Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mountains Goblins are Cool, Too

You know, it's not only about the kappa. There are all these other creatures lurking out there. Recently I've been enamored with one fellow in particular--the tengu/mountain goblin.

Mmm, doesn't he just sound sexy?

See, my next book will have some (quite a bit?) of tengu folklore in it. So I've been researching like a mad woman. I've even started visiting temples in the prefecture dedicated to this fearsome beastie.

Yesterday's was a gem.

Here's what a tengu looks like. This is keychain I bought at the temple. In the background there is another mountain goblin and a beer looking on.

Here's the "other" tengu. It's a clay bell actually. Behind him you have a sweet bean rice cake. The rice cake has "me" written on it. "Me" means eye. If you eat it your sight is supposed to improve. But that's a whole other blog. After I eat a thousand of these puppies I'll let you know what happens.

Okay, the tengu basics. I'll make this quick.

Some general attributes of mountain goblins are the ability to shape shift, to move instantly from one place to another without using their wings (they have wings!), and to show up in your dreams. Also, they are the patron of martial arts and weapon smithing. As for clothes, the tengu walk around on tall, one-toothed geta shoes, they carry a fan with which they can control the winds, and they pretty much dress like the yamabushi (mountain ascetic) and that's just cool. Some are good guys, some not so much.

Mountain goblins also come in two flavors. One is the little tengu, or crow tengu. They are black, beaked, crow-like. Here's a picture from the temple yesterday. Look at those forearms!

The second type is called the konoha or tumbling leaf tengu. They are more human looking although they have bright crimson faces and long, long noses. Here's one of those:

Back in the day people used to believe mountain goblins would swoop in and kidnap people/children. They called this 'kamikakushi' (神隠し) , hidden by god. Sometimes these people would return suddenly with no memory of where they'd been, or they'd have memories of distant lands that they couldn't have possibly visited on foot.

Even in my town I've heard an old woman explaining the disappearance of a child as kamikakushi, it was a much nicer explanation than what probably really happened. Pretty bad when the monsters of the past are more benign that the monsters of the present.

So, yeah, that's where I'm at--studying goblins.

Oh yeah, at one of the temples yesterday there was a gorgeous little waterfall and pool. The legend is that this is where a certain mountain goblin spent a lot of his time. You know, when he wasn't snatching away kids and messing with the wind.

And finally, where does a tengu come from?

Why an egg, of course.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A New Level of Motherhood

I've been making obentos since before J was born. But it's only been since he was born -- since he started school, actually -- that I've had this sort of competition going. When he comes home he gets the third degree, What did everyone else's obentos look like? Was there anything that looked really delicious in your friend's lunch? Did anyone comment on your obento?

But he's a dude and really doesn't pay that much attention to what his friends are eating or what they are saying about his lunch. Information has been scarce.

Japanese moms have this special innate power where they can in a heartbeat whip up the most breathtaking lunches. Me, I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the occasional Little Debbie snack cake for all six years of elementary school. Mostly I don't want to embarrass my son with a lame lunch. Kids who aren't 100% Japanese have a hard enough time of it as it is.

Yesterday was his junior high school's field day and an obento was called for. It wasn't even my best work, but I got the crowning achievement of obento making. Some of his friends snagged some of his food...*sniff, sniff* because it looked so good.

The top part wasn't anything special: sweet boiled pumpkin and chicken and green beans with a sweet and sour sauce.

The bottom was something new I tried. These are actually rice balls but I wrapped them in super thinly sliced beef, secured them with a strip of seaweed, and sauteed them in a sweetish garlic and soy sauce. After they cooled I sprinkled them with sesame seeds. Two of these were begged off him by friends.

J is very wise to my constant joking and tricks. I made pot stickers/gyoza (usually stuffed with pork and veggies) and instead stuffed them with chocolate (and sprinkled them with sugar). I didn't have time to take a picture but this is what they looked like.

My idea was just to freak him out. Thinking they were meat and really they were chocolate. Ha! But he said he suspected something because they were in a different container. When he announced what they were all his buddies asked if they could have one.

I teared up when I heard that. I've reached a level of motherhood I thought impossible. His friends think...I'm (just a little bit) cool.

I'll leave you with this image. I walked in and found J and Cha walking around like this. They both looked so comfortable. (It was a bad hair day for J. He's since discovered a brush.)

Oh, and also, we got to see Baron the dog today. His owner's son had him out. He made this sling like thing so he could lift his hind legs while Baron could walk on his front. They didn't walk long because he's a huge boxer, heavy. But I sketched out some little contraptions on wheels that I think I may take over tomorrow.