25 November, 2007

Terrorism or Tyranny?

Reading through the comments on the online petition against fingerprinting (click the signatures link if you want to see them), it's easy to see that many of the non-Japanese resident community are hurt, puzzled, shocked and outraged about this step taken by the Government of Japan to, as they say, combat terrorism. There are a few holes in that argument. As I said in a previous post, all the terrorism in Japan has been carried out by Japanese people, and since they are excepted from fingerprinting, its not likely that this legislation is going to catch any real terrorists.

The second problem is that it looks like Japan will not have the mandate of the government to continue its support of the war in Iraq, so the possibility of Japan angering anybody there is going to be reduced.

The third and most convincing thing to me, is that the whole terrorist threat is over-rated. It has been used by governments as a pretext to increase police powers. Because really, the government is not that worried about terrorism, as their targeting only non-Japanese proves. They are really interested in catching "dangerous criminals" like visa over-stayers, and establishing a data-bank of fingerprints that they can use in case any crimes may be committed.

It's lazy police-work. The police won't actually have to do anything when there's a crime committed, except scan through their computer database and try to find someone to arrest. Whether that person may have been somewhere perfectly innocently or not probably won't be considered, because once they have the "evidence" they will go into typical mode here, arrest the suspect and then question them for up to 23 days with no recourse to a lawyer, using tactics of sleep deprivation and psychological intimidation until they confess. Even the courts have been chiding police and overturning confessions lately citing unusually harsh questioning procedures.

That's what I'm afraid of anyway. With the idea in everyone's minds, stoked by the government and its tame pet, the media, that foreign crime is rising (it isn't) and non-Japanese are dangerous criminals, I don't think it's that far of a stretch.

And is "terrorism" really that big a problem, or is it just the scare tactic conservative governments are using to whip up an atmosphere where dualistic rather than critical thinking prevails and the average person lets their common sense fly out the window?

Take a look at this opinion by John Mueller (written in 2006):

Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?

And please sign the online petition to protest fingerprinting only non-Japanese.

24 November, 2007

Sign the Online Petition!

If you want to send the Japanese government a message that it is not all right to fingerprint only non-Japanese arriving and living in Japan, please sign the online petition against it. It will be delivered to the government. You just need your name and an email address and you need to click on a link after receiving an email to confirm it. But you can opt out of any further email.

The best part is there's a place to add a comment and tell them what you think.

I've already signed. I hope you will too. The more voices the better.

Here's the link:


20 November, 2007

Day of Mourning!

I'm declaring a Day of Mourning for the death of human rights in Japan.

With the institution of the fingerprinting, photographing and questioning of non-Japanese visitors entering Japan, and even of residents and permanent residents every time they come back from a visit abroad, I declare that the last vestige of human rights here is dead.

I could say a lot more about the unfriendly climate being generated here for non-Japanese, about the people stopped on the street for questioning when doing nothing more than riding their bicycles to work. About the total lack of human rights legislation, so that people with different skin colours are allowed to be arrested, injured in custody, thrown out of stores and declared non-credible witnesses in court because they are not Japanese. I could talk about how we must register for and carry at all times, on the penalty of being arrested, a "foreign registration card".

I could speak until I felt sick and exhausted with this treatment that should have passed out of the way we treat fellow humans with the great civil rights' struggles of the last century.

I will just say that I, as a person living here for almost 9 years altogether, feel harassed, intimidated, and tired of the racism. I feel more than a little disappointed that my students and more of the Japanese public have not made any effort to say to the government that these policies aren't right. That we have already been processed and registered and given our photographs to officials before we could get work visas or those resident's cards.

Unfortunately, only a few Japanese have even said to me privately they were sorry the government was doing this. I can not find much support for human rights in ordinary people. I think many are too afraid to think for themselves, content to do what the government tells them. I think they actually believe that this will stop "terrorists", which of course to them must be "foreigners". Why do they think that? Well the TV and newspapers and government are saying it's true.

They have short memories. Even I can remember the sarin gas attack that was carried out by a Japanese, and the airplane that was hijacked by members of the Japanese Red Army. The only other acts of terror that I remember, are the North Korean kidnappings of Japanese.

In case you think I'm exaggerating about any of this, I'll refer you to debito.org where you can read more about what's going on.

These days I might be living in pre-war Germany, or the southern United States during the time before the freedom-riders. Japan has taken on some good role models, ones that remind me how misguided policies can lead to sad endings.

12 November, 2007

Bollywood Curry

Whenever I go into my local Indian restaurant, which is just about the only place I can get vegetarian food here, they have music playing that reminds me of those Bollywood pictures with all the girls in bright silks and satins batting their eyes at the men with white smiles and slicked-back hair. Dancing, dancing, always dancing, expressing lots of passion for life. You just know that those people like good food. Food expresses life as much as any other physical pleasure, and hunger drives us to the table in search of taste and satisfaction that will give us the energy to do other things like work, play, dance.

Though a perfect apple or peach in season can be as satisfying as anything that takes hours to prepare, sometimes we long for more complex tastes. Food is also a kind of cheap travel; if we taste the tastes of other cultures we can be carried to those far-off lands, without the time and expense. I'm not saying cooking curry at my house in Japan is as good as if I were to eat it in India surrounded with all the colour and scents of that land, but even so, when the temperatures drop and my thoughts turn to warmer places and spicy cuisine, I can cook myself some dishes that help me satisfy that craving, and help me feel that I am sharing some of the rich gifts of that culture.

Recently Veggie Friendly has been featuring the foods of India, with pictures that have been making my mouth water. KPounder, the writer, you may remember from a previous mention of her website, is an Australian woman on a world tour in the happy company of her husband. I've been following her Indian food adventures for the past week, and Sunday, with a day available for cooking, I just had to pull out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and see what new tastes I could find. Though I have another Indian cookbook or two and there are plenty of recipes now on blogs online, still the shortest way to get guaranteed good food is to try something from Madhur Jaffrey's Home Cookery. I haven't tried everything in there yet, but I've tried enough to know that every recipe is going to be delicious, and she's put enough thought into them to make the preparation foolproof. Good enough for me.

I chose two dishes to eat with my cooked organic brown rice. Mughlai Saag, Spinach with Onions (and broccoli) and a version of the English Teacher's Vegetable Curry (adapted from a chicken curry) which was one of the first recipes I ever posted. I like it because it's delicious and it uses whole spices, which take much less time to make than if I have to grind them. Better for when it's already past supper time and you want to eat. I'm calling this version featuring eggplant, fresh tomatoes, cardamom and root vegetables, Bollywood Curry in honour of those lively dancers.

This curry is changed a lot by whatever vegetables you choose to use. You can vary it by choosing to put in whatever looks good in the market when you go shopping, seasonal vegetables which are always the most nutritious and tasty. Experiment. You can't ruin this recipe if you stick to the basic structure of garlic, onion, spices and seasoning.

The meal was absolutely delicious, the flavours of the spinach and broccoli dish deep, a bit tarry yet piqued with a note of garam masala, and the eggplant curry dancing on the tongue with as much vigour as any Bollywood heroine.

Try this pairing if you want the energy to dance all the way to wherever you're headed, and arrive with a flush on your cheek and a sparkle in your eye.

Spinach with Onions and Broccoli (About 4 servings)

2-4 bunches spinach. I used about 8 of the small individual plants of Japanese spinach, maybe about 6-8 cups chopped.) Don't worry if it looks like too much, it cooks down a lot.

1 medium onion, chopped small
2-4 Tb. vegetable oil
1 small hot red or green chili, de-seeded and chopped ( or put 1 or two dried ones in the oil to toast, if you have no fresh)
1-2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp salt ( or more, to taste)
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp garam masala

Chop the onion.

Chop the washed spinach crosswise into about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces

Wash and slice individual florettes of a small head of broccoli into about 1/2 inch ( 1.25 cm) slices

Put the oil into a large frying pan on to heat and put in the onions. Stir and fry for about 3 minutes until they are brown. Add the chopped spinach, chopped chilis, ginger, salt and sugar. Stir and cook the spinach for about 5 minutes until wilted. Add the water and simmer. Cover and turn the heat to low and cook about 8 minutes. Uncover and add the broccoli, re-cover and cook a further few minutes or until the broccoli becomes bright green and is tender. The liquid should be almost boiled away, but if it becomes too dry when you add the broccoli you can add a small drizzle of water (a few tablespoons). Sprinkle the garam masala on top and mix through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (Add more salt and pepper as necessary.)

Bollywood Curry (About 6 servings)

4-5 Tb vegetable oil
3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
a 1-inch ( 2.54 cm) stick of cinnamon
6 whole green cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small carrot sliced and quartered
2 small Japanese eggplants (skin on) or 1 North-American sized one, cubed, with skin removed if it's too tough
3-4 very small potatoes or 1 large, sliced and quartered
6-7 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped or food processed
2 fresh red or green chillies sliced thinly and chopped or 1/8-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1-inch (2.54 cm) cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala

Into the hot oil put the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and peppercorns and stir a few times. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and stir and fry them until the onions are a bit brown. Add the chopped eggplant, carrots, and fresh chili peppers. Fry for a moment or two to start the cooking. Add the tomatoes, salt and cayenne, if you're using it. Add the potatoes. Add enough water to barely cover the mixture and bring just to a boil. Immediately cover and turn the heat to low. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes or more as required. (Test the potatoes for tenderness.)http://www.spike.com/video/solla-solla-enna/2776538

Remove the cover and turn down the heat. Sprinkle on the garam masala and stir it in. If you want a thicker consistency you can cook it for a few more minutes to reduce the amount of liquid. Serve with the spinach dish and cooked rice.


Unfortunately the youtube video has expired but you can still see it here:

05 November, 2007

Shitake White Miso Soup (Vegan)

The days are starting to get a bit cooler now, and I find I want hot food. After a long sweltering summer, I thought I never would. But there's nothing to warm the belly like hot food, and soup is one of the best hot foods I know.

It's tasty and easy to eat. It doesn't take so long to make a pot and then the pot lasts for several meals. It's a way to get more vegetables into my diet without having to cook them multiple times, important for when I'm busy teaching or come home late and don't want to cook. A quick heat up, maybe combined with some rice from the rice cooker, and I have a satisfying and filling meal, a comfort in my stomach.

I love all kinds of soups from Italian style Minestrone with pesto and tons of garlic, to creamy carrot and ginger, the Hotch Potch (we called it Hodge Podge growing up) made with cream and the new spring vegetables, and one of my Mom's favourites, Mamie's Complexion Soup. Who couldn't like a soup with a name like that? As I spooned up the slightly bitter chunky canned tomato and cream soup, I wondered about the name. No one seemed to know who Mamie was, but I guess she had a rosy complexion, something like the pinkish colour of the soup.

When I came to Japan one of the first meals I used to eat at lunch breaks was a "ramen set" at a restaurant near my school. It was a tiny shop favoured by families, workmen and young business guys alike. They had quite a few choices of big bowls of ramen, decorated with a lot of things that were mostly a mystery to me at the time but tasted great. Tomoko, the student who introduced me to the place, always accompanied me as we sat down at the bare bones tables decorated with a paper placemat, dark wood container with a glass lid full of chopsticks, and a little caddy of small jars of soy sauce, hot spicy powder, vinegar, and sesame oil.

We always ordered the set meal which was a bargain for around 750 or 800 yen because it included, besides the big bowl of ramen, a dish of cooked rice, pickles, a few tomatoes as a salad, and five plump gyoza on a little plate, along with green tea. We would break the chopsticks, pour a little soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil on the gyoza, say "itadakimasu" ("Thanks for the good food/Let's eat") and dive in. With all the noodle slurping around us, we weren't the only ones. I never felt comfortable slurping but quietly but surely managed to eat it all. Living in a one-room apartment with a one-burner stove and half-refrigerator and no counter space at all it was usually my one cooked meal of the day.

After a few years the restaurant closed down. I never understood why because it was almost always full. I was really sad to see it go, but by that time I was on my second time in Japan and had moved on to other, more complex Japanese foods. Still, deep in my heart, that little shop, with its echoes of Tampopo, lives on forever. It is the place I first learned to love Japanese food (though ramen is originally Chinese it's been Japanized and adopted into the cuisine) and the place I first felt at home here. The smiling waitresses, the plain but to me so exotic decor, the new tastes, the warm belly, the first words of Japanese. That little noodle shop (now relocated to my memory) is where I've stored all those things.

One of my favourite soups there was the vegetable ramen with white miso. It was salty and just a touch sweet, as white miso tends to be, and it was so beautiful with the soft colours of the greens and oranges and browns of the vegetables floating in the milky mist of the broth.

I have always enjoyed miso soup in Japan, and I even learned to make a good homemade one using katsuobushi (dried bonito fish) and konbu (dried kelp). But when I became a vegetarian a few months back I started wondering how I was going to get a good miso soup stock without fish. I wondered about it all through the sweaty summer months but didn't feel the urge to try making the soup until the heat started to subside. I guess I'm an intuitive cook, or one that lets her belly decide what she wants to cook. I usually make up recipes based on what I'd like to eat that day, as much as the urge to try out something new.

In this blog, I've been mostly cooking comfort foods, and foods that are rather simple. The kind you would find in a cook's or your mother's or grandmothers rather than a chef's kitchen. Though I appreciate that kind of food too, and can cook it, I've found that in Japan there is good food to be gotten in many restaurants, and part of the learning process has been trying out authentic food cooked with time-honoured recipes.

So when I've wanted to cook, it's been to make something that I've missed from home or from my life of eating a variety of ethnic foods. Indian curries, soups from home, pasta dishes, salads, a few desserts. And I thought I would share these recipes with other folks here who might be just learning to cook, and maybe with my family who might like to try something from time to time. My son, Scott, likes Japanese food a lot, though with a young child, a business, and his work as an actor, he has little time to cook.

Since I discovered a wheat as well as a dairy allergy (and maybe gluten intolerance), along with adopting the vegetarian diet, it's meant I can eat in very few restaurants. So I have started to cook my favourites at home. Maybe there are some of you out there on gluten-free or dairy-free diets who might appreciate these recipes. Even if you don't have dietary restrictions I think you might like this soup.

It's a simple recipe for a soup with a nice Shitake flavour. It has a mild, clean taste which makes it appropriate for breakfast (or lunch) any day of the week. You can vary the vegetables using anything in season, and topping with chopped green onions. Some cooked rice makes a nice accompaniment. I used organic white miso which is pure rice miso, no wheat or additives, and dried Shitake mushrooms from my trusty local Anew store. I'm sure you can find them in any Asian market in North America. But if you can't find white miso, you could try experimenting with any light coloured miso you can find.

Shitake White Miso Soup (Vegan)

To make the stock for this soup soak about 5 dried Shitake mushrooms in a jar of (filtered) water for a few days. You should keep it in a cool place like the refrigerator or a cool room.

Pour the mushroom stock into a measuring cup and add plain water to make about 3 cups. Put into a medium saucepan. Take the now soft Shitake mushrooms and cut off the stems and discard. Slice the caps and reserve.

Put the saucepan over a medium heat and add about 1/2 sliced carrot (1/4 cup or so). Add 1 small potato sliced and halved or quartered. Make the slices fairly but not paper thin. The thinner the slices the more elegant the soup will look, and the shorter the cooking time.

Add a splash of mirin and a splash of sake (about 1 Tb. of each). Add up to a tsp. of freshly ground black pepper (not traditional but I like it a lot with miso.) Simmer the vegetables until tender (this will take only a few minutes so watch them) adding the mushrooms in the last minute. Add 2 Tb. of white miso by straining through a mesh screen that you dip in the hot soup to help it dissolve. Force it through with the back of a spoon. We have a tool with flat screen on a handle here that makes it easy, but you could use a mesh tea strainer too. Alternatively, put the miso in a bowl and add a little hot soup and whisk until dissolves and run through a mesh tea strainer.

After you add the miso never boil the soup. Add a pinch or so of salt if you are using sweet miso. Taste the soup first to see of it is salty enough. Heat through and enjoy!