Posts Tagged ‘japan’

Kumagaya Sakura Marathon

Late in 2015, we booked a trip to Japan – and little did I know that I would be running my first ‘international’ race at the Kumagaya Sakura Marathon! It was, in fact, a half marathon – and we coordinated our travels to end up in the Tokyo area in time for the race. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Let me tell about the Japan race experience – a bit about what’s the same as other half marathons I have run, and what is completely different. Introducing, the Kumagaya Sakura Marathon!

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Living on the West Coast, there’s a lot of influence on our food culture from East Asia. Sushi shops abound. To be fair, a lot of sushi shops here are not ‘authentically’ Japanese, and I even question when they subtitle these restaurants as ‘Japanese Food’. But while I love me some good sushi, it’s not my favourite Japanese food. You may not know that I actually lived in Japan for about six years, so I had lots of exposure to true Japanese cuisine. (Wow, that really makes me sound like a snob!)

I freely admit that this post has very tenuous links to running, but it will give you a bit more insight into Bradley on the Run! And if you want to make the connection stronger, you can read my post about Running Japan.

If I was stranded on a desert island, with unlimited access to the appropriate ingredients and a skilled chef, I could survive on Japanese food alone. Here are my five favourite Japanese dishes of all time!

Ten-don

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No, this is not the ‘connective tissue’ kind of tendon you might be tempted to think of (given the number of runners who read my blog!). What we’ve got here is tempura donburi, a bowl of white rice topped with prawn and mixed vegetables, coated with tempura batter and deep fried.

Typical vegetables include lotus root, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, yam, onion, okra, shiitake mushrooms, and kabocha/pumpkin. I’ve also seen broccoli, carrot and bell peppers used. This is all topped with tentsuyu, a sauce made of equal parts dashi (fish stock), mirin (sweet rice wine) and soy sauce.

Not the healthiest item on the menu, but one I could eat every day (if my body didn’t rebel).

Dashimaki Tamago

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Fortunately, my beloved is not only Japanese, but also a very talented cook. After a weekend morning run, the dish I request for breakfast is dashimaki tamago (literally dashi-rolled egg) – essentially a Japanese omelette. The recipe used in our household has dashi and mirin, making it both savoury and slightly sweet. I enjoy eating it with white rice and pickled daikon radish.

Breakfast of champions!

Curry rice

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This one is pretty self-explanatory. Japanese curry is made from ‘roux’ – little blocks of concentrated curry base mixed into a pot of cooked vegetables (and, usually, meat – but I don’t eat meat). The curry is a not necessarily pleasing dark brown colour, and considerably less spicy than curries from most other Asian countries.

In Japan, you can find curry houses that serve a vast array of curries, including such options as:  squid and clam; cheese-filled hamburger; natto (fermented soy beans); and cream croquette.

Yum all around (except for the natto – disgusting stuff)!

Udon

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Simple and delicious. Udon is a thick wheat noodle served in broth, and topped with any number of possible things. My personal favourites are kitsune udon (with sliced of sweet fried tofu); wakame udon (simply including Japanese seaweed); and, not surprisingly, tempura udon (see ‘ten-don’ above!).

Udon is simple and cheap to make, so I eat it pretty regularly at home.

Omu-rice

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Omu-rice bears some similarity to the dashimaki tamago, but is definitely a dinner dish. The stuffing is fried rice with chopped vegetables and, if desired, choice of meat – and seasoned with ketchup! Not exactly ‘traditional’ Japanese food, but a spin on the Western menu. It’s then wrapped in a thin omelette or, more popular these days, light cooked scrambled eggs.

You’ll generally see omu-rice topped with ketchup again, but I sometimes put mayonnaise on top as well!

*****

My Friday Five of Japanese food is, I’ll admit, pretty carb heavy. Japanese cuisine abounds with delicious, healthy selections – but I can’t help but favour those that are truly comfort foods for me.

What have been your experiences with Japanese food? What’s your favourite?
Have you eaten any of these dishes? Which of them would you like to try?

DC-Trifecta-Friday-Five-linkup

I’m joining the Friday Five linkup with Eat Pray Run DCMar on the Run, and You Signed Up for What?! this week. In case you hadn’t guessed, the theme for this week is Food & Drink!

murakami

I dedicate this book to all the runners I’ve encountered on the road — those I’ve passed, and those who’ve passed me. Without all of you, I never would have kept on running.

I haven’t really done much in the way of book reviews since high school, with the exception of the odd comments on Goodreads. But I figured that if I was going to read a book about running, I should write about a book about running.

That book is:

What I Talk about when I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami

Generally, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. My tendency is more towards mystery (a la Agatha Christie) and action/thriller (by folks like Clive Cussler, Ian Hamilton, Steve Berry) – really high brow stuff! But when I learned that one of Japan’s best-known authors was also a runner, I immediately put a hold on the eBook at the Vancouver Public Library.

Haruki Murakami (age 66) is a Kyoto-born author, with a quirky writing style. Some of his better known works are: Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. I’ve actually read a collection of his short stories (after the quake) in the original Japanese. Here are my thoughts on his book about running!

What the book is about

The subtitle of this book is A Memoir. Each chapter is somewhat of a short recollection – excerpts from the ‘present’ (during the time of writing) and reflections on the ‘past’. Murakami talks about his life before becoming a writer, when he owned a jazz bar. One day, while lying on the grass watching a baseball game, he was ‘inspired’ to write a novel – dropped everything, sold the bar, and committed to his career.

This dedication is reflected in his running habit. Once he became an author, he realized that his sedentary life would make him fat, so he started running. And since then he has run every day, averaging 6 miles each day (sometimes more, sometimes less, but hitting his weekly and monthly targets). He has run multiple marathons – probably even more since this book was published in 2007 – and at least one ultramarathon.

What I liked about the book

Murakami has a very matter of fact writing style. He just tells things as he sees them. His description of himself as a non-athlete resonated with me.

He talks about gym class and sports days, and how much he hated them. He says, “I wasn’t good at the kind of sports where things are decided in a flash.” As someone who flinches when balls are thrown anywhere near my head, this makes sense to me.

Murakami goes on to discuss how the competitive aspect of sports makes him uncomfortable, saying that “…beating somebody else just doesn’t do it for me.” As such, he really doesn’t enjoy team sports – and I wholeheartedly echo this feeling. This is one of the things about running that works for both the author, and for me – our motivation comes from focusing on a time we want to beat…or doing our best trying.

Running: “It suits me”

My favourite part of this book was Murakami’s description of his Athens to Marathon run. He decided to run the ‘reverse Marathon’ on his own, just for the sake of doing it. He is accompanied by a photo crew in a van, who are documenting his adventure. He remarks that the photographer is baffled that he actually plans to run the whole thing, since most people just pose for the photo ops, but don’t really complete the course. Murakami is equally baffled: “I can’t believe people would really do things like that.” The best moment, though, is near the end of the run – in his exhaustion, the author is angry at everything: the dust on the road, the photographer in his van, and sheep eating grass at the side of the road. Such great reflections of the pain and misery nearing the finish line!

Also, napping is good!

What I didn’t like about the book

Honestly, if I hadn’t already planned to write this book review, I might not have finished reading. It’s not long – only 175 pages – but it’s a bit of a slog. I suspect that the stilted writing style is somewhat reflective of the translation. It verges on the awkward and unnatural, literal translation. But Murakami’s written word is a bit peculiar, so maybe the English version is not that far off.

And while Murakami is very dedicated to running – it’s an essential part of his everyday world, and he feels regretful when he’s not able to run – there’s a lack of enthusiasm about running. Clearly, it holds value in his life. There are a number of warm, reflective moments about people he’s encountered on his journey, to be sure. But I don’t really feel like he’s having a lot of fun along the way. Maybe that’s just the kind of guy he is – fairly solitary and introspective. Who am I to judge?

Finally, he makes things seem so easy, that things just ‘happen’. He suddenly decides to write a novel, and then he’s a writer. He determines to start running, and then he’s finishing a marathon. While there’s clearly hard work and pain involved, it happens with an almost fatalistic sense of ‘that’s how it goes’. I find that a bit difficult to identify with.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in getting a different perspective on running, this is not a bad book to read. It gave me some food for thought. If you’ve read Murakami’s works, you might find it interesting to learn more about the man himself.

The story about running Athens to Marathon is the best part – just read this chapter, and you’ll have all you need.

Before I started writing, I Googled book reviews. There are many. My favourite is by Lianne Habinek, in Open Letters Monthly – so if you want to read a solid, professional review, click here.

Did you find this review helpful? Would you like to read more book reviews? What’s your favourite book about running?

What_I_Talk_About

Following the Honolulu Marathon and an additional few days in Hawai’i, we took a 2 week vacation in Kyoto, Japan. Warning: lots of photos!

Some of you may know that I lived in Japan for close to six years, back in the late 90s and early 2000s. As readers of this blog will also know, I was quite physically inactive until the last few years, although I probably did more in Japan than in the years prior or immediately after – I rode my bicycle pretty much everywhere, and also went to the gym quite regularly for about a year. However, I never ran in Japan.

December 27 Run/Walk – 7km

I wanted to give myself a bit of time for recovery after the marathon, but by Christmas Day I was feeling the urge to get running again. I was having dinner that night with a couple of friends, one of whom is running the Kyoto Marathon (her first!) in February. I mentioned that I was planning to go for a run in a couple of days, and the other friend asked if she could join me. Of course! So bright and early on December 27, we met at Gojo Bridge, beside the Kamogawa, and went for a run!

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My friend was too shy about running to pose for the selfie!

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LOVE this photo!!

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Looking north to Sanjo Bridge

As it turned out, we probably did more walking and chatting than actual running, but still it was great to get out and enjoy the riverside. During my time living in Kyoto, I rode my bike along the river hundreds of times…it was one of my primary travel routes. But to finally be there as a runner was truly special!

December 28 – 12km + Race Interrupted

The next day, I decided to make more of a go at things, and set my sights on Kitayama-dori – the northernmost ‘main’ street/bridge crossing the river – and close to my old neighbourhood. I headed north up the west side of the river from Gojo for about 3 kilometres until I reached Imadegawa, where the river veers slightly to the northwest.

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Map of Kamogawa Bridges & distances – only in Japanese, but I’ve labelled Gojo (from here) and Kitayama (to here)

At this point, I suddenly saw several runners heading toward me – moving at a pretty good clip – and realized that they were all wearing bibs. Somehow, I was facing down a race! The group (obviously the lead runners) ran by so fast that I couldn’t read their bibs. When the next pack approached, I was able to make out…10km? What? A 10k race while I’m in town?? Why didn’t I know about this? I should have signed up!

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I suspect this guy won the race

A few runners later, however, I could finally read the whole thing: 京都鴨川30kmマラソン(i.e. the Kyoto Kamogawa 30km Marathon – link is in Japanese) – and quickly realized that I would have been in no shape to do a 30km race that day! Around Kitaoji, I passed the Start/Finish line – turns out the race consisted of multiple out-and-backs along the same stretch of river – 8 x 3.75km, to be exact (well, sort of…I never found a course map so I’m a bit vague on the calculations). In any case, I ended up encountered the same runners several times, as I ran a simple out and back that day, totalling 12km (nowhere near 30km!).

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Each night, I went to the local sento (public bath), and warmed my aching muscles. This made it easier for me to tackle running the next day!

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Benten-yu, the local public bath – a lifesaver!

December 30 – Short & a wee bit lost

I had some plans out of town, but wanted to squeeze in another run. I decided to try running south along the river. Unfortunately, I soon encountered this:

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Extremely sorry for the inconvenience but KEEP OUT!

I had to head up onto the road, and promptly found myself on a busy truck-ridden highway/underpass. Mildly terrifying. After a few turns into blind alleys and cul-de-sacs, I managed to find a bridge across the river and headed back up the other side. A brief run – 40 minutes, just under 7km.

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The concrete bridge in the background is the Bullet Train (Shinkansen) Line

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Happened upon this wee shrine

December 31, 2014 – 17km

Finally, New Year’s Eve! I wanted to end 2014 with a solid distance, and committed to running as far north as Misonobashi – the bridge I used to cross daily during my first 3 years in Japan, and a solid 8km from my hotel. When I reached that distance, I stopped my watch and spent about half an hour wandering around Kamigamo Jinja, one of my favourite shrines in Kyoto.

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After that, I trotted back towards Kamigamo-bashi, my second ‘old neighbourhood’. After venturing into the residential streets, I thought I had lost my way…only to discover that my old apartment block had been torn down, replaced by a street of fancy new homes!

Running Japan

Used to live here…but the apartment is gone!

In short, along with visiting some of my favourite local sights, and spending quality time with friends – I immensely enjoyed the running I got to do while visiting Japan! And while I think I swore off marathons after Honolulu, I’m considering the Kyoto Marathon 2016…but no promises!

Running Japan

See how much I enjoyed myself!

Running Japan

My Kamogawa