The month of December has mostly been spent for the preparation of Christmas and then New Years. The first week in December I reserved bus tickets to get around to visit my relatives in Kagoshima and Kumamoto. Luckily, my cousin Satomi is going to pick me up by car on her way to Kagoshima, so for at least that part of my trip, I will not be traveling alone. In Kagoshima I will be staying a few days at Satomi's grandfather's home (I just know him as Arima-san) where I will meet Satomi's brothers and nieces and nephews. Kagoshima is one of the most southern cities in Kyushu, so I am hoping the weather is warmer there than here (it's fluffing cold). After Kagoshima, I will ride up to Kumamoto by bus to spend some time with my Great Aunt Yoko and her family before finally returning back to my Japanese home in Fukuoka.
Of course, before all this happens I have quite a few things to do at my campus. This past weekend, I went with my friends to Itosaisai and then Tenjin. Itosaisai is a local farmers market that is very famous in the area for it's vegetables. My friend says that if you buy produce there, that it says good for two weeks even without refrigeration because it's so freshly picked. It is also famous for its fish and obentos (lunch boxes) also freshly prepared the same day. Needless to say the three of us bought a ton of things, mostly to make a lovely seafood stew that we ate that night (ika-nabe or squid stew... it was delicious, but unfortunately the squid ink gland leaked so the soup turned black, along with all our mouths by the end of the meal).
After going to Itosaisai and eating lunch (of Itosaisai sushi!) Haejoo, her husband Kazu-san, Kayoung, and myself rode the train down to the Tenjin/Hakata area of Fukuoka to look at Christmas lights. This is the busy downtown area, so there are a lot of people and many places to go see. Sadly, it was raining pretty badly that day, so we were unable to see the illuminations in the park or in the town square. We were able to see the lights inside the Canal City Mall (which were really impressive considering), and the few outside of the train station. It was really a fun day, but everyone was tired after walking around so much. When we returned to Haejoo's house to have dinner, no one wanted to leave the kotatsu.
The next day I had to buy a ton of butter and other ingredients to make some cookies for a Christmas Fair. My friend Sho, who is the manager of a student run cafe, has holiday parties to bring together international and native Japanese students. This year is his last year working at the cafe before he graduates, so he wanted to do something special, and have homemade sweets for the Christmas Fair. I volunteered to make cookies, and several other students are making cakes, drinks, and traditional Japanese sweets. Sho also ordered several gingerbread house making kits, so that students who have never been able to build a gingerbread houses before, could have the experience. Since there is suppose to be a big turn out for this event, I made about 8 dozen cookies in total, with four varieties: Gingerbread men, jam thumbprints, shortbread, and brownies. The cafe will compensate me for the cost of ingredients, but I am hoping to eat a few of the sweets myself at the Christmas Party.
Speaking of eating, my lab has created another crazy food-celebratory event called the 'Yamahon Challenge'. We have two seniors in the PHD program graduating soon, so they are having a party at a kaiten-sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant.One of them is the head student in my project (Gen-san) and the other is the head student in the muscle cell study group (Yamahon-san). Anyways, the idea of the challenge came from the fact that the one student, Yamahon, at one time ate 30 plates of sushi from a kaiten-sushi restaurant. If you don't know how a kaiten-sushi place works, little plates (usually containing two pieces of nigiri sushi) rotate around the restaurant past the dining booths. A customer just picks the plate they want off the conveyor belt, and the cost of the dinner is determined by the number of plates you picked up at the end of your meal. So Yamahon ate approximately 60 pieces of sushi in one sitting.... the Japanese amaze me on how much they eat. Because of this, the lab is having a team challenge to see which project-team of students can eat the most plates of sushi by the end of the meal. I will be attending this event, but I am not going to be much help for my team. The most plates I have eaten at this kind of restaurant is 4.... I think my team is going to lose. I'll be attending this event tomorrow night, so let's see what the outcome is ( I might add some photos later).
This weekend is Korean friends' Christmas party, and also a day trip to Nagasaki so I am busy preparing for those as well. My next post will be all my post-holiday reports, so I'm sure something interesting will happen between now and then. Of course, if the world really ends on December 21st, then I'll have wasted a bus ticket and a whole bunch of cookies...