Listing posts

Compliments in Japan

jason

One of the things I learned in high school German class was never, ever to accept a compliment. The proper response is denial; graciously accepting someone's praise in Germany is hopelessly gauche.

Fortunately, a similar aesthetic regarding compliments prevails in Japan, as this Japan Times article suggests. So even my first time in Japan, around 1998, I was habitually denying the overwrought compliments offered on my truly atrocious Japanese. Anyone I know whose Japanese skills are actually worthy of praise ceases directly hearing even a word of such, unless they are particularly tired and sloppy and making mistakes. Such people are offered praise (or bewilderment) through intermediaries.

Unlike Germany, however, it seems to be far more common for Japanese to lavish praise on people, so the skills in deflecting compliments require somewhat faster reflexes.

It is somewhat news to me, though, that I would need to be cautious about group contexts when offering compliments to people close to me... But since Americans can be insulted by insincere compliments, I suppose the same risk would be present in U.S. situations; offering an insincere compliment to someone you know in a mixed group might be taken particularly badly. I think that the most sincere direct compliment in Japan is when someone is saying that they like something about you (I like your hair when it is longer) or something that you have done (is it ok if I eat more of this?), rather than offering general praise (your Japanese is good, etc.)

Busy busy busy

jason

I'm trying to keep up with work, both the logistics/marketing/store display stuff, the follow-up from my trip, and some outside work I took on... I'll put up photos from the last days of my trip as soon as I can handle the distraction.

I can't avoid eating, though. Tonight I made a simple minestrone with turnips, zucchini, the usual soup base vegetables, cannelini, pasta and some finely chopped chanterelles. At the Ballard Market, chanterelles were under $5/pound. I dressed the minestrone with some quickly made basil pesto and a splash of roasted pumpkin seed oil. Yesterday's dinner was penne with eringii, shallots, broccoli and some cream and parmesan, done on a Japanese scale... 2 weeks of paying for minimally subsidized agriculture and expensive distribution networks has made me a little more restrained. But today I made enough minestrone for lunch for the next week, and a big chocolate sesame cake that I shouldn't finish by myself.

Lots of stuff to work on tomorrow... oh, and tonight.

The good news is my jetlag is in check so far... I woke up around 7 this morning with about 6 hours of sleep, and that's an improvement of waking up at 5am with 4 hours. Tonight I'll try to sleep before midnight.

Final days in Japan

jason

I just arrived this morning... the last few days in Japan were somewhat busy, and though I started writing entries in my web journal a few times, I got distracted by other things. I will start to fill in the blanks tomorrow, if I can spare a few moments.

Kyoto Weekend

jason
In front of Kyoto station
Hiromi and I departed to Kyoto Saturday morning... it was a trip full of amazingly close calls. We arrived at the Haneda airport just in time, after missing a connection. We had a few other complications involving catching buses, trains, and even the airplane back... Hiromi went to retrieve some items from a locker in Osaka station, which she had trouble finding because we turned out to be on the wrong side of the station. Already on a tight return schedule, I further messed things up when Hiromi and I were readjusting the two pieces of luggage, camera, and two shopping bags we were carrying back to Tokyo. Somehow, a strap on my backpack or maybe Hiromi's camera bag caught my eyeglass frame as I was removing heavy things from my body inside the train... My eyeglasses popped off my face, slid across the train car floor, and landed in the gap between the train and the platform, essentially unreachable to the most dexterous and skinny of human bodies. The station attendants suggested we wait for the train to depart before retrieving the items, and we lost about 10 minutes between trains, missing a monorail connection, and again arriving just in time for the return flight.

As for the trip itself, it was both pleasant and reasonably productive. We stopped at a yuzen fabric dye and painted fabric decoration workshop, and chatted with the someone who makes pillows, purses, and other fabric-based crafts. Although I suppose these items would be quite expensive if imported in the US, I like the work and would like to try to find a way to make it possible to bring into the US.

The labor involves traditional dying and decoration processes but the look would fit in with contemporary lifestyles. Hiromi bought a purse (pictured here) that has a pretty interesting cut and looks pretty good when worn...

Our first night in Kyoto was a kind of multicourse meal involving fresh yuba, skimmed by hand from the surface of thick soy milk. We had yuba in various preparations, yubadoufu, and other pleasant things. The entire meal was pleasantly sappari, although we decided to tempt fate and order a sort of spring roll made with yuba as the skin and what turned out to be typically Japanese processed cheese inside. This was pleasant, though if I did this back home I think I'd probably be using some camembert or raclette cheeses.

We met up with Sachi, who visited me in Seattle during Golden Week, Sunday afternoon, but not before a breakfast that included a soy milk warabi-mochi. Warabi-mochi are a chewy confection which I think are actually made with kuzu (arrowroot) starch. Hiromi discovered the shop in a guidebook, and when we arrived, we realized it should have been in Fremont, were we in Seattle and if the King County Health Department didn't have an aversion to pets in restaurants. The shop was actually mostly selling dog toys and baked items for dogs, and the cafe was just there as a diversion for their customers. We had two orders of Warabi-mochi, and some Japanese interpretations of the Korean drinks soo jeong-gwa (persimmon punch with cinnamon and ginger) and yuja-cha (yuzu tea). The rest of the short menu was multiethnic and rarely Japanese. The soymilk smoothed out the texture of the warabi mochi and what we had were much creamier than the typical confection by the same name... I suppose that might be meaningless to most folks who don't spend a lot of time eating Japanese sweets, but it's the best I can do to describe it... Our dish was adorned with a maple leaf and dressed with kuromitsu (black sugar honey syrup) and kinako (toasted soybean powder).

With Sachiko, of course, we spent most of our time walking across the Kumo-gawa river toward Gion, eating nibbles at other Japanese confectioners and senbe-makers. We even sampled some usu-jio umeboshi that are typically sold for something approaching JPY 300 each (a shy $3). She had to head off within a couple of hours due to a fairly long train ride back to her home in Wakayama, and, I think, trying to match the schedule of her friends that she had visited Arashi-yama with earlier in the day.

After wandering around in search of an exciting dinner option, we backtracked to Gion and picked a restaurant where we had more tofu and yuba dishes, in addition to some stuffed Kyoto eggplant (almost Italian), grilled mushrooms with butter, salt, pepper and garlic), and some salt-roasted ginnan nuts. We had a nigori-sake (unfiltered) which was slightly effervescent, and some excellent pickled daikon served with a little grated ginger. 

Monday, we made a pilgrimage to Del Cook, in Nose, a rustic area in the north end of Osaka. We were perhaps too focused on eating and enjoying the view to take any photos of the food, but it suffices to say that everything was as beautifully presented as the rest of the scenery. We had the fancier of the two available lunch courses, and mine was altered to be suitable for a vegetarian. We started with a small bowl of chopped persimmons served, in my case, with unsweetened yogurt, some black sesame seeds, and, I think, ginnan or similar nuts. A little coarse salt provided a little contrast to the light sweetness. 

We had a creamy gobo (burdock root) soup with a little bit of milk foam, served in cute little cups and small spoons, providing a bit of an espresso machiatto deception. Some naturally leavened breads made by Del himself provided a nice accompaniment, which we soon devoured and of which we declined an offer for a second serving. The next course was a baby organic leaf salad, served with some charcoal grilled fish for Hiromi, and some similarly prepared Kyoto-sized eggplant halves in my case. Hiromi also had a course of risotto and grilled hotate (scallops), and mine was a similar risotto and some grilled matsutake mushrooms which had been hand gathered by an older woman who operates a similarly rustic Japanese restaurant next door.

Before dessert we had something of a palate cleanser course of black currant sorbet and finely chopped pears in a light syrup. A rustic apple tart was accompanied by chestnut ice cream.

After our lunch, we were able to stop in Del's kitchen and chat a bit. There was no dinner meal planned for the evening, so he was able to talk with more leisure than otherwise, although it was clear he was exhausted. He also gave us a sample of some very nice yuzu mascarpone sorbet which went out on the dessert plates of those in the second seating.

Hiromi and I took a little walk with Del and his dogs, meeting the neighboring restaurant's ducks and walking past a backyard garden. We had a beautiful view of the Nose valley facing down the hill. One of the dogs jumped into a reservoir and swam a bit, then delighted in shaking off the water as close to his human companions as possible. As we returned to the restaurant to gather our things and settle our bill, we saw the obaasan (granny, respectfully) who runs the neighboring restaurant ride up on a motorcycle after apparently running some errands. Del says that she's been known to dive for abalone herself and share the bounty with his restaurant.

Jason, Del & one of the assistant chefs de dog

The neighbor ducks

Nose valley

 

Shall I be soapy?

jason

A couple of days ago, I headed off to Shizuoka to meet with a soap supplier whose product I was interested in when I was last in Japan.

Although I'm very interested in the soap, I'm still trying to find a way to make it work financially, because their export price will make it hard to offer in a reasonable price range in the U.S. I think some retailers won't mind as long as people buy. The price will work out to be closer to the cosmetic soaps that they tend to sell in department stores. It's unique enough that this may not be a problem, but like many products I am interested in, developing the market may be very challenging and expensive. I suppose, however, if it weren't challenging, I wouldn't be interested... I started planning to leave my last job when it stopped being challenging. Still, I'd be much more comfortable with a price point that would be more compatible with US equivalent markets, and also avoid risk of parallel imports from individuals with friends back home...

I did a little bit of research on sources for a product a customer requested, which bore some fruit, so to speak. If I can establish a connection with the company in question, I may be able to get a much better price for a product of similar quality. At the same time, I found some other interesting products, though I am a little ambivalent about importing them.

Last night I met with Linda of Azuma Gallery, who invited me to join her and the daughter of her one-time host family at a print show and benefit. After the reception and viewing of the prints for sale, Linda rounded up some artists whose work she sells, and Hiromi joined us as we all went out for a light dinner and drinks, overwhelming the waitstaff and kitchen staff by suddenly appearing all at once in a group of 20.

Tomorrow I head off to Kyoto, which is now a slightly different trip than I had originally planned... it should be pleasant... I'll get to see a friend from college and another friend or two, and also have the chance to eat at Del Cook Cuisine de Nose, which is a French restaurant in a woodsy area near Osaka. I may try to do a little ceramics hunting, though the dealer layer will make that much more expensive than I'd like. I've had a few requests for some work that comes out of Kyoto, so I will hunt a bit.

Arrived, partially recovered

jason

Over the holiday weekend I had the good fortune to be nearly unreachable, except via my prepaid Japanese cell phone, as I attempted to recover from jetlag in the hot springs of Hanamaki in Iwate prefecture, not far from Morioka. Monday was also a national holiday in Japan, so this was something of an international three day weekend... not completely work free, as I was always on the lookout for something interesting to import, and found lots of nifty stuff, but it was relaxing enough and helped me get enough sleep to be reasonably productive for the rest of the trip.

Alas, it meant also that I was blissfully unaware of some problems with some logistics issues with a few things that are being moved around right now, and I also discovered another couple of minor and major fire drills unrelated to products, but almost all of those were resolved in a few hours last night after I arrived in my weekly rental apartment in Shinjuku.

I need to take off to meet with a supplier... When I return, I'll talk about what I ate the last few days...

Madcap dash

jason

I am getting out of town in about 12 hours, headed to Japan.

I've been trying to finalize a shipment of ceramics to a customer in San Francisco, take care of a few related and unrelated errands, and so on... the last few days have been maddening. Fortunately, I got the shipment off, and I even gave someone who was trying to sell me some services a few minutes, and the only thing I've got left is preparing some gift wrappers to go to a few customers and some checks that need to be mailed out for outstanding bills. I think I'll just try to do those things in the morning. Sleep is good. All I am absolutely concerned about now is that I know where my passport and my wallet are. (Bad things have happened before.)

Yesterday after taking care of some other things I realized I had almost no fall clothing that is free of damage, and this is one of those things that is somewhat embarrassing when I find myself in Japan. Everyone else is hipper than me. I won't be wearing suits when meeting with businesses in Japan, but I should at least be moderately stylish, and I don't want to be wearing short sleeved summer clothing in the middle of October. So I made a financially frustrating decision to add some items to my wardrobe before my departure. I'm not Mr. Trendy, but being decently dressed in Japan is a generally good idea. This is a perennial problem associated with international travel for me... the expectations are so much lower in Seattle. On the other hand, it may have more to do with the fact that I don't travel constantly and I don't usually buy clothing unless I absolutely have to... The time between trips is probably longer than the time between shopping trips that most people make.

I'm increasingly incoherent. I think sleep would be a good thing right now, so I'll indulge myself...

Visions of earthquakes dancing in my head

jason

I woke up remembering all sorts of dreams involving earthquakes. Not nightmares... no substantial amount of fear was a part of them...

I briefly chatted with Hiromi this morning via MSN Messenger and I mentioned the dreams. She went to bed, and a few minutes later TV started showing images of a steam and smoke eruption at Mt. St. Helens.

On Friday while I was driving toward Seattle, a few hours shy of Portland I remember hearing about another minor plume. I started to recall the big eruption when I was about 7 years old... If memory serves me, my family was living in Kent and I was in first grade. I remember my neighbors pointing toward clouds in the sky and explaining that I was seeing Mount St. Helens erupting. I was disappointed, because all I could see was clouds... My 7-year-old mind wasn't quite able to see the difference.

Today I'm preparing a ceramics shipment... I hope I can get this and my other chores done in time.

And we're back...

jason

I just returned home from the long return drive about an hour ago... The weather today was beautiful... I apparently was just a few hours too late to witness the results of the minor Mt. Saint Helens eruption today... still somewhere in Oregon when I heard about it.

The trip was mostly productive. I sold a fair amount of ceramics to a suitable spot, and got agreement for a chain of several other stores to carry the candy. The direct sales from this trip probably covered most of the expenses from this trip, and I established a couple of relationships that will probably have future benefits.

I'd write more, but I'm exhausted. I didn't consume any measurable amount of caffeine today, either.