Monday, September 29, 2008

Peace and Tears

Over the weekend we had another group of junior high school girls come to stay. Although I thought my eardrums were going to explode the first few minutes after they arrived (they were shown into the cottage....) they soon calmed down and ended up being the best group of students we have had yet. I think it helped that my children weren't at school all day so they could play with them too. As well as the normal pizza making, muffin making, pavlova making, rotary hoeing, potato planting etc. we also managed to do some real "autumn" activities. There are plenty of chestnuts lying around at the moment to collect and of course peeling them always adds another half hour or so to the experience. It is peanut pulling time too so they did all that for me as well as carving themselves a pumpkin... not quite Halloween, but they really enjoyed it anyway. I have no idea how many photos they took, but they are all the same.... peace sign with different backgrounds!
We said goodbye to them on Sunday morning and they were all in tears... I was too tired to go that far, but it was definitely a nice group to have.
On Sunday afternoon we went to a friend's one year old party and discovered another use for peanuts.... peanut butter gets chewing gum out of hair!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Christmas is coming

Today felt like the first day in a long time that I didn't have to go to work and that I didn't have any children at home. To celebrate I finally got around to making this year's Christmas cake. For any of the Japanese readers... you are not misunderstanding the English - Christmas cakes in New Zealand are not simply sweet sponge cakes filled with piles of cream and decorated with strawberries, they are actually very heavy (mine is about 2.5kg) fruit cakes. 1.5kg of dried fruit, raisins etc., 6 eggs etc. are all mixed together and baked for about 3 and a half hours. For the best flavour they are supposed to be made well in advance, with some people making them as early as a year in advance. I figure 3 months is better than nothing... Roll on Christmas so we can eat it! And yes... after 12 years living here I did finally treat myself to a proper cake mixer this year. Heaven!

On Tuesday while I was at work our deck was also completed. It looks pretty good and just needs one more coat of paint - that will have to wait for a few more days though as another group of giggly junior high school girls will arrive tomorrow for 2 nights. Fun, fun, fun!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Autumn equinox

Everybody who has a blog about Japan is currently writing about the autumn equinox, which was yesterday. Here it is celebrated as a public holiday and is another time of the year when people clean and visit their graves. In our area it is also a time when the community gets together to pray for a good rice harvest (praying that the typhoons stay away.....). We have a tiny community center across the road from us and on this day one person from each household is supposed to go and take part in the festivities. Traditionally the men sat around and ate and drank while the woman rushed around cleaning, cooking and serving all the food before cleaning everything up while the men went up the hill to pray at the small shrine. Things have changed a bit now though and although the women are still responsible for the cleaning (oops... I had to work all day yesterday so couldn't help) the food is now supplied by the local restaurant and the trip up the mountain to the shrine consists of everyone sitting on their knees facing the general direction of the shrine and praying (most members of my community are too old to make it up the hill).
One thing that hasn't changed is the seating arrangements.... in Japan the people furthest from the kitchen are always the most important people (ie the oldest) and then the people get younger as you head towards the kitchen - of course all the men are before the women no matter what their age.....
Although the numbers participating in this ritual are decreasing each year as households die out, it is nice to see it continuing in a more modern form. I wonder when they will bring in the cleaning company too......

Friday, September 19, 2008

Busy day

Does anybody else have days where things are just so busy, but go so smoothly that at the end of it all you have a great sense of accomplishment? Today was one of those days for me. It started with the main event - a cooking classroom for 11 people. They were all people who had collected "stamps" by shopping at shops in Usa and they were cashing in their stamps to come and participate in a herb and NZ baking morning. Fortunately they paid me in cash, not stamps! It was a lot of fun and as well as the ooing and aaing over simple things like cheap cheese graters, can openers and garlic presses we managed to make 5 different things in 2 hours..... herbed french bread, herbed potato salad, basil pesto, citrus slice and pumpkin muffins. They went home laden with fresh basil, lemon grass and lemon verbena and seemed to have a great day.
30 minutes after they left a friend came over with her 2 children and we drunk copious quantities of coffee while the children raced around outside. Then 5 minutes after they left my English student arrived for her weekly lessons. Needless to say we went to the convenience store for tea tonight!
Tomorrow I'm off to KitaKyushu for the day to do a team building program for a group of ladies.... I can hardly wait!

Non event

One thing about living in Japan that is different from New Zealand is the weather forecasts. There is a "famous" story about my husband going to New Zealand for the first time and staring out the window at a beautiful blue sky at 3pm and asking where the rain was. Apparently he had seen on the forecast that it was due to rain at 3pm.... Of course for those who live in New Zealand you will know that forecasting there is never that accurate. However in Japan it is often very accurate - down to the minute in some cases. One thing they haven't managed to perfect though is the forecasting of typhoons. It is currently typhoon season here and we were due to be hit by a really bad one last night. This meant that I had to tidy up everything that could possibly be blown away outside in preparation. Phone lists were handed out at school to inform us of who we had to ring in the case of school being cancelled etc. and then.... the typhoon took off on a completely different route and missed us completely. We hardly even got a thimble full of rain. I guess at least the garden area was tidied up a bit and the almost completed deck managed to get its first layer of paint. Nothing like being forced into action!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


When you go to a place more than once you notice new things each time. Today I went back to a temple called "Futagoji" to study it a little more before I take my father's group on a tour there in October. It is a really peaceful temple set in wonderful grounds with little surprises around each corner. The priest there is always willing to answer any stupid questions I might have and today I came up with yet another silly question... is there any significance to the frog statues that appear in different places around the temple grounds? There is a big stone frog outside the main temple entrance that people have stuffed money into and if you look carefully at the last picture here you will see there are some silly frogs having a shoulder ride on the left etc. To me they don't quite fit with the seriousness of the place, but I wanted to know why they were there. The answer..... the person who made all the other statues liked frogs and threw them in as a bonus. In other words no meaning at all - sometimes trying to put meaning to everything we see is not necessary!
One thing I find a little frustrating at the temples and shrines here is that each place seems to have their own explanation for things. Today the priest I was talking to came up with a good explanation for this - he said that it is easier to think in terms of a department store. The overall concept is the same everywhere, based on the basic concepts that were brought over from India and China many years ago, but that all of the individual temples are like the speciality stores within the department store. They each have their own take on things and adapt them to suit their own "customers", environment etc. No relation to frogs, but a reasonable explanation all the same!
I almost forgot to add that it poured on the last day of our deck making so we have an almost finished deck! I think the finishing touches should be made this weekend. Fingers crossed the approaching typhoon doesn't blow it over before then.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Deck day 2

It looks like it is going to be worth the wait. The majority of the cottage deck was completed today with just the finishing touches and painting left for tomorrow. It seem to be working out really well. We have put seating around two edges which also acts as a barrier so people don't fall off the edge and now we just have to decide whether to cut a hole for a plant or not.... tomorrow morning is decision day!
But for now I need to write a letter.... another of my son's teeth fell out today and despite the fact that it is much easier to throw the tooth under the floor (Japanese tradition) than write a letter to the tooth fairy the temptation of money won out again and now the tooth fairy needs to do her magic. How many teeth can two children possibly lose?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Decking at last?

We built our guest cottage over two years ago and since then we have been talking about making the deck for it - things move fast in our family! With my father due to come and visit again in October and my mother coming in December I finally gave my husband an ultimatum... the deck needs to be completed in September. Amazing as it may seem it looks like it might get done this long weekend. In order to help the process along I spent the last couple of days preparing the base for concreting tomorrow. The fact that it was over 30 degrees each day didn't make it fast progress, but I managed to dig and transport enough lawn/dirt to make it impossible to put it off any longer. Here's hoping the rain due tomorrow doesn't arrive and I can show you some more progress shots. Anybody who is in the neighbourhood is more than welcome to come and help - I'll even let you put your hand print in the concrete!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Countryside dwelling friends

Yesterday we went to a friend's house to play and ended up going on a really nice walk. They live in a very similar area to ours - surrounded by mountains and ricefields and where we went walking was full of shrines and temples too. There were even miniature shrine gates on huge rocks. It was great for the children to get out for a bit and get some exercise..... for the adults too! A really nice way to spend a Saturday. We havepromised to go back when it is a little cooler and climb the mountains rather than walking around them.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Grape growing

I am sitting here munching on some grapes. Unfortunately as they are Japanese grapes it means that I have to spit the skins out as I eat them and therefore have purple fingers....... When I first came to Japan I couldn't believe they spat the skins out, but now that I live here and eat the grapes I understand why. It is not because they are covered in chemicals (although that is probably true too) it is more because the skins are so hard and bitter that they need to be spat out in order to keep your digestive tract in good running order. I also find it interesting to see how they actually grow the grapes here. Every bunch is put into an individual paper bag from the time it first forms to protect it from any kind of harmful thing you can imagine. Often the grapes are then sold in that same bag - no sampling the merchandise first! Perhaps the labour intensiveness of it all is one of the reasons why they are so expensive.... lucky we have friends who keep us supplied!
By the way - I can't take credit for the grapes in a bag photo, but stole it off another blog. I discovered it by chance while searching for the photo and it has some other insights into Japan for anyone interested. The address is: Quirky Japan Blog