Marshall Beach Boat Camping in November

November 12-13, 2011

The blue brig

Autumn continued, warm and dry.  The tides were in our favor one weekend, so a bunch of us piled into a Flying Scot and sailed up to a beach as two compatriots kayaked up the bay to join us.

A panorama for your scrolling enjoyment.

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Meyers Race 2011

October 2, 2011

The race season at the Inverness Yacht Club extended into the autumn in 2011, giving us races with just enough wind for Mark Darley and I to be consistently competitive, coming in first or second in most races before corrected time.  Joining Ross Valley Crossfit gave me enough strength to wrangle the various spinnaker lines on his Johnson 18, resulting in a fall sailing season with rainbows marking the end of our races.

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Kaiten Zushi

September 13, 2011

My last day at JAXA dawned, unsurprisingly, hot and humid.   The lab group, however, did something surprising for lunch: we all went out to a restaurant for a meal.  About ten of us moseyed out of the campus and past the safety signs, where Beoka and Morita-san posed with the flyers, riffs on the Mona Lisa and the three little pigs/big bad wolf.

Our destination: スシロー (Sushiro-), a purveyor of 回転寿司 (kaiten zushi, or “conveyor belt sushi”).

We’ve all seen sushi moat restaurants where small boats of sushi float in a circular body of water surrounding chefs making rolls and tiny dishes; here was the Japanese original.

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Fuji-san: Shiraito-no-taki (白糸の滝)

September 12, 2011

The great Fuji-san adventure continued: we’d seen the ice caves; now it was time for my final columnar basalt waterfall of Japan: Shiraito-no-taki (白糸の滝).  After leaving the lava caves, we drove through the leafy forests and open fields; dense woods and steep valleys of Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県, “mountain (Asian) pear prefecture”) and onto Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県, “quiet hill prefecture”).

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Fuji-san: caves of lava and ice

September 12, 2011

Where were we?  First we climbed Fuji-san in the dark, walked around the summit, descended down its slopes of scree, and spent the night at a vacation cabin, Tozawa, on the shore of Kawaguchiko.  The adventure continues…

But first, a word or two about the local fruit suppliers.  Everywhere we drove near Fuji-san sold fruit.  Peaches (もも, momo).  Grapes (ぶどう, budou).  Mushrooms (きのこ, kinoko).   Other local specialties from the mountain whose kanji and hiragana I didn’t recognize.  A favorite rhyme about peaches and plums in Japan:


(A Japanese plum is a kind of peach, a peach is also a peach; both Japanese plum and peach are kinds of peaches.)

Yet, nowhere in these verdant prefectures did I see a single peach tree or grape vine, much less an orchard or a vineyard, despite abundant greenery and rich volcanic soil. Where do they grow those gigantic, dulcet, coral, iconic peaches so icon of the islands in Japan? Continue reading

Fuji-san: Kawaguchiko (絶好調)

September 11-12, 2011

河口湖, Kawaguchi-ko, literally translates to “‘river mouth’ lake”, one of the eponymous bodies of water in the Five Lakes District.  Arriving at the lake was fuzzy in my memory: I promptly fell asleep as Tatsuya-san pulled out of the parking lot on Fuji-san and drove down the mountain slopes.   Continue reading

Eating Gluten-Free in Japan

How do you eat gluten-free in Japan?

Where do you find wheat-free food in a country known for everything breaded and fried?  Eating gluten-free in the US is not too difficult: many restaurants have gluten-free menus, and recent advances in bread technology are declared as not only edible but tasty by gluten-eating friends. As time goes on, Americans are becoming more aware of food additives with unpronounceable names, so within reason, we mostly know what’s in our food.  It’s easy enough to cook gluten-free at home, but eating out is sometimes a bit of an adventure, especially when there’s any sort of language barrier involved. At least in the Middle East, generations of folks rocking funky patches of the HLA-DRA gene have Celiac and almost everyone is familiar with wheat sensitivities, or at least the concept of Passover. Tel Aviv has numerous restaurants that cater to the gluten-free crowd.

But eating gluten-free in Japan?  Finding gluten-free food at Japanese restaurants, conbinis, or grocery stores? むずかしいです, difficult… Almost everything in Japan has gluten in it. Soy sauce, thickened with wheat, is ubiquitous. You think sushi is safe? The vinegar used for sushi rice is sometimes doped with gluten, added for color after the distillation process. Breaded cutlet, tempura, soba and udon noodles, curry, red miso… all have the dreaded (mugi, whether wheat or barley). Peanut M&Ms, Snickers… foods that are usually safe in the US all have wheat flour in their Japanese variants.  The Japanese also drink barley or wheat tea!  How do you communicate to Japanese waiters, cooks, and friends that you might get ill if you eat gluten, especially when you don’t really speak the language?

For the bonus round, MSG in China and Japan is made out of real gluten (unlike in the US, where it’s made from a different bacterial fermentation process) and is a tad more nefarious than its American cousins. Want a headache all day? Try eating packaged umeboshi (pickled plums), deli meat, or even pre-made onigiri rice balls at the combini around the corner. And it’s not labeled as MSG–it shows up as “amino flavoring”, アミノ (last post here).

What to look for in ingredients lists

The kanji common to wheat and barley is mugi: .  You usually see 小麦 (wheat), or 大麦 (barley).  しょうゆ, or 醤油, means soy sauce, and that’s usually a no-go.  アミノ酸など are amino flavorings, also known as MSG.  The Japanese variety of MSG guarantees a lot of headaches for foreigners.

“I’m allergic to gluten”

Most Japanese people I encountered have no idea what “gluten” (グルテン) is, so I told them I have an allergy to wheat and soy sauce.  “小麦も醤油のアレルギーがあります; komugi mo shoyu no areguri ga arimasu; wheat and soy sauce allergy.”

How to ask for gluten-free food in Japanese

There are a number of existing gluten-free restaurant cards, but they are not necessarily Japan-specific and do not mention some of the more popular foods in which gluten hides in Japanese food.

Due to illness, I have a diet restriction. I cannot eat the ingredients below:

Gluten(グルテン 、麩質)は絶対に食べられません。
I cannot eat gluten.

Ingredients which contain gluten are wheat, rye and barley.

I will become very ill if I eat food containing the above ingredients.


Also, I cannot eat anything which has come in contact or is mixed at all with wheat. This includes bread, bread crumbs and soy sauce. I brought my own tamari sauce to flavor my food.

Most sauces contain wheat so please serve meat without sauce.

I cannot eat red miso, tempura (due to bread crumbs), or tonkatsu (also due to bread crumbs).

If you don’t know what ingredients are in a dish, please tell me.

Whatever version of this comes next will thank the waiter profusely for their trouble, and also include more examples of what can be eaten (rice, meat, vegetables, onions, etc.).

In addition to this prototype translation, From Japan With Love has some excellent resources on eating out and cooking gluten-free in Japan. The Internet informs me that gluten-free bread and dessert recipes exist in Japanese, so perhaps awareness of celiac and other gluten sensitivities is becoming more common. There’s also a page of recipes in Japanese appropriate for various allergen-free diets.

What to order in a restaurant

Sashimi, shabu shabu, donburi without soy sauce, Vietnamese pho, rice, salad without sauce, steak without sauce at a family restaurant, and Sasebo burgers without buns in Sasebo.  San-J, best known for their soy sauce, sells travel-sized packages of gluten-free tamari in the US, which are perfect for going out for sushi.  At Korean BBQ places, ask for meat without sauce, then make your own out of your gluten-free tamari with chili paste and garlic provided.

Grocery store and convenience store foods

While on the run, the Family Mart conbini has yogurt, bacon snacks, some lunch meats, white chocolate-covered freeze-dried strawberries, some lunch meats, chocolate-covered peanuts and almonds, yogurt, most nuts (check the ingredients for wheat), and purple onigiri rice balls with sweet black beans.  The rest of the onigiri have gluten or amino acids.  Don’t buy CalorieMate.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to cooking facilities, Japanese grocery stores stock the usual fish, meat, eggs, yogurt, vegetables, and rice that are safe.  Finding gluten-free bread or other gluten-free desserts is hard; expect to eat a mostly paleo or slow-carb diet while abroad, unless you bring a ton of quinoa and bread from abroad.  Don’t expect many places to have ovens, though you may have a rice maker that doubles as a bread maker.

What have you found to be helpful in a Japanese restaurant or while purchasing food in Japan for a gluten-free diet?  Happy (wheat-, barley-, and gluten-free) eating in 日本!

The 56-pound pumpkin

October 25, 2011

October around the Bay Area means clear days, cold nights, and gorgeous produce. The neighbors had planted some pumpkin seeds in the spring in the center of an old Bay Laurel stump, fed with chicken and horse manure. Months later, out came ten giant Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, better known as Cinderella pumpkins, ranging in weight from 20 to 56 pounds.

The largest of the beasts dwarfed my torso as I lugged it up the hill into a wheelbarrow.

56 pound Cinderella Pumpkin, Rouge Vif d'Etampes
You can see a variety of its cousins of both the Cinderella and sugar varieties.

How do you cut open a pumpkin of this size? Normal kitchen knives won’t cut it (haw).

Sawzalling the Rouge Vif d'Etampes
A reciprocating saw, like a Sawzall, is generally the best choice. Ear and eye protection necessary.

What’s this pumpkin like inside?

For its size, the Cinderella pumpkins have a very small seed cavity that’s not as gooey as a sugar pumpkin, making it easy to clean.

The flesh is somewhat like that of a spaghetti squash in that it’s stringy.

Three slices
However, it’s sweet enough to eat raw.

It took the course of several days to properly chop, bake, and peel the ribs of this pumpkin.

Half the pumpkin produced about 12 pints of puree
This single squash resulted in about 2-3 gallons of puree, which turned into pies, curries, soups, omelets, more pies, custards, soufflés… For scale, the 20-pound sibling of this 56-pounder turned into 13 pies. I worry I’ll turn orange from eating so much pumpkin. Happy harvest holidays!

Fish so fresh it should be slapped

September 1, 2011

Golden-eyed fish

At a dark and rather unfortunate hour on a Thursday morning, Tatsuya and I drove from Kokubunji into Tokyo proper to go to the Tsukiji fish market. Most of the main sales occur before 6 am, so waking up before dawn at 4 am is a prerequisite if you want to see giant fish being sliced by large knives. By the time we reached the market, the sun had risen and it was already intensely humid. The first thing you notice about Tsukiji is the smell: not of fish, but of gas odors mixed with rotting vegetables and general grime. All manner of vehicles cluster around the entrance to the market. Continue reading



While we’re on the topic of food, let’s not forget how important combining drinking with eating is in Japan. Yuki, José, Davíd, and I went out for shabu shabu one night to give a “tabehodai” (all you can eat) restaurant a run for its money. The name shabu shabu comes from the sound meat makes as you stir it with chopsticks in a iron pan filled with broth in the center of your table, resting over an open flame. José advised us to order a rich soymilk broth in which to boil our meat, which was just about the best idea ever. We’d run low on meat and vegetables, hit a little button under the table, call out “sumimasen!” when the waitress arrived, and order another stack of meat. The two Spanish brothers had a “no meat left behind” policy, so I’m sure the restaurant proprietors weren’t entirely happy that we consumed dozens of trays of beef, along with piles of vegetables.
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