Monday, February 26, 2007

Under the floor or pillow?

Right now we are waiting for one of my daughter's top teeth to fall out. It is driving me crazy watching her play with it each day and I am hoping that it will fall out as soon as possible. However when it falls out we will be faced by a slight dillema - do we follow the New Zealand tradition of putting it under the pillow to be collected by the tooth fairy, or do we follow the Japanese tradition of throwing it under the floor? Japanese tradition is that if it is a lower baby tooth that falls out you throw it up onto the roof; and if it is an upper tooth you throw it underneath the en-no-shita which is the lower portion below the floor of a Japanese house. This is done so that the upper tooth grows healthy downwards, while the lower tooth upwards. I wonder what people do who live in really tall apartment blocks!
Unfortunately my daughter seems to be stuck on the New Zealand tradition of putting it under the pillow for the tooth fairy to collect. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the tooth fairy replaces the tooth with money.....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Another busy weekend

Thank goodness for Sunday! We had another crazy week here which was topped off with 4 guests on Friday night and 10 ladies here for a baking experience on Saturday. All the guests live in a town reasonably close to here and are doing the same kind of thing that we are doing in their own homes. They were studying how other people are doing it to get some hints for themselves. Of course we also got some hints from them too!
Although it had been a busy week I think the whole thing went really well and it confirmed that we are moving in the right direction. There was a lot of praise and also a lot of comments that what we are providing is an experience that no one else could replicate. Exactly what we are aiming for! There were even some who felt like they really had gone to another country and wondered if they needed their passports!
I have been playing with the idea of selling some basic ingredients that I use in the baking experiences (NZ brown sugar, spices etc.) and yesterday's class also confirmed that that may be a very good thing to look into. Just by chance my order for chelsea brown sugar arrived while the class was in progress and all six bags were snapped up by participants.... now I need to order some more for myself! Any ideas of items, ways to buy them cheaply etc. are more than welcome! Of course there was also plenty of jam sold so all in all a good weekend.
Last night the Cottage also had one more guest... me! I needed a very solid night's sleep after a hectic week and it was perfect.......

Friday, February 23, 2007

First day at school

My daughter went to her new school for the first time today. She doesn't actually start until April 12th (more about that big event a little closer to the time.....), but today all the new children went to school and were entertained by the current first grade students for about an hour. They did a great job of telling the new children all about the exciting things they will do during their first year, playing "shops" with them and finally giving each new student a wonderful present. The present was a packet of morning glory seeds, which they had grown themselves and kept the seeds to give to the new children. I thought it was a great idea - maybe I should steal it to give people a gift as they leave Kiora Cottage!
Emily was a little overwhelmed by it all - there will only be 11 in her class, but she doesn't know anyone and so is a little nervous about how she will make friends etc. She spent a few minutes crying, a few more minutes on my knee and the majority of the time holding my hand. I'm sure she will make friends quickly, but I'm not sure if the day made her more or less keen to start school.....

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The decision has been made... apparently we are interesting enough to be on TV. Damn! I was hoping that I had put them off enough by trying to be as normal as possible, but I guess they were desperate for victims. The studio filming is on March 24th, but it looks like there will be a lot to do between now and then. And I thought this year was going to be quiet.....
Today was also a little busier than planned when a friend who works at the hospital rang me at lunch time asking if someone could stay at the cottage tonight... nothing like a little bit of short notice to keep me on my toes! She is a lovely lady whose husband is in hospital for an operation. She went back to the cottage at about 7:30pm so isn't exactly hard work. Maybe another line to work at for customers....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Whatever big sister does...

Okay, so I should have realised that starting a blog for Emily meant I would need to start one for Masaki too.... anyone interested please check out the following link.
I think I have now sorted out the commenting problem on both this site and Emily's so if you feel like commenting to them that would be great. It is great reading practice too!

TV cameras have gone for now, but there are 4 guests booked in for Friday night followed by 10 people for a cooking classroom on Saturday. Of course there are also programs I have to run during the week, school explanation meetings to go to etc. in between too.... another busy week looms!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My new shadow

I've spent the afternoon being followed and the evening being interviewed.... The kids have had a great time trying to steal the spotlight. Emily walks up to the camera lens and pulls a face at it as often as she can saying "put me on TV"... Masaki kicks his soccer ball and sends the milk jug and freshly poured coffee flying all over the floor and windows.... fortunately the tape was running so we don't have to try and get him to aim that well again! Emily then proceeds to tell everyone that Masaki currently has no pants on (he fell over in the rain while pulling out a carrot and couldn't be bothered going to get new pants from upstairs...)
The lady who is here with us now (well actually in Kiora Cottage) is here to check us out and take footage on which they can base a program about us. After she takes the footage back to Tokyo a final decision will be made as to whether we are worthy specimens and then we will have to be filmed for about 3 consecutive days, I will need to make a special New Zealand dinner for a group of guests (who fortunately I get to invite) and then we will need to go to Tokyo to the studio there to be part of a "children's special".
I'm not exactly sure what is in it for us yet.... but I did see some earlier episodes of the program in question and it is definately not a standard "let's make fun of the foreigner" kind of program. A small relief at this stage. I'll keep you posted as to whether we get to feature on TV or not as soon as we find out....

Blog Mania?

It seems like the whole world is "blogging" now. So just to keep up with everyone my daughter has now started her own blog too. She loves to draw, so the idea is that she will draw a picture each day (maybe....) and then she will write a sentence about her picture in English to practice her writing skills. Hopefully this will motivate her and help me teach her English here in Japan. It would be great if you could give her encouragement! The first picture is already on - but no time for writing this morning so we resorted to Mum typing!
The address is :

Tonight we have a member of the TV company coming to stay.... she called yesterday and asked if she could come and stay tonight and have a look around tomorrow.... I guess the program might actually happen after all!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Preconceptions can be wrong!

Today I was one of about 14 people asked to be a guest speaker at a local junior high school. We were supposed to be giving the students a glimpse into the real world and motivating them to do something special with their lives (or something like that anyway!). It had been a long time since I have been in a junior high school here, but things have definately not changed!
Before I came to Japan I had the image that Japanese students were incredibly well behaved, studied very hard etc. I quickly discovered that the reality is very different (at least here in my town...). Talking, sleeping and abusing the teacher or fellow classmates during class is the norm. Listening while others are talking is definately not something enforced by many teachers. I find this incredibly frustrating, but what I find even more frustrating is the lack of energy, enthusiasm and expression shown by the students. It is impossible to tell if the students are interested in what you are talking about as they show nothing in their faces. If you ask them a question they stare at you blankly as if you are speaking in some alien language. Of course all the students are not like this, but unfortunately the majority seem to be. I know that the education system is mainly responsible for this, so every chance I have I make as many suggestions as I can.... none of which have been listened to yet!
New Zealand schools are looking more and more attractive as my children get older! Now I just need to find a willing grandparent or two....

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spring in February

This time last year I am pretty sure we were huddled around the fire most days trying to keep warm. February is in general the coldest month of the year here... and if that is the case then I am definately not looking forward to August - the hottest month! We have been having temperatures up to 20 degrees most days lately and the garden is definately thinking it is spring. I discovered the first crocuses today and the manuka is heading towards full bloom too.
Of course the chamomile is also flowering - mind you I think it has been flowering for almost a year now... I love self-seeding plants!

On a completely different note we had a Tokyo television company call us yesterday and talk to us for about 40 minutes - it looks like we may make it on to the Tokyo program "My wife is a foreigner". Nothing has been decided yet, but they seem keen on focusing on the problems we have had with choosing my daughter's school (the school she is supposed to be going to has no other children in her class), but as long as they also put in a little bit about Kiora Cottage I am more than willing to help them out! I have no idea how they knew about us, but free advertising is always a good thing!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Early warning

I wasn't going to write about this until the 14th, but everytime I turn on the radio or TV I seem to be bombarded with advertising for Valentines Day here in Japan. In New Zealand Valentines Day used to be a day where you would give something special to your one true love.... here in Japan it is a little different! If you search the web for "Japan Valentines Day" you will find thousands of articles about how it is celebrated here.
It is said that St. Valentine's Day was imported to Japan in 1958 by a Japanese confectionery company and judging by the piles and piles of chocolate that you see in the shops at the moment it would seem that they were very successful in introducing the custom! On this day it is only the women who give chocolate to men - and not just to your one true love! You are expected to give chocolate to basically every male you come in contact with around the the 14th of February. There is even a name for this kind of giving "giri choco" or "obligation chocolate". The commercialisation is absolutely incredible! In every department store there are piles and piles of individually wrapped boxes of chocolates from all over the world. Every female seems to be buying at least 20 boxes..... I'm just planning to stay home all next week!
Of course in order to make things fair there has been another day invented in March where men have to give to women... good work marshmallow company! More about that next month!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another growing trend

At the moment there is big action in the rice fields just across the stream from us. Diggers appear to be demolishing what were 3 different rice fields. In actual fact they are doing just that and then they will combine all three and make one big rice field. This is a growing trend here. In the past a lot of the land was covered in small rice fields (like the ones in the photo) which often belonged to different people. People could easily make a living out of growing just rice. However it is getting more and more difficult to make a living solely from rice anymore. The government sets the price for the rice each year and pays subsidies to people who are growing things other than rice. The amount of rice you can grow is also controlled by the government due to surpluses. More and more people are doing other jobs during the week and working in the rice fields in the weekends. There are also a lot of people who have simply given up growing rice and the land is being taken over by weeds.
One way to make the rice farming easier is to make the rice fields larger (as our neighbour is doing) and therefore planting, maintenance etc. is made a lot easier. He hasn't planted the rice fields for a few years now so I hope it will prove to be a nicer scene to look out at than the weeds we have been facing the past few years!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bowing to the pressure

Yesterday we started the preparations for my daughter's big first day at school. She won't start until the middle of April, but apparently it is very important to begin all your preparations very early.... just in case all the best colours etc. are sold out! Unfortunately I have no idea about what is "compulsory" at school and what has become standard due to marketing etc. so I have the feeling my daughter may have a few anxious moments when she arrives at school and realises that some of her things are a little different to the other children.
There seem to be two big items that are not compulsory, but have become the standard. The first is a desk... we will use a second hand one passed down from a cousin (please don't tell anyone!) and the second is a school bag. Now I agree that a school bag is necessary to carry your books etc., but we have so many bags in this house that I was hoping we could just use one of them.... apparently not! In Japan although it is not compulsory, basically all the students have the same bag. There are now many colours, brands etc. but as the man in the shop told us yesterday, they are all exactly the same size. One of the reasons I have been stalling in buying one is the price. They seem to START at about 30,000 yen (approx. 365 NZ dollars) and go right up to over 80,000 yen (approx. 970 NZ dollars). They are all about 1kg without any books in them so they are not exactly light either. Anyway, I gave in yesterday and decided it was not worth putting my daughter through the trauma of having a bag which is different from anyone else... a pink backpack that cost 36,000's hoping it lasts her the full 6 years at primary school!
By the way - the picture is not of my daughter... I forgot to take a photo before she left for kindy today so it is just a random one from someone else's blog... thank you google images!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Get out ogre, come in happiness!

Japan is a country of customs and rituals which supposedly increase or decrease your luck or happiness. One of these is tomorrow and is called "Setsubun". It is held every year on the 3rd or 4th of February - the day before spring according to the old lunar calendar. The most common thing to do on this day is to throw dried beans while shouting "Get out ogre! Come in Happiness!" in an attempt to chase away evil. After throwing the beans you then pick up the same number as your age and eat them which ensures you good luck for the following year.
At the kindergartens they often make ogre masks - this year my children made a waist pouch to put all the beans in. You are also supposed to eat an entire big sushi roll (approximately 20cm long) without speaking while facing the lucky direction for that year.... This will bring luck for your business, longevity and freedom from illness. If only it was that easy!
Anyone interested in learning more about "setsubun" please check out the following links:
Oni out, Happiness in


We finally had our first real snow fall for the year last night. To be honest last night it looked quite magical - it was almost a full moon and the silence and whiteness of it was really beautiful. Of course it didn't come out in any photos and the thin covering that we woke up to this morning was far less impressive! My guess is that it will be gone by lunchtime - the perfect length of time for me!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Guest book

Someone commented yesterday that they hoped we have a guest book… well here it is! Actually I asked my mother to bring one with her when she came last June, before the cottage was even started!

Thanks to Hannah’s great effort at the start people are now writing comments rather than just their addresses and then I put in photos later to remind me of who they were and what we did… It is already fun to look back at who has been to stay and people seem to enjoy looking through it.

By the way – I wrote about the trend of city dwellers wanting to move to the countryside the other day. What I didn’t realize is that there is an actual name for this kind of person here in Japan – a “RURBANIST” – to rural from urban….. I don't know if it is a world-wide word or just another one that the Japanese have made up!