Friday, October 31, 2008

Where should I start????

Sorry for being "off the air" for a couple of weeks. For those who didn't know, I was showing a group of 10 New Zealanders some parts of Japan that normal "tourists" can't access - as well as a few that were teeming with tourists! The things we did are too numerous to write about here, but all in all I think we had a pretty good 10 days - it was fun for me to show them around and as always I was reminded of the kindness of all the people here in Japan. We had some wonderful host families who looked after them for 4 nights and then there were so many other great people who helped to make the trip possible. If anyone is reading this blog that helped out - thank you!
Temples, shrines, schools, scarecrows, Buddhas, food, food and more food, trains, buses, ferries, museums, rice harvesting, Samurai houses, steps, steps and more steps, meditation, hospitals, green tea, stone carvings, Japanese lunch boxes, hot springs, atomic bomb memorials, floating shrines, futons, early mornings, gardens, geisha, revolving sushi, a bit of "Grandad time" and much much more. We even managed to meet Prince Charles and Camilla! That's right, I managed to convince him to come to Nara at exactly the same time we were visiting and even though we didn't get to shake their hands we did get a wave - pity my picture is out of focus!

All in all a fun 10 days then back to work today.... I'm looking forward to the long weekend this weekend!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend update

Another weekend has disappeared! I was woken on Sunday morning by my husband's uncle who decided he was going to make me a fence for the top garden. After being quoted thousands of dollars by another company I jumped at the chance to use some free materials that he had lying around work and the end result is that we now have a fence! It is a bit taller than I had originally imagined, but it means I will be able to grow some tall things against it without having them grow all over the street - like they have been until now! Another job ticked off the list.
The next job for the weekend was to dig up some more sweet potatoes and the kids kept demanding I make them sticky cake things with them so I became somewhat of an expert. I grew purple and orange ones this year so they look very "pretty"... if you like sticky sweet potato cakes!
While I was doing all that my daughter had a morning at school making an "eco bag". A special calligraphy teacher came and they were encouraged to write their favorite Chinese character on the bags. I sent my husband along in my place.... drawing pictures and writing Japanese is not exactly one of my strong points!
Rice harvesting also started yesterday, but I forgot to take any photos.... maybe tomorrow!

Friday, October 17, 2008

International Relations

Anyone who read this entry's title and who also reads Katy's blog don't get excited... I am not talking about the same international relations that she does! Our international relations were a lot less exciting, but interesting all the same. Last night we had a group of 4 people come to stay who are studying the Japanese movement called "one product, one village" which is where each town supposedly works together to produce one product (like mandarins, mushrooms, beef etc.) really well. It is working in some areas, but not so well in others as they are discovering.
Anyway, the group that stayed with us included a mayor from the Philippines, and city workers from Laos, Thailand and Indonesia. Although they didn't arrive till after 7pm and left before 8am it was still interesting to talk with them about the differences between their countries and Japan - although the children had a bit of a hard time understanding their English....
Everything seems to be calculated in terms of Dad's trip here at the moment - so in those terms this was the last group of guests before he arrives next week. Right now I'm off to do some kindy teaching and then to a different kindergarten for meetings all afternoon.... the last before Dad comes!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Today started with me taking my son to kindergarten and being mobbed by two of the teachers and having to sing a solo version of "We wish you a merry Christmas" and "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" (I think they want to sing them at the end of year production) ..... Now anyone who knows me well knows that I don't sing - especially unaccompanied and especially not in front of people. But, this being Japan I found my self doing it and getting a round of applause for my efforts - a different kind of way to build up your ego and start the day!
After that I headed to my "real job" - which I don't actually do that often now - facilitating an outdoor education program. Today was a lot of fun with an international group from a local university. I think there were about 13 different nationalities in the group of 30 - making it very interesting when they started doing the climbing wall and everyone was yelling words of support to each other in many different languages. We discovered what means "go for it" in one language means "milk" in another...... I'm not sure how encouraged someone would be if they heard someone shouting "milk, milk, milk" at them while they were half way up the wall! I joined them for a delicious barbecue afterwards so it was a nice break in some ways.
Back to teaching at school tomorrow... the three worst classes in the school crammed into one morning. I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We survived!

We all survived Sunday! I was up at 4:45am to make the lunch and breakfast for the guests who had stayed on Saturday night. By 7:40 I was out of the house to take my daughter to school then back the other direction to take my son to kindergarten (he was doing marching at a different sports day) then back to school again in time for the opening speeches etc. at the school sports day at 8:30am. By then I thought I had done enough for the whole day, but no... I still had to participate in the "catch the ball in the basket" game, the "eat the marshmallow from a tray of flour game" as well as hold the goal tape, feed the kids (and grandmother) lunch and get back home in time to teach some English.... In the middle of it my husband arrived back after successfully completing his 100km walk (they left at 2pm and he finished at about 6:15am so you can do the maths...). He did a great job, but spent the rest of the day shaking and sleeping. I think he is still a bit sore today, but definitely on the mend!
My son got to meet all his new classmates for next year - a total of 7 boys and 3 girls will be in his class. He is the big one at the back that is not wearing the bright orange shorts....
For anyone who doesn't know what a Japanese sports day is like please check last year's blog entry: Sports Day 2007
Trev & Gill - the number of people who asked me if you were here again this year was too difficult to keep track of! You definitely made an impression..... and were missed by us this year.

After the sports day the preparations for my daughter's birthday party began - fortunately I am not very good at throwing things away so I had plenty of Halloween decorations that I made about 10 years ago to stick around the place and a few really big pumpkins in the garden to use for decorations. My daughter wanted a number 8 cake, which made life simple. Apart from number 1 I think number 8 has to be the easiest cake possible. She had a really good day, but was pretty zonked by the end of it. I must admit I was also in bed by 8:30pm, which meant I had to get up early this morning to prepare for today's classes. Roll on November!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

100km journey

This afternoon my husband set out on a journey - a 100km journey - a 100km journey on foot - a nonstop 100km journey - a nonstop 100km journey on foot through the night.
Fortunately he is not alone. In fact there are over 2,500 people participating in this annual event which sees them walk all the way from Yukuhashi to Beppu - a total of 100km (bet you didn't guess that!). He has wanted to do it for a few years now, but has always had work on that day. So today he finally managed to do it (well actually he is still walking right now so I guess I can only say that he has finally managed to start it). He is equipped with every kind of thing imaginable to help him in his quest - little containers with separators for chunks of sugar, origami salt holders, fancy water bags, very stylish Lycra clothing etc. Here's hoping it all aids him enough to get him to the finish line.
Tonight we also have some more guests - a really nice family from Germany. Again they are hiking and biking - too much energy for me!
Tomorrow is going to be a huge day.... sports day in one place, marching in a different place, English lesson - oh and of course I get to make the stupid lunch box all over again... at the same time as making the guests' breakfast! If I'm still alive by tomorrow night I'll tell you how it went. If I'm not still alive you can blame it on the door .....

Friday, October 10, 2008

The forbidden door

This morning I walked out our kitchen door directly on to the deck, walked across the lawn, through the new hole in the hedge, down the new steps and put the compost in the compost bin - all in my pajamas. It felt great! Now that might sound a little strange to some of you, but I have been married now for almost 10 years and this is the first time I have been able to do this. In fact, it was the first time in more than 10 years that the kitchen door has been opened. Why? Because Japanese people tend to be very superstitious and even if it means a lot of inconvenience that tend to believe what fortune tellers etc. tell them. This was the case with my husband too - after his first marriage ended he took the plans of his house to a fortune teller and they told him that the failure of his marriage was because the placement of 2 doors within the house was incorrect. One is a door in the kitchen and one is a door that leads directly from the bathroom outside. For the first few years I decided to go along with this and didn't even open the window in the door in the kitchen (40 degrees outside in summer... imagine the kitchen with limited ventilation!), but last night I had had enough and decided to ask yet again if I could remove all the things from in front of the door (it had become a convenient place to dump anything and everything that wouldn't fit in the cupboards) and make it possible to go directly from the kitchen outside. I don't know if my husband just wasn't listening properly or if he has started to question the original fortune teller, but I was given permission to do so and spent till about midnight rearranging things - the result.... a much lighter, much bigger kitchen. I'm hoping that another result is not that the world will end tomorrow.... if it does, I apologize - it was my fault, I opened the door.......

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Garden reform part 1

When we came back from New Zealand in March I decided I was sick of waiting for things to be done so I brought back some money that I made from a building investment and made a list of the things that I wanted to get done this year.
  1. Curtains for the cottage - tick
  2. Deck for the cottage - tick
  3. Table for the "dining room" - tick
  4. Fence for the top garden - not quite
  5. Chickens - maybe next century
  6. Pizza oven - see "chickens"
  7. Redo front garden - now underway!

I had visions of reshaping the front garden myself, but I know I will never find the time to do it so I have ended up getting a company in to do it and build me some stairs down to my big vegetable garden at the same time. They started today and although they remind me a bit of a small family of gnomes (you have to be here to imagine it...) they are doing a good job and it should all be finished in a couple of days. Hopefully more progress photos tomorrow!

Monday, October 06, 2008

What a waste!

I know you have all been holding your breath... did I get up early and make the lunch box? Did it rain? Was the sports day postponed? The answer to all the above was... yes! The worst possible scenario happened - I decided the rain may not be bad enough to cancel the sports day so got up before 5am and started making the silly lunch box. Then at 6am the phone went and... that's right the sports day was postponed till next week. AAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHH! It meant there was plenty for breakfast and lunch and I managed to use some of it for dinner too - for the guests that we had to stay. Another really nice couple doing the hike and bike - this time from Maryland, America. I guess looking at it in a positive light it means I have had a practice run for next week!
Today my daughter had a day off school (in lieu of going on Saturday) so we went to do some extra research on the town of Yufuin. I will take my father's group there at the end of the month so I wanted to make sure I didn't get them too lost! One of the problems with Japanese travel is that in order to see some of the best places you really have to be able to read some Japanese. Today we went to a great hot spring bath that proves the point. When you get in the gate you are given a map in Japanese, instructions in Japanese and let loose in a beautiful area to find your way to the hot spring that suits you best. There are private baths for those who are a little shy or wonderful, big open air baths with wonderful views of the mountain for those who don't mind baring their bits to the rest of the world. There is even a mixed bath for the very brave, but we didn't quite make it there! Of course the problem is which door should you go in? The signs in the pictures show whether it is the female or male bath..... I guess it is lucky that I will be there to help out with this group!
Carp feeding was the highlight of the outing for my daughter. You can never have enough food to satisfy them! You can work out whether I am talking about the carp or my daughter....

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What would you do?

Today was my daughter's eighth birthday. We celebrated with make your own sushi and a pretty poor excuse for a cake. Not that she was complaining... in fact she had no idea I had made it so her eyes just about burst out of her head when she saw the candles. Today she had to go to school (yes I know it is Saturday, but they needed to prepare for the sports day) so she got a hand made lunch, with a surprise birthday card in it. The joys of having children! We are having her party on the 13th, hence the pretty poor effort today!
Right now I am in a very big dilemma. Tomorrow is the big school sports day (for anyone new to the blog please check out last year's here: Sports Day 2007). Despite the fact that we all went this afternoon to help put up the tents the weather forecast has changed significantly and there is now a 100% chance of reasonably heavy rain from the morning - according to one weather station and a 90% chance of rain from the afternoon according to another. If the first one is correct then the chance of the sports day being postponed is pretty high. If the second one is correct then the chances of it being postponed are pretty low. So... do I wake up at 5am to make the stupid lunch box, or do I take my chances and sleep till 7am then if it is actually on race to the convenience store, buy 5 lunch boxes and take all the bits out of them and put them in one of my own boxes and pretend I was up all morning making it? It doesn't help that there are guests staying tomorrow night too, so I should be getting organised for them too. I think I'll have another cup of tea and ignore everything for a bit - avoidance is a great thing!