in Japan).  I can get most JDM parts and would be more than happy to help you out in these days of a bad economy.

Posted in Cars

Keeping cool in Japan

Posted By Dave on April 8th, 2009

While Okinawa is still reasonably cool considering it’s April (was 16C last Thursday when I was out driving), we all know the temperatures will be on the up very soon.  Summer can be a killer, whether you’re in Tokyo where the air conditionining just pumps out heat into the streets and fresh air is at a premium, or Okinawa where the humidity hits you like a hot smack in the face as soon as you step out of the door.  It can make you tired, sick, sleep deprived and affect you a lot more than you might realise.  I know the effects of this, having suffered from it repeatedly in the Maldives and slightly here in Okinawa.  But there was an excellent article in the Japan Times a while ago with some ideas on how to relieve these symptoms so that you can actually enjoy your summer:

By TOMOKO OTAKE
Staff writer

Imagine being in a sauna for a few hours. Then imagine getting out of it and walking straight into a giant freezer for another few hours. Do this several times a day and continue the routine for a couple of months. Some people say that’s what spending summer in Japan is like.

Japan’s summer months are notoriously hot and muggy, which can lead to a range of health problems. Natsubate (summer fatigue) leaves people feeling tired, lethargic and/or sleep-deprived. Many people lose their appetite and become irritated, while others suffer digestive problems such as diarrhoea, constipation and/or giddiness.

Originally referring to a condition brought on by prolonged exposure to the sweltering summer heat, these days natsubate starts early even in late June for some people, because of sudden changes in the weather and freezerlike air conditioning in trains, buses and buildings.

Dr. Takao Matsumoto, deputy director of Tokyo Rinkai Hospital in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, who occasionally sees patients with heat-related illnesses, says summer fatigue is primarily caused by perspiration problems. Body temperature rises in hot weather, and the body tries to cool itself via perspiration. But when exposed to the heat for too long, some people’s bodies become incapable of making such adjustments.

Matsumoto noted that natsubate should not be taken lightly. If left unattended, it can lead to dehydration, cramps and heat stroke.

“Many people start having problems when the temperature rises to around 25 degrees,” Matsumoto said. “Ideally, the temperature differences between outdoor air and indoor air should be kept within 5 degrees.”

So what can we do to avoid the summer’s perils? Matsumoto and other experts offer the following no-nonsense tips:

  • Carry clothes that are easy to put on and take off: Many offices are excessively air-conditioned. Bring a cardigan or a long-sleeved shirt to your office and wear it when you feel cold. To counter the air conditioning, some office workers nowadays bring to their offices a yutampo (hot-water bottle), which many Japanese traditionally use to make their futon warm in the winter. You can buy yutampo at a drug store for a few thousand yen apiece. Another tip is to ask your office to turn their air conditioning down (which conserves energy, too.)
  • Get enough sleep: It might sound elementary, but sleep is indeed essential to avoid and recover from natsubate. If you have problems going to sleep because of the heat, place a bag of ice on your pillow for a few minutes, or turn on an air-conditioner with a timer, making sure that it switches off after several hours. Turning air conditioning on throughout the night is often a cause of natsubate.
  • Work out regularly: People who can sweat effectively are less likely to suffer from natsubate because their bodies are better conditioned to accommodate temperature changes. Regular exercise can prepare people for that. It also helps them build stamina to survive the summer.

Diet is key

Keiko Kamachi, a registered dietitian and associate professor of nutrition at the Kagawa Nutrition University in Tokyo, meanwhile, says a regular, balanced diet is key to staying healthy through the summer.

“Eat three meals regularly,” she said. “You can also choose to have food that makes you less likely to feel tired.” Summer vegetables such as tomato, eggplant and cucumber contain antioxidants that help protect against ultraviolet light, Kamachi says. Local summer fruits such as suika (watermelon) and nashi (pears) are rich in the minerals that are lost due to perspiration. Natsumikan (summer tangerine), rich in potassium and magnesium, is also good because its citric acid helps people recover from exhaustion, she said. The key, however, is not to gorge on any particular food item but to “eat a little bit of all (of them),” according to Kamachi.

When you are tired, try taking B vitamins, as they help the body convert food into energy, both Matsumoto and Kamachi say. Not that popping a pill is going to work magic.

“Vitamin supplements can irritate the stomach, so it is better to get B vitamins through regular food,” Kamachi says.

Foods rich in B vitamins include pork, soybeans and milk. Soba noodles are also known to be rich in B vitamins, she said, noting that when you have soba, you should also drink the sobayu (the hot water used to boil the noodles) served at most soba restaurants after the meal.

The use of food to ease summer exhaustion dates back to the eighth century in Japan, when the poet Ootomono Yakamochi recommended a suffering friend eat eel to regain his strength, and people in different regions of the country have developed their own particular remedies, often using food locally grown or produced. Junko Yokota, a travel consultant who lives in the Aizu region in western Fukushima Prefecture, says that it has long been a common practice for families in her area to pick ume plums that naturally grow in their gardens and put them in jars with rock sugar. Local plums a brand known as Aizu-takada ume make great plum juice, she says, noting that, when she was a girl, her grandmother would make her drink a glass of the homemade nectar every day during the summer.

“Plums are picked in June and placed in jars, and a year later they are ready to be served,” Yokota said. “You would drink the juice, and then eat the plum as well. It’s probably thanks to those plums that I have never experienced natsubate.”

Stay cool as a cucumber soup

Suffering from the heat? Want to try a Japanese solution to a Japanese problem?

Masahiro Kumamoto, a 46-year-old owner of a seafood-products store in Miyazaki Prefecture, western Japan, says he cannot do without a bowl of hiyajiru (cold miso soup poured over cold rice), to deal with the region’s notoriously hot summer. It has traditionally been a “work-time dish” among farmers and fishermen. A self-confessed hiyajiru otaku (obsessive fan), Kumamoto, whose store is named Kumaya Shokuhin, offers the following recipe for hiyajiru, which he claims, if properly cooked, is a culinary experience as rich as the French soup vichyssoise.

The method

Choose the type of fish you want to use. The most common fish used in many households is iriko (dried small fish). Fry the iriko in a pan, then crush them with a mortar. You can also use hiraki (fish cut open and dried), in which case grill them and separate the flesh from the bones.

To create a soup, fill a sauce pan with water, add katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) and kombu seaweed and let the water boil for a few minutes.

Spread miso on tin foil and heat it for several minutes, giving it a nice roasted flavor.

Put the fish and some mashed-up tofu into the soup and bring it to the boil. Add the miso little by little, using a touch more of the paste than usual, because sliced cucumber (to be added later) thins out the taste.

Now the most time-consuming part: Let the soup cool to room temperature. Add the cucumber, chopped oba (Japanese basil) and ground sesame seeds. Prepare a portion of rice as usual.

Cool the soup in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Cool your rice to room temperature.

Finally, don’t forget to chill your rice bowls in the refrigerator.

Japan Hearts Cigarettes

Posted By Dave on April 8th, 2009

Most people who come to Japan remark that the country’s cleanliness is one of the things that stands out to them first of all.  But if you take a look a little deeper under the surface then something you will see is a deep-set passion for tobacco, as this picture will testify.

i-love-cigarette

This top did make me smile.  In a world where, in most developed countries tobacco has lost its fashionable touch and increasing numbers of places are becoming smoke-free, it’s great to see Japan selling T-shirts with I (heart) Cigarette on!  I don’t even want to try and comprehend the slogan below the title.  Every time I look at it and try to make it into something that mere mortals can understand it just makes my head hurt.

But while this is an Engrish post with a little humour, I will raise a more serious point here, and that is the acceptable nature of tobacco that remains in Japan.  This may be an Okinawan thing as my experiences in mainland are limited, but it does seem to be a situation of hypocracy.  The length of Kokusai Dori in Naha (the main shopping street in Okinawa’s prefectural capital), but smoking is still allowed in restaurants, with a lot of places still lacking no-smoking areas.  Once you get out of the cities and into the rural community then it seems to increase.

An example of this is when I went to a local cafe/family restaurant a couple of weeks ago with my girlfriend and her daughter.  We could see the place was almost full as we walked in and the first thing that hit us when we opened the door was a wall of smoke.  Every table that night had at least two people who were smoking, and it’s all you could smell or taste in the air.  We were waiting to order and asked the table between us and the wall if they could open the adjacent window a little to let some fresh air in.  The guy we asked looked disgusted at the request and slid open the window by about 2-3″.  20 seconds later I noticed him glance back over to us and closed the window again.  After 10 minutes my girlfriend’s daughter was just coughing through all the smoke so we just walked out, out clothes and hair reeking of smoke.

You do wonder sometimes when Japan will start to join other countries and become a place where tobacco is not seen as so acceptable.  Am not saying it should be banned completely, but it’s all about respect and being respectful when you’re smoking.

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