Traditional konnyaku jely preparation

•May 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Konnyaku preparation (Kokonoe 1/2012)

This is a simple manual of traditional way of preparation of konnyaku jelly from konnyaku plant (Amorphophallus konjac, konjac, gonyak, konjak, konjaku, devil’s tongue, voodoo lily) jelly. I have learned the basics of this technique in the central part of Northern Kyushu, Japan in the region called Kokonoe Chou. Please take this working protocol as a draft and use it rather as supplemental material to another more complex recipes. However I hope to be able to improve this technique in the future to offer you detailed description of konnyaku preparation.

Konnyaku is a perennial plant grown in subtropical and tropical regions of eastern Asia in countires like India, China, Japan and Korea and it is used to prepare flour and jelly made from its corm which is of size up to 25 cm in diameter. It has very little taste, it’s value is in the texture. It is used in Japanese cuisine on dishes like oden or it is made into the noodles called shirataki and used in foods such as sukiyaki and gyudon.

Preparation Manual

– clean the corms from the earth and cut it roughly in ten pieces, each of size from 3-5 cm, transfer to the pot with water
– boil intensively for one hour or simmer for 4 hours submerged in water
– dispose the water and peel the skin from the pieces using chopsticks
– cut the corms to 1.5 to 3 cm pieces
–  for 1.5 kg of boiled peeled konnyaku add 4.41 l (2.1 šó) of cold water (1 šó = 1.8 l – Japanese measurement unit)
– add 0.72 l (0.4  šó) of ash water “aku” (the ash is suppose to be made from soba (buckwheat) among the other options)
– transfer to the blender and blend it on high speed and move it quickly to the bowl
– start to mix the mixture gently but steadily in a slow motion, it will get thicker and thicker reaching the proper consistency within 15-20 min. Be careful and do not insert any air bubbles if possible!
– make the mixture level and let it sit for 20 minutes or so
– the matrix should be firm jelly by now
– start to heat up water for the next step – boiling the konnyaku (5-10 l)            – cut out by a round shaped object a “sphere” of more or less 6 cm in diameter and mold it in your wet hands so it gets as round as possible (shape the ball by the palms of your hand, make the pressure evenly pressing on the extremities in the direction to the center)
– when the ball is round transfer it to the hot water (80-90°C) and make sure that they do not stick to the side (do not boil the water at this point, the boiling water would make the outside of the ball fall apart)
– after 30 to 60 min bring to boil and let to simmer for another hour, the total time of heat treatment (together with the previous step) should not take more than two hours
– when all the parts of konnyaku are boiled properly, the sphere gets bigger
– let the konnyaku sit in the cooling water for at least 12 hours
– during this period of time the konnyaku spheres get smaller and harder
– after the 12 hours the konnyaku spheres are ready for the packaging and storage
– take the sphere and shape it in a way so it fits well into the bag (or other container) which you want to store it in
– transfer it into the bag (container) and add the “broth” which they have been cooked in
–  vacuum pack the bag and seal it by the machine
– label the bags  and store at 4-6°C, it should be consumed within ??? days

I hope that you have enjoyed this manual and that it was helpful!

Please if you have any recommendations or tips to improve this manual, post a comment or get in touch with me!

Thanks a lot for reading,

Sincerely,

Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck

My time in Omura

•March 31, 2012 • 1 Comment

My time in Omura,


On the last day of February I got my stuff packed in my baggie, put it on my shoulders and having a great weather hit the road and started to hitchhike in the South West direction to my next host to Omura. The morning was really nice and fresh and I was standing there by the road, the sun was warming me up, wind blowing through the bamboo making it softly murmur, waving like sea of green. I was feeling really good, tasting the first blossoms of the spring not worrying about anything just letting the things happen, in the other words I was “on the road again” and that is always good. It was one of these days which you do not forget, it just gets deep in you, like a postcard of blue ocean with palm trees you have been seeing for so many years on your grandmother’s dresser. These days I feel are mostly not planned, there are no promises and expectations and that is probably why they turn out so great. It reminds me the mornings when I woke up as a child, open my eyes and I’ve seen the shadows of the leaves of the flowers in my room, sharp in the morning sun knowing that it is going to be great day, because it is weekend, we are having great weather and I’m free as a bird whatever I please, well if I’m fast enough to run away before my mother makes me to vacuum or wash the dishes:-).

This day I was not really surprised when I got very quickly really nice lifts, which at the end resulted in getting to Omura in the same day and if we consider that the distance was more than 150 km and I’d to cross several towns and switch the road, it was quite pretty good. I am kind of proud to say that I got three lifts by females and one by young couple. You know it was just really nice. I’m generally doing good, feeling happy, this was however a special treat, I met some really nice people and I’ve had a great time just getting a nice big fingers up by universe “you are doing just fine”. Another memory to cherish and to brighten the “rainy days”.

Today I’ve time off so I can sit down a bit and think about the last two month here in Japan and listen to what are my feelings and intuition telling me. After the first impressions and cultural shock I’m starting to see things more clearly both good and well the ones which I do not enjoy so much. I feel like that Japan is more in harmony than the Western world. This is at least the case of countryside Japan which I’ve had a chance to explore. Much more land is left in traditional way, just rice fields, even in the center of the towns so you can walk the small picturesque roads walled by ancient stones, looking on the modern building on the horizon but in the same time you see an old farmer burning rice stalks just next to you with a traditional houses surrounding the spot making it a small enclave of quite, rich country life. Many places in towns, especially the hills are dedicated to the shrines, and it is just amazing to go there and dive into a deep meditation and it is so easy, you kind of feel among the old trees that this place is here for centuries if not millennia and it is going to make you forget about all that small everyday worries, getting deeper understanding of the true purpose of your life. Just to have places like this within the walking distance where you live is amazing. I for example love San Francisco Bay area but compared to that it is so much more nature friendly here. However I’ve to say that I stayed in Japan mostly in smaller places till now so if I compared them for example to Berkeley, which is just across the bay from SF it would be actually quite fine but on the other side Berkeley is very nature friendly town by itself.

I’m still limited by the language, my Japanese is worse than I thought but I’m improving, working also on Kanji (I highly recommend Kanji ABC from Andreas Foerster&Naoko Tamura) so it is still harder to submerge deeper into the culture. However even then I’m starting to find out that several myths about Japan are just not really true, or at least  they are kind of outdated. Japan is actually starting to be bit behind in several fields of electronics (computers included), that I judge simply from going through the shops seeing for example older models of computers sold as “top of the line” for really high prices and also the used ones are quite expensive and out of date. I do not want to do too many conclusions yet because I did not researched on it so much but they are certainly not as advanced as I expected. Another fact which I’ve mostly from the second hand and studies on the topic is that the huge amount of time which they spend in work and we are talking here about twelve to fourteen hours per day is not really reflected in the productivity.

What stand to it’s reputation is the nature which is really beautiful and quite clean, especially water streams, that is really amazing. However what really surprised me is that Japanese are used to burn most of their plastic garbage just outside “on their yard”. They also use extreme amounts of the packaging materials, so for example if you buy a box of cookies, each cookie is in a separate bag all made from plastic. Big plus is the food. It is really tasty coming in many variations, easy to digest and for me it is very important that there are lots of fermented dishes like tsukemono, natto, soy sauce et cetera on a plate every day, many of them being prepared within the family. The last “quote” is making a huge difference compared the Western World. Here many families in the countryside are still preparing lots of traditionally fermented foods when they are more or less using products from their own gardens. Another minus for me about here, which you however can question is the amount and type of infrastructure. Japan is country of hills and mountains with steep valleys in between. The system of the roads is quite dense, which means that there is enormous amount of really huge bridges and tunnels quite everywhere. The same applies to the dams, with 500 000 in the country which are used as water reservoirs, however most of them doesn’t have a capacity to provide electricity power at least based what I’ve been told and partly what I’ve seen, which is very strange and I really wonder what are the true numbers. To this add the walls of all the rice fields which have been made in the last five decades predominantly from concrete, rivers which are at least in the towns ameliorated in to the corridors with all three sides made from concrete and you will actually get enormous infrastructure all over the country. I’ve heard the locals complaining quite a lot about the corruption of the parties and how they are connected to the various building companies well it looks like that they have a point.

Another topic are the prices. The other day I wanted to buy a honey made in Japan. Well the cheapest which I’ve seen up to now was around 2000 yen per kilo (around $25), generally it is over 2500 or 3000 yen. The price in most of the places where I’ve been till now range within $5-10 per kilo in some places that counts for an organic fair trade product, here not a chance! The sugar is more expensive here but still it is just stunning price and this applies to so many things both locally produced or imported. In many cases the prices are easily double or rather triple of the cost in other countries which are importing them too from even further locations. You may think that the sale tax can be behind that. Good thinking! But you are wrong the sales tax is 5%, lower than nearly anywhere else. I should not even start about prices of travelling around by bus or train, that is starting about 3 to 5 times of the price compared to Western Europe in some cases it is 10x more expensive than in Czech Republic and we are not talking about Shinkansen only.

During my travels around the country I can also see changes in the architectonic style of the buildings and houses compared to the traditional architecture. Especially with the later the esthetic levels are nearly non existing and if you see these new “monsters” staying next to the old beautiful houses you just can not get it. And believe me it is not about “it has to be retro to look good”, no, it is just a grey box made from tiles, few halls for windows which are as functional as possible not a single ornament, not a single decoration, I just do not understand. If there was not such an old tradition of beautiful home building OK, but here? Strange. Another thing which surprised me quite a bit was the approach how the kids are educated. From what I’ve been told both before arriving and in the country the elementary level of education here is very good. That changes when the kids enter the high school. The teaching focuses on memorizing facts rather than logical thinking and combination. The teaching hours are up to four in the afternoon, with many “free activities/clubs” which run up to eight o’clock in the evening and which most of the kids attend. So when I’m returning from my walks here to our language school around seven, seven thirty I see crowds of young kids coming “back from school”. Amazing and horrifying in the same time at least for me.

What I for example liked here and I hope that I’m not repeating this is the clean and well structured working attitude. Now what I mean by that. Let say that you are walking around the condominio here and you see laundry which is put out to dry. Well you should not be surprised to see lets say fifteen same uniformes, twenty pairs of gloves, socks et cetera. So when you walk next day around that construction worker who looks like just stepping out from some “top commercial” all clean and shiny, it is not joke, quite all of them looks like that and all the time. The same applies to the machines. When work is over they take the time and clean all the cars, bulldozers, workshops like they would expect top level inspection, very impressive and ohh man I like that style!

Well as you can see, there are several things which are quite surprising and that is just a short overview of some of them. I’ve to say that if I’ve a chance to find a job here and stay for longer I would certainly do so but it is hard due to both language requirements for Japanese and strict visa working policy, however I’m still trying.

I hope that I’ve brought a few more colour into the picture of Japan for you! I’ll keep doing so in the next posts so keep coming back and of course as usually if you would like to support me and my activities you can do so here. My next step here is prolongation of my visa and going finally North to Sendai to help with the disaster relief efforts.

All the best from Omura, Kyushu,

Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck

Nashi in Haki

•March 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Nashi in Haki,
For the ones who are familiar with the internationally known fruits you are aware that nashi pear means an “Asian pear”. Well you may be a bit wrong. How that could be you wonder? It is because in Japan of course nashi is a “pear” and an European pear is “EU nashi” 🙂 Small difference but this is exactly what I like about being here, it challenges your perception on every step. But why I’m talking about nashi on the first place you may ask? It is easy, I’m dreaming about them nearly every day now. Is it because I love them so much? Well I like them but the major reason for my recent obsession is rather my second host dedication to his family business. Correct, you guessed right my host number two Hayashi San Shingo is very enthusiastic nashi grower and in this case that stands even in the tough competition of Japanese standards.

From what I’ve learned during the last month of February, Hayashi San has came to his recent home in Haki which is located close to Asakura city more than fifty years ago with his family as a small child. They have done rice farming and his father had a small nashi orchard in that time already. What was the major reason for Hayashi San to expand this part of their family business I’m not sure but it certainly worked. In the time of my stay there were five decent size nashi orchards with several hundreds of grown and well kept trees. Their age was around 28 years and they should be fruiting nicely up to 50 years of age or even bit more. It is hard for me to imagine how much work was to plant all of them and work the land on the first place to be able to create the orchard, not mentioning the erection of all the necessary supporting structures. Here it is unlikely as in Czech Republic where the branches of the trees are left to grow naturally upwards with just pruning  being done. The structure of the canopy here is altered so it is kept low and extended into the sides so there is actually not need most of the time for any leader to work them which is very handy. Well at least as long as you are not European and you do not hit your head every time you passed by. It took good two weeks without shaving after I left for the scratches to heal again.

Here I’ve had great opportunity to experience how hard it is to keep the trees nice and in shape. I do not know how many of you are familiar with all the routines of the works on the orchard. I know a bit about that because we have had garden with some fifteen apple and pear trees so my further had to prune them every year, harvest the fruits, process them if necessary to whatever products like jams, compotes or apple cider and take care about the leaves and next year whole circle again. Well it was spring here already so it was time for me to learn a bit more about pruning and especially about painting the cuts so they do not get infected. I’ve done pruning just a bit on trees which were surrounding the orchards and I can tell you it was quite an exercise because we have used just the usual “cutter tongs”. Hayashi san had a bit of advantage using together with his son the pressured air improved version which was saving enormous amount of work. The painting was quite fun as long as it was not too cold or if the sun did not shine too strongly because with the first your toes and fingers would freeze and with the second you couldn’t see anything. Thanks God Hayashi San was really nice and if it was cold we would make a nice fire to warm ourselves up at the tea breaks with some nice green tea from thermos flask and various tea crackers. I really liked this moments because you were just relaxing in the nature, having small chat, sipping hot tea and feeling good.

I’ve been in Haki for a month and I have to say that I really liked this stay. The town was quite small and we have lived at his outskirts very close to the mountains. I’ve shared a room with another volunteer Sebastian who was from Germany and who was a chef and came to Japan to learn more about their way of cooking. Our room was traditional tatami based, with shōji entrance and of course containing kotatsu. The house by itself was quite modern as most of the houses in Japan. However it still means, especially in the South, that it was open to the nature so there was not really way how to heat it which with some two months of “winter” was fine with local folks well not so much with me I’ve to say.

If i should mention three things which I’ve enjoyed most during my stay in Haki they would go as follows. If I start from the everyday based ones I’ve became a great fan of tsukemono which was a speciality of Fujiko our host’s wife. She was preparing tsukemono also called Japanese pickles from many, many different types of vegetables ranging from radish (daikon), carrot (ninjin), pumpkin (kabocha), turnip (kabu), onion, garlic etc. Very often she would cut the vegetables on a thin slices of various shapes and dry them first and after that infuse them by marinating with different types of brines  made from bit of salt and diluted soy sauce, miso or even sake, some of them I’d just to guess. She would serve them quite fresh or “young” but sometimes she would marinate them for weeks or even months and “o’mamma mia” it was so good because they would actually get partly or completely fermented and it was just delicious! To be honest more than third of my daily dishes would compose from various tsukemono rivaling around the table just the passion of Fujiko San. I’m going to write an article on this topic, whoever for now you can check for example this link which gives you some basic info and importantly links to literature. During my stay in Japan I’ve basically gave up on meat, having it just sometimes as a “protein” enjoying much more nicely marinated tofu, discovering the pleasure captured in a piece of konnyaku (LINK to my manual), or just having third helping of soy milk based soup which was just simply amazing. I had to master myself during my stay to not to overeat too often and it was quite pretty hard I’ve to say.

So Fujiko San’s cooking was my first enjoyment in Haki. The second everyday fun was with bear, actually rather “Bear”. You do not have to worry I did not get crazy after my stay in Alaska and there were actually no bears left in Kyushu anymore, Kuma is just a name of our host’s dog. Please check the picture because if you do, you know how 90% of dogs looks like in Japan. When we came he was barking on us and even trying to bite us, he was chained to guard the house and that I think was the reason. However the second or third day Hayashi San asked me if I want to go for a stroll with him and I did, making both myself and Kuma very happy. With help of Sebastian we gave him “an hour of pleasure” every day till my leave. I particularly liked to walk with him by myself because we would go very often to the forest running around on the animal tracks, skipping and jumping, climbing the hills just having a great time. I think that I’ve realized based on this experience why so many people have a dog. It is a great way to get you out from your home no matter what and give yourself some exercise exploring kilometres of landscape around your place in a very different way. I’ve managed to teach Kuma simple orders sit and come unfortunately he was not capable to realize who is the boss so my two tries to let him wander without leash did not work, he just run away. This confirmed to me that if I’ve a dog in the future, it would be trained properly so it is much more fun for both the man and the beast. What was however nice to see was how Kuma became gradually much more friendly to the outside people. First he would bark and try to bite them being very aggressive, becoming however less interested in them later on and even sniffing to them at the end. With Kuma I’ve managed to find many beautiful spots in the countryside and let my mind rest in a beautiful nature. You can see some of the spots which we have explored on the pictures in the gallery.

The last but not least activity which I will mention here were the trips during our off days to various locations around Haki and also sightseeing  with Hayashi San – pottery, rice gardens in the mountains, budhist temple, onsens and many others. More than talk about that I’ve just upload some pictures so you can have a look. I’ll come back to some of these topics later on in dedicated articles because I want first to collect more material before presenting it. I’ll update this article later on, so you can check where are these places around Haki, so you know where to find them if you are around.

Well and just one extra note, the family had the traditional ofuro which is a Japanese style of bath, in this case heated up by fire made from branches of the nashi trees. I had a chance to experience this pleasure every day and it was great I want one of my own in the future too! It kind of reminded me some of the visits of my friend Annabelle when I was in California. She had a nice wooden porch by the side of her house in the garden and big bathtub just standing there with hot and cold water as much as you please. With bit of red wine, some snacks, listening to the birds, watching the roses to move with some nice jazz radio in the background, that’s what I mean by “having a good time!”

If I shall conclude my stay in Haki as volunteer I can say that we did a lots of work, being treated well and we have had a good time here. For me it was especially interesting because I could see how a traditional farmer family in Japan lives, I learned more about orchard upkeep which is due to my future plan to have orchard by myself very important and I did many wonderful trips into the surrounding places which were really beautiful.

I hope that you have found a bit of inspiration in this post, the next one is going to be from my stay in Omura where I’ll be volunteering in a bakery cafe and language school.

Sincerely from Kyushu, Japan,

Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck

First Day in Kokonoe Chou

•February 23, 2012 • 2 Comments

First day at Kokonoe (1/2012),
My arrival to Kokonoe was by the bus and one of the few things which I can say from this journey was that I’ve not seen anything from the local scenery at all, registering only that we have been steadily climbing and due to that zig zaging the upcoming hills like a metronome. I was lucky enough to be taken directly to the house of Kazuhiro by an older lady, where the his wife Reikosan was already waiting for me. I’ve realized quickly that this is not the warmest part of Kyushu. The lifesaver in this part of Japan is the electric style of heating table called kotatzu, which is covered by a blanket. The only disadvantage is that you have to sit under with your knees bended or in other “Japanese position” which for me as European was not so easy. Our company for the start was the dog and TV, Kazuhiro was on some meeting. We had some basic conversation, my Japanese was poor but thanks God Reikosan’s English was better than my Japanese (not too difficult I’ve to say) so we could go through the basic topics like fmily etc. Because Kazuhiro called that he is suppose to come even later than expected we have dined without him. I’ve to say that from the start, Reikosan really impressed me as a very good chef. Her dishes were very variable in their flavors, textures and origins. The flavors were full and very unique for me because my chances to taste a Japanese cuisine till than were limited to my stay in San Francisco where I’ve visited Japanese town several times and to a few visits of Japanese bistro in Galway. What was very different from the start was the style how they prepared the rice. As you probably know, Japanese like to make their brown or rather white rice in a sticky way, what surprised me was that they do not add any salt or spice to the rice which they serve to the usual dishes, exception should be the sushi rice were a bit of salt and vinegar is added. If I pull together what I and several other Europeans found out as reasons for that during the course of time it is because the Japanese really enjoy their rice and they believe that they are able to distinguish very peculiar flavors based on the provinces where is the rice from and if the salt is added (not even mentioning such as crime as spice) the flavor is ruined. Well I’m writing this article a bit retro, so after month and half of eating the rice just as it is I’ve actually really started to enjoy it, felling that one of the advantages is that the each mouthful of rice is nicely “washing away” the previous flavor of other bites. And now we are moving to the “other bites” section and believe me there is a plenty to talk about.

For now I’ll just simply describe few concepts and give examples but trust me I’ll write several articles about that when I am more knowledgeable because through my travels around the world where I have been tasting many specific cuisines, Japanese is the most distinct till now. But lets start from the scratch. You have the empty table right, quite easy to imagine. I hope it is at least for me it is not a problem because when on the road I experience the world of an empty stomach, pocket and no table at all quite pretty often. Anyway add “part number one” and here Japanese probably split in two big groups. First would place a bowl of rice on the table or for the “protestants” cup of “ocha”, in other words green tea, my probably favorite here is “genmaicha” which I was introduced to in Chiapas in San Cristobal de las Casas by my French friend Sophie. You do not have to worry to much about the enmity of these two groups because it is after all just “first” or “second” the chance that there will be not both of these options on the table are really pretty slim (something like going to the pub in Bohemia after the work with your colleagues, no one driving and all of them are going to have non alcoholic ginger lemonade just with a splash of lemon for the taste with some nice piece of diet veggies (or five beers per capita with some nice spicy, heavy beef gulas with dumplings. Gues who would go for the first option, yes I know I’m quite minority nearly anywhere …) . There may be the third group of “koucha” which is the black tea variant mostly tolerated by the majority but if you suggest in you naivety to add sugar or not even saying milk, you are a history. But back to the table. Green tea for drink, bowl of rice to eat, well I think that this would satisfy Japanese quite pretty well but there is so much more to come.

The nice part about the Japanese catering is that it is done in kind of buffet style so majority of the dishes are in the middle of the table in separate bowls and plates and you serve yourself as you like. Well the serving is actually quite complicated but I’ll explain that later on in an appropriate post because it is a whole universe of “who first” how much etc. It kinds of concludes for me in a style “everyone can have everything” but how you reach something like that within lets say six people around the table who likes sometimes the same thing of limited quantity, well I’m here to find that out. Concerning my preferences if I can go by myself I’ve to say that I’m mostly skipping meat here and fish. Just shortly yes, fish is not being considered meat as poultry or beef, pork etc. It is something which you have on the table nearly always and it is very highly rated. All of that is nice and I really like it but what I really fall in love even before coming here is seaweed. Now I can safely say that I’m seriously addicted and it is really hard to pick up if I like more my dose of lightly cooked nori with dash of soy sauce and bit of miso, or just simple bite or two from the salad of wakame sometimes I kind of “day dream” about the last night kombu, ooo mayo may. Anyway the seaweed is just amazing and it is very likely that there will be at least one dish where seaweed is the major component of it. But to be honest third dish which is going to land on the table is mot likely to be the miso soup which especially under the Reikosan’s supervision is just small miracle, home made miso, few pieces of tofu, little veggie and yes, here it comes. If you are lucky you may get your hands on mochi, which is type of rice cake served heated up with my favorite variation till now being just a bit of sugar and soy sauce added, but believe me due to their stickiness and the rule that you should not hold your plate when you are cutting something with your chop sticks (at least not in the places where I’ve been up to now) it is quite some exercise. Quite for sure there will be at least one dish of vegetable salad, with some “sour” dressing, mung beans sprouts lightly fried with bit of soy sauce and some bamboo shoots are also very likely. One of my favorite ingredients is the one which I’ve avoided for many years of my life, mushrooms. I started to eat them in the last five years or so and really enjoy them in last two or three. What they are able to do here with shiitake mushrooms is just amazing. I can not skip their pickled vegetables of all variations, they are amazing and I am already planing what all am I going to hack them too. Now just last note on the topic for now, because do not forget we have made it just to the Reikosan’s living room, covering roughly two hours of my stay in Kokonoe, is nattō which I’ve actually tried before in San Francisco being offered by a friend and I was not very excited by then. The nattō beans are fermented by Bacillus subtilis creating very specific slimy matrix. Well now I’m a great fan and it is my favorite part of breakfast as is the case with many Japanese. In any case I recommend to have it with just a splash of soy sauce and sugar, mix it really well, I’ve been told to mix it fifty times in an circular motion clock wise motion and you have wonderful slimy miracle ready for you!

Well so as you can see there is generally quite nice selection of the various dishes on the table and you can enjoy yourself as you like. Well before I had all of this I took bath in onsen which is just a divine device here, highly recommend to every one, I’ve been already well fed when Kazuhiro returned from the meeting. We had a bit limited but nice chat and after some TV watching we packed our staff and left for Owate which is the farm house in the mountains where I was suppose to sleep. Again I’ve not seen too much from the journey except the snow. I’ve been quickly updated that we are close to 1000 m above the see level and that this part of Kyushu is actually being nicked named “Hokkaido in Kyushu”, which was funny as far as our water do not freezes by your bed … We have reached the house, got out of the car and well “welcome to the countryside!”

The place was far away from any major road just surrounded by mountains with many famous onsens on their slopes, clear starry sky and the only sound which could be heard at this time was the requesting voice of “yagis” two goats which Kazuhiro had for milk and as he hoped also for cheese which he was trying to produce. We have quickly cut some dry hay and fresh grass on the cutter which reminded me my mother cutting on a bit similar device bones for her hens years ago and once they were satisfied we have moved inside. Here I could not resist not to include some of the pictures because the place was just magical. With few exceptions the house was 150 years old, sturdy withstanding the nature of the place “tall and strong”. The first room which we have entered through shōji was with rough concrete floor and it was the working room. In the middle was traditional open fire place with few pots and wooden beams around. Big side board was holding many various ingredients ranging from various types of beans, pickled vegetables, dried fruits and nuts to pickled snakes. On a right hand side was an entrance to the main house and opsoite to the entrance doors was kitchen with the old style wooden stove used for making miso, konnnyaku, mochi and many other traditional foods. We took down our shoes and entered through another shōji the first room. It was a Japanese classic, with traditional tatami, paper walls and wooden beams as main support structure. I’ve been taken forward to the next room which was kind of commune room with several places of worship. We have crossed in to a small corridor and entered smaller traditional room which was dedicated to me. Kazuhiro showed me how to make traditional bed, prepared it for me and most importantly made me a hot bottle for my bed. I’ve slightly rearranged my things, undressed rather quickly due to the low temperature in the room (steam coming out of my mouth as was for Kokonoe usual) and started to relax. The place was magical, nice and quite just in valley with river, facing the tall mountains all around. The Tokimatsu family was living there for many and many generations so most of the community was actually really carrying the name. I’ve devoted another quarter of an hour to watching the smoke coming in to the room through the bamboo ceiling which was a traditional way of preservation of the house by itself. Due to the high humidity during the summer the smoke was not allowed to directly escape but it was kind of redistributed through the whole building to impregnate it especially the roof which was originally from special type of straw lasting up to fifty years if the fire was done often enough. The main reason why the inside of the house was not insulated at any way was that the humidity not cold was the major concern here. For most of the year, with the exception of let say three months during the winter the place was very hospitable with a nice climate. However the house needed to breath so it would not start to rot because quite everything was made from traditional materials like bamboo, wood, rice straw, paper et cetera. The selection of these materials was partly due to their availability and also partly because of their vigour during the earthquakes which was however more important in Honshū where earthquakes were far more often then here. Well one way or other I’ve really liked the place, it was kind of perfect for my opening stay in the Japanese countryside and I can say already that Kazuhiro’s family was a great one to start my life in Japan.

So for now I wish to all of you “Oyasuminasai,”

From Kyushu,

Frantisek

PS Many thanks to Daniel for his support, it was a big help for this post and many other of my activities.

Hitchhiking to Kyushu

•February 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So I’m on the road again, this time exploring the beauty of the countryside Japan. First of all I had to make it from Narita airport to Tokyo Hackerspace which is located in the city center. I’ve changed the rest of my cash, luckily I had enough for the ticket (around 1100 yen) and I have also managed to get the direction right, with just one small “mistake” on the way. I can confirm that the trains were really on time, in other words “sharp on minute” and cetainly clean. What I really liked was the way of labeling the stations. Each track had all the stations numerically labeled (in addition to names) starting the first ones, plus first letter of the first station added  (at least that is my observation), each station was also announced in audio and has also English text added. In the other words it was really hard to get lost but yes I’ve managed! My first observations of Japanese girls resulted in admiration. All my life I’m fan of slim or athletic brunets, well this is the heaven! Anyway back on the track with a bit of luck I’ve found the hacker center, because of various reasons it doesn’t have any special sign on the doors, and it is hard to guess red colour entrance in the middle of the night …

I’ve spend the night in the hackerspace catching up on the emails and the next day I’ve been invited for a really nice ramen by John to the local restaurant. Based on what I’ve read about Japaese dining and under Johns supervision I’ve tried to do my best and truly everything went nice and smooth till I loudly expressed my thanks by Italian “cin cin” which in Japanese means penis, well once again I’ve managed to became a center of attention … Later on I’ve managed to transfer my paypal funds to yens therefore allowing me to book a ticket to Okayama going with the night bus. To find the terminal which was hidden in the underground parking lot was not easy but well I’ve asked (and not once) for Orion bus and I’ve succeeded. The travel was fine, I was really nicely surprised with the fact that whole inside of the passanger area was completely covered by curtains which were closed by mandatory for the night (remember night bus) also on the drivers end, so no lights from the approaching vehicles. Very cool was automatic distribution of free drink, which I’ve to say really got me because I’ve kind of expected something like a orange juice or Pepsi, and voila, I got some kind of really “specific” green tea (maybe with tofu flavor, that could be it for the surprise …). Another part of the gear was the inflatable pillowcase around your neck and blinders or how you call it for your eyes. The breaks at the fuel stations were regular, there were no toilets on the bus but I did not missed them. One way or other I’ve made it to Okayama for some 5500 yen and if you ask why I did not go further, well lets be honest Kyushu is not exactly around the corner from Okayama, sincerely, I was close to being “money free” again so it was so simple.

In this first town “on he road” I’ve wondered around for a bit, deciding at the end to take direction North towards Tottori. The reasoning was that I’ll be hitchhiking through the less inhabited regions which is generally much more easy than through towns (correct), by the coast line which I love (again correct), so not too much difference except the distance (wrong). The major condition which differed compared the “Southern way” through Hiroshima was the temperature, or in the other words the snow, freezing, ice etc I’ve found out quite pretty soon. Well I’ve walked quite easily out of town, which was nice and clean, sometimes a bit of plastic garbage around the road but much better than most of the Europe witch exception of Norway (at least to my knowledge). I did not have to wait for the first ride for too long and to my surprise I got a lift from a female university student. I  can already say that during my hitchhiking I got maybe 1:4 ration females to males lifts which is great, best which I got till now compared to any other country. Also the time spend waiting for the lift was very short in general, something around 30 minutes in average. Well long story short four rides or so and I was in Tottori, crossing the mountains which were under the snow, the town on the coast was fine. I’ve camped outside on the “children playground” but it started to rain and snow during the night, so I’d to move thankfully finding old wrack yard and abandoned boat cabin to sleep under. I woke up quite nice and fresh and walked to the coast where I continued hitchhiking. It was really nice spot with beautiful view, unfortunetaly a bit cold wind coming my way but  I did not waited for my first ride of the day for too long. That day I’ve developed a simple system of conversation with the drivers where I would point on the bridge saying “hashi” they would note, I would repeat few other words like crossroad, traffic lights etc and after that I would start to “fish for new vocablulary”. It worked quite pretty well because  I could repeat the words which I new easily five times during the day and no one was tired to hear them again. That day I made it to Matsue which scenery I liked a lot especially the lakes around the town and water channels. I got a little bit further out of town before the evening deciding to sleep in the rice field, it was nice sunny day and everything seemed OK. Well it was around minus five in the night and in the morning I so so managed to get my back packed how frozen I was. I had slight hypothermia, I think bit of sunburn from the previous day and certainly hunger so the hitchhiking was not so much fun because after two or three minutes standing I felt dizzy and I had to sit down, not feeling well. The amount of the food which I ate during the last two days was something around half of the bag of muzli (granula) (around 200 g), apple and half of the creamed coconut, the last was really saver and great cooking ingredient by the way!

Before I go any further I should mention the impressions which this trip is starting to make on me. One thing in my life which goes really close to my heart is the nature and in which state I find it. When I was travelling the Central America the nature was beautiful, the kind of tropical and subtropical jungal style with monkeyes screeming in the trees, huming birds zooming around you in the night and everything streaming with life and wigor. However on the other hand the impact of human was quite profound so you could see a lots of forest burning, huge amounts of warious waste around the roads and rivers, the later being very often hugely poluted. I never forget the smell of one cutoff in Ciudad de Mexio when I was coming back from Teotihuacan and it was the worst experience of this kind in my life and  I just could not believe that someone could do something like that to the water, which is together with air my major element. In Japan so far I am impressed particullary with the mountains. They are all around you, surrounding you in the way that you are becoming one with them. They are green if you are close and they turn first light blue changing to the hazy darkish blue and grey siluets farther you are from them. Nearly each walley has it’s river which is running swiftly over the stones and small dams with fish leaders towards one or the oher ocens. Up to now they were all really clean reminding me Norway and Alaska, the later especially. I just like the scenery of waterfalls splashing on the rocks in the whitish mist which is so beautiful against thhe amazing bluish colour of the stems bambo forest, small wooden shrines with ancient stone statues standing near by in the other words I can not wait when the spring and summer comes and I plan to be around for year or so to see it.

But back to my “hypothermia” again. Well thanks to the God the first gentleman who gave me a ride within an half an hour or so made a comment if I’m hungry and cold and after the no surprising yessss, yessss answer he got me a hot coffee and tea in cans (local speciality) and package of sandwiches. Hour and half later I felt nice and fresh, partly also to the fact that I’ve found some “abandoned” orange and khaki trees to plunder and the sun was “out in force”. This is by the way another fact which I still do not understand completely here. I would be passing various regions and everywhere I would see orange, lemon and khaki trees with fruits which is ripe or even falling on the ground and no one touches it. I’ve asked if it is for decoration or what is the matter but the best answer which I got till now was that they are kind of wild so the flavor is not so good. Well I’m now in Haki doing very detailed every day research on the phenomena (mostly under the dark with an excuse of walking the dog) and it is true that most of the fruits are not very tasty but some samples were worth of the effort. One thing which I do not understand why people plant cultivates which taste badly. We do have apple, pear and cherry trees in Czech Republic as alleys around many country roads but quite all are cultivated and tasty varieties. You know when you take the time to plant it there, prune it, cut the grass around and so on, why not to make it handy or tasty lets say, right? Well different country different habit, once I find out the true reason for both not picking and sragne varieties, I’ll let you know. It could be also a protection of an original varieties for the “genepool” purposes but I do not know.

Any away I’ve moved more and more South, watching the beauty of the rice fields spreading from horizon to horizon realizing the close to the zero erosion problems thanks to the level surface which is fundamental for them comparing it to the fields on the hills sides in my country which loose so much soil after every major rain fall. This scenery was really amazing in one mountain valley by natural onsen where you could see just a small traditional village resting on the side of the hills keeping the fertile land for the rice fields and orchards. It was also a place of one of my best lifts of the journey. Gentleman around forty or forty five gave me a lift to Yamaguchi where I was suppose to wait for him for few hours before he finishes in his job (between 7-8 pm as is in Japan quite usual) so I can join him for a dinner with his family and spend the night. I was waiting for him gladly because he drooped me in the public onsen where you could submerge your feet in to the hot natural water and chat with the people who were taking this wonderful refreshment from their childhood. I’ve visited several othe onsens till now and because I’m dedicated sauna lover, I’ll write about that topic more in a separate article comparing it to the European style of spa which I’ve experienced around Western and Central Europe, hot springs like Harbin Hot Springs in California which were great and probably my favorite Liard River Hot Springs in British Columbia which are just amazing, completely out door and natura and Central American temazcals which are very satysfying example of radiation heat based saunas. But back to the Japan, Keiske san has returned at 8 pm sharp and we moved to his place which was some 30 km far. His family was really nice, his very nice wife, daughter around thirteen, boy around ten and the youngest boy had lets say five I would say. I took onsen first and after that I had a great dish prepared by Keiske who loved to cook so he made for me his speciality motsunabe. The food was great, I had a beer with it and we drank shōchū so at he end of the evening I was bit afraid if I do not have to climb the stairs for upstairs on my four. However everything went OK and I slept nicely on the tatami in the traditional room having a reallly great evening.

Next day it was raining but without knowing that yet it was my last day of hitch hiking anyway because with a bit of help from bus and train I’ve made it to the Kokonoe. The last few hundreds kilometers were nice, I’ve found a really tasty orange tree which made me particulary happy. The Shimonoseki and Kitakyushu I liked a lot, especially the later one which I kind of discovered more than I would really like to in that time because I was wondering around looking for the way and right spot to hitchhike in the rain. However luck was with me so I got a nice ride all the way to Oita where I’ve found out that I’ve to make it to Hita for better connection. It was my first trip on the train in Japan and except that I’ve managed to lost both my umbrella and ticket it was really enjoyable. Thanks to one old lady I’ve made it to the bus stop to Kokonoe, she even got me a can of coffee to keep me cheered up. The bus arrived after seven pm so it was quite dark therefore I can not say too much about the last part of my trip, except that it is custom to pay for the bus when you leave it and that I had exactly 80 yen to my disposition after this last purchase. The nice thing about it was that my hosts wife Reiko san was waiting for me just opposit of the bus station, so after all the adventure I have made it again!

So we are nearly at the end of this letter, the next report is going to be about my stay with Tokimatsu Kadzuhiro and his farm which was freezing but great! I will tell you more about how I prepared miso, konjak, did some bamboo elimination and tasted many interesting things like amazake, doburoku (traditional home brew sake) and enjoyed Kokonoe’s famous onsens!

If you would like to keep me nice and fat you can support my 80 yen budget here, I’ll certainly appreciate it because I’m low on funds for fermentations and I’m way behind on the payments of my health insurance which is a mandatory issue for citizens of Czech Republic.

Have a great time where ever you are,

Sincerely,

Frantisek

Arriving to Japan

•January 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve left for Japan on a full moon, not a coincidence in  this case. I traveled to see my close friend to Ceske Budejovice, she was just about delivering her second child, visiting and running in to several other friends around the town in the mean while and having a good time. My trip to Prague where I’ve visited hacker space Brmlab again and stayed for the night with my friend was nice and smooth not like the last time when I’ve deposed all my belongings to a security box on the main railway station, locking unfortunately the box just next to it …

 

In the morning the transatlantic, transamerican and transpacific journey begone.  I left around half past six and I’ve boarded a plane later on which was a bit delayed which was just fine with me because I’ve been waiting patiently by a wrong gate … In Warsaw I’d to wait for 5 hours for the next flight and thanks to a “technical” complication we got another 6 hours of rest as a bonus. That resulted in arrival to JFK in New York around 2 am where I was picked by Nick Farr, guy behind the hackers on a plane. We spend a nice time in a local eastern European cafe/dining place called Vasilka and I did a bit of  update  work from his office. In he morning I took the subway and airtrain back to the JFK realizing how much is he New York subway out of date and dirty compared to the Europe (not even mentioning Japanese one, but I did not know anything about that yet). To no surprise the flight with Delta from JFK to Narita was on time and when we arrived (after 14 hours) the time on the airport clocks when I just left the airplane was exactly the one of the promised arrival.

 

The first Japanese “thing” which I’ve tried was the Japanese toilet, great experience, I just have to improve the wiping technique a bit. The immigration and customs went smooth partly because they did not know that I’ve just around $50 in my pocket. I’ve managed to get my train ticket from Narita to Shirokanedai and I lost it just once, however I’ve managed to get to the final destination. Looking for the Tokyo Hackerspace was not easy but I was successful at the end and I’ve spend really nice evening and night in that spot which turned out to be very comfortable. In the afternoon I’ve got with a great help a ticket from Tokyo to Okayama for some 5500 yen and I’m leaving just in few hours, enjoying a bit of t he night travel. I plan to hitchhike from Okayama to Kyushu and Oita, it should be around 450 km, so nothing major.

 

Well I’m enclosing some pictures so you can have a bit of better idea what I’m talking about. I can say that I like the place from the beginning, it is really great. I’ve never been in so different place compared to the spots where I’ve been living up to now and I’m really glad to be here, looking forward to hit the countryside and start to work on the language etc.

 

Anyway, I’ll keep in touch,

 

Have a great time,

 

Sincerely,

 

Frantisek

S hackery ke hvězdám

•September 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

S hackery ke hvězdám.

Na pódiu postává pár džentlmenů v šatech těžko popsatelného stylu a značně netradičního vzezření. Atmosféra v leteckém bunkru je nabitá. Stovky sedících a stojících čekají na slavnostní otevření tohoto “vlajkového tábora”. O čem to bude? O hackerech a vesmíru!

Je to tak, po mnoha letech vývoje hnutí, jehož protagonisté se zásadně podíleli na vybudování World Wide Webu a zvláště jeho “otevřených struktur”, byla opět vztyčena zástava, vybrán cíl a načrtnuta cesta, jak se k němu dobrat. Hackeři tedy vyhlásili svůj vlastní vesmírný program. Lidé tak různorodí jako oni potřebují něco, co je dále stmelí a co přinese také kýžené výsledky v praxi, tzv. “facts on the ground”. V tomto článku bych tedy rád promluvil na téma tohoto hnutí, kdo vlastně hackeři či kutilové jsou a o mých zkušenostech s nimi, proč si myslím, že do vesmíru skutečně dříve či o něco později poletí a to stylově.

S pojmem hacker jsem se setkal již dříve, osobní zkušenost jsem ale získal až v roce 2009, když jsem dokončoval přípravnou část projektu vybudování multimediálního centra na Kubě. Fázi příprav jsem se rozhodl dokončit v Kalifornii v San Francisku, které mě za předchozích pobytů opravdu nadchlo. Po několika týdnech jsem dorazil stopem z Aljašky a během 48 hodin jsem měl již schůzku v Noisebridge, jednom ze stěžejních světových hacker center. Ve zkratce se mi podařilo oslovit několik hackerů a společně jsme dali během pár týdnů dohromady několik solidních počítačů, multifunkční tiskárnu, fotoaparáty, atd., zkrátka poměrně rozumné multimediální centrum, kde lze napsat článek, připravit publikaci či naučit děti právě zmíněné. Vše zadarmo či za minimální investice, veškeré softwarové systémy legální open source a kluci si za to vše tak maximálně nechali něco uvařit. Jako příklad anarchie v praxi paráda. No pak jsem odcestoval na Kubu, pobyl cca deset měsíců ve Střední Americe jako dobrovolník, cestovatel a samozřejmě kvasíř a slavně jsem se vrátil stopem kolem pobřeží Pacifiku, zpět do San Franciska. Prožil jsem zde šest intenzivních měsíců, kdy jedním z mých hlavních projektů byl výzkum a promoce fermentovaných nápojů a potravin, ve kterém Noisebridge  figurovala jako primární experimentální základna. Potenciál tohoto místa je úžasný. Ve své podstatě kdokoliv může přijít a pracovat na čem se mu zamane, využívajíc komunitních zdrojů. Bere se v potaz, že by tyto aktivity měly být striktně ilegální a rozhodně by to mělo být v souladu s jediným pravidlem, které Noisebridge uznává “be excellent to each other”, což by se dalo přeložit ve smyslu “buďte na sebe hodní!”. Já jsem byl rozhodně nadšen, zjistil jsem, že touto formou mne baví pracovat, potkávám skvělé lidi a získávám podporu pro své aktivity. Pokud bych přeci jen měl použít pro “příkladnost” přirovnání trochu bližší českému prostředí, tak si představte klubovnu, kde se schází pár lidí, kteří se spolu v něčem šťourají a čas od času dokonce udělají něco produktivního. Takhle v zásadě hacker centrum funguje. Pokud se vám vybaví vaše podvečery v radioamatérském kroužku, jak to bylo prima, když jste  po pár týdnech poslouchali svou oblíbenou stanici v rádiu, které jste si udělali v krabičce od mýdla, tak víte o čem mluvím. Mě taky baví dělat si vlastní wiki stránky a popíjet k tomu krásně svěží, perlivou zázvorovou limonádu, co jsem si zrovna vykvasil. A myslím, že ani mne či vás při tom nijak neláká lámat se lidem do trezorů, či jim vybírat on-line elektronická konta. Na druhou stranu, jak otevírat zámky, tzv. lock picking, má velkou podporu hacker komunity a je legrace vidět managery velkých firem a táty od rodin, jak se snaží přesvědčit o své “důvtipnosti” svůj zámek od zahrady, často marně…

Uběhl přibližně rok a já pomalu začínám vstupovat do povědomí hacker hnutí, tedy spíše mé více či méně úspěšné aktivity získávají globální charakter. Během aktivit, které jsem provozoval v mnoha místech, jsem si například uvědomil, že evropská hacker centra jsou do jisté míry odlišná od těch amerických, přestože se v základních rysech shodují. Velmi mne zaujala příkladná organizace hacker hnutí v Německu a německy mluvících zemích, známá pod zkratkou CCC – Chaos Computer Club. Zjistil jsem, že CCC konference a tábory jsou skvělými příležitostmi pro vytvoření osobních kontaktů a samozřejmě pro seznámení se s novinkami v oboru. Zde se také často řeší, jak dál působit v rámci hacker hnutí. Pro příklad, právě na předešlém táboru, který se konal v roce 2007 ve Finowfurt, byla odstartována další fáze růstu hacker hnutí, trvající dodnes. Založení většiny amerických hacker center včetně Noisebridge, bylo reakcí na tento camp a návštěv prezentací hacker center evropských. Impakt byl obrovský, změny v této čtvrtletce umožnily intenzivní rozvoj hnutí a to nejen v počtu, také ve škále oblastí, kdy například můj obor biotechnologií je jedním z novějších. Ale nebudu vás napínat, pozadí teď již trochu znáte, zpět do vesmíru, či snad raději nejdřív na zem, odněkud se vyrazit musí, že.

Zde je hrubý náčrt. Do 23 let bude hacker na Měsíci,v mezičase dobude orbit a do čtyř let, tedy v roce 2015, chceme mít na oběžné dráze vlastní satelitní síť. Jakým způsobem blíže specifikovat a dosáhnout těchto cílů? Rozhodně společně, na základě kooperace a za použití “otevřených technologií” a komunitních zdrojů. Většině z vás již asi začíná svítat, jak obrovský rozdíl v našem přístupu je v porovnání s dnešní těžce komerčně zatíženou společností. Pro nás je samozřejmě důležitý cíl, který právě pro svou vzdálenost od pozemských problémů a jedinečnost, má šanci stmelit široké spektrum lidstva. Klíčová je ale i cesta, to si uvědomuje velká část lidí, ať vede k dosažení daného cíle, či  ne, to je život. Rozhodně by ale mělo docházet k rozvoji člověka a to v mnoha rovinách, tedy nejen čistě v jeho specializaci, ale také v etických hodnotách spojených s jeho prací, s  hlubším pochopení společenského řádu, atp. Tyto hodnoty v dnešní společnosti značně degradují, ztrácejí na váze. Pokud budu reflektovat současnou situaci v hnutí hackerů, pracovat budeme na tom, co lidi nadchne a tak, aby je to bavilo. Jelikož většinu aktivit v dané scéně mají na starosti dobrovolníci a to v jejich volném čase, je to vlastně  taková bezpečnostní pojistka proti přepracovanosti. Je jasné, že pokrok bude pomalejší, než v  nějakém korporačním výzkumném centru a též zdroje budou minimálně zpočátku omezené. To je  očekáváno, je s tím počítáno. Naše společnost je značně hektická a zvolnění tempa a znovunalezení pro nás příjemných a kontstruktivních aktivit by měla být jednou z našich priorit. Když se k tomu přidá i ekonomická iniciativa, máme zaděláno na pořádnou společenskou a kulturní revoluci.

Dnes již máme hacker centra defacto všude po světě a stále nová přibývají. Výzkum a praktická aplikace poznatků a technologií, které kosmický program přinese, bude mít tedy impakt na celou zem a bude reflektovat trend tvorby menších inovátorských prostředí dané komunity. Snaha integrovat lidstvo do systému, který je maximálně otevřený a rovnostářský (nezáleží na vaší rase, náboženském vyznání, či vašem postavení finančním) má, věřím, hluboký smysl. Hackeři dávají v zásadě každému šanci, je na každém, jak s ní naloží. Možnost volné komunikace, přístupu k vědomostem a zdrojům k našemu stylu jednoznačně patří a výsledky je možné již vidět v téměř všech odvětvích našeho života. Za zmínku stojí jistě operační systémy typu Linux, Wikipedia et cetera.

Doufám, že jsem trochu lépe osvětlil téma hacker komunity, její současné podoby a jejích budoucích cílů a směřování. Budu se těšit na diskusi o daných tématech, v případě dotazů mne prosím kontaktujte, odpověď by jste měli obdržet v rámci dnů či týdnů.

S pozdravem,

František Algoldor Apfelbeck

PS Moc děkuji mému bratru Ondřejovi za pomoc při psaní tohoto článku!