Friday, June 29, 2012

Asahi Kuronama

I finally found a place that sells this in my town! Not just prefecture, but an actual grocery store in my little town in the center of Yamanashi. The Ito-Yokado shopping center’s grocery store sells Asahi’s Kuronama in the alcohol asile. I rarely ever shop there, especially for food so I can understand how I went for so long without noticing this. From now on I will have to do my shopping in multiple locations to get all the stuff I want. At least I don’t have to go far to get it!

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So why am I so excited to have this particular beer? Well for one, I’ve had it many times before when I used to live in the US. I even had it once on tap. Kuronama is a black beer kind of like Guiness but less heavy. It comes in a really plain , boring looking can but looks can be very deceiving. It’s been about 5 or so years since I’ve drank this particular beer so I am kind of coming in with only the good memories that stuck with me.

Let’s open it up already and get to the important stuff... Kuronama pours with a nice, rich, chocolaty color and an inviting caramel head. It pours with a dark beer’s signature thickness that is sadly absent from Asahi’s Dry Black. Why did they even bother making that inferior stuff I will never know… It’s not viscous like a motor oil in how thick it is but if you’ve ever drank heavier dark beers, you’ll know what I mean. The smell is kind of sweet but not overpowering. Over all it has a very inviting look to it when poured into a glass.

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But how does it taste? Incredible! It’s pretty much how I remember it and more. I may be a little more favorable to it since I am really into dark beers but it is still pretty good. It was especially a nice change of pace to get back onto a real beer after getting comfortable with Sapporo’s Mugitohop Kuro, which isn’t much of a slouch its self but it’s not real beer. It’s kind of funny how I don’t like Asahi’s flagship beer but I like their less known and unadvertised black beer. Go figure! So I am not completely biased against Asahi. Just Super Dry.

The only down side to this happy tale is that Kuronama isn’t cheap. I think I got my can for about 205 yen or something over 200 yen. Compared to the common Japanese beers like Kirin, Asahi, and regular Sapporo, Kuronama is about 20+ yen above the others putting it into Yebisu and Suntory Premium Malts territory. Despite carrying such a high price, I had no second thoughts buying it for this review even in the future when I crave another. I wish it was competitively priced with other regular brands in Japan but at least it’s now an option for me.

So now I know where to get my dark beer fix and I don’t have to go to Tokyo or another large metropolitan area to get it. I am super excited! Can’t you tell?

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Sapporo Ice Lager 7

Summer is upon us and as another new season rolls in so do the new “flavors” of happoshus. I am lightening up on the concept of beer-like alcohol beverages like happoshu and have been pretty open to trying new things again. Sapporo has been fairly consistent with pleasing my taste buds so when I came across their new “strong” happoshu I knew I had to give it a try.

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Weighing in at 350ml and 106yen, this happoshu holds a higher alcohol content than most beers and other happoshu at a whopping 7 percent. What really drew me to the can was the “polar” cool look it had to it. It’s not particularly fancy or interesting to look at but it made me feel like somehow this beer would feel colder in my gut than the rest. Of course the Ice part of the name Ice Lager 7 has more to do with it being brewed in a super cooled zero Celsius environment.

So let’s crack this bad boy open. The first thing I always do when opening any beer like drink is getting a whiff of it from the can. This particular drink seemed to not have such an appalling smell but it wasn’t all that welcoming either. It poured like any other light colored happoshu out there with a fizzy head that disappears within a minute or so. I couldn’t really tell that it was spiked with more alcohol from its smell which was good I guess.

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My first sip of Ice Lager 7 was hopeful as it trickled down the back of my throat. My first reaction was that it was a tad bitter on the tongue. But as time passed it seemed to leave an acceptable aftertaste, something many happoshus fail to do for me. A really interesting thing about Ice Lager 7 is that it kind of makes me have the same thirsty feeling as I do with Asahi Super Dry. I really don’t like feeling thirsty when I am drinking a beer or beer like drink so this would usually turn me off but Ice Lager 7 seems to not keep that feeling too long and let me get back into drinking it.
As for the 7% alcohol, the additional alcohol content didn’t seem to affect the taste much, or at least I couldn’t tell. I feel like it was any stronger than an average happoshu but that may just be due to me being desensitized to alcohol. Maybe if I drank on an empty stomach I might have noticed more but I am not doing this scientifically so yeah, whatever.

Bottom line, I was satisfied. Seasonal drinks are usually a big hit or miss but it turned out OK. Sapporo seems to be my brewer of choice and I will gladly try any other new product they introduce next season as well.

Edit: I realised this beer isn’t exactly new it has just been repackaged. Last year around the same time it was released in a more modestly designed can.

Also, I think its time I start chilling my glasses or get a beer coozie to keep my stuff cool. Japan summers sap cool drinks quickly and I think I may have liked this drink a bit more if I could have kept the glass cooler longer.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trash in the river all the time

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a while. It's been bothering me on and off during my time in Japan. Today I was finally pushed to write something because of the absurdity of something that found its way into the river this time. What could be so possibly horrible to get me so up in arms? A friggin’ freezer that’s what.

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A freezer? In the river? Yes, a white 4 foot tall top loader one to be exact. I am used to seeing all kinds of common trash you’d find on the side of roads here like Styrofoam meat packs, plastic lunch packs, plastic bags, drink bottles, and other assorted waste. I have also seen bikes in the river which isn’t all too surprising as it seems to be a common place to dump unwanted or stolen bikes. But seeing the freezer in the river really got under my skin.

There was a freezer dumped into the river near where I live.

Surely there must be more discreet places to dump large appliances than a river near a residential area? Not that I condone the dumping of trash but I’ve seen plenty of open lots, abandoned buildings, and tall grass areas that would be perfect for letting loose a large appliance without anyone knowing. So why a river? Did they think it would just sink into it? It’s about knee deep for goodness sakes.

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I mean, how can one be so careless and irresponsible as to deliberately dump a freezer into the river. That takes some forethought and effort. It’s not like tossing an empty plastic drink bottle out the car window or rolling a bike down an embankment. This is a seriously heavy item. Another thing about the location of where the fridge was disposed of was that it was on a side access path for the waterway dyke valve. This isn’t too easy to get into as it’s a 90 degree narrow offshoot road off an equally narrow bridge.

Dumping large appliances like fridges, washers, and TVs illegally seems to be a common thing here in Japan. I can’t say it’s a uniquely Japanese problem but from my own experience it seems like it happens at a much higher frequency here than I ever saw in southern California. My guess is that Japanese waste sorting laws and fees make dumping appealing than taking the legal route and paying for your appliances and large waste items to be properly recycled or disposed of. For things like the freezer in the river, I know for a fact that a few of the local scrap yards/recycle centers in town would have gladly taken the freezer off the original owner’s hands for free. I even think once a month or it may be a year that the city will take large items for a small price. But it’s too late for that isn’t it?

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Why do I know this? Well, it’s because I’ve had to find out how to properly dispose large electronics, appliances, and other things that can’t be thrown out with regular trash over the span of a couple of moves within this country. It annoys the heck out of me that I, a foreigner, too more time and effort into doing the right thing compared to what most people do here when they dump trash. I wonder if stuff like this would happen less often if the local municipalities made it cheaper and easier to dispose of stuff like this.

Not only near but mostly in it as well.

I think what is even worse than the fact that a freezer was tossed into the river is that it will most likely stay there for a few months while whatever may be in it leeches into the water. Ick. There are volunteer groups that pick up trash a couple of times a year but it’s not frequent enough for something like this. Plus those volunteers probably aren’t prepared for something as massive and cumbersome as a freezer.

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If I had the proper resources I would remove the damned thing from the river myself but its going to take a few people to maneuver it out of there and possibly the use of a crane truck. So that’s my beef with irresponsible dumping in Japan. It happens and it sucks.

Edit 6/11/2012

On my morning drive to work I passed by the river and noticed the freezer was turned upright and two guys were preparing to get it out of the river. I am not sure who those two men were but good on them. It was gone by the time I came home later in the afternoon.  My faith has been restored in humanity just a little.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rice paddy planting season

I’ve been meaning to write about rice planting for a while since there’s a large paddy behind my apartment. For the past couple of years I’ve seen an old man and a couple of his friends or equally old family members maintaining the usually barren plot of land just outside my kitchen window. 

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There seems to be quite a bit of work involved in getting a rice paddy ready for planting. First the farmer tills the dried out top soil and gets all the trash and weeds out of the field. Then he throws down some fertilizer. Eventually he floods the field with one of the many local water aqueducts you can find nearly everywhere alongside public roads in the countryside of Japan.

What I’ve noticed about other rice farmers they generally grow the rice seedlings offsite in a greenhouse till they are a couple of inches tall. Then they bring all the little seedlings in for their final home in the rice paddy.

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Finally comes the planting after the field has been flooded out. The farmer that owns the field behind my apartment uses a special tractor to do all the work but I’ve also see equally old people out in high water boots sloshing through the muck planting each rice grass blade by hand.

Once he flooded the field the frogs came out of the woodwork. Now every night I get a frog symphony whether I like it or not even when the windows are closed tight.

There isn’t much more to it. He’ll come around every so often to clean out rubbish from the aqueduct that feeds water into his field but that’s it. Eventually when fall rolls around the field will be about waist to shoulder height and it will be time to harvest.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Skimming dragonfly larvae out of the school pool

You know summer is right around the corner when the school sends out the kids to clean the pool. From what I have experienced over the past few years while working in Japanese schools is that their pools are left to the elements for 9 months of the year. This lets the pool grow algae and bacteria into a putrid deep green color along with plenty of leaves and other debris that get blown into it over its long idled state.

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There is one plus to letting the pools go to hell for most of the year, it turns into a fun activity for the kids. There are a few things that the kids get to do to restore the pool to a safe and useable state. First off they get to skim the surface for floating algae for science class. Then they drain the pool till its about waist deep for the lower grade students to jump in and dredge the pool floor for a certain creature that lay peacefully dormant for a good part of the year.

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What I’m talking about here is dragon fly larvae (ヤゴ). This year I joined the 2nd grade students in their annual dragonfly larvae hunt. They came fully prepared with swimsuits, nets, and buckets. The kids were thrilled just to be out of class getting dirty. Some even submerged themselves under the murky water at the teachers dismay. It didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, everyone seemed to enjoy this messy event equally. I didn’t notice anyone really freaking out that they were wading through a pool brimming full of biological organisms, mostly of the insect variety.

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I couldn’t be bothered to jump in the pool with them because I had a class afterward and didn’t bring any suitable clothes to wade in the pool with them. Instead, I ended up helping the kids empty their nets full of bugs into the tanks they set up on the poolside. I have never seen dragonfly larvae up close and was a little grossed out by it at first but was handling these things like harmless potato bugs by the end of it. I hope they eventually release the dragonflies when they are fully grown. It would be a shame to take away the joy of flight from these creatures.

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After the kids had their fun dredging the pool for life the bigger kids gave the poolside and pool a thorough cleaning. Now the pool is ready for swimming. If it’s anything like last year I may be asked to join a class or two for some poolside lifeguarding with some occasional pool volleyball.

It’s kind of cool what kind of responsibilities the kids are given in Japan. I know I wouldn’t be allowed to jump into a half empty pool to gather bugs when I was that age in the US. I remember catching grass hoppers under rocks and stuff on the school grounds though that was on my own time during recess.

 

Here’s a quick and dirty cell phone video of one of the tanks the kids put the larvae into. Sorry its not clear.