Village Beauty 

A pink waterlily floats in the lake beside the tofu-making shop at Battari-mura.

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Yesterday, some places in Japan celebrated Tanabata, or "The Night of Sevens." Originally from China, the story of Tanabata is a sadly romantic one. It is said that a weaver of beautiful clothes (represented by the star Vega) fell in love with a herder (represented by the star Altair), causing them both to neglect their work. The king of the universe became angry with them, and separated them with the Milky Way, permitting them to meet only once a year on the seventh night of the seventh month.

To celebrate Tanabata, people write wishes on slips of paper and tie them to bamboo.

According to the Western calendar, the seventh day of the seventh month on the traditional Japanese calendar falls in August, which is when Sendai holds its famous festival. And, according to Wikipedia, this year Tanabata took on special meaning with the commencement of the G8 summit in Hokkaido and the Prime Minister's encouragement to the nation to celebrate by turning off lights and going outside to enjoy the Milky Way instead as a symbolic gesture for the environment.
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Making Tofu 

Yesterday, we went to Battari-mura, where we observed villagers making tofu the all-natural, old-school way. Tofu-making has a lot in common with cheesemaking, what with all the boiling, pressing, straining, and coagulating of curds. It's hot work, but the end product is well worth it.

At Battari-mura, step one of the process involved grinding cooked soybeans with a hand-crank-operated stone mill, complete with straw-and-bucket drip system

After the beans are ground, the resulting mash is boiled for a time, then scooped into a machine where it is pressed in a hand-crank-operated machine (what else?) to extract the soy milk.

Salts or acids are added to the milk to cause the proteins to coagulate (or, as the maker said, "form a katamari"). It takes a little while for coagulation to occur, but once it does, it happens quickly.

There's more processing involved to get blocks of tofu, but since we were there in part to eat tofu, the woman making it simply scooped the curds out of the bucket and drained them before serving them to us.

Mmm . . . fresh, delicious tofu.
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Business Attire 

When you attend a business meeting in Japan, your outfit has to be appropriate: a business suit and tie, a proper briefcase (one appropriate to your position within the company and meeting), and of course, a cheap pair of slippers. At many large companies, business guests are expected to take off their expensive business shoes at the front door, and exchange them for slippers. Regular employees also change their shoes, but most of them have "indoor shoes" (sneakers) to change into. So the image of the businessman wearing slippers or tennis shoes is not that unusual here.

It lends a nice casual touch to the business day, but — if you're from a culture that associates slippers with relaxation time — it can make it awfully hard to get in the proper frame of mind for work. Taking off your business shoes means you're home for the day, right? That's how it seemed to work for Mr. Rogers.
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Lucky Shot 

On Tuesday, I was out shooting photos around town when I heard a shinkansen coming. They're neat, so I thought I'd take a picture for the blog, not at all expecting this:

It's the Fastech 360, which JR is apparently still testing on the Tohoku Shinkansen line.
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Truth in Advertising? 

There's a little puffery involved in any kind of advertising, but I wonder if Suntory hasn't gone just a leetle bit over the line here:

The Miracle is more delicious than the King, and both are far superior to their compatriot, the less extravagantly named "Sweet Lemon." Maybe Suntory is on to something, although I haven't developed superpowers or anything after drinking the Miracle.
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And Now, a Word About the Dogs 

During a walk through town a couple of weeks ago, a car pulled off to the side of the road, and a couple got out. The woman waved at us, calling out a question: Akisora-chan desu ka? She had met the dogs in the park a few weeks earlier, and had been quite taken with them. Aki bounced and wagged and gave kisses and was terribly charming during their visit; Moki was aloof and not at all disturbed by the fact that the woman forgot his name.

Moki got his moment in the sun about twenty minutes later when a police van pulled alongside us. A policewoman leaned out the window and greeted him by name: Konnichiwa, Moki-chan! She had met the dogs outside the coffee shop at some point. Moki wagged and bounced over to say hi, then got distracted by some interesting-smelling weeds. He seemed happy for the attention, though he probably would have preferred that she gave him some dried sardines. That's what the neighbor down the street does sometimes.

A year after they came to Japan, the dogs seem to have settled into a rather happy existence. And, just as we've made friends and become recognizable members of the community, so have they.
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After-Dinner Entertainment 

After dinner on Saturday night, Matthew and one of our companions played a friendly game of shogi, a Japanese variant of chess. The rest of us drank and cheered them on.

Matthew emerged victorious after a long endgame. Next time, we'll play an all-American game: Monopoly.
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Teeny-Tiny Railroad Crossing 

Rice field roads need grade crossings, too just not very big ones.

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Music on the Wind 

Iwate Prefecture is famous in Japan for its ironwork, Nanbu-tekki. Although kettles and pots are the most traditional products, ironworkers now make a wide variety of goods, including windchimes

Nanbu-tekki windchimes currently hang from the platform rafters at JR Mizusawa (where this photo was taken) and JR Morioka stations, presumably in recognition of these cities' status as the traditional production sites. They produce a peaceful tinkle as they blow in the breeze a nice contrast to the modernity and hustle-bustle of the stations.
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