Monday, February 20, 2012

Eating in Japan

I'm going to try to catch up on my vacation posts! Today's post is about food we ate while in Japan last March. I LOVED visiting Japan and continue to pray for their recovery from the tsunami and radiation leak.

One the neatest meals we ate was shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is a traditional Japanese meal where you eat in your own little room which has tatami mats on the floor and rice paper walls. You remove your shoes before entering the room and sit on little cushions. In the middle of the table is a pot of boiling water and your meat is served in very thin slices which you cook yourself. Two funny things happened at this meal: 1) I saw slippers where you take your shoes off and took off my shoes and stepped up into the room with them on! They quickly motioned me "no!"...those shoes were for going to the bathroom....oops! 2) My brother ordered potatoes as part of our traditional meal...they brought out a bowl of french fries and ketchup!!! (Photo of my brother & his girlfriend. I didn't take any photos of me here!)

On another day, we ate at a stand outside of the zoo. The other 3 ate pizza (which was good!) while I had to try this cute panda. It was a pastry with powered sugar dusted on it. We think the brown part is a kind of bean curd paste. This was good!

The Tokyo zoo, Ueno Zoological Gardens, sits in a park called Ueno Park. This little stand was also in Ueno Park. These are bananas which are dipped in different colored frostrings and then decorated. Alex bought a set of 3 adorable mice! They looked CUTE, but we didn't like the taste that much.

Alex also bought some ice cream in Ueno Park. (We wanted to try everything!) They had really unusual ice cream flavors and we just had to order by the pictures. We did recognize "milk" (vanilla), green tea, an orange fruit, and cantaloups (which is what Alex had). Yummy!

This was one of my favorite meals in Japan. I had pot stickers and noodles. Oh, it was SO delicious!!! In fact, we all had a variety of pot stickers and noodles. So yummy!

There are a lot of machines in Japan that sell a variety of things - not just food! But, at the train depot one day, my brother bought some banana hot chocolate. Agian, we had to go from photos (although you can read the English word "hot").

This restaurant was in Akihabara, the Electric City of Tokyo. It was probably my least favorite meal, but it was still neat. The center of the table is a hot plate.

Here's a photo of the food from that place. You used the spatulas (on other photo) to kind of chop off a section and put it on your plate to eat.

To give you an idea of how we ordered, here is a photo of the menu...yes, it is all in Japanese! But, the waiter spoke some English. (This was often the case.) On the lower left hand corner, for example, they would tell us that was the beef section. So, we could see all the different prices of 'beef', but we really didn't know what the words meant. We would pick a middle-priced meat and order it. We often ordered a lot of food both to try more things and because we weren't sure what we'd like. We liked most of the food we tried!

Here's my brother & his girlfriend at a sushi train. To the right you can see the plates of food. They are on a conveyor belt and you pick up what you want from the train. The plates are color-coded so you can see how much they cost. I don't care much for sushi, though they really enjoy it. Alex & I did enjoy some desserts, though!

We only ate "American" food twice while in Japan - once at McDonald's and once at Subways. At the McDonald's, it was just Alex & myself and they didn't speak any English and they didn't have an English menu! They handed me a menu with photos and I pointed to what we wanted. But, they didn't have a water showing and I couldn't explain it, so I got an orange juice instead! Also, we got chicken strips and they still had the skin on it and they were pretty greasy. We didn't care much for it! At Subway, the food offered was also different. I usually have the sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Well, they didn't have that sauce, so I had Caesar dressing instead! Alex had ham & cheese, but we ended up trading. My brother had egg!

Here's the last photo. Alex bought this out of a machine at our hotel the last day. It's called "calpis" and it is DELICIOUS! When we bought things out of the machines, we had to be careful as they also sell alcohol out of them! And, I wasn't sure how to tell the difference! I just tasted it first and it tasted non-alcoholic. And, we looked at the labels to make sure it didn't look like something that contained alcohol.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Medieval Monstrosities

What do "Medieval monstrosities" have to do with cathedrals? The Basillica Church of Saint Mary Magdelene in Vezelay, France, depicts some of these monstrosities the central tympanum lintel above the main door. Why? The theme of this lintel is Jesus telling his disciples to preach the gospel to the ends of the world. And, at this time, people in Europe thought there were monstrous people who needed to hear the gospel!

Here are some of the 'people' who were thought to exist:
  • Sciopods - people with one leg and a foot so big they used it for shade
  • Cyclopes - people with one, central eye
  • Pygmies - short people (though I'm not sure why this one has two heads)
  • Blymmyes - people with faces on their chest
  • Cynocephalus - dog-headed people
I got more information about the history of these people at J. A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings blog. Blymmeys were described as early as the fifth century B.C. by Herodutus. Later, Pliny the Elder in his book "Natural History, Book V" (75 A.D.) also described them. Pliny's book was an attempt to "comprehensively document all the knowledge known in the world available to the Roman Empire at the time." Later on, they were described as man eaters, too.
(Large eared people - I didn't come across a name - image from Wikipedia)

(Sciapod/Skiapod/Monopod - from the Nuremburg Chronicle 1493 - image from Wikipedia)
Pliny describes Skiapods as follows: He [Ctesias] speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodae, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. (Ctesias' book was about India from the 5th century B.C.)
In this age of mass information and Google Earth it is hard to believe that people believed these human 'monstrosities' really existed. But, even today, we talk about leprechauns and big foot! Anyway, I can't wait to visit Europe and examine some of this medieval art in person.

P.S. I really enjoyed a related post called "How Columbus Discovered Cannibals in the New World" which talks about the dog-headed people and how Columbus used this idea to justify enslaving people.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saint Denis, a Cephalophore

Today's Cathedral lecture was about the Saint-Denis Cathedral which is considered the first Gothic Cathedral. It was designed by the abbot, Abbot Suger. The story of Saint Denis was really interesting.

Saint Denis lived in the 3rd century and, along with two companions, was converting a lot of people to Christianity. Somewhere around 250 AD, he and his two friends were beheaded on Mons Martis. Because of the martyrdom of these saints, the hill is now known as Montmartre, "the mountain of the martyr."

After being beheaded, it is said that Saint Denis picked up his head and carried it approximately 6 miles, preaching as he walked. He stopped at the location where the Saint-Denis Cathedral now stands.

There are actually quite a few saints who are said to have been able to walk and carry their own heads after being beheaded. The term for this is "cephalophore", or head-carrier. Often, in art, the saint is shown holding his or her head and the halo, the sign of saints, is shown where their head used to be. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Photo of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this post about cephalophores on Elizabeth Lunday's blog: My New Favorite Word: Cephalophore.


This morning I watched Lecture #5 of Professor Cook's "The Cathedral."  This one was titled Saint-Denis and the Beginning of the Gothic Style. Wow!!! This was (another) incredible lecture! And, as often happens, it inspired me to dig more.

First of all, Saint-Denis is a Gothic Cathedral in what is now a suburb of Paris. The Gothic parts, the front (entry) and back (apse), were built around 1140 AD while the center part (nave) was built about 100 years later.

Saint Denis, the person, was the first bishop of Paris and the patron saint of France. Saint Denis was martyred and buried at this location in about 250 AD. This site became a popular pilgrimage site and a chapel was erected here around 475 AD. This chapel was turned into a royal monastery and most of the kings of France were buried here until the time of the French Revolution. During the revolution, the bodies of the kings were removed and buried in a mass grave. Later, the bodies were dug up and reburied in a common ossuary (a place where skeletal remains are buried).

Abbott Suger was the abbot of Saint-Denis from 1122-1151 AD. He was a friend and advisor of Kings Louis VI and Louis VII. He served as a regeant of the kingdom during the Second Crusade. The cathedral was dilapidated, and Suger wanted to rebuild it to rival the temple of Solomon! Abbot Suger is the man often credited as starting the Gothic style of architecture.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What is a Cathedral?

As I prepare for our trip to Europe, I have now finished my first Great Courses lecture series by William Kloss, World's Greatest Paintings. This morning, I started a new series, this one by Professor William R Cook, entitled The Cathedral. The first lecture was titled What is a cathedral? This is what I learned...
After the 1st century, when Jesus' apostles had all died, each community started having a local bishop who had authority in his region. These were small groups who often met either in secret or quietly because of persecution. In the fourth century, however, Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and he legalized Christianity. Because of this, Christianity grew rapidly and the Christians were not being persecuted. And, the church starts to accumulate wealth.

(Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland - the only cathedral I've visited...yet!)

Each bishop, who was in charge of a region, sat in a seat called a cathedra. With larger numbers of Christians/Catholics, they erected buildings to house the cathedras, thus creating the first cathedrals. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the bishops role became larger. The people lived under "canon law" - the law of the church which was administered by the bishop sitting on his cathedra. Besides law, the bishops also had a political role since there were no Roman administrators left.
The bishops became very wealthy as the people gave gifts of land, jewels, gold, etc. Perhaps the gifts were of a pious nature, or perhaps they were trying to gain religious favor. The bishops used the wealth to create enormous cathedrals.
Relics were kept inside of the cathedrals. The relics were bones or other parts of the bodies of saints or other religious martyrs. These relics were believed to be powerful, so many people made pilgrimages to the cathedrals that housed these relics. One example is Canterbury Cathedral which housed the bones of the Holy Blissful Martyr, Saint Thomas Becket of Canterbury. This pilgrimage is the basis for Chaucer's book, The Canterbury Tales.
Why did the cathedrals need to be so big? One of the main reason was to house all of its members during feast days, which could be for the 'big' religious holidays (like Easter) or for local Saint's days. Also, baptisms were often held here. The baptisms could be collective for many babies, perhaps on a Saint's day, or could be for the child of an important family.
The cathedrals you can visit today are usually still in use and have goen through a lot of repair and remodeling. They are NOT museums. They do not look exactly like they did when they were first built. Some reasons include:
  • damage from revolutions (like the French Revolution)
  • damage from the Protestant Reformation
  • damage and abandonment by Communist governments
  • damage from wars (like WWI and WWII)
  • damage by natural disasters like fire and earthquakes
  • damage of erosion and discoloration by industrial pollution
Most of the lectures will cover Gothic Cathedrals which started in France so that will be the focus of the lectures. The term "Gothic" wasn't used until the 18th century. This style of building was considered "primitive" and representative of the superstitious medieval Catholic church. Gothic referred to the Germanic tribe of Goths so it meant they were "barbarian."