Making Umeshu 梅酒 LETS!

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So long before I headed over to Japan I had a long term fascination with the sweet boozy nectar that is umeshu梅酒, a traditional Japanese spirit of which the primary ingredient is Green Ume 青梅. All too often mistranslated as ‘plum wine’ in English, both these words are more or less lost in translation as ume are in fact not plums at all but are a variety of Japanese apricot, also since the average Umeshu tends to be about 40%+ alcohol its closer to hard liquor than a wine!!

In Australia I often drank shouchuu 焼酎 (the liquor ingredient of the Umeshu) in place of vodka simply because it was so very very cheap. Here in Japan though the price of liquor I have found tends to be between ¼-⅓ of the equivalent in Australia depending on what your drinking which has really given me the freedom to drink whatever I like since it’s so affordable. Needless to say making umeshu was on my Japan bucket list; fortunately my arrival into the country coincided with ume’s coming into season and with it the perfect time to brew umeshu!!

So the basics of any umeshu are you’re going to need 4 things and with a standard batch these are the ratios you will be needing:

A large glass jar (preferably 4-5l) with a double seal

If like I you happen to find yourself living in Japan procuring such a jar will be of little trouble to you as they sell specially made Umeshu double sealed glass jars in the supermarkets with the other ingredients, if not well you’re not out of luck, basically what you’re looking for is a large thick glass jar that can be sealed tightly as its possible its contents may sit in there for years!

1kg of fresh Unripened Ume (Ao-Ume 青梅)

Litteraly blue ume, I went for the slightly larger variety of what was on offer at my supermarket as apparently the smaller ones tend to be on the sour side of things.

1kg of rock sugar (Koori Zatou 氷砂糖)

Now honestly you can use any kind of sugar because well sugar is sugar, however Koori Zatou (literally Ice Sugar) tends to be used most frequently as its bundled together with the other ingredients in the umeshu displays at supermarkets, and it looks pretty in the jar before it dissolves.

1.8 Litres of White Liquor (焼酎)

This stuff is sold in huge milk carton type containers and is 70proof liquor that resembles shochuu. Some people choose to omit this ingredient and use brandy instead as it gives the Umeshu a sweeter flavour. But personally I’m not a huge fan of brandy to begin with and since your white liquor is only going to set you back around 1200-1300円 for the whole carton not using it is sure to bump up the cost of your brew.

Toothpicks (Tsumayouji 爪楊枝)

Or preferably bamboo skewers, these are used to remove any remaining stems from your Ume to make their 100% clean and poke holes in them before you subject them to a year’s worth of deliciousfication.

A friend of mine a 3rd year JET who has been making umeshu since he arrived, strongly recommended a variation to the traditional recipe which he claims to be the most delicious beverage he has ever tasted! So rather than going down the straight and narrow taking his advice and my chances I decided on making Cherry Brandy Umeshu.

To take it up a level you’re going to need the extra:

200 grams of fresh cherries

100-200mls of Brandy (add as much as you like depending on how much you like brandy)

So now I presume you have obtained all the components for your brew, good job you’re awesome! Now onto how exactly how to go about turning these unappetizing ingredients into the nectar of the gods!

1. Clean the glass jar thoroughly, if you can get your hands on the heatproof variety, boiling water will do the trick. Make sure it is 100% dry before you add any ingredients.

2. Wash and de-stem your ume, ensuring that they are well washed and dry before you put them into the jar. As even a small amount of residual water can cause the fruit to go mouldy under the liquor, I recommend patting them down with paper towel then letting them air dry for a couple hours before moving on the next step. You will also want to spot check each and every ume for blemishes removing any that have bruises or broken skin.

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3. Layer you’re ume and rock sugar in waves in the jar, if you like you can also prick small holes in the ume with a toothpick before you send them to their boozy graves (2 or 3 per ume), this step is not essential but will help the liquor permeate the ume and speed up the process. Also the whole layering process is pretty much just for aesthetics and completely up to you, as after 24 hours the bulk of your sugar is going to have dissolved and the ume will have floated to the top anyway. I chose to because 1 it is fun and 2 it looks cool =P

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4. Pour in the 1.8 litre carton of white liquor, if you are comfortable with the wrist tiling action frequently used to add milk to a cup of coffee then I’m sure you will have this step down tiger.

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5. Adding in additional flavours to personalize your brew. So here is the extra step that I did but is completely up to you, basically there is a plethora of extra ingredients you can add to your Umeshu. I simply just cleaned 200grams of cherries in the same fashion to the ume and adding them in along with about 200ml of a nice brandy. If cherries and brandy aren’t your thing a couple of the other variations I’ve heard of include garlic, strawberries or grapes in place of the cherries and alongside this you could also use any kind of nice spirit in place of the brandy, from what I gather gin or vodka will give you a harsher end product where sweet brandy/bourbon/whisky will make it even more so sweet and delicious (I was considering Canadian club or Drambuie before I settled on Brandy).

6. Seal up your jar, put it in a cool dark place (think basement) and forget about it for the next 6-12 months. OK well this isn’t entirely true, as for the first couple weeks you’re going to want to check up on it every day or two and give it a shake to make sure all the sugar dissolves and none of the ume are going mouldy. Honestly so far I haven’t had any issues with the ume but about half my cherries have started to shrivel and die so I have been removing them from the batch as this occurs.

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7. And now we play the waiting game…… Honestly you can leave this stuff to sit for years if you really want and it’s only going to get better with time but assuming you made it at the start of the season (Early June) it should be good to crack open for Christmas, I know I will be packing some of my batch up to bring to my family when I head back home in December ^____^

So there you have it, not really rocket science but certainly a super fun way to kill a couple hours on a rainy day if you’re bored, also it only cost me like go-sen (about $60AUD) to make 2 litres of it so it’s certainly affordable, I’ll be sure to write a follow up post when I crack this bad boy open in another couple months!

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28 Days Later

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So it’s been 4 weeks today since I left my home in Melbourne to chase my dreams in the orient and so far my weeks have been mostly zombie free (bar last weeks scary movie week marathon). Anyhow the warm sentiment I was left with after my first week here has remained strong thus far.
Although I love my home country and certainly miss my family and friends, since coming to Kobe I feel truly alive for the first time in my life! I Feel that back home I really wasn’t living up to my potential sheltered from many of life’s difficulties by an overly supportive family. The last month has been my first time living alone with only myself to really on and it’s had it’s ups and down but I’m truly happy and content with life at the moment.
To those of you that know the episode of the Simpsons where Bart gets left home alone and he’s like Day is Awesome, Night is Scary.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8p74M2NaX08&feature=youtube_gdata_player
That pretty much sums up my life but replace the Scary with Lonely. Not that I’m implying that my social life is lacking, let’s say Kobe folk like to party so I find myself out at least 4-5 nights a week! It’s just the nights I find myself at home all alone that can often be difficult…..

In terms of what my apartment is looking like, let’s just say its in a very similar state to when I moved in, the novelty of sleeping on a futon has long worn off and I haven’t had a good night sleep since I arrived, also to incoming JETs the first thing I recommend you do is buy blackout curtains, day light savings is not a thing here so when the sun comes up at 4am so will you until you purchase them, I myself dropped like 1.2man in an awesome set >;;_<;;
However this spartan living seems to be coming to a close, so although I didn't have an apartment predecessor as such I did meet this freakin awesome dude named Bobu who is leaving in a month and is selling me pretty much the bulk of his earthly belongings from his time in Japan for a bargain, incidentally he is pretty much the nicest person I have ever met!
So as of next weekend when he brings all his stuff round to me I should find myself the owner of a convection oven, foldable bicycle, PS3, large LCD screen, appliances, kitchenware, guitar, beanbag and pretty much anything else he can't take with him when he leaves.
Let's just say I really felt like I lucked out when I met Mr Bobu 😄

So what is life here exactly like, well to begin with I believe I do at least 4-5x more exercise here a day than I did back home, basically if you want to get anywhere in Kobe you walk, cycle or get a train and I primarily rely on the former. Along with this comes the intense amount of partying, although the work week can seem long and daunting on Monday soon as Friday rolls round that's the signal to get drunk for the next 48 hours.

Last Friday evening I experienced my first enkai with my base JHS, unfortunately it was primarily nama niku 生肉 (raw meat), and there was only so many slices of raw liver, heart, intestines and stomach that I could stomach!!! Luckily I managed to down all that was put in front of me as I was free of inhibitions since my fellow teachers would never let my beer mug sit empty!
Despite how much i awoke hating life on saturday morning, I did spend the day hiking in the mountains a few km away from my apartment, only to them attend a nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink) and subsequent birthday party that evening which led me to experience my first all nighter on the streets of Kobe and fucking oath did I have the time of my life!!!

Now my school life is one area I'm not really going to focus on in this blog as firstly it's not all that exciting and second i like taking photos which I can't do at work.
Basically I replaced a dude who broke contract but he had only been at my schools for a month, his predecessor though was a lovely woman who still lived in Kobe but the difference between her and I is that she majored in teaching and had as she was very fluent in Japanese had been running classes not with an OTE but all on her own! This has left me with huge shoes to fill, not only because I'm replacing the superstar ALT but also because as my predecessor broke contract my school were without the token gaijin for 2 months! This resulted in all the ALT lessons being put off and they piled up resulting in my schedule for my first month being somewhat chaotic!
The other angle to this is that I get the feeling my OTEs (specifically at the shougakkos) have no idea what to do with me, this morning I rocked up for my first class after my jikoshokai lesson (self introduction) to find the OTE sitting in the back of the class chilling, he handed me the textbook and said 'please begin' then sat down again, like sure I'm slowly learning lesson plans but the expectations from me ate done what oppressive at all of my school since for the most part I really have no idea what im doing, and I'm sure in a couple months I'll be pro at it but it's just these first steps that are insanely difficult, still at the end of the day I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love my life in Kobe and I'm a month into the honeymoon phase and still loving every moment! One thing for sure I'm not gona be coming home any time soon ☆〜(ゝ。∂)
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Although I'm sure I have barely scratched the surface of all that the JET program has to offer, so far it has opened the door to a truly interesting and challenging job, an amazingly supportive local community and the opportunity to live in one of the worlds most fascinating countries!

A no0b mistake….

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So today par usual on a Thursday I spent the day at one of my Shougakko (elementary school) and oddly enough every corner I turned I was met by a gonensai or rokunensai (yrs 5 & 6) boy who would ask me if I like tennis.
I know kids are really into sports here and not wanting to disappoint my stock standard response has been hai koukou no toki tennis wa meccha daisuki desuyo (when I was in high school I really loved tennis). Much to my confusion they found this response hilarious every time I said it, I thought to myself, hey maybe my pronunciation is off or something, I’m used to the kids being über genki so I thought nothing of it.

It wasn’t until one of my OTE’s pulled aside towards the end of the day and told me that I shouldn’t be telling the boys that I like penis that it dawned on me that all this time they probably weren’t saying tennis……

So yes I have spent the day emphatically telling 12 yr old boys that when I was in high school I loved penis!

Typhoon is coming!

So as I was readying myself to leave school yesterday afternoon I overhead some of my coworkers mention the word typhoon in conversation. I was all like ehhhhhhhh!!!!! To which my my OTE tell me oh sorry daniel-sensei I forgot to tell you that a typhoon is coming tomorrow so please bring an umbrella!

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So it seems a typhoon was on its way to Kobe and I was none the wiser until I was informed by chance…….
Sometimes being mostly illiterate can have its downfalls (>人<;)
Though I guess this is just a perfect example how when your mostly out of the loop of pretty much everything, day to day life can be full of surprises, fortunately there mostly the good kind however.

Another came this morning when upon arriving at school I found the place devoid of my life, seems that because of the Typhoon sending students to school across all of Kobe was deemed to hazardous…..
However the danger seemed to fall short of allowing the teachers to also take the day off, needless to say with all my lessons planned and little to do besides study my Japanese textbook, it has been a coma inducing day of being rained in!

The entire school pretty much looks like this today, just empty and barren
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A shot from outside the 職員室 (staff room) shows the school grounds to be on the moist side of things

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I’m big in Japan

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I rocked up to one I my shougakko today only to find they had made me my very own banner, it says in Japanese
今日はきてまっせえ – by ダニエル
Which according to my horrendous Japanese skills translates to something along the lines of ‘Daniel is here today to provide examples’
Also on a side note it’s written in Kansai-ben which adds to comprehension difficulties for the non-fluent Japanese speaker =p
So it’s official ‘I’m big in Japan’ (or at least to a little pocket of a couple 100 shougakko kids)

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This is the same school that last week spelt my name ‘Daniyal ta corn’ so at least their making a tad more flattering progress ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

Interesting things I saw on my way to school today:

-High school girl shaving her arms whilst waiting for the bus.
-2 albino kids jankening
-Engaged in intense ‘this town aint big enough for the both of us’ staring consent with fellow gaijin on the other side of the road

Yes Japan is an ‘interesting’ kinda place….

First Week In Kobe Wrap Up

So I have now been living in Kobe-shi for little over a week now and honestly I have been meccha busy ever since I stepped foot off the plane last Wednesday. Either I have been insanely busy setting up my new life here or socializing (read: getting drunk) at every opportunity.

So I guess I’ll start at the beginning, now my journey from Melbourne to Kobe was a tad less amazing than I had hoped, perhaps having something to do with the sheer amount of baggage I decided to lug half way across the world which amounted to over 2/3rds my body weight.

The story of the flights over make for less than interesting reading so I will skip straight to the arrival, now before I left I was given a schedule that had me spending a day in Tokyo after my arrival, soon as I passed through customs I discovered this was not the case and was quickly ushered by a CLAIR employee onto a train, only stoping briefly at a counter to have my baggage posted to me. This was my first experience with logic head-butting with Japanese rationale, basically it would take 36 hours or so for my baggage to reach me being couriered from Narita to Kobe and I would have to pay for the inconvenience. I left room in my bag to stuff a good 10kg of heavy stuff I had in my carry on so this ‘service’ would be little more than a grand inconvenience so I stuck to my guns and eventually she let me take my baggage with me, god I have no idea how I would have got through my first 2 days if I had let them take it……. Like sure I get why you post your baggage if you’re going to Tokyo Orientation but seriously I only had to lug it a couple hundred metres through Tokyo Station to the Shinkansen and that was pretty much it. At the end of the day I guess in Japan you pick your battles and 99% of the time the best course of action is to just smile, nod and accept things are just done here the way they are.

 

So after an enduring 20 hour or so trip (yeah I know I can’t bitch as it’s a slap on the wrist compared to a lot of the rest of ya) I was brought to the KIC where I spent 2 hours being orientated and signing documents before finally I was taken by one of my CIR’s to my apartment.

Although I think this really warrant its own post but upon stepping in my apartment for the first time I was very taken aback, impressed even! As I was expecting little more than a tiny 1DK and all I’d heard prior to arrival is that my particular building is renowned for being particularly small! This is of course not to say that it is huge but regardless its more than adequate and really already feels like home. As it came more or less bare I have tried my best to furnish it with what little funds I brought over, Daiso (my nearest 100 yen store) has really filled in the gaps as they sell pretty much most home wares one would need, hence why I have sunk in a good man (万) there in the past week XD.

Despite my urgent need for large purchases such as an air conditioner, microwave oven, washing machine, bike, cabinets and bed (yes the novelty of a futon has already worn off >_<) just to name a few I have decided to leave my apartment fairly Spartan for a couple more weeks. As I was a JET who arrived at a very unique time I am fortunate enough that about 20% of my peers will be departing in about 6 weeks’ time. What this means for me is that there are many opportunities to inherit much of the departing JET’s stuff at a fraction of what It would cost to buy it new and before the bulk of the new JET’s come in, as most are looking to pack away their lives whilst I am trying to set mine up, so it’s really a WIN-WIN situation ^_^

Everyone I have met in Gakuentoshi thus far has been amazingly hospitable and have really made the transition into an entirely new country as painless as possible. On my first night a couple of the girls from my building brought me a little welcoming kit with a couple things I might need in the immediate future then spent the evening taking me shopping and showing me round the neighbourhood, the next evening they all threw me a little potluck welcoming dinner where I got to meet a couple more of my new neighbours. Honestly though it all the little things like that that have made me really feel at home ^_^

The following two days prior to the weekend of insanity, were spent orientating me as fast as possible (I had 2 ½ days of this as opposed to the 7days plus Tokyo orientation most new JETS get), basically I had a plethora of information thrust into me quick and nasty, was taken to get my Alien Resident Card, had my gas water turned on, got my Keitei (iPhone 4s), had my bank account set up and was shown where my school was, needless to say it was hectic. I made the situation just that much worse by forgetting my passport when I was taken to the Prefectural Ward office to get my Alien Card (which was a good hour’s trip there and back which we then had to do twice), to be fair however it was only mentioned that I should bring it once the day before just after I had stepped off the Shinkansen from Tokyo.

However at the end all the chaos came the weekend!!! Friday night I was kidnaped and dragged to ‘The Hub’ which is the Friday night meet up spot for the ALT community here in Kobe. Where a little welcoming party was thrown for me and I met another plethora of new faces, the next 6-7 hours were spent hopping from one bar/combini to the next getting progressively drunker and drunker to the point where it all becomes a little hazy just how we missed the last train and ended up in a crazy pricy cab back to the burbs, needless to say I woke up Saturday morning feeling well orientated (read: so hungover I wanted to die). I dragged myself out of bed futon however as a city tour/mandate with the ever charismatic Jerome was awaiting me, I spent the day being shown the best Kobe has to offer before we decided to jump right into afternoon pre-drinks prior to a welcoming wine and cheese party he had organized for me at his apartment on Port Island that evening.

Awaking hating life for yet another morning after an evening of deliciousness I spent the day shopping in Sannomiya, before heading back to Gakuentoshi in the afternoon where I was taken to a newly opened Costco, which is only a 15 minute walk from my apartment.

The following are a couple photos from my Kobe adventures last Saturday.

Alas Monday morning came around with my first day of work, thankfully it was organized for me to spend a day shadowing a senior ALT at his school in Shin-Nagoya. Due to testing at his regular JHS unfortunately I was not able to visit so instead we went to a nearby Shougakko (Elementary School) where I spent the day playing with the kids, this was my first time exposed to the Japanese school system in almost a decade since I visited when I went on exchange in Highschool. Let’s just say it provided some interesting insight into the Japanese thought process. For example at lunch time suddenly all the children who were playing outside were suddenly ushered back into the building and the teachers were all crowded around right outside the staffroom door……. Now what was this grand threat, a sexual predator? a bomb threat? NOPE! It was 3 crows that were perched on some nearby streetlights, along with a couple of the male teachers, myself and the other ALT simply screamed at the birds and banged things until they flew away. Regardless this was reason enough to cancel PE classes for the next 3 periods. As I mentioned before, do I understand……. Well unless they have had situations before where a crow has swooped down and picked of an ichinensei (this is feasible I had one on my back like a koala for like 10 minutes and he was almost weightless) I don’t see what the commotion was about but the best course of action is to simply smile and nod regardless of how crazy things may seem using western rationale.

Once the threat of the evil Crows was deemed to be neutralized the sannensei were all gathered in the area to practice an Okinawan Taiko dance for the Bunka (Cultural Festival) I was invited to participate, although I really had little idea of what exactly I was doing it was insanely fun and the kids really looked like they enjoyed watching my less than accurate rendition of the dance.

The whole experience was really quite enriching for me and provided me with the confidence to jump right into team teaching when I headed to my own school but more on that later.

In short I have been nothing short of overwhelmed by the kindness and support I have received from the ALT community here in Kobe and am truly content with life at the moment, I really think I’m going to be happy here J

Next Time on Nihonomnom: The Annual Kobe Scavenger Hunt (SCUNT)