Friday, November 30, 2007

Family traditions

Christmas seems to have arrived in Japan early - as it seems to be doing in every country around the world now. Here, although they don't understand the origins of "Christmas" at all and have no idea how it is celebrated in other countries they have developed their own traditions - sponge cakes, a day for lovers etc.
In our house we have also started some new traditions - mainly because of a lack of access to things that we would normally be able to get easily in New Zealand. Our main one is the decorations on our tree. Many years ago it was difficult to get any kind of decorations in Japan so we started making our own... with photos! Now every year I make frames and put photos of our family as well as anyone else who has spent time with us at Christmas. This year I left it up to the children to put them all on the tree and they had a great time looking at how they had changed over the years and also remembering all the people who had been here at Christmas. It was really nice to listen to them getting excited when they saw each person - oh look, here's Aunty Megan, here's Hannah, Peter, Rosa, Birgit, Paul, Emi, Mickey etc. etc. etc!
It's time to start making some more for this year, but as there are 13 people (not including us) coming on December 24th for a pre-Christmas dinner and then more on the 25th I think I will be using group family photos rather than an individual one for each person!
Our other tradition is our advent calendar that the children think of as the big thing with pockets full of chocolate... actually there is limited chocolate in it this year and lots of practical things like toothpaste and chopsticks. I wonder what the response will be. Fiona gave us another one last year which is the "adult" one. Now that one is full of chocolate!

Friday, November 23, 2007


As the weather has cooled down I have gradually given up hope that the tomatoes that are left in the garden might ripen and that the cucumbers that have self-sown might actually produce something and have gradually been pulling them out. We had our first frost this morning which also meant the basil and zucchinis which have been producing right up until now are also on their final legs and the garden is starting to look a little bare.
However after a few really cold days we had a great day today and managed to eat lunch outside with another 3 families. The children had a great time running around outside together and I had no messy floor to clean up! I love outside eating. Unfortunately I have the feeling that it might be the last time this year though....
Today was also the day when the local people (and some not so local people) all climbed up the mountain be;hind our house and those who climbed said the weather was so perfect that they could see all the way to the tip of this island. No smog from China today..... All in all in a beautiful day!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A slower start

Last night we had 2 more guests stay as part of the "bike and hike" tours that Joe runs in this area. This time he brought a really nice Canadian woman who came to Japan for a conference relating to linguistics. I'm sure she was fascinated by the strange version of English we tend to speak at our house! After a slow start this morning (thank goodness!) they were off up "my" mountain and then continued on on their bikes to their next stop for tonight.
It has been great to have people stay over the last few days, but I am also looking forward to having a few nights off too....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Early start

It is 5:45am and last night's guests have already had breakfast and are about to make their way to the train station. Apart from the early start they were really great guests - exactly the kind of people that we would like to stay with us. They were a mother and her daughter who are thinking of moving to the countryside with their family. Unlike the last man who came they are making the decision as a family and from the minute they arrived really wanted to be part of our family. They came early in the afternoon and were wonderful with the children. I really enjoyed making dinner with them and Ciel's piano playing has hopefully motivated my daughter to keep going with her piano lessons!
After a few disasters of pavlova making recently (I've decided that the humidity in summer makes it pretty much impossible to make a decent one) I was so excited by the amazingly high pavlova that I produced yesterday....... until I lifted it off the tray and discovered it was like a cave! Pretty impressive though - I bet I couldn't reproduce that one even if I tried.

Yesterday morning a lovely lady came for a "cooking classroom" (I know I told myself I wouldn't accept groups less than four, but...) so we had a really nice time making apricot fudge slice, pumpkin muffins, foccacia and basil pesto. Money wise the calculations don't work, but it meant I didn't need to make anything afternoon tea for the guests last night and could also use the muffins for breakfast this morning.

Tonight more guests are due so at least having today's guests leave early means I have plenty of time to get the cottage ready!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fun at the festival

Yesterday we spent the whole day at the local "hometown festival" where the Green Tourism group had a booth. I finally got around to making some more jam and managed to sell about 60 small jars. Maybe it was the smiling face behind the counter that helped! I used up all the bits and pieces in the freezer and ended up with 6 different types:
  1. Strawberry - boring, but always a best seller!
  2. Plum
  3. Marrow and ginger - often bought simply because they can't even imagine what it tastes like!
  4. Pumpkin and apricot - thanks to Trev and Gill (and Mum) I have a great supply of dried apricots to make as many jars of this as I can sell.
  5. Loquat and apricot
  6. Rhubarb and banana - my personal favorite and the first to sell out... not that there were many jars to begin with! Thanks Grandma for the recipe (and Dad for typing it out...)
Beside our booth there was a young man drawing people's pictures so the children had theirs done. It filled in 10 minutes and they are very happy with the results - maybe because they make them look a little more "angelic" than they actually are.....
Tomorrow I start a real test into how organised I can be. In the morning there is a lady coming to do a cooking classroom then in the afternoon 2 guests arrive followed by 2 different guests the following night. Fortunately my husband has the day off tomorrow so he can do the school dropping off and picking up!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Preparing for winter

As the weather cools down it is time to start getting the bees ready for the winter. They have definitely been less active lately and over the weekend my husband started to wrap them up (literally....) to prevent them catching a cold! It gave us a chance to have a look inside and see if they have actually made a reasonable hive inside the boxes or not. From the original 6 boxes we had we only have 4 left (the others ran away....) and they all seem to have made a reasonable home for themselves. The real test will be if they have made a big enough supply of honey to tide them over the winter.
Over the weekend I also helped to instruct 18 children and their parents in the art of making pizza in the pizza oven (no, still not our own....). I am slowly getting it down to a good art - but with so many pizzas to make the person putting them in and out of the oven deserves a medal.... those ovens really do get hot!

Saturday, November 03, 2007


November 15th is officially the day in Japan where girls who are aged 3 and 7 and boys who are aged 5 dress in kimono and go to a shrine to pray for health and long life. We jumped the gun a little and went today - along with quite a few others! According to one homepage I read 7-5-3 began in medieval times when the samurai and aristocratic families did the following: Boys and girls aged three stopped getting their hair shaven and were allowed to grow their hair.
-Boys aged five put on hakama for the first time in public.
-Girls aged seven began using obi sash to tie their kimono, instead of cords.
As time went by the "commoners" also started to take part in the rituals and today almost all Japanese children "celebrate" this day.
Things have changed a little over time and the standard thing to do these days is to get dressed in a kimono (easier said than done - especially for girls!) and then get your hair done and makeup done before going to a photo studio to get photos taken. Boys wear a "hakama" over the top of their kimono, which is like a big long skirt.
After the photos we went to the shrine to take part in a special ceremony to pray for the children's good health and long life. Unfortunately there was a wedding ceremony just at the time we went and the wait was going to be too long so we just prayed and went home! The only thing the children were disappointed about was the fact that they missed out on getting some more of the long "chitoseame" - which is basically a long stick of sugar... which translates into "thousand year candy". It comes in a lovely long bag which has pictures of cranes and turtles on it - of course symbolising long life again. At least after today we should have ensured that our children will still be around and well long enough to look after us in our old age!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More bikers

My crazy friend Joe brought another guest to stay on Tuesday as part of his biking and hiking tour. She seems to be surviving better than most - his tours really are pretty "adventurous" in that often they consist of biking for long distances, climbing big mountains then biking some more to that night's accommodation. Not for the faint hearted, but definitely a way to see the countryside of Japan (I can think of better ways....).

Since I have come to Japan I have learned a lot about New Zealand. Strange but true! I guess we just take for granted what we have in our own country and don't often think too much about the way we do things until we see a different way or are asked a question relating to our country. This month I have to do some teaching at a school where they want me to teach them all about New Zealand... today it was a quiz and in the process of making it I discovered a whole lot about New Zealand frogs... yes I have a bit of a fascination with frogs considering we have so many living all around us here! Anyway, it turns out that unlike here the frog population is somewhat under threat. It also turns out that there are 4 species of native frogs in New Zealand, one of which (Archey's frog) is pretty special because it doesn't go through a tadpole stage at all - it's eggs hatch straight out into frogs.... With the estimated population of these frogs down to less than 1,000 and the fact that they are highly camouflaged you are less than likely to come across one sitting around on your clothesline. I guess if you want that you will need to come and see us here!
Just a little bit of pointless information for you to fill in time before the big event this Saturday.... 7-5-3! Stay tuned for more information!