Collabo-Ramen – 七彩

In April, Tokyo Ramen Street expanded to eight stores. The original four are still there (although Keisuke now serves a crab miso rather than the past lobster miso) along with four new spots. Brian and I checked out 七彩 (Shichisai), which serves a Kitakata style ramen – a light shoyu or shio soup with amazing chashu pork:

CollaboRamen – Shichisai from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

For three years I lived in Fukushima Prefecture about thirty minutes away from Kitakata. I ate in famous Kitakata shops a number of times, but it never really made an impact on me until I tried Shichisai. Sure, I noticed the pork tasted great, but until Brian showed me what to look for in different bowls, I always erred on the side of miso and went for hearty, savory bowls of Hokkaido style ramen.

I was also intimidated by the huge amount of pork that some chashu-men bowls offer. Shichisai has the perfect amount of pork on its 喜多方肉そば – not too much, not too little – and the soup was light and delicious – I finished the whole bowl, which is a rarety for me.

One of the neat parts about this shop is that there are windows into the kitchen area, so you can watch them cook while you wait.

Brian ran into some guys from the Tōno, Iwate-based Zumona Brewery at the Daimaru department store giving out samples of their German-style beers. After the earthquake, a group of twenty-one Japanese craft breweries created their own relief effort under the title “Re-Fermenting Japan.” Illustrator, author, and overall Japan beer guru Hiroyuki Fujiwara created the slogan and the graphic that’s being used on posters and bottles.

Sasaki-san, the Zumona brewer, will be at Daimaru until Tuesday, June 28th, so be sure to drop by to try some out and pick up a few bottles. We covered the basement of Daimaru in a past Collabo-Ramen video – they’ve got a decent selection.

Cool Web Thing – Drop Down Box of Prefectures

I hate filling out web forms. Ever since I applied to grad school, my browser has memorized ten different combinations of my personal information. Even when I use the autofills, they are rarely correct. One of the most annoying parts of a given web form is selecting the country. I never know where to look for the U.S. Some forms put them at the top of the drop down box (AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!). Others file them at the bottom under U. Some even put them under A for America? (This I’m not sure of, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)

Selecting Louisiana is a little easier. It’s the only state that starts with L, so I open the drop down box, hit L, and Louisiana pops up.

I love the way they take care of this in Japan. Every Internet drop down box for prefectures looks like this:

Have you figured out why? No, they don’t do 五十音順. No, it’s not alphabetical.

It’s even more awesome: the prefectures are listed in geographical order from north to south. It starts with Hokkaido in the north, works its way through Tohoku and Kanto, continues through Kansai, and finishes with Kyushu. It’s a brilliant way to create a textual representation of the island through the prefectural names. It’s almost like one giant pictogram made up of words. I love it. (And dammit all, wouldn’t you know that now that I’ve professed its brilliance, I find an exception that lists the big cities separately on the top. Most of them are like this, trust me.)

I guess this is just as arbitrary as alphabetical order, really, but it is more visually pleasing. So learn your north-to-south position on the island. It’ll make these forms easier to fill out.

Video Introduction to All Hands Project Tohoku

Former Google employee and All Hands Volunteer Ryo Chijiiwa gave a talk at Google Japan before he flew home late last week. He starts out with a quick introduction to his path to volunteering (which includes a very interesting look at the hut he built in northern California) and then moves on to some of the activities that All Hands has been doing in Ofunato on Project Tohoku. Highly recommended viewing.

Game Lingo – 鎧

I’m realizing now that it’s been more than a full year since I’ve posted anything about video games. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I haven’t worked at a video game translation company for more than a full year as well. I’ve been away from the material. I’ve lost my game, man.

No longer. I’ve spent the last two days with my eyeballs frozen on LCD screens full of Japanese game text and passable English translations. It’s been incredibly tiring. Tiring in a completely different way from the satisfying physical exhaustion of digging ditches and shoveling mud. Good in its own way, though.

I’ve learned/refreshed a good bit of Japonese, and one of the coolest words I’ve come across is 鎧 (よろい) – armor. I have no idea where it derives from, but the clear mnemonic for this character is “a metal bean that holds up a mountain can armor you against ANYTHING!”

I don’t think the kanji gets used all that often unfortunately. I’ve seen it as both よろい and ヨロイ, although the latter seems to refer to attributes of certain characters rather than armor itself. So keep your eyes open for this one. It should come in handy when they start releasing the next set of Final Fantasy remakes for the Nintendo 3DS or Wii U.

Day 10 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Last day in Ofunato. I went with Keith and two other guys to take up the floor on a small house and disinfect the soil underneath with EM spray. The house was interesting. It was a small wooden house with only two rooms – a bedroom and a storage room. Very old. So old that the boards of the house had dried up and brittled into a gray color. At first I thought it was connected to a newer structure whose occupants were giving us instructions, but actually it was an entirely separate building. The resident was gone for the day. The newer building was just built in a way that wrapped around the older building. The gap between the two couldn’t have been more than six inches.

We removed everything from the bedroom and took up two boards to get a look under the floor. Because the boards were so old, we decided to rake the mud from outside of the house rather than risk breaking any of the floor. Underneath the house was a treasure chest of old wood and bamboo, possibly from when the house was first built fifty or sixty years ago. Once we dragged all of the stuff out, we raked a bit of the mud, sprayed the EM disinfectant, and then moved on to the newer structure which had actually taken more water during the tsunami. The front room of the building had about a foot or so of water, so we removed the boards from part of the front room and sprayed underneath a hallway. We also had to go back and spray a small additional bit of the older house.

We managed all that in the morning, so in the afternoon we joined up with the team working the ditches. The ditch team was an appropriate way to end my time with All Hands – that’s what I did my first day. The team has made significant progress since that day. They are within a block or two of the local NTT building – much closer than when I first got here.

Keith and Norm, an older Scottish/Engishlman, were racing through some of the ditches, and we really made a lot of progress in the short time we were there. Supposedly our ditch digging and canal cleaning have made quite an impression on the local authorities. They’ve asked All Hands to do 4km more of the ditches – 2km on either side of a road.

I gave a short farewell at the evening meeting, and we hung around the Sakari Base drinking beers for a little while before walking back to the Fukushi no Sato Center.

Although I’m leaving tomorrow (after I spend the morning doing housekeeping at the Fukushi no Sato Center), Project Tohoku will be in Ofunato for a while. All Hands just announced an extension from July until September. Knowing that the Haiti project is still going strong, who knows how long Project Tohoku will continue if funding isn’t an issue. So definitely send in your information to the project to keep up with the latest information, and donate if you have the cash. As far as I know, they are prioritizing Japanese and Japan-residing foreigner volunteers over international volunteers, but if you can speak Japanese and English somewhat fluently, you can help do important interpretation and they’ll probably consider your application. Japan has given me so much over the past ten years, and I was really glad to give back, even if it was just for ten days. Maybe I’ll find a way to come back and help out again. Hopefully some of the people I’ve met here will still be around then.

Day 9 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Today we finally finished at the Ueno’s house. Three of us mudded the last couple of sections of the house, including the section that had previously been filled with water, and Keith took out the old septic tanks with a sledgehammer. The Uenos added a section onto the original building, and when they did, they put in a new toilet and left the old concrete septic tanks empty under the house. In the tsunami they filled with water and mud, and rather than digging out the mud, it was easier to break them up with a sledgehammer and dig out the rubble. Keith also sledged out the concrete from the in-floor kotatsu.

We were close to finishing at noon, but we would have left the place a bit of a mess, so we ended up staying all day. In the afternoon we took our time ensuring that all the nails in the frame of the house had been pounded flat and cleaning up after ourselves.

The couple came back later in the afternoon as did the carpenter who is working with them. There was a brief moment where I thought we had messed up big time. The husband gave us permission to destroy the old septic tanks earlier in the day, but the carpenter had a look of concern on his face when he saw the work. He started talking quickly with the wife and then asked me a few questions with words I couldn’t understand. The wife went to ask the husband something, and I turned to Shinpei to ask about the words and the process that the carpenter had described. Apparently in Japan when a family stops using a toilet, they have a priest purify it ritually with salt, an ofuda (shinto talismans often hung at shrines), and a blessing. This prevents any misfortune apparently. The toilet had been put out of use long before, so it was probably fine, and the couple didn’t seem too concerned.

One interesting note today was that there were more workers on the debris pile. It had been mostly flattened by the crew yesterday with the mini-crane and trucks, but there were three guys today on their hands and knees sorting through the soil, separating pieces of trash from dirt. It was dirty, thankless work – unbelievable to watch. By the end of the day they had finished approximately a third of the trash area.

A dozen of the volunteers have headed off to a satellite project in a town called Yamada, so I said some goodbyes today. There are fewer Japanese/English bilinguals around, and they’ve been sorting us into jobs before the evening meetings. Tomorrow is my last full day on Project Tohoku, and I’ll be at another gutting/mudding site with Keith. It’s just one room that needs the floors torn up and replaced within a day. Should be a fun last day.

Updates – pictures:

Two shots of the neighborhood near the Ueno’s house and store. In the first, the roof on the warehouse to the right is ripped back – this happened during the recent typhoon, not during the tsunami:

The Ueno’s store. Both entrances are temporary and were added after the tsunami:

Keith and Craig talking on the right, and on the left the Japanese workers sorting through the trash pile slowly but surely, making their way toward the store:

The temporary door for the house that I helped Vince build:

Group photo – L-R: Shinpei, Craig, Keith, the carpenter, and then Mr. and Mrs. Ueno on the first row:

The carpenter showing us his 40-year-old tools. Impressive.

Day 8 with Project Tohoku in Ofunato

Today I was back at the Ueno’s house with Keith and Vince finishing up the gutting job. Mr. Ueno was there when we arrived, but he left quickly after. We found a tray of breakfast cakes and onigiri rice balls to eat during our break along with a box of drinks. They are a really sweet, generous couple.

There were only four of us today, and we slightly underestimated the time it would take us to finish the job. We expected to finish by 1pm, but we took all day and will go back tomorrow for a few hours. Keith and Vince spent the morning demolishing the bath area, which was difficult since the walls were lined with steel and then covered with concrete inlaid with tile.

Shinpei, a Japanese guy from Ibaraki, and I worked on taking out the subflooring in one room and then “mudding” another room. Mudding is basically shoveling the top two inches of soil that has accumulated under the house. It makes the rooms look neat, and it also removes the last of any debris that washed up underneath the house during the tsunami.

While we were mudding, we also helped Keith and Vince remove their trail of destruction. They were throwing sheets of metal, blocks of concrete from the bathroom floors and walls, and flooring from the last of the floor that we had to take up. We basically needed one more person with us during the day to run the wheelbarrow back and forth and we probably would have finished in time.

One new part of today was the construction workers outside of the house. There was a huge pile of debris immediately next to the Ueno’s house. It was a pile for the whole neighborhood, and we had been dumping on it over the past few days, but today there was a construction crew that was using a mini-crane to lift the debris onto trucks which took it away to a different location. The guy running the crane came up to talk with me at several points, helping us direct our trash to the right location. He and his team made pretty quick work of the pile – it was gone by the end of the day. He was also a little curious about us volunteers; he had a curious smile on his face the whole day, and we had a short conversation as he was heading off after finishing.

Part of the reason we were able to have this conversation was because our bus was late. This also enabled us to talk with Mrs. Ueno who came briefly around lunch and then returned later in the afternoon with her older sister-in-law. We all talked, and I translated for Keith and Vince. Neighbors who walked or biked by stopped to say thank you. The sister-in-law also gave us a big bag of canned coffee and eighteen tai-yaki (fish-shaped, red-bean filled Japanese cakes) to share with everyone. It felt kind of like a goodbye, and it probably should have been, but we’ll be back tomorrow to put the finishing touches on the job. Then we’ll head back to the canals for more shoveling.

Updates – pictures:

Vince and Keith demolishing the bathroom walls – steel-lined concrete:

The gutted house with just a path through the middle remaining:

From L-R: Vince, Keith, sister-in-law of the owners, her son Take-chan, Mrs. Ueno, myself.