Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Kind of a kick-off to the holiday season, I was lucky enough to be invited to a mochi making party this past Sunday near Tokyo.

Mochi is basically sticky rice pounded into a paste, available anywhere in Japan and something I enjoy almost weekly. But this was the first time I actually made the mochi. I think the best way to tour around the party is to show the steps in making Mochi.

Step 1: prepare the rice, I really did not pay to much attention back here, I think you wash the rice and place it in cheesecloth.Step 2: cook the rice, not as easy as it sounds. The rice is cooked by passing steam through the cheesecloth. First you have to make a stove from bricks and feed the fire with wood planks, the bottom level of pans above the fire is boiling water. The two levels above is the rice and the smoke is mostly steam.Step 3: pick a hammer.Step 4: remove the ball of cooked rice from the cheesecloth and put it in a large wooded mortar. The first step is to grind the rice with the hammer.Step 5: is by far the most fun. Basically you pound the rice, with the larger hammers, you can feel the ground shake 15 feet away. There are actually two people taking part in step 5, one is pounding the rice, the second is keeping the rice damp and folding it over between hammering. In the photo below you can see the person with her hand in the water. She is getting ready to put her hand between the rice and the hammer after I'm done crushing it (rice). This seem kind of dangerous to me.Step 6: After the pounding, the rice paste is made in to little balls and at this point it is ready to eat. You can cover or fill the mochi with anything, in this case there is some red bean and organic fruits.
Step 7: enjoy!The party was held in the city of Manazuru, about 2 hours southwest from Tokyo, there was a great view over looking Manazuru bay, which is the Pacific Ocean.There is also farms everywhere, many organic. Many of the farms grow mikan, kind of like small orange, below is mikan storage at the farm after picking.

I took the bullet train to return home and had to wait for a little while at Atami station. Here are a couple of photos of the bullet train passing through the station:It's going about 150mph...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Seoul: Demilitarized Zone

I took time to visit the Demilitarized Zone, the active war area between South and North Korea.This was also very interesting and a little bit sad. The overall feeling around this area is very tense, my passport was checked a total of four times by south Korean solders and my camera once.Honestly, I don't completely understand what is going on, the history of the Korean war, and the tour did not really explain the history either. But the feeling I got from the tour and talking with local people is that the war is one thing, the bigger issue is the war has divided families, and these people really want the two Korea's to unite so families and friends and re-unite.The above statue shows this.Above is actually North Korea, in the background. On the day of my tour, North Korea decided to re-value it's currency, basically dropping two zeros off of each bill. So a 1000won note become 10won. This caused chaos in North Korea, everyone had to change there old money in for new money and had only three or four days to do so.Part of the tour, a UN bus takes you up to about 25 meters from the North Korean border with South Korea, an area called the JSA (Joint Security Area). At this area, the north and south have meetings to talk about whatever is on there minds. Also from this area, there is a viewing platform, where you can look out over the JSA and see the north and south watching each other.But because of the North Korean currency issue, I think there was meetings going on in the JSA and the military police would not let us go to the platform to view the JSA. We were only allowed to sit in the bus near the JSA.The south built a really nice train station near the boarder at Dorasan, with simple hopes that when the north and south re-unify, they can quickly use the station to visit each other.But it's cool, the re-unification plan has the backing of George W. Bush, he signed the above rail tie, it says "may this railroad unite Korean families."

Seoul: Food

Seoul food is delicious!In Japan, when someone warns you and says "careful, this is spicy," it's typically not spicy, but maybe salty and usually expensive.In Seoul, everyone embraces that food is spicy, in fact I think you might get warned if there is a lack of spice, something like "careful, that is bland." Above is a fish in boiling something dish. It was also served with rice and kimchi. The above dish cost about $4, food is also cheap in Korea.I think Korean food is 5 to 10 times cheaper in Korea then in Japan and the US. Above is a vegetable and meat dish boiled in soup. The waitress is helping us out.My biggest problem was I can't speak any Korean, so I had to rely on the point and nod method of ordering.

Of course, the best Korean restaurant is still Song Do located at 4918 N Lincoln Ave on the north side of Chicago... The food is a little over priced and fairly authentic, but you can also pick up a case of old style on your way there. That is next to impossible in Korea.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Seoul: Gyeongbokgung Place

The Lonely Planet travel website named Seoul the third of nine places that are ‘least favorite’ destinations (of course Detroit was #1), but I made my first trip there this past week and had a blast, from Nagoya, it is less then a two hour flight to Seoul and a hour bus ride to the city center.

The first place I had a chance to visit was Gyeongbokgung Place, a large royal palace located north of central Seoul.Above is the changing of the guard ceremony at the main gate, these guards have not done a very good job over the years through. Construction of the place started in the mid 1390's.At the gate, you can grab a little information book about the place in English, and on the fist page it summarizes the history behind this place. Basically from 1394 to 1412, build the palace.1592, the palace was destroyed by fire during a Japanese invasion (today, to avoid conflagration there are fire extinguishers everywhere).Then from 1868 to 1888 Korea re-built the palace.Then in 1915, Japan clears away about 10 buildings because land is needed to build a Japanese General Government Building.Then from 1968 to 2007 (just a few years ago), the restoration of the palace completed to the state it is today.This place is a really amazing place, and Seoul was a fun trip. Over the next couple of days, I will put some more photos from Korea on here.