Friday, January 30, 2015

A Long-Awaited Homecoming

"There is no home as comfortable as your father's arms 
and no bed as soft as your mother's lap." 
Faraaz Kazi

Lots of flights there from India, but no, I was from Haneda in Japan.

Hello everyone! As you may noticed, I have changed the header of my blog, which I have used for n years. Mom actually commented on it recently, and asked me why I still used that header with my sexy squatting pose while holding to a mineral water bottle. The reason is very simple - I was too lazy to make a new header hahaha! So, tell me, how is the new header? It was taken at Henderson Waves during my Singapore trip last October. At least the header now shows the latest photo of myself and no longer holding to a bottle lol!

I was browsing through my blog entries and for many many months already, it has been all about Chiba Kun, Chiba Kun and Chiba Kun. No wonder everywhere I go, people will relate me as the Chiba Kun Ambassador more often than Calvin Ong haha! So, yeah, I will try to put a balance to it from now onward, by blogging about my life (as if you guys are interested to know about it lol!) from time to time.

First meal upon arrival, what else but mamak at Murni Taipan.

Speaking of which, as many of you may have known, I have left Japan for good. Like, finally, right? I started this blog a couple of months before I first stepped to sakuraland in early 2007, mainly to document my journey in a new country. And now, the Japan chapter may have ended but this journey will continue and carry one. 

I used to have quite a number of loyal and also silent readers in the past (sorry-lah, let me be a bit thick face a bit here lol!) but lately, the comments have dried off. So, to you, and you and you, yes you, I would really love to hear from you guys again.

  Went to the centennial celebration of the establishment of my high school and managed to catch-up with some of the teachers, friends, juniors there too. Lovely!

You know, to bloggers, comments are like drugs to us hahaha! The more comments we get, the happier we become, the more crap entries I can come out with to entertain you guys out there.

So, you may ask, what am I doing right now. Well, I am officially unemployed now. So, my daily routine is wake up, go for a morning run, take my breakfast, check emails, take lunch, go online, tea time, evening nap, dinner and occasional catch-ups with friends. So, you tell me, how not to grow fats like that right? Sigh...

Went to KL on one of the weekends. And guess what, I will be flying again next week wohooo!! Anyone wanna guess where am I going?

You may think I am just like a cow doing nothing at home at the moment, but actually besides eating and sleeping, at least I have been helping my parents cleaning the house, washing the cars. You know, especially those high up spots where they get to utilise my height for free hahaha! And after spending more than a week, I have successfully regained my room. Yea, it was turned a warehouse ever since I left home many years ago and imagine the few-inches-thick dust that covered the cabinets. Now, it is not the best-looking room you will find, but at least it looks very much tidier and most importantly, clean!

Besides doing those house chores and cooking for the family, I also managed to pay visits to both my grandmas and even took them out for dinner. I guess at such age, they aren't looking anything much but to spend such quality times with their kids and grandchildren.

Ah Mah and Calyn my eldest sister having dinner at one of the few happening night spots in Taiping.

Side track a little bit, I was showing my Mom that I received a text message from an unknown mak cik. Must be from the previous owner of my number as I just got my Malaysian mobile number recently. So, she told me her story, where there was one day, some unknown fella texted her, which goes something like this, "Nak ikan keli tiga kilo", which literally translate as "I would like to have three kilogrammes of catfish".

You see, my mom has been teaching for decades and she never sells fish before. So, obviously that fella had gotten the wrong person. Mom replied and told him she doesn't have any catfish. And guess what? That clown texted Mom again like five minutes later, again asking for three kilogrammes of ikan keli lol!

Asked Mom to accompany me to attend a dana session on one Saturday morning at Taiping Insight Meditation Society (TIMS).

Another incident happened this noon when I was getting lunch with Mom. The shop guy noticed my obvious height and commented that to Mom. He then asked me if I had just finished school.

"Boy form what now arh?" was his question, and I replied, "Form 5, uncle ^_^" lol!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Japanese Spiny Lobster Bento Of Oonoso

"A lobster loves water,
but not when he's being cooked in it"
Senegalese proverb

Camels decorates the lamp posts around the Onjuku town.

Nestled in a sweeping bay, Onjuku is one of the best-known small towns on the Pacific coast of the Bōsō Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. The little town harbors a unique culture; in 1609 a Spanish galleon named the San Francisco ran ashore near Onjuku and the surviving crew and captain were cared for by the Japanese women of the town. They were later offered a ship to return to Mexico. Now, tourists to the region can admire a monolith, overlooking the sea, built to commemorate the relationship between Mexico and Japan, but that's not the only Mexican influence you can see within the town. 

Onjuku, although primarily a fisher's town, also accommodates the surfers, the sunbathers and those who just want to ride a novelty banana-shaped boat. There's a symbolic statue of Onjuku, which depicts a prince and princess in Arabian garb riding on camels at the Onjuku beach. The golden sandy beach with clear blue waters is certainly something worth coming to wash away the stress from the city. The statue was erected to celebrate the 1923 song, Tsuki no Sabaku, which was inspired by the area.

 The famous camel statues of Onjuku by the beautifu beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Oonoso, the restaurant we visited to have our lobster lunch.

The owner of Oonoso giving a brief introduction about the treat we are gonna feast on very soon.

We have known each other for almost 4 years but I never had the chance to ask the name of this uncle from Chiba TV. First knew him from the interview I had with Chiba TV in 2011 and we have met several times after that, especially during the tours of Chiba Kun Ambassadors. He's a person who does his work quietly but come out with spectacular results. Took a photo with him for one last time at my last tour with the ambassadors, and in fact this is our first time taking photo together.

The regional industry of commercial diving for abalone and lobster started around here, though low yields have caused a downturn recently. Until the 1960's, the abalone diving was done by young women called "ama" who dove with no breathing apparatus, and bare-chested. Cute lobsters adorning sombreros are everywhere, along with a cactus tree that welcomes beach-goers.

Onjuku town has the largest catch of Japanese lobster in Japan, where the season for the Japanese lobster begins from September. During this period of the year, there is the annual Onjuku lobster festival (おんじゅく伊勢えび祭り), which is held from early September until end of October. Visitors to this festival will get to choose and grab fresh lobsters by the hand and eat grilled lobster on the spot.

 Assorted fruits as desserts.

Pickles or tsukemono (漬物).

Boiled green beans, miso egg plant, sweet potato.

Boiled hijiki with carrots and aburaage (deep-fried slices of tofu).

Chawamushi, which has a very tender texture and sweet aroma of eggs.

The bowl of chawamushi has among others, lobster, shiitake mushroom, ginkgo seeds and lily roots, and by far one of the best that I have ever tasted.

Vinegar rice with shiitake mushroom, flower-shaped lotus roots and tinsel eggs.

This is the main of the whole meal - freshly grilled Japanese spiny lobster or iseebi with sangayaki, a regional dish from Chiba made of minced fish.

The complete dishes of the Japanese spiny lobster bento set.

Another angle of the sumptuous meal.

Generally, this bento is packed in a box like this, but for our visit this time, it was specially prepared in individual servings.

Trying to get the best shot for blogging later on hahaha! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

One of the traditional Japanese inn in this town is Oonoso (大野荘), which specialises on lobster dishes. In a collaboration with Isumi Railway (いすみ電鉄), they come out with Iseebi Bento (伊勢えび弁当), or literally "Japanese Spiny Lobster Bento". The main is the lobster freshly caught from the Sotobo region, which is prepared by the onigarayaki (鬼殻焼き) method.  The back of the lobster will be cut open and glazed with a special sauce prepared using the authentic recipe of Oonoso, and finally grilled in oven with the shell still intact.

Other fresh seafood and cooking materials from the region are used to prepare the side dishes that complete this wonderful set of bento. Among others are Sotobo's grilled shiokoji marlin (kajikimaguro sakekasu-shio-koji-yaki, カジキマグロの酒粕塩麹焼き), Isumi's tosani boiled shiitake mushroom (椎茸の土佐煮), boiled sweet potato with honey (さつま芋の蜜煮), sangayaki (さんが焼き), egg plants with sea bream cooked with miso (秋茄子の鯛味噌のせ), green beans with peanuts (いんげんのピーナツ和え), boiled hijiki (ひじきの煮物), flower-shaped lotus root (花蓮根), kinshi-tamago or tinsel egg (錦糸卵) and vinegar rice (彩酢飯).

Small dolls which are hand-made for the Hinamatsuri celebration.

It takes several days to complete one doll, according to the owner.

One of the dolls at the restaurant which resembles the shape of lobster.

Visitors to this restaurant will certainly be impressed by the colourful tsurusibina dolls.

More tsurushibina dolls inside the restaurant.

Besides serving authentic lobster meals, the visitors who are interested can also learn how to make cute little dolls, which are hung from the ceiling. These dolls are called tsurusibina (つるし雛). There is a festival for this dolls in February and March every year, where participating restaurants will be beautifully decorated with these dolls.

So if you're looking for a relaxing weekend away or just a historical spot to explore, Onjuku has more than it's modest square footage might suggest.

The owner of Oonoso having a group photo with the Chiba Kun Ambassadors. Thanks a lot for the wonderful lunch! (photo credit: Ayako Uchiyama).

Oonoso (大野荘)
Address: 775 Shinmachi, Onjuku-machi, Isumi-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 299-5103 Japan (千葉県夷隅郡御宿町新町775)
Oonoso Iseebi Bento: 1,600 yen (reservation is required 2 days prior to visit)
Tel: 04-7068-5511   Fax: 04-7068-6455
Freedial: 0120-049-551 (not applicable via mobile phone)
Website: (Japanese only)

Access: Train: From JR Onjuku station (JR御宿駅), walk for approximately 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Maiwai - Traditional Craft Of Chiba Prefecture

"Ten thousand blessings"
the meaning 
of the word "maiwai"

Several maiwai (festive kimonos to celebrate a good catch) on display at Suzusen.

The fishing industry has long flourished along the coast of Bōsō Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), the culture of "maiwai" (万祝), a term that refers to festive kimonos to celebrate a successful catch, developed among the fishermen who lived by the sea in this area. It is originally from Bōsō Peninsula area and thereafter spread to the Pacific coast from Aomori Prefecture to Shizuoka Prefecture. In 1997, maiwai was made the "Designated Traditional Craft Product of Chiba Prefecture".

Originally, maiwai was only meant to celebrate a good catch, but over time, the significance of this item has developed to more than that - maiwai has came to mean a Japanese traditional garment or kimonos that ship owners would distribute to fishermen for celebration of an especially good catch. However, the term "maiwai" actually doesn't refer to the kimonos, but the cloths that was distributed. The fisherman's wife will then use this cloths and turn them into long or short kimonos. Eventually, everyone would wear the same kimono for the celebration.

A good quality maiwai like this could fetch up to 400,000 yen (approximately RM12,000).

Bottles of colourful dye which will be mixed with squeezed soybean juice.

These paints are ready to be used to be applied on the textile.

According to literature, there seems to already have been a custom of making maiwai around 1800, but then in the 1950s and 1960s the practice of distributing and wearing maiwai at times of a good catch died out. As times changed, the reward for a good catch shifted to more practical items, such as jumpers, and cash bonuses. 

One of the main attractions of maiwai, is that the patterns of the maiwai are usually drawn on the back and lower part. The family crest, ship's insignia, and ship's name are put on the back, and such things as auspicious motifs, like a crane and tortoise, pine tree, or treasure boat, or the fish that was caught in abundance are drawn on the bottom. In coloring, you mix squeezed soybean juice into five primary colors and then apply each color using a paint brush. A three-dimensional sense is created by shading off the borders between the colors to add gradation. When the fishermen wore the maiwai dyed in this way, the patterns drawn on the back and lower part stood out strongly, so they were able to boast to people around them of their bountiful catch. This masculine splendor is probably the main attraction of maiwai.

Suzuki-san explaining to us a brief history of maiwai.

Looks like somebody is more busy taking photos than listening to Suzuki-san hahaha! (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Suzuki-san showing us how to paint the textile the correct way.

"So, this is how you do it..."

Time for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors to paint their maiwai (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

There are several designs that are typically used on maiwai that symbolise good luck, such as crane, turtle and treasure boat. The maiwai design is divided into dorsal and lumbar types; dorsal types are often designed such that homes, ships, or ship names are drawn with a crane printed in the background. On the other hand, lumbar types have drawings such as fishing scenery, figures relating to the sea such as Urashima Taro, and treasure boats or objects that symbolizes good luck such as takasago and sambaso. These beautiful motifs are each individually hand-drawn at the back of the costume and later dyed in striking vivid colours, which become the main characteristics of maiwai.

In general, the working process of maiwai can be summarised as the following: draw the design. Then cut out the paper stencils, which is made by mino paper (美濃紙) and coated with persimmon tannin. Then the original paste is made from glutinous rice, rice bran, lime, salt and soybean and spread on the stencils. The colours, such as ultramarine, Prussian blue, rouge, cinnabar, Indian ink, indigo and whitewash, are made from pigments and fluid obtained by filtering soybean soaked overnight and crushed. Then, the design on the texture are painted and the paste are spread on the paintings to protect the design from indigo-dyeing. Ground dyeing followed and the paste are washed away. The final steps are drying the textile and tailoring the cloth into maiwai.

The 3 types of motifs that we get to choose from.

I chose the sea bream or golden-eye tai (kinmedai; 金目鯛) motif.

The 4 Chiba Kun Ambassadors couldn't wait to start painting! (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Late last year, the Chiba Kun Ambassadors tour took us to visit Maiwai Suzusen (万祝鈴染) workshop in Kamogawa to experience the method of maiwai-making. The maiwai dye technique has continued from the Edo period in the Kamogawa area. The founder is Kokichi Suzuki who was taught by Katsutaro Yamada. The technique was then inherited by second generation Eiji followed by third generation Kosuke.

Handing down skills from generation to generation still plays an important role in many of Japan's traditional crafts and professions. Kosuke Suzuki owns a traditional tailoring shop called Suzusen. Born in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture in 1954, Suzuki-san was a graduate from the Faculty of Science and Technology at the Tokyo University of Science. Growing up watching his grandfather and father engaged in dyeing had deepen his interest on the masculine flamboyance of the maiwai, like the Edo-period firefighters' costumes. He gradually felt like wanting to do the dyeing himself, so upon graduating from university, Suzuki-san decided to devote himself to continuing the family business.

Super concentrated hahaha! So, basically we used paint brushes to apply different colours of our choice
inside the contours formed by the paste (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

However, there is always a moment to take photos *hehehe*

Here's my completed painting. The brownish thingy are paste with pigments dissolved in soybean juice.

  Suzuki-san explaining to us the final steps after we finished our painting, which is to remove the paste from the cloth.

Once the cloth is left to soak inside a bucket of lukewarm water for a day, the paste will come off and here is the final result. What do you think?

Suzuki-san's grandfather trained in a dyeing factory that had continued since the Edo period and then founded the Suzuki Somemonoten (鈴木染物店) in 1925. Almost all of the old materials had been lost at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but the dyeing technique was unfailingly handed down from his grandfather to his father and then to him. Now, his son Riki takes the lead in inheriting the maiwai dyeing technique as the fourth-generation owner of Suzusen. They are also making efforts to transmit the method to the next generation by holding dyeing workshops for local students and others in their studio and museum since about 15 years ago. 

In his workshop, Suzuki-san, who represents the third generation owner of the family business specialising in maiwai dyeing, teaches his son Riki and daughter Mami the technique of making the maiwai style of kimono that fishermen wear when they celebrate a great catch. He is also assisted by his wife Kayoko and mother Teruko in running the maiwai center in the heart of Kamogawa city.

  We were also taught how to fold origami into maiwai shapes.

Some of us trying out the maiwai at the workshop.

Happy faces of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors who got to have a test wear on the maiwai (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

In order to master the dyeing technique, it takes around 10 years before a person are able to do the whole procedure, as there are 12 processes involved in preparing a single cloth, such as compiling the pattern on paper, coloring, and ground dyeing. The demand for maiwai is declining, but when Suzuki-san sees people happily wearing kimono that he has made or carefully displaying kimonos that he have helped repair or reproduce in their museums or somewhere, he feels glad that he chose to become a craftsman.

So far, Suzuki-san has only been involved in making long or short kimonos, but now he is also applying the maiwai technique for making more familiar items, such as aloha shirts, hats, and bags. In the future, he would like to see these products become popular among foreigners.

One happy family photo with Suzuki-san and the Chiba Kun Ambassadors (photo credit: Tooru Ishikawa).

Maiwai Suzusen (鴨川萬祝染 鈴染)
Address: 620-1 Yokosuka, Kamogawa-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 296-0001 Japan (千葉県鴨川市横渚620-1)
Opening Hours: 07:00 - 19:00
Course: 1,500 yen & 3,500 yen (reservation is required 7 days prior to visit)
Tel/Fax: 04-7092-1531
Access: Train: From JR Tokyo Station (JR東京駅) on JR Limited Express Wakashio & JR Sotobo Line (JR特急わかしお・JR外房線) to JR Awa-Kamogawa Station (JR安房鴨川駅), walk for approximately 10 minutes.
Car: From Tokyo Bay Aqualine (東京湾アクアライン) to Tateyama Expressway Kisarazu-minami Interchange (館山自動車道木更津南) to Bōsō Skyline (房総スカイライン) to Kamogawa Toll Road (鴨川有料道路).
Bus: Board the Akusi (アクシー号) bus from JR Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit (in front of Fuji Bank) (JR東京駅八重洲口富士銀行前) (bus schedule here - Japanese only); journey takes approximately 2 hours and alight at Kamogawa-eki Nishi-guchi (鴨川駅西口); walk for approximately 12 minutes.