Kitakami Photoblog

Daily photos from Kitakami, a small town in Northern Japan, and its surroundings.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

In Japan, you know that spring is coming when more and more children take their gameboys outside to play.

Friday, March 30, 2007

If snowfall continues ...

... like yesterday and today, they will have to reactivate this imposing snowplough engine, now exposed in Tenshochi, Kitakami's famous cherry blossom viewing spot.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

How very thoughtful

In our neighbourhood, there is a nice promenade alongside a small river, crossing it several times. I was amazed to see that for the winter, old carpets have been fixed on the wooden bridges to avoid accidents. In Japan, there are really many eventualities being taking care of, by administrations or other institutions, thus saving people the trouble of having to take care themselves.
If for example you swim in a public pool, you have to respect the mandatory rest times, ten minutes every hour, generally from 10 off to the full hour. This is to avoid that people get exhausted by swimming for hours and hours, without rest. And even if you have only just arrived, you have to get out of the pool , sit on a bank and relax like anybody else.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That's Japan, too

It's very current to see such old vehicles rusting away along the roads, some of them even filled with garbage to make use of the room inside.The smaller and remoter the roads, the more. (Although it's not very often that you see a car on the top of an old bus).
Some time ago, I read an explanation for this: The Japanese consider men as part of nature, and therefore everything made by men as well. So every old car belongs to nature, too, and so it's perfectly normal to leave it in some nice forest in the mountains, quickly overgrown by plants and slowly rusting away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Delicious discovery

Cinnamon toast in a café in the center of Kitakami. I never ate this before, but it's just delicious. Nothing typically japanese though.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cars on the rock

Nice arrangement of some of our son's matchbox cars on a big stone in a japanese garden. He goes nowhere without taking at least a kilo of them along.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Guests from Siberia

Every year, hundreds of these whooper swans pass the winter on the banks of the Kitakami River. Now they start already to return to the North.

24th March's photo

Dramatic clouds above the mountain range close to Kitakami, in the early evening. But there's spring in the air now.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Drinks in a vending machine

Cod sperm, crab bowels, pocari sweat ... how very strange things to eat and drink...

But no, "pocari" is no rare animal living hidden in deep forests who's sweat is collected and consumed as a precious delicacy. "Pocari" is derived from the japanese word "pokkari", which means "like a cloud floating in the sky" , and has a connotation of lightness and ease. And it is used here to name this sweet sports drink, which is very popular all over Japan.
Being asked why they use the word "sweat" to name a drink, a staff of the distributor company Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd answered : " 'Sweat' has meanings of diligence, efforts, refreshingness in Japanese. In western country, people may have negative image to 'sweat'. It is a cultural difference."
Anyway, it rather seems to me that the Japanese consumers generally don't mentally translate names appearing in English and are therefore not bothered by the connotation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Japanese restaurant

That is one of our favorite restaurants here, not only for the food (essentially soba, tempura, ramen, a little sushi), but also for the nice atmosphere. And our son loves to hang around comfortably on the tatami floor - smaller children sometimes even take a nap. The restaurant also has a section for those who prefer to eat sitting at normal tables.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Big and brave raven (karasu) hoping for food.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The old r/l-probleme

This pachinko parlor, named "Estadio", created the somewhat surprising, but nicely alliterative slogan "Entertainment, Emotion, Enjoyment and Ecorogy" to attract customers. Ecorogy is meant to be Ecology (no idea where is the connection with gambling machines). In Japanese, there is no distinction between "r" and "l", the corresponding sound is somewhere in-between them, so in foreign words, these letters are often mixed up in a quite funny way.
If you don't know what pachinko is: A highly popular mixture between slotmachine and pinball, played all over Japan in giant, loud and smoky parlors; the best way to lose time and money and get nothing in return. And millions and millions of Japanese go there every day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Traditional old house in the center of Kitakami. There are very few left nowadays.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


So simple, and just perfect.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

One thing that puzzled me quite a lot when I started driving in Japan two years ago (apart from driving on the left side) was that the traffic lights are usually placed behind the intersections. Sometimes I just noticed them only in the very last moment.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How to prepare sticky japanese rice

At Lemon's and Pat's yesterday's suggestions, here's a little excursus about rice-cooking in Japan.
Everybody uses a ricecooker (suihanki, 炊飯器; instead of the kanji, the katakana word ライス クッカ (raisu kukka) is also used very often. Above is ours, we got it already used by some friends two years ago (please click on the photos to enlarge). Here you can have a look at the current Mitsubishi collection, more chic.
You just have to fill in the necessary amount of rice and water, push the red button, and half an hour later or so, you have delicious, fresh rice. Which of course may be kept warm as long as you wish. Of course it has a timer function, so can set everything up in the evening and will have hot rice at the hour you wish in the morning, for breakfast. There are several cooking programs you can choose from, according to the rice variety you use (freshly harvested, wholegrain, normal...). In order to get perfect rice, you have to dose the water amount quite exactly, according to the rice variety - but this is facilitated by a scale inside the cooking bowl (photo on the right), which indicates how much water you have to fill in for a specific quantity of any variety of rice.
(I always use the same rice with the same amount of water, about 1,1 part water for 1 part of rice), so I'm actually not an expert).
Japanese rice is very different from rice sold in America or Europe. It is a short grain rice that becomes very sticky when cooked. Otherwise it couldn't been eaten with chopsticks! Most rice is sold as hakumai ("white rice"), with the outer portion of the grains (nuka) polished away. Unpolished rice (gemmai) is considered less delicious by most people, but its popularity has been increasing recently because gemmai is more nutritious and healthier than hakumai.
Japan tries to produce all its rice by its own: This Taipeh Times article quotes a japanese rice merchant as follows "Foreign rice is for foreigners. Japanese people like only Japanese rice."
And if someone interested how rice is grown in Japan, have a look here and here.
PS: And for those understanding french, here is a very nice and detailed post about rice written by a french blogger from Tokyo.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rice around the clock

In Japan, rice is the most important staple food, it is part of breakfast, lunch and dinner - although its consumption is declining due to the westernization of the Japanese's eating habits, McDonald's, Starbucks.... But still an average family consumes several dozens kilos of rice - per month. The photo's showing a vending machine where you can buy rice in 5 or 10 kg sacks, even during night. So you will be sure of never running out of it.
The red kanji sign (pronounced o-kome) is the character for uncooked rice. Cooked rice is called "gohan", which also means "meal".

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Now it's thawing during afternoon and freezing again over night, with this beautiful result at our gutter.

And today was "White day" in Japan: It is celebrated always one month after Valentine's day (when only women give gifts to man). On White Day, men who received gifts on Valentine's Day return them to the women, usually by giving sweets and chocolate.
The chocolate companies aim at making more money by splitting Valentine's Day up like this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kitakami drowning in the snow

Our street this morning, after 36 hours of uninterrupted snowfall. There are about 50 cm of snow now. And still more to come, according to the weather forecast. In March!

Kindergarden boy in his uniforme helping his mother shovelling the yard. Japanese children wear uniforms in kindergarden, middle and high-school, but not in the six years of elementary school.

Monday, March 12, 2007

... and probably tomorrow and the next days neither

Sorry, but I couldn't resist to upload one more photo, I was so impressed by how much more snow fell down in just two hours. And I spent at least three hours snow-shoveling around the house until now.

No cycling today

We suddenly had 25 cm new snow this morning. And more keeps coming down all the time.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I want that and that and that and that ...

Little pieces of art at the french pâtisserie "Boule de neige" in Kitakami. There are far more then hundred different varieties, all freshly made, every day. The owner and chef pâtissier has spent seven years "studying" pâtisserie in France. Everybody here is happy that after those years he came back to his hometown ten years ago, instead of opening a fancy shop in some big town elsewhere.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Outdoor bath (rotenburo) at Semi-hot spring, close to Kitakami. Air temperature was 0°C, water about 40°C. There are a few dozens such onsen (hot springs) within an hour's drive from Kitakami.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The plastic country

Wherever you go in Japan, whatever you buy, it will be wrapped in several layers of paper and / or plastic. Have a look on the fruits an vegetables I bought yesterday: Some of them where already wrapped: carrots e.g. you generally buy by two or three (!), just like potatoes and sweet potatoes. Others where put in (sometimes additional) plastic bags at the cash desk. The melon and pineapple slices finally had three layers of plastic each. Is this normal?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Canditates smiling in the snow

They belong to the Democratic Party of Japan, a social liberal party. They are opposed to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a conservative party ruling almost uninterruptedly since more than fifty years. There are lots of people who just can't imagine to have another party rule the country because they are so used to the fact that it has always been the LDP.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Japanese wines

In addition to the comments to yesterday's post, here some truely japanese wines:
On the left a fine bottle of local sake (rice wine). It contains about 15 % alcohol.
The 2 liter-bottle in the middle is produced by a friend who is a rice farmer and uses his own rice for making his sake. We didn't try it yet, the bottle size making us feel that we have to wait fo a really big event to open it. But you can buy sake in much bigger quantities.
On the right finaly, there is a japanese white wine (there's red and rosé, too), with 14 % alcohol. We didn't try it either, but most japanese wines have a, er..., really strange taste.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


The wine taste of the Japanese is changing:
One of the alcohols they are selling in the conbini just around the corner (see yesterday's post) is this one: A tasty french vin du pays, not at all sweetish and insipid as the favourite wines of japanese consumers used to be for a long time. And what is more: It has the official seal of organic agriculture. Kampai!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Alcohol and tabac

Advertisement sign in front of a konbini (convenience store), topped by a tiny flashing light to make sure that anybody will notice. The kanji above means literally "o sake", but is generally used for alcohol. Kanji are originally coming from China. On the red part of the sign is written "tabako", this time in hiragana. Hiragana is one of the two syllabaries (the other is katakana, used exclusively for foreign words) which are used in japanese if there is no kanji for a word. I read that they make about 40% of an average japanese text.