Saturday, February 19, 2011

Japanese Microbrews

Until recently, beer in Japan was a lot like that in Korea: mostly mass-produced lagers, vaguely German in style, with occasional forays into other German-inspired styles. 

But in the last 15 years or so, microbrew culture has begun to catch on in Japan. Back in August, I had the chance to witness this movement first-hand, at the Kyushu Beer Festa here in Fukuoka. 
Most of the brews on hand were still German, but there was both greater variety and higher quality than is typically available from the big Japanese brewers.

I was surprised to find one brewery offering a Rauchbier--a "smoked" beer brewed with barley that has been roasted over an open flame. I happen to like the stuff, but it wasn't a big hit with my coworkers.

In the short term, the Kyushu Beer Festa was a great success: I had no idea there were so many great craft beers being made in Japan these days.

In the longer term, though, the event was a failure, as most of the beers on hand have proven almost impossible to find elsewhere. Which leads to the actual occasion for this post (and the reason I've set the world record for lag time by reporting on an August event in February): I finally found and purchased some good craft beers from the small booze shop attached to our upscale grocery, Bon Repas.

The beers come from Coedo, a brewery on Shikoku (also known as "the other main island that isn't Honshu or Hokkaido"). I was intrigued by them because they looked more British than German: one was essentially a stout, the other a kind of amber ale.

Both were pretty good examples of their styles. Nothing spectacular, but a whole heck of a lot better than Asahi Stout, and I don't think the big brewers even make anything but light lagers and black beers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Video reminder

To email subscribers: The post I just did about pottery probably looks as though it has a few really, really grainy pictures in it. Those are actually videos, which don't show up in email. If you want to see the video, you need to come to the post on the blog itself. You can do that by clicking on the link at the very bottom of your email, where it says "Posted by Nana to The Senseitions." Or click on this link here: Pottery post.

In which all goes to pot

Justin and I have actually had a mellow work week. The kids seem to be "in the zone" and learning really well lately, and every year we teach, things get easier. The weather's been gloomy and wet, but after a year in Scotland that doesn't faze us (gloomy and wet is only really bad when you know it will never be anything else!). So what I guess I'm saying is... I have no explanation for why I haven't written a blog post since the weekend.

On Saturday we went back to the ACROS, home of the much-enjoyed saki-ori textile exhibition, for the Agano pottery exhibition. Agano is a local pottery style noted for its Korean influence, which dates back to a Korean potter who came to teach the style in the 1600s. (Korea was regionally renowned for pottery, especially celadon ware, the manufacture of which is the topic of the recent Newbery medal winning A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Justin taught that book this year, and it was a great hit with his many Korean middle schoolers. In my opinion it is a rare and awesome exception to the rule that award-winning books suck, and I highly recommend it to anybody with a young reader looking for an interesting book.)

I had friends in my material cultures master's program who are really into ceramics, but it was never my thing. I was surprised to really, really like the Agano ware on display. There's something sturdy and homey about it, but it's not at all heavy. The shapes, colors, and textures are pleasantly organic. We didn't take any pictures of finished stuff, but you can see some at this web site.

No finished stuff, you ask? Then what did you photograph? Why, our goofy and tragic attempts at throwing our own Agano pots on the try-it-yourself wheel, of course!

Alas, despite this auspicious beginning, all did not go well for Justin. One slip of the finger, and the pot collapsed beyond all redemption. Much like Justin's dreams of pottery glory.

Surely I could do better?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "better." By my count, it takes me approximately 14 seconds to completely ruin that pot. Since it took Justin much longer to ruin his, I think that means I win.

I was so bad that the pottery demonstration guy let me try again. This photo is from my second attempt.

Clockwise from upper right: my second attempt, Justin's first attempt, and terrific pot made by demonstration guy.

My first pot was so bad he actually threw out the clay, which is some kind of record when you consider what Justin's looks like.If we keep going to ACROS we're going to need a survey: "Which traditional Japanese craft did Justin and Nana fail at the hardest?" Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Japanese Envoys on the Eve of the American Civil War

The New York Times has been running a blog series, "Disunion," on the American Civil War. It's a cool concept--they run stories chronologically, with the same timeline that they would have followed in the 1860s. (For example, the November 2010 coverage was of Lincoln's November 1860 election.)

One of the posts I stumbled across today describes the experiences of a group of Japanese envoys in the US in late 1860 (link). It's full of great tidbits--for instance, there were basically no envoys who could speak English, but many educated Japanese could speak Dutch, thanks to the long-standing Dutch trading presence here in Kyushu. As a result, communication required two layers of translation: Japanese to Dutch, then Dutch to English.

Anyway, the post is a good read (as is the blog itself). Go check it out!