Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Taking a forced break

I apologize to those of you who have been checking this blog in the hope of a little glimpse into our lives here in rural Japan.... the lives are going on, just with a slightly different twist to them!
Unfortunately life has dealt me a few hard blows over the last month and I have been in hospital for the last few weeks.  Don't worry, nothing life threatening, but the need to slowly reduce medication means it is going to take more than another month before I will be able to be get back home.
This blog will therefore be on hold until then.  I do have a private blog where I am writing about my hospital life here so that my family and friends can get all the information they need in one place.  I'm guessing that I may eventually make it a public one (it is becoming less and less medical and more and more general Japan hospital life stuff!), but if there is anyone that would really be interested in reading it please send me a message and I can add you to the list.

Thank you for all the positive comments regarding this blog in the past - being part of a cyber community has been an interesting and supportive experience.  It will return, but for now I am just dreaming of getting back into rural life....!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Adults English Conversation

My adult conversation classes basically consist of one and a half hours of free talk in English accompanied by good coffee and even better homemade cakes.  There are always some words or phrases that people have trouble with so I use a small white board to explain and confirm things.   During the lessons I only wipe out only sections of the white board to make room for new words etc. so it is always interesting to see how the board will look at the end of the lesson.  On Monday it looked like the photo above...... art was never my strong point....10 points to those who can work out what we were actually talking about!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Trading up

No, I haven't dropped off the end of the world...... things just always seem to get a bit out of control over the long Japanese school summer holidays.  Hopefully I'll get some mojo back soon and at least attempt to keep up with happenings here and maybe even get around to catching up on some of the things that have happened in the last month or more.  Maybe!

If you have been following this blog you may remember an entry I did on the number of kilometers I travel every day ferrying my children here, there, and everywhere.  My car is reasonably fuel efficient, but still the monthly fuel costs were getting higher and higher.  After a little convincing we decided that in an attempt to cut down on some of these costs my husband would part with his beloved Nissan Safari - a big, diesel guzzling machine that really isn't necessary in our narrow-roaded countryside!  With only a few tears it was traded in for a hybrid Toyota Aqua... which has now been passed onto me and my husband has inherited my old car.  Getting used to not having to take a key out of my bag to get into it and get it started is taking a little bit to get used to, but I'm sure by next week it will all be second nature.  For now it is fun to try and see exactly how fuel efficient I can make it.  It has to be better than the 9km/litre the Safari used to use!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Off on a big boat

This morning I left home at 5am to take my son to board a rather large boat with 600 other children.  The boat is bound for Okinawa and in total he will be away for 5 days and 4 nights.  Having a son who is literally head and shoulders above all the other participants (including the staff) proved to be very useful when trying to find him among all the other white and blue uniforms!  I even had another mother from the same group come up to me and thank me for having such a tall son as it meant she could also find their group very quickly.
In true Japanese form the boat was due to leave at 8:30am and despite having to get through lots of speeches and get all 600 kids on board it left at exactly 8:30am.  If anyone is interested in seeing what they are doing there is an excellent blog that is updated regularly.  Unfortunately it is all in Japanese, but the pictures are great.   Shonen no fune   If you look very carefully in the third picture above you may be able to spot Masaki.... I could find him immediately!  Here's hoping he is still standing upright when they arrive back on Tuesday.

And yes, this is the same journey Emily took 3 years ago... only on a slightly different boat!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What to do when you've done everything

My sister and brother-in-law have just been for a 10 day visit.  They lived in this area for a year about 4 years ago so they have seen most of the general things as well as some of the not so general things.  In an attempt to find a few new experiences we decided to go on a tour of a toilet factory - something that is not usually on the tourist itinerary!
Japan produces fantastic toilets - in fact I think they are one of the most photographed things in Japan, perhaps coming a close second to vending machines.  We were on a private tour and it turned out to be fascinating.  It was the Toto factory in Nakatsu and I would have to say we were treated like royalty.
We turned up at the gate and were immediately shown to the parking lot by a kind man on a bicycle.  We were then greeted by two people who took our photo (and later presented it to us at the end of the tour) and then gave us an interesting PowerPoint presentation about the history of the company and the basic products that they make at the factory.  We then headed in through the factory to see how they make toilet bowls and wash basins.  I think what struck me the most was how much people are involved in the process rather than machines.  Of course they use machines for some things and some of their robots used for drilling holes and painting were pretty impressive.  But so much of the work seemed to be done by people in teams.  
Their quality checks were also very thorough.  As well as checking for cracks, visible imperfections and whether every part was level or not they had a great way of checking for if the toilet would flush properly or not.  They paint some coloured water on the bowl (the pee) and then put a piece of cloth (the toilet paper), and 5 sausage shaped weights (the poo) into the bowl and then put in the average volume of water needed for a flush.  If anything is left in the bowl after this exercise then the bowl is put in the defect line.
Another thing that I was impressed with was the fact there is basically no waste produced at the factory and their focus is very much on looking after the environment.  All products which are rejected before they get to the firing stage are made back into clay and made into new products.  All products which are rejected after they have been fired are broken up and used as gravel at schools etc.
Their focus is very much on preserving water and their current toilets only use 4.8 litres of water for an average flush, compared to 20 litres when they first started producing toilets.
We weren't able to take any photos inside the factory, but if you click here it gives a bit of an idea of the process. 
Today I received a hand written letter from them thanking us for coming and welcoming us back any time.  Fantastic service from a fantastic company!  I recommend their tour to anyone who is looking for something different to do in this area.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

More athletics videos

A couple more videos of the latest athletics competition.  It was a competition to determine who will get to go to the All Japan Championships..... .Yokohama here we come again!  Finals time (100m) 12.61 another personal best.  Sorry - I haven't had a chance to edit them.... 

Friday, July 04, 2014


This post is really for a record for myself about how things are progressing with my baking business, but if anyone is interested..... 
A while ago I wrote about "Starting small" with regards to a new baking business that I eventually hope to get off the ground properly.  I have continued to provide the new local produce shop with cookies and on days like today I think that perhaps it could eventually work out to be a good business.  
Basically at the moment I am trying different things and seeing how people in the countryside respond to them.  I've always known that the biggest problem I will always have is that if I want to sell in my immediate area I am aiming at an elderly market who is not particular good at trying new things.  At the same time I've always been confident that if they actually try some of the things I am making they will come back for more.  In the beginning I found the people in the shop a little frustrating as they would ask me to bring cookies to sell, but then I would find that they had displayed them in an area that no one sees at all.  Slowly I have been talking with them and we now have a good thing going.  They (usually) display my things in a good area and they also call me when the cookies are getting low and give me information about what people are saying about them.  Because I sell on commission I don't want to make too many and have to bring them all home again (although my children don't complain when this happens!).
Basically I aim to make cookies once a week on a Thursday and take them on Friday mornings ready for the weekend "rush".  Which brings me to today... I took some cookies this morning which would usually last most of the week and then this afternoon I got a phone call to say that they had sold half of them already so could I please make some more to sell in the weekend.  I'm not talking about hundreds of packets and millions of yen - this morning I took 24 packs, but it is promising to have them sell so fast.
What is also promising is that the majority of the cookies that were sold today were to people who had been given them by other people and liked them so much that they came back for more.  There have also been people who have walked past my house to climb the mountain and called out to me that they have my cookies in their bag to sustain them on their trip.  Others have gone into the local shop and asked when a specific kind would be back in stock.  
Another problem that I have with cookies here is the humidity... keeping cookies crisp is a huge challenge!  But interestingly enough the staff at the shop today said that one of the reasons the older people are coming back for more is that their initial image of cookies was that they were very hard, but when they tried mine they liked them because they were a little soft... I guess sometimes things that appear to be problems are actually not!

My most popular cookies at the moment are Oatmeal & Raisin, and Cinnamon Roll.  The other main ones I make are Chocolate Nut and Chocolate Chip with the odd gingerbread man thrown in when I can be bothered!