Monday, April 30, 2007

Rice planting preparation

The first stage of preparing for rice planting was started today. The rice fields have all been sitting slowly gathering weeds so they were given their initial plowing today - much to the delight of my son, who thinks riding on the tractor is great fun. Unfortunately it also means that the nice quiet countryside is turned into a noisy highway. My father-in-law was still out plowing well after dark last night. Of course to add to the tractor noise there is also all the grass cutting noises... all the banks around the rice fields need to be cut to prevent too many weeds growing in the rice.
At least once the rice fields are planted we will go back to the natural sounds of frogs and cicadas.....

Friday, April 27, 2007

Making Connections

The other day while I was searching for places to visit while Dad is here I stumbled across a company called "Japan Bike and Hike Tours" which is run by an Alaskan man who has been living in Japan for over 10 years. He was advertising hiking tours which included the mountain just behind our house so I decided to contact him and let him know what we are doing in terms of our guest house etc. just in case we could connect in some way. It turned out that he had an American couple coming so we arranged to have lunch here. It was nice to see some different faces and have a little insight into what some overseas visitors would like to do while they are here in Japan. While I don't see our cottage as a huge drawcard (it is really aimed at Japanese visitors) I do see that organising Japanese homestays and then doing touring stuff with me during the days might work out really well..... another angle to work on.

Bee update... 2 hives of bees decided they didn't like their new homes and took off, but we have been back and got some more and now have three hives with residents in them.... for how long I'm not sure, but it is fun to go and check every day and discover them going in and out - hopefully busily making us some honey! There is another bag of bees in the garage which is waiting for Tom to build them a new home. Unfortunately he is a little bit of a perfectionist and has spent more time making detailed plans on the computer than actually making the hives. Lucky it is a long weekend this weekend! (Sorry the picture relating to this had to be removed... I forgot to ask Tom's permission to put it on!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rainy days

After a day of rain there was finally a very short clear patch and after being cooped up inside all day we hit the neighbourhood to go crabbing. After the rain it is not a particularly difficult task - they are literally all over the road (or railway platform, in my garden etc.)! Both children were brave enough to pick them up themselves and were only nipped a couple of times. So what do we do with all these wonderful crabs once we've caught them? Release them of course! They are far too small to eat and it is the fun of the chase that we enjoy!
Other exciting animals that hit the roads after the rain are these wonderful BIG bright blue worms. I have no idea what they eat, but I'm not particularly keen to try and catch one and get them into my worm farm.....

Baby bamboo is also making a big appearance everywhere at the moment. Bring your shovel and come and dig some up!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Look Hannah - they grew!

I managed to get quite a bit of weeding and planting done in the garden today, which meant I had more opportunities to find some more of my little green friends. This one seems to have made its home on top of the garlic. I sat for ages watching how it held on in the wind etc. Pretty clever little things really!

Hannah - our efforts weren't in vain! The sweetpeas that you planted while you were here are now just starting to flower - thank you!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

School lunch

I've just searched the web for "Japanese school lunches" in the hope of stealing a picture of a standard Japanese school lunch and as usual was bombarded by a large number of blogs by "foreingers" living here in Japan who have to eat the school lunch ..... generally not very positive! Having eaten school lunches for 3 years I can sympathize...not knowing what you are eating every day can become a little stressful!
But, now that I am a mother I am very appreciative of school lunches. For anyone unfamiliar with the school lunch system here in Japan - it works something like this (well it does in my town anyway!). Every day a cental school lunch center makes lunch for all the children in the surrounding primary and junior high schools. They pile it into metal containers and then a truck comes and delivers it to all the different schools. At lunch time the kids go and get their basket with all their plates, chopsticks and of course the different buckets of food and take them to their classrooms where they share it out (of course first putting on their aprons, hats and masks....) and start scoffing. There is always milk and twice a week there is bread - the remaining three days there is rice. We recieve a menu for the month with detailed descriptions of calorie content, different food groups etc. and in return we have to pay 4,000 yen (NZ$45) a month.
Now the reason I am so happy about this school lunch system is because if they didn't have school lunch then I would be expected to make a packed lunch every day. In New Zealand I wouldn't complain - throw a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a muesli bar and maybe some yoghurt into a bag and you're finished, but here in Japan..... a packed lunch requires a little more effort. There are millions of books written on the subject and not only nutritional balance, but visual balance must be taken into consideration as well as ensuring that everything is cold before you put the lid on..... Today my daughter was supposed to go on a school outing so I had to make a "bento". Of course it is raining so they aren't going this week, but the school lunch had already been cancelled so the bento was needed anyway. Which means it will also be required next week and my son now requires one every Wednesday.... the fun life of a Japanese housewife!

Friday, April 13, 2007


I often wonder why it is that I can find my way somewhere, but when I try to come home again I always get lost..... today my garden gave me a big hint. With the children finally at school and kindergarten all morning I managed to get into the top garden and get some of the weeds under control. Having done so I took a quiet wander around the result and discovered how different it is from the different angles. Cabbage trees appear out of nowhere, rocks that can't be seen from one side become a main feature when looking from the other side, artichoke leaves magically appear out of the chamomile etc. etc. Perhaps because it is a circular garden this becomes more possible - it definately makes it a fun walk anyway!
There is a very famous rock garden in Kyoto that works on a similar idea. It is called "Ryoan-ji" (peaceful dragon garden) and is a very basic garden comprising of 15 rocks. No matter where you sit in the garden it is only possible to see 14 rocks at the same time. If you are interested in reading more about the garden and temple the following site has some good information:

I got another surprise today when I wandered down to my bottom garden and discovered that the asparagus is starting to appear - well some looks like it appeared a few days ago..... I have been patient and waited two years before I harvested any so hopefully this year we will finally be able to have at least one meal or two. There might even be some left when you arrive Dad... not long now!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Starting school

Today my daughter officially entered her new Japanese primary school..... yet another day of ceremonies! After being taken to their classroom and instructed on how they should reply when their name was called they were escorted to the gymnasium where all the other children in the school (a whole 47 in total - including the 11 in the first grade), the teachers and all the other VIPs were waiting. Next came the speeches... about 30 minutes of boring old men all saying the same thing... Next some singing and then it was all over. I have been to enough now that I shouldn't be surprised by them, but I can't believe why they have such ceremonies here! I always think they should make them lots of fun for the little 6 year olds to encourage them to come back again the following day rather than putting them to sleep! What I also can't believe is how the children all sit still through the whole thing. Not one child grizzled, picked their nose or even moved their feet...... I'm not convinced it is a good thing, but it is impressive!
After looking at the textbooks they were issued with today I can see that I will be complaining a little more about Japanese education in the near future.... nothing like squashing creativity!

After such an exciting morning we decided to add to the excitement by climbing a tree to get some more bees... or at least my husband did! The other ones seem to have stayed around for the time being anyway... here's hoping these ones do too!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

They are here!

Today we got a phone call from our friend, Kayo, to say that her bees are on the move and if we want some we should come and get them.... Fortunately I had to look after the kids, but my husband went after work and helped to bring a group of bees back. I have no idea about bees, but apparently at this time of year a queen bee from within a hive decides to take off and takes with it a whole lot of workers. They swarm and then make a protective ball around their queen until the workers find somewhere suitable to built a new nest. If you can find them while they are waiting you can put them in a net bag, hang them up in your car and bring them home.... which is what we did (well I wasn't actually involved in this step but I was cheering for them from a very long distance!).

The next step is more difficult - you have to get them to like their new house, otherwise they will just toddle off to another spot. The inside of the hives were painted with sake and honey (I'm not totally sure why...) and then put in their resting place (by this stage it was 8pm and pitch black!). The bees were tipped in and the hive completely sealed. In about half an hour I have to go and help pull the bottom board out and then just pray that the bees will stay in their home rather than all leaving. Maybe I should have ordered a bee suit for myself as well as my husband....
I'll keep you updated of the progress!

Cup of tea anyone?

With all the preparations for the big school entrance ceremony tomorrow finished I finally went for a wander in the garden today... well at least I tried to but I literally got lost in my top small garden! The chammomile seems to be at its flowering peak and is flowering everywhere. Fortunately it is keeping the weeds down, but some of it does need to be removed if I want anything else to have a chance of growing this spring!
I guess tomorrow afternoon I might be able to start tackling the task. Where to begin is the big problem.....

Monday, April 09, 2007

School preparation

Having never sent a child to school in New Zealand I have no idea whether what is involved here is similar or not, but.... it is driving me crazy! I think I finally managed to aquire everything today that will be needed on my daughter's first day of school, but I have the feeling there will be quite a few notes coming home from the teacher asking for things that I have forgotten!
As well as the standard notebooks, pencils etc. there is also the sports uniform, the school lunch apron, hat and mask, the funny mouth piano thingy, the painting set, the umbrella, the towel, the indoor shoes etc. etc. etc.

One thing I have found sad lately is the need for increased "security" regarding children going to school. When I arrived in Japan 11 years ago it was seen as a very safe country and espeically here in the countryside a place where children could walk to school without worrying about safety etc. Things have changed a lot now after a number of incidents of small children being kidnapped and murdered in the cities as well as in the countryside. Now all the schools keep their doors locked, children walk in groups to school supervised by members of the community and all first grade students are issued with an emergency buzzer to use if necessary. Here's hoping the world settles down soon!

Sunday, April 08, 2007


This morning I found another good use for the cottage - an Easter Egg hiding place! Every year the kids wake up on Easter Sunday excited by the prospect of searching for all the chocolate eggs that the Easter Bunny has brought. However unfortunately usually one child wakes up first and then it is always a battle to keep them from searching until the other child wakes up. This year there were big screams from my son at 6am when he woke and no matter how hard he searched he couldn't find any eggs.... Fortunately my daughter woke up a little later and discovered the letter from Easter Bunny explaining that he had hidden them in the cottage.
Even though we live in Japan I find it important to try and keep these New Zealand traditions alive in our house - to give the children a glimpse into my childhood too. One of my biggest memories of Easter was at my uncle's house and everyone racing outside to find the eggs in the morning only to discover nothing but the foil wrappers...... After many claims that my uncle had sneaked out and eaten them it was discovered that it was probably more likely the little furry friend so common in New Zealand - the possum!
I always want to hide the eggs outside in Japan too, but there is another little furry friend that lives near here that I have the feeling would love a snack of chocolate eggs too - the raccoon dog. To me these are the Japanese equivalent of the NZ possum - they can be seen on the roads of the countryside (both dead and alive...) and have a great habit of getting into our compost bin at the moment. I haven't seen them in the compost, but I am pretty sure they are the ones responsible for digging the big holes and removing all the goodies. Mind you it could be the moles too... they seem to be enjoying digging up everywhere else at the moment!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Return of the frogs

Along with the first barbeque for the year we also met up with the first frog of the year today. For anyone who isn't familiar with our little green friends, they seem to appear out of nowhere around this time of year and miraculously build up into huge numbers which haunt you all day and night with their croaking. They also have a way of hiding in all sorts of places and jumping out at you when you least expect it. There is currently one somewhere in our bathroom, but no matter how much I search I can't find it... I guess it will appear when I am least expecting it!
The children had great fun with this one that was on the barbeque cover today trying to get it to jump and even being brave enough to touch it. I wonder what they will be doing with them as their confidence continues to grow.... hopefully they won't be quite as confident with the snakes which are likely to start appearing soon!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mountain Climbing again....

After another crazy week of outdoor education programs etc. I finished the week off with a quick jaunt up our mountain. Unfortunately I also had 25 small children with me, which made it interesting in some ways but more than a little stressful in others! The group was part of a friend's holiday program and they ranged in age from 6 to 15. They all did a great job though and even the smallest ones managed to climb up and slide down the mountain without too many cuts and bruises....
I always find it interesting when they get to the top and pull their plastic sheets to sit on. If you look closely at the picture you will see all the shoes lined up beside them.... I can't imagine anyone in New Zealand doing this! Mind you I can't imagine anyone in New Zealand taking a cold ball of rice on their picnic either.... pretty good if you try it though!

Our big TV show went on air on Tuesday, but we haven't seen it yet. The local station decided that baseball was more important so it wasn't televised here. We are now waiting for the DVD to arrive so we can see how much they cut out of the original take.

We also have our homepage almost up and running properly now (well a limited edition one anyone). There are two addresses that it can be viewed at at the moment - both in Japanese... sorry! The kdt address doesn't seem to show many of the pictures yet - a slight technical hitch!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Noisy season

I have given up even asking what election is currently on in Japan. Like memorial services, elections seem to be a continual event here and in Japan that means trouble for those who want to live a quiet life! As well as having poster boards all over the town with cheesy posters of the election canditates there are also cars going around continuously with loud speakers attached ranting on about how wonderful their candidate is. The unwritten rules of the pre-election noise-making seem to include
  • Inside each car there must be at least four people wearing white gloves and waving frantically and smiling at any person who is silly enough to catch their eye
  • Each person who is part of the campaign must wear a lime green jacket or perhaps neon pink if they are lucky
  • The person who does all the talking through the microphones must be a woman (even though the majority of the candidates are men) and their voice must be basically the same as every other person who is doing the same thing in the other cars for the other candidates
  • If possible you must move as a convoy while making as much noise as possible and waving continuously until your arms fall off
Basically this whole process drives me crazy. And the stupid thing is that here in the countryside everyone has already decided who they will vote for (a relative or a friend etc.) so the whole process is unecessary.... I guess we should just be grateful that they are only allowed to do campaigning from 8am to 8pm!
By the way.. the photos above are from other people's homepages... everytime I see an election car etc. I never have my camera!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Memorial Services

One thing I don't think I will ever get used to here in Japan is the amount of praying that is done after someone dies. The memorial services seem to be never ending . From what I can tell.... after the funeral the priest comes to the house to pray on the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, 35th, 42nd and 49th day after someone dies (at which time the ashes of the deceased are taken from the family alter and put into the family grave).
Then there are memorial services on the 1 year, 2 year, 6 year, 12 year, 33 year and 50 year anniversary of someone's death as well as during August 13-15 the year after someone dies. Of course this varies between areas and families, but I think this is a reasonably standard time line. Each time the priest comes he is paid some more money and each guest who comes also gives some money and recieves a gift when they leave to the value of approximately half the amount the gave. This kind of custom is definately keeping the economy alive here!

Today we had the memorial service for my husband's grandmother who died two years ago. Basically they consist of 45 minutes of continual chanting by the priest followed by a meal with the guests. Fortunately there are many companies who make these meals and bring it to your house, complete with small tables and cushions. Of course there is an important order to where to sit - men at the head (in order of age - oldest at the top) and women and children at the bottom - closest to the kitchen.

In some ways I really like the way the Japanese remember their ancestors so much, but at other times I find it really difficult to sit on my knees listening to all the chanting without falling asleep......