Celebrations or the lack thereof

Having moved to Hong Kong during the pandemic meant that we sadly missed out on the city‘s main cultural events such as the spectacular dragon and lion dances and lantern displays for the Mid-Autumn festival, the Chinese New Year fireworks, parades and flower markets or the famous dragon boat races in the summer. One after another of those events got cancelled which made it difficult to really gain an understanding and appreciation of Hong Kong‘s culture.

During our time in ‚pre-pandemic‘ Japan, we went to local summer matsuri or bon-odori festivals regularly. Besides being good fun, those festivals were an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the country‘s culture, leaving a lasting impression much more than, let‘s say, a visit to a museum ever would.

Even without participating in any events though, I will remember making and eating mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival and taking the kids to the beach with little lanterns and glow in the dark sticks. Or figuring out our whole family‘s zodiac animal signs and listening to traditional songs at home during Chinese New Year that the kids were introduced to in online class by their teachers.

One of those songs is Gong Xi Gong Xi. It is so catchy that I decided to learn and record it once we’ve settled down after our move and I’ve got my piano back. I am confident that listening to the recording will always evoke memories of our two years spent in HK even so many days of those were spent at home.

Tea discoveries

Initially, I’d intended to write a paragraph or two about my re-discovery of Pu‘er tea here in Hong Kong. Once I started to jot down my thoughts though I realised that it would feel much more natural to write about my tea journey as a whole rather than picking out just one type. So here it is, probably a bit lengthy but at least covering all the teas I‘ve grown fond of over the years.

A little knit to wind down

A lot people found themselves with free time on their hands in the evenings when, more or less, strict lockdowns started worldwide. Since then I’ve seen many articles encouraging people to use their new, spare time wisely and pick up a hobby such as gardening or learning a new language. Many, including myself, started baking excessively or experimenting with new recipes. After a couple of months of spending too much time in the kitchen and a severe shortage of baking staples in the supermarkets, fatigue set in though for most and take-out meals took the upper hand again. Continue reading “A little knit to wind down”

Tokyo archive 08

We left Japan for good this morning and I am writing this whilst waiting for my corona test results at the Hong Kong expo centre. At least for now, this will be my last post for the Tokyo archive.

I’ve enjoyed recalling and writing about some of the small things that made my time in Japan so special. For my final post I decided to write about a Japanese phrase that has accompanied me from the beginning: Ganbatte! (頑張って!). You’d usually hear this phrase together with a friendly ne at the end (ganbatte ne) or a slightly more formal and polite ganbatte kudasai. During sporting events, you’d hear supporters shout a more assertive ganbare!

But what does this phrase mean? The dictionary translates it as Do your best, which makes sense when it is used to cheer on people or to give encouragement to someone who will go through a challenging or strenuous situation. It is being used in so many more situations though (for example to a mother who is dealing with her toddler having a tantrum or for someone learning a difficult subject – I can’t count how many times I was told ganbatte during my Japanese studies…) When I took a moment to really think about the translation Do your best, I realised that the much better suited translation into English (or German in my case) would be Good luck! – a completely different meaning. To me it shows perfectly how Japanese culture differs so much from the Western culture that I know. In Japan I never heard anyone saying Good luck to me, is there even a phrase for it? I have to admit that I haven’t done proper research on this subject and I am basing this solely on my experience of having lived in Japan for some time. These are just my thoughts but for me the phrase ganbatte makes me wonder whether the Japanese do believe in situations being solved by sheer luck? I feel the believe is that a positive outcome of a situation lies entirely in your own hands. Do your best and you will succeed. Thinking about it, ganbatte is much more motivating than a casual Good luck and has helped me to get through difficult situations during my time in Japan.

For my new chapter here in Hong Kong I hope this phrase (and thus the Japanese way of thinking) will stick with me to help me get through the challenge of starting afresh.

Tokyo archive 07

I don‘t think I ever tried umeshu (梅酒/plum wine) before moving to Japan. It is so tasty that I just have to add it to this archive. I realise that I’ve been mainly writing about food and drink items but it makes sense to me as eating and drinking has been playing such a big role during my 5+ years living in Tokyo. Umeshu has become one of my favourite liquors to start the evening with when eating out at a Japanese restaurant. I love the golden colour of the drink and the sweet and slightly sour taste. Umeshu is either served one the rocks (ロック) or mixed with soda (梅酒ソーダ), both versions equally good. Many Japanese make the drink themselves at home and there are make-your-own kits that you can easily buy when the plums are in season. I am sure that a glass of umeshu will always remind me of the many evenings spent at some of Tokyo’s plenty izakayas or yakitori joints.

Tokyo archive 06

Japanese manhole covers! Only when moving to Japan did I find out that they were quite a thing. Different districts boasting their own designs, many of them in bright colours. However, mostly rushing around during the day, I never spent much time looking down to spot them. It took me a hiking trip to rural Japan last year to find the peace I needed to actually admire them. I especially like the simplicity of the top one which is beautiful even without any colour.

Tokyo archive 05

Today I decided to add something as mundane as a vegetable. When coming to Japan it didn’t take me long to notice all the different vegetables on the supermarket shelves and at the smaller green grocers that I hadn’t come across before. Eating out at restaurants, I was trying all those new foods straight away however, it took me some time to start buying them, to try out some Japanese cooking at home. Out of all the vegetables I discovered, my favourite by far is gobō (ゴボウ) or edible burdock (root) in English. In any Japanese supermarket you will find those long, soil covered sticks, packed in bunches. They look so alien when you first see them but it is worth giving them a try. I love the earthy taste and crunchiness of Gobō. Whenever I eat it as a side dish or main, I feel energised and completely satisfied. Gobō is commonly used in Japanese cooking, I worry though whether I’ll be able to get hold of it at our next destination. It has become a well loved staple food at our household and I’d definitely miss it.

Tokyo archive 04

This melody…what a blessing it was in the first years here in Tokyo. I called it the ‚going home song‘ but, among foreigners just mention the 5 o‘clock bells and everyone should know. In Japanese you‘d call the melody, which is played every day at exactly 5pm 5時のチャイム (go ji no chaimu) or 5時のベル (go ji no beru). Kids, playing outside are told by their parents that when they hear the melody, it‘s time to go home. If everyone sticks to it, it really makes a parent’s life easier. The actual reason for this melody which is played from loudspeakers usually situated at local parks and playgrounds, is to test the speakers so they will definitely work for public announcements during an emergency situation, such as an earthquake, tsunami or typhoon. Each ward has its own melody which can cause a bit of a headache if you are living right at the border of two wards and hear two different melodies very loudly, simultaneously. The melody filmed in the video is Tokyo‘s Minato Ward 5 o‘clock bell version which will always remind me of our time living here, I am sure.

Tokyo archive 03

Today’s post won’t be about food or drink but instead I’ve written down my view on Tokyo’s aesthetics as a city. In some thoughts on life in Japan, I mentioned my initial feelings when going into the city from Haneda airport for the very first time. I was in shock as all I could see were industrial concrete buildings, rusty rail tracks, overly dominant elevated express ways, a myriad of overhead electric cables, tons of construction sites and not the slightest bit of green in sight. This was just the initial route into town though; the closer we got to the city centre the buildings’ appearances started to look less industrial and small parks and temples emerged. For me, however,  it all still seemed chaotic and messy (in the sense that there was no consistent architectural style to be found). It was all just too urban to be considered beautiful. Finding the beauty in Tokyo does take some time. Continue reading “Tokyo archive 03”

Tokyo archive 02

Before coming to Japan there were many things I didn’t know about Sake. Firstly, I hadn’t heard the expression nihonshu before, which is the actual, Japanese word for what the rest of the world calls sake. Sake, in Japanese, is just the general term for alcohol. On the few occasions that I have had sake before moving to Tokyo, I would’ve had it warm. However, in Japan, I’ve found that it is mostly consumed chilled or at room temperature. I had no idea about the serving etiquette either, which includes that you should never pour your own cup of sake. Furthermore, I’ve discovered many different types of sake, amongst them sparkling sake which is, in my opinion, the perfect summer drink.

I have to admit though that, even whilst I enjoy drinking it, I am no expert. I still mainly choose sake by the design of the bottle’s label, which says it all. There is one aspect of drinking sake that I’ve nearly enjoyed the most. It is the custom that when you order sake, a tray or basket full of different sake cups of all colours, shapes and sizes is brought to your table for you to choose from. I liked this custom so much that I started my own collection of sake cups, a work in progress.